An Act of Desperation - Chapter 15- Second Chances
Eventually, the darkness gave way to the grey light of morning. As the room grew brighter, Mithríel came in to check on me. She checked over both my arms, looking concerned over the chill that still lingered in my sword-arm, then helped me dress and reset my arm in the sling. Thankfully, she didn't comment on my appearance or how quiet I was being, though she did point me to the basin of water so I could wash my face. "You may break fast downstairs if you wish, my lady," she said. "Master Merry has been inquiring after you."
"Thank you," I said softly, awkwardly trying to gather my hair up with one hand and looking around for something to tie it back with.
"Here, allow me," Mithríel said, motioning for me to sit on the edge of the bed. She knelt behind me and began braiding my hair. After a moment's silence, she said, "Pardon me for saying so, my lady, but you really should give Lord Faramir another chance."
"What?" I asked, trying to twist my head around to look back at her. How had word of what had passed between us the day before spread so quickly?
"Keep your head still," she admonished. Then she added more softly, "What I mean is, you've both lost a great deal in this war. I'm sure he could use a friend as much..." Her voice trailed off.
"As much as I could?" I finished for her as she tied off the end of the braid.
She released my hair and stood up, having the grace to look slightly embarrassed. "Forgive me," she said. "I'm letting my mouth run away with me."
I pushed myself to my feet and turned to face her. "Pardon me for asking," I replied, "but why should you care? I've done nothing but give you grief since I arrived here."
Mithríel hesitated, then began tidying up the room a bit. "It's more for Lord Faramir's sake, my lady. My husband risked everything to help save him; I would not have that sacrifice be in vain."
"Where is your husband now?" I asked.
"With the company that set out for the East," she replied. I fell silent, feeling guilty for prying. Mithríel shook her head slightly, then said, "Come, my lady." She led me to the hall and told me where to go to find Merry. I walked down the stairs and walked past a large room filled with beds, most of which were occupied with wounded men. Just past that was a small sitting area, with windows overlooking the garden. Merry was sitting in a chair near a small fireplace, a small table with bread and butter sitting in front of him. He looked up and grinned when he saw me.
"Good morning, Éowyn!" he said cheerfully. Then his smile quickly faded into concern. "Are you feeling well? You look terrible!"
I gave him a wry half-smile. "Thanks, Merry."
His face colored a bit. "I didn't mean it that way," he quickly amended.
"I know," I said, sitting down across from him. "I just didn't sleep very well."
He nodded, and decided to change the subject. "Would you like some breakfast? I can toast this for you, if you'd like."
"Yes, that would be good," I said absently. He nodded, speared a slice of bread on a toasting fork, and proceeded to move it closer to the fire. After a few moments of silence, I asked, "Merry, what do you know about the Lord Faramir?" He gave me a curious look, and I added, "I saw you speaking with him last night."
"Most of what I know is what Pippin and Boromir told me," he admitted, then added by way of explanation, "Boromir is...was...Lord Faramir's brother. He was one of my traveling companions for awhile." Merry fell silent for a moment, a look of grief crossing his face. My eyes widened slightly in realization. I could remember Boromir speaking of a younger brother now, during his stay--that's why his name had sounded so familiar. That's how I recognized him, it must be. He looks like Boromir. That's all, I tried to convince myself.
"And Pippin met him before we came here," Merry continued. "Faramir was wounded before the battle, and Pippin stayed with him for awhile. He was with him too, when his father died."
"How did his father die?" I asked, suddenly remembering the conversation between my brother and Prince Imrahil that I had overheard, and wondering if Faramir had been who they were speaking of.
Merry shrugged. "Pippin wouldn't talk about it, and I didn't want to bring it up. He didn't say much about himself anyway; he was much more interested in hearing about...me."
I couldn't help catching the slight hesitation. "Merry," I asked, looking at him sternly, "was he asking about me?"
Merry looked suddenly nervous, and nearly dropped the bread as he pulled it off the toasting fork. "A little," he finally admitted. "But we weren't talking about you the entire time!" he quickly added, a defensive note coming into his voice.
