An Act of Desperation - Chapter 16- Three is Company

Chapter 16- Three is Company

To my surprise, I found myself actually looking forward to seeing Faramir the next morning. I was again looking out over the walls when he entered the gardens, and he quickly climbed the stairs to stand next to me.

"Your arm is better?" I asked, noting his sling was missing this morning.

"My shoulder, actually. And yes, though I had to swear to Ioreth that the moment it began to ache, I would wear the sling again." He shook his head with a slight grin, then asked with a pointed look towards my unbound arm, "And how is yours?"

"A little better. Thank you," I said. We fell into a comfortable silence for a time as I looked down over the city and he looked out across the Pelennor. Neither of us wanted to speak of the shadow in the East, which had seemed to grow darker overnight, so he finally said, "You seem fascinated by the view."

The corner of my mouth twitched in a wry smile. "I'm not accustomed to cities this large, nor built in such a fashion. How can you avoid getting lost? All the buildings look the same!"

Faramir laughed, and my face colored yet again as I silently cursed my inability to think before speaking. He must have noticed my discomfort, because he quickly reassured me, "If you're not familiar with the layout, it can be quite difficult. Or if you're not paying attention to where you're going," he added.

I did smile a little this time. "You speak as if you know this from experience."

He looked down at me with a rueful smile. "I'm afraid it has happened more than once when I was younger," he confessed. "Though, it's simpler than it looks," he added, and began pointing out various locations in the city and the surrounding areas. As he talked, I could clearly see his love for his homeland on his face, especially as he spoke of the lands of Ithilien beyond the Anduin. As he described the thick forests and waterfalls he had spent so much time in, his grey-blue eyes sparkled like the faint sunlight on the river in the distance.

"You describe it beautifully," I said softly. I could almost see the sunlight filtering through the leaves in the forest, so vivid were his descriptions. "It sounds like a lovely place."

"It is," he said, a far-off look on his face. He shook his head slightly, then requested, "Tell me about Rohan, Éowyn."

"You've never been there?" I asked.

"I went there with my brother once, but it was a long time ago. " He didn't seem to want to talk about it, so I tried to describe Edoras and the mountains and plains that surrounded my home. Although I could not depict it as eloquently as he could, he seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say, and I was grateful for his questions since they helped me to know what to talk about.

The sun had nearly reached its peak, though its light was still filtered through a thin layer of cloud, when Ioreth walked out, carrying a tray of food and with Merry in tow. "I thought perhaps you'd want to eat the noon-meal out here," she explained after we left the walls.

"I hope you don't mind my barging in," Merry added.

"Not at all," Faramir said, smiling kindly at the hobbit. "We'd be honored to have you join us."

I nodded my agreement, adding, "I wouldn't have asked you to if I thought otherwise." He smiled gratefully as Ioreth set the food down on a nearby bench, bowed and exited.

Faramir spread his cloak out on the ground and motioned for me to sit as Merry began to divide up the bread, cold roasted meat and hard cheese that we had been given. He stood a moment longer, silently facing away from the walls. I glanced over at Merry, who shrugged. When he finally sat down, Faramir explained, "It's customary in Gondor to look towards the West before meals."

I nodded, then picked up a crusty piece of bread. A screeching cry overhead startled me, and I dropped it as I looked up, half-expecting to see one of the winged beasts from the battle. Merry looked nervous too. "What's that?" he asked, looking around wildly.

"It's a gull--a seabird," Faramir said, barely glancing up. "They often come here during the colder months, or with the ships that sometimes come up the Anduin. See?" He pointed towards the sky, where several white birds soared overhead. I let out a breath I hadn't even known I was holding. He then picked up the bread, which had fallen back onto the cloak, and handed it back to me. "You've never heard them then?" he asked.

"We don't have such birds in Rohan," I said softly, embarrassed at being frightened by a mere bird.

"I've never seen the sea," Merry added, looking rather embarrassed himself. "Until several months ago, I had never even left the Shire."

"That reminds me; you still owe me an explanation, Merry," I said, glad to change the subject.

"I do?" he asked.

"You never did tell me how you ended up in Dunharrow."

His eyes lit up as he remembered. "You really want to hear it? I know you heard a good deal of the story already, my lord," he added apologetically, nodding to Faramir.

"Only the short version," Faramir said. "And please--there's no need for you to address me so formally, remember?"

Merry grinned sheepishly, then started, "All right. It all started with Bilbo's birthday party..." The Halfling turned out to be a natural storyteller, and I was soon so absorbed in his story that I had to remind myself to occasionally take a bite. If I hadn't seen so many strange things in the last few weeks, I would have thought he was making a good deal of it up. He told of being chased to Bree by the same Black Riders that we had faced on the Pelennor, then having to face them again at a place he called Weathertop. I could not help shuddering at the thought, and Faramir's jaw tensed slightly as if thinking on them disturbed him too.

As Merry continued, Faramir began asking him questions about the places he mentioned, such as Rivendell and Moria. I was impressed at his knowledge of places that were no more than passing legends to my people. The names became more familiar to me as he spoke of Lothlórien and the Anduin. He seemed a little reluctant to continue after this, glancing over at Faramir uncertainly. As Faramir pressed him for details, I quickly saw why, as Merry told of his last minutes with Boromir. Though the anguish in the man's eyes was plain to see, he insisted on hearing everything. When Merry finished, I looked up at Faramir questioningly. "I'm fine," he said quietly. "Please continue, Merry."

After a moment's hesitation, he continued and spoke of his and Pippin's capture by the Uruk-hai. I quickly realized that the Riders who had attacked the raiding party in the night were none other than my brother and his men; Merry hadn't known this, and smiled grimly as he said he'd have to remember to thank Éomer later. Then he told of his escape into Fangorn Forest and the later attack on Isengard, and it was my turn to ask questions about the places I had heard so many stories about when I was a child.

I couldn't help smiling, in spite of the all-too-familiar lump in my throat, as Merry told me of his first impressions of my uncle when they first met at Isengard. Then he told of their encounter with Saruman. No one had told me much about it, so I listened intently. Merry mentioned in passing that a man who called himself Gríma had come to the tower, then about some object he called a palantír being tossed out of the window, presumably by the same person.

I froze, my hand unconsciously clenching around the fabric of my skirt until my knuckles whitened. Faramir's thoughtful look grew more anxious as he noticed. "Éowyn?" he asked quietly. "Are you well?"

"I...I'm fine," I stammered, forcing a smile and deliberately smoothing my skirt back out. "Really, I am."

Faramir gave me a skeptical look, but thankfully did not press the issue as Merry continued to tell about how Pippin had looked into the palantír, then had been taken to Minas Tirith, then their other companions had chosen to leave for Dunharrow early, and he had been left with the Rohirrim. "And your uncle graciously allowed me to ride with them," he said to me, "and we came to Dunharrow. And, well, you know what happened after that."

I gave Merry a grateful look, unsure whether I had the courage yet to speak of the battle. Merry nodded slightly, indicating he understood perfectly. Faramir glanced at me, then Merry. "That's a remarkable tale, Merry," he finally said.

Merry shrugged. "Perhaps. I suppose my part in this tale is over now," he said sadly. I could see the shame in his eyes at being left behind.

"Perhaps," Faramir said. "But that does not diminish the honor you have already earned, Merry."

Merry glanced up and tentatively smiled at Faramir. "You really think so?" Faramir nodded, and Merry quickly brightened up as he jumped to his feet. "I'm going to take this inside and see if there's anything else to eat lying around; telling a tale such as this is hungry work." I couldn't help smiling as he picked up the tray; it seemed that more often than not, food was the foremost thing on Merry's mind. As he turned to go, Merry looked at Faramir one more time and said solemnly, "I can see why Pippin spoke so highly of you."

Faramir seemed slightly embarrassed by the compliment as he pushed away the dark hair that had fallen into his eyes, but he met Merry's gaze steadily. "Thank you, Merry," he said softly. Merry nodded, then went inside.

Neither Faramir nor I spoke for a moment. Finally, I said, "He's quite remarkable, is he not?"