A short laugh escaped before I could catch it. "It's all right, Merry, I'm not angry with you. But you still haven't answered my question."
"Oh, right." He had the grace to look embarrassed as he buttered the toast and handed it to me. "I know he's one of Gondor's captains, in..." he paused, thinking, then finished, "Ithilien. I think that's what Pippin called it. He didn't say much--he hadn't known him long. Boromir always seemed reluctant to speak of his family, but I could tell he cared about his brother very deeply." He gave me an apologetic look. "I'm sorry I can't tell you any more."
"It's not your fault," I said, nibbling at the toast even though I wasn't hungry at all. "It's not important, anyway."
Merry nodded, unconvinced, and we fell silent as he finished eating and I picked at my food, only occasionally taking a bite. Merry finally noticed, and asked, "Did I overdo it?"
My face reddened. "No...I'm just not very hungry. Forgive me, Merry, I'm being terrible company today."
"I don't think you are," he said, giving me a half-smile.
"And I think you're a terrible liar, so I'll spare you the trouble of keeping company with me for awhile," I said, forcing a smile as I stood up and turning away quickly so I didn't have to see the worry in Merry's eyes.
I decided to go to the gardens for awhile. They were completely deserted, as it was still fairly early. I quickly went to the eastern wall and ascended the stairs. A chill still lingered in the air, and I was soon quite grateful that Mithríel had brought my own white dress for me to wear this day. It was much warmer than the Gondorian dress I had worn the previous day. But I still wished I had thought to bring my cloak.
Although I knew I would see nothing, my gaze was quickly drawn past the field, scarred by the fresh graves that had recently been dug, over to the mountains separating Gondor from the dark lands. I shivered at the thought that my brother was somewhere out there--if he was even still alive. And so many of my people had gone with him, and Aragorn, and Merry's kinsman...
What's the use? I thought, my eyes stinging with tears once again. It's hopeless. All my thoughts of doing some great deed had turned out to be worthless, and now Éomer and Aragorn were going to throw their lives away in a battle where there could be no victory.
At least there's a chance your brother will return. I bit my lip at the reminder, feeling slightly guilty. And again I wondered why Faramir would take any interest in me, especially now that I knew that he had lost much more than I had in this war. Why am I still thinking about him? Feeling rather annoyed with myself, I hastily pushed all thoughts of the Steward aside, though I could not help thinking that I wished Aragorn had expressed a similar desire for my company.
I turned my gaze from the mountains and looked down over the city. From where I stood, I could see the various levels of the city spreading out before me. The signs of the siege were everywhere; smoke still drifted from the lowest two levels, which had been the most badly damaged by the forces of Mordor. Hardly a building remained that had not been at least partially burned. On the higher levels, I could see rubble where buildings had once stood, as if a giant's fist had smashed them. The outer wall had entirely fallen away in places, though I could still see the tiny moving figures of soldiers who had remained behind patrolling, guarding against any other possible attack. I briefly wondered if anyone I knew was there; from what I had heard, those of my people who had survived but were too badly wounded to ride to battle again had stayed in the city to boost the defenses. But I had seen no familiar faces in the few days I'd been here, save Merry.
My vision blurred slightly as I wished yet again that Éomer had let me go with him. I had never felt so alone before; in Edoras, and even in Dunharrow, there had always been someone around that I had known well enough to speak with, if I wished. But I hardly knew Merry, and everyone else was gone.
"Lady Éowyn?" I quickly blinked away the tears still filling my eyes, then turned to see Faramir standing near the entrance to the gardens, his arm still in the sling. He was clad in a simple blue tunic and dark breeches, with a green cloak over all. "I'm sorry if I disturbed you," he added.
"No, you didn't," I replied automatically. I almost turned back to look out over the city once more, but hesitated. Perhaps Mithríel was right, and Faramir felt as alone as I did. And, I reasoned, he had been much kinder than I had deserved when I had last spoken to him. With my mind made up, I slowly walked down the stairs leading from the wall towards him.
"I wanted to apologize for yesterday, my lord," I said, glancing up at him as my foot left the last step. "I'm afraid I was terribly rude."
"Think nothing of it. I've spent enough time here to know how frustrating it can be," he said with a small smile. "The healers are quite skilled, but do not seem to handle restlessness very well."
I tentatively gave him a half-smile, grateful that he did not seem to think ill of me. "Thank you," I said, then added, "And how are you faring, my lord?"
His face grew solemn again. "Well enough, I suppose." He quickly changed the subject. "May I ask you something?"
I blinked in surprise, then slowly answered, "Yes, but I cannot promise I will answer."
He nodded, then asked, "Why did you come to Gondor?"
I studied him carefully. There was no accusation in his voice, but I was still hesitant to answer. "Why do you wish to know?"
The faintest hint of a smile crossed his face. "I must admit that I'm a little curious, my lady. I've never met a woman before who would willingly ride into battle, save perhaps my cousin. Though I'm certain her father and brothers would never allow it."
I couldn't help sounding a little defensive as I answered, "Neither would my brother, and I'm certain that my uncle would not have wished me to come. But how could I stay behind when everyone I love was going off to die? And besides..." I suddenly cut off, not wanting to tell him that I had nothing left to stay behind for.
He didn't press the issue, for which I was grateful, though he did give me another one of his piercing looks. My face flushed slightly again, and to hide my embarrassment, I quickly changed the subject. "I fear you have me at a disadvantage, my lord. You seem to know much more about me than I know of you."
"Very well, my lady," he said, beginning to pace a little. "What do you wish to know?"
I fell into step beside him. "Considering I know nothing about you save what Merry and Lord Boromir told me, I hardly know where to start." A stricken look crossed his face as he paused in mid-stride, and I mentally kicked myself. "Forgive me, my lord," I quickly added. "I did not mean to bring up a painful subject."
"No...it's just..." He pushed away the dark hair that had fallen into his face, then looked back down at me. "You knew my brother?" he asked. I recognized the look in his eyes, the hunger for any knowledge of his departed brother. It was the same hunger I had always had for any memory of my mother and father, what I felt now for any news of my brother.
Perhaps we're not so different after all, I mused. "Not well," I said, beginning to walk again. "I met him once, when he passed through Rohan several months ago. He spoke very highly of you, though." Faramir looked a little surprised as I continued, "I only spoke with him once; it was my duty to see that his quarters were suitable. The only thing he requested was some parchment and ink; he needed to inform his lord of his safe arrival in Edoras, and he wished to write to his brother as well. I assured him I would see that the letters were delivered."
Faramir pulled a wrinkled piece of folded parchment out of a small pouch on his belt, carefully unfolding it and smoothing it out. "This is the letter he sent me...it was the last word I had from him." A wistful look crossed his face as he quickly scanned the page. "He promised he would try to write during the remainder of his journey, but that he didn't know how quickly he would be able to send any more letters." He glanced up at me then, a look of sad gratitude in his eyes. "You said he spoke of me?"
"Only a little. He said that he was seeking an elf-haven, and that you were much more suited to the task, that he almost wished they had sent you instead. He also thought that you would love the opportunity to speak with the Elves, if you weren't spending all your time in some dusty old library," I added, then winced as I realized that I had let my tongue run away with me yet again. With company like me, he would be better off alone! I thought, wondering how ill he must believe I thought of him.
Faramir looked amused, much to my relief. "He would say that," he said with a smile. "Though he was always grateful enough that I knew my way around those dusty old libraries whenever his studies required him to learn anything that could not be studied in the practice yards."
I glanced up at him again, curious. "Do you spend much time reading then, my lord?"
"Not very much," he answered gravely. "My duty has been elsewhere for quite some time."
"Oh." I wasn't really sure how to answer him, since books were a rarity at Edoras, and most of my people could not have been able to read them regardless. So we walked in silence for awhile, and though I still felt unsure of myself around him, it was not entirely uncomfortable. Finally, I looked back up at him and asked, "How is your arm?"
Faramir glanced down at the sling he still wore. "Ioreth says it is healing well, and that if I do not overwork it too soon, I should regain full use of it," he said. "And yours, my lady?"
"It's fine," I said. At least, my broken arm was fine. But I did not realize I had spoken the thought aloud until Faramir asked, "What is wrong with your other arm?"
"Nothing, my lord," I said quickly, my face reddening as I turned away.
"Lady Éowyn," he said, reaching out as if he were going to stop me. His hand brushed mine for just a moment, then his brow furrowed as he quickly withdrew it.
I just stared at him as he pulled off the sling, reached up and unclasped his cloak. "What are you doing?" I asked, surprised.
He simply settled the cloak around my shoulders, then pulled the sling back over his arm. "I thought you must be cold," he said. "Your hand was like ice."
"That's very kind of you, my lord," I said softly, "though I doubt it will help. It's been like that ever since I...since the battle."
"I see." I wondered if perhaps I had told him too much, or if I should return the cloak even though I couldn't deny that the extra warmth did feel nice, when he added, "I think perhaps you still need it more than I do at the moment." His eyes were kind, though touched with a hint of pity.
I clenched my hand slightly; I did not want his pity, nor anyone else's. But I forced my voice to stay even as I said, "Thank you, my lord."
"Please, don't address me so," he asked.
"How, then, would you wish me to address you, my lo...I mean...forgive me," I finally finished lamely.
He smiled again. For a moment I thought perhaps he was laughing at me; compared to the ladies of Gondor he was accustomed to, I was certain that I was presenting myself as a complete rustic. But then he said, "Just my name, my lady."
I almost smiled at his response. "Then why must you address me so formally?"
An innocent look crossed his face. "How else should I address you, my lady? You are a daughter of kings, and I merely a simple Steward. And I owe you a great debt on behalf of my people, as your deeds played a great part in saving my city."
My eyes narrowed a bit. "Do you mock me?" I asked indignantly.
The smile faded as he answered, "Nay, my lady, I do not." He gave me another one of those piercing looks that left me both convinced of his complete sincerity and completely unnerved, though I could not think of why it should have such an effect on me.
"Very well, Faramir," I finally said. "But you must call me Éowyn."
"Agreed." He smiled again, a more gentle one this time. He looked as if he were about to say more, but Ioreth entered the garden.
She quickly curtsied before saying, "My lord, my lady, the noon meal is ready."
"Thank you, Ioreth," Faramir said, then turned to me. "Shall we?" I nodded and followed them inside the Houses.
I felt someone shaking my shoulder, and heard a familiar voice saying, "Éowyn, wake up." I opened my eyes, blinking groggily before I was able to focus on the hobbit kneeling in front of me. As I sat up, I realized I had been leaning against the trunk of one of the trees in the garden, with my own cloak wrapped around my shoulders and a thick green cloak draped over me like a blanket. I quickly recognized it as the same one Faramir had lent me that morning.
It took me a moment to realize that I must have fallen asleep. I could remember giving the cloak back to Faramir and getting my own before we had returned to the garden after eating, then sitting under the same tree and exchanging stories about our brothers. But we had fallen silent after a time, and now the shadows were stretched much further over the ground than I remembered, and Faramir was nowhere in sight.
I looked back at Merry again. "How long have I been here?" I asked.
"A few hours, I think. Mithríel sent me to wake you; she said that if you slept much longer you'd never sleep tonight, and anyway, it's time for supper."
"Oh," I said, feeling foolish for having fallen asleep. "And Lord Faramir--where is he?"
A grin flashed across Merry's face, but disappeared just as quickly. "He did not wish to disturb you, so he's inside visiting some of his men that were wounded." A mischievous twinkle was in his eyes as he added, "Why do you ask?"
I pushed myself to a crouching position with my unbroken arm, then straightened up and began awkwardly trying to fold Faramir's cloak. "I need to return this to him."
"Here, allow me," Merry said, taking the cloak. I had to stifle a laugh at watching him try to fold a piece of material that was nearly twice as long as he was tall.
"Perhaps if we work together, it might go a little smoother," I suggested, and after a few moments, we had it folded somewhat neatly and back in my arms.
"I suppose that was a little easier," Merry admitted, grinning sheepishly. "Will you come into supper then?"
"Yes, I will. Will you be joining me?" I asked.
"I already ate a little while ago, but I do believe I could manage a bite or two more," Merry said.
"And Lord Faramir?" I asked, shifting the cloak so I could hold it pinned between my sling and my body and free up my other arm.
"I believe he already ate," Merry said. I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed; he had been surprisingly good company that day. But I quickly shrugged it off, reasoning that I would find him later. Merry took my arm to lead me inside, much as he had in Dunharrow. He gave me a slightly startled look that quickly turned grave.
"What is it, Merry?" I asked.
He looked up at me and simply said, "My arm's still cold too."
So it's not just coincidence then. The thought filled me with a strange combination of nervousness and relief. I looked down, and Merry's brown eyes briefly met mine as we walked inside with the unspoken agreement that neither of us wanted to think about what that could mean. And yet, it was a little comforting to know that someone understood.
After supper, Merry and I parted ways for the evening after I made him promise that he would come out to the garden the next day. I did not wish for him to sit alone in the Houses either. Then I went in search of Faramir.
I found him in the sitting area where Merry and I had eaten that morning. I watched him for a few moments, unsure how to approach him. A well-worn leather-bound book was propped open upon the arm of the chair he sat in, but he was only reading half-heartedly at best. Occasionally he would gaze into the fire with a troubled expression on his face, then shake his head as if to clear it or push his dark hair away from his eyes and look at his book again. Finally, I hesitantly knocked on the door frame.
He looked up and immediately stood to his feet when he saw me, nodding his head politely and setting his book on the chair. "Good evening, Éowyn," he said, smiling faintly.
"Good evening," I echoed, then looked at the book. "I thought you didn't read much."
"No, but I do enjoy it when I have the time," he answered.
"I'm sorry if I disturbed you," I said.
"Not at all, my lady," he quickly reassured me. A shadow briefly crossed his face as he added, "I was having difficulty concentrating anyway."
"I'll be out of your way in just a moment," I replied, holding out the still-folded cloak. "I just came to return this. And to thank you," I belatedly added. "That was very kind."
"It's nothing," Faramir said.
I nodded, feeling strangely shy around him, then turned to leave. I took two steps, then turned back and asked, "Why are you having trouble concentrating?"
Faramir did not answer for a long moment, then he finally said, "It's the fire. Ever since...the retreat...I keep having these terrible dreams about fire. I know it sounds foolish," he added, his eyes darting up to mine for a moment. "I don't know why it disturbs me so."
"No, that doesn't sound foolish," I said. "Strange, but not foolish." We stood there in silence for a moment, neither of us knowing what to say next. Finally, I curtsied quickly and said, "I should go."
Faramir nodded, then took my hand and kissed it lightly, bringing the blood rushing back to my face. What is it about this man that unsettles me so? I couldn't help wondering; I was certain I had blushed more in the last two days than the previous two years of my life. As he released my hand, he said, "Good evening, Éowyn."
"Good evening, Faramir," I said, forcing myself not to look down at my hand. His hand had felt so warm compared to mine, and I could still feel traces of that. It was a polite gesture. Nothing more, I firmly told myself.
This time I had reached the door before he stepped forward and said, almost as an afterthought, "Éowyn?" When I turned to look back at him, he asked, "Will I see you tomorrow?"
A small, but genuine smile slowly spread across my face. "You shall," I said, then curtsied once more. "Until tomorrow, then." I had just enough time to catch his smile before leaving.
The traces of a smile still lingered on my face as I climbed the stairs to go to my room. Perhaps I had found a friend in Gondor after all.