"What do you mean?" Faramir asked, looking over at me.

"To endure a journey such as that, and still have such a resilient spirit," I answered.

"I think that perhaps it is a peculiarity common to the Halflings," Faramir said thoughtfully, brushing off his green tunic. Then he stood up and extended a hand to me. I only hesitated a moment before placing my hand in his and allowing him to help me to my feet. "That, and an unusual fondness for frequent meals," he added with a slight grin.

I burst out laughing. "If he leaves a bite to eat in all of Minas Tirith before the week is out, I'll be surprised." Faramir laughed at that. "Tell me, Faramir, what other peculiarities are common to the Halflings?"

"I do not think I would be the best judge of such matters, my lady," he said. "Merry is only the fourth hobbit to cross my path."

"You've met the other two he spoke of then, Frodo and Sam?" I asked, surprised.

"While I was patrolling Ithilien, not too long ago." A shadow fell over his face.

"What happened?" I asked quietly. Faramir looked over at me, and I quickly added, "I don't mean to pry. If you do not wish to speak of it..."

"No, I..." he interrupted. "I just hope I made the right decision," he finally added, glancing up towards the innermost circle of the city, where the Citadel towered above us. I remained silent, and he finally continued, "I let them go. The Enemy's weapon within my grasp, and I let them go. I can't help wondering if the cost of that decision will be too much for my people to bear."

We were standing on the walls again by now, and I watched Faramir's face as he gazed out over the walls, his jaw clenched slightly. I could almost see the weight of responsibility on him as his shoulders slumped a little, and wondered what trials he had to endure that led him to this end. And for the first time, I realized that he was stronger than I had originally thought, though in a different way than I was accustomed to seeing among the men of my own people. "If you had to do it again," I asked hesitantly, "would you still make the same choice?"

Faramir didn't answer for awhile, never looking away from the shadow in the East. The corners of his mouth pulled back in a humorless smile. "I've thought through it countless times since then, how things might have been different had I chosen differently. Every time I come to the same conclusion, that had I done differently, Gondor's destruction would be certain. I know it sounds like madness, or folly. Perhaps both. My father certainly thought so." He hesitated, closing his eyes in pain for a moment, then added, "Perhaps it is. But my heart still tells me I should have done no differently. At least this way, there is still hope."

Hope. The very idea was a mockery to me; I could feel the malice in the darkness over the mountains as clearly as if the Nazgûl was standing before me once more. "Tell me, my lord," I asked, clenching and unclenching my numbed fingers to try to bring some kind of feeling back to them, "what hope do you see?"

Faramir looked at me until I finally returned the gaze. His eyes softened as he motioned to the battle-scarred field stretching before the city. "We both sought death on that field, and yet we still live. Can you not see any hope in that?"

I turned away, staring out over the field. "The only hope remaining to me was to find an honorable death. That hope was lost when I was brought here," I said softly.

"Éowyn..." Faramir said, but I shook my head, whispering, "Please don't make me talk about it." He nodded, pressing his lips into a thin line, and rested his hands on the parapet.

The silence soon grew heavy and awkward, and I soon began to miss the easy camaraderie that had started to form between us. Finally, I couldn't stand it anymore "Faramir," I began at the same time that he said, "Éowyn..." He paused, then nodded for me to speak first. "Forgive me. I shouldn't have said those things," I said. "It's just... everything that happened since I left Rohan has gone so horribly wrong. I failed my uncle, and Éomer thinks I'm no less than a traitor, I'm sure, and..." I closed my eyes, fighting back the tears that were becoming all-too familiar now, and turned away, letting my hair fall over my face. I didn't want him to see me like this. "Forgive me," I said again. "I..." I could say no more, as I choked back a sob.

"Éowyn," Faramir said gently. "Éowyn, look at me. Please." I finally looked up, and though his face was blurred through my tears, I could still see those grey-blue eyes looking at me intently. "There's nothing to forgive, Éowyn. There is no shame or weakness in grieving for the loss of those you love. And I'm sure Éomer isn't upset with you," he softly added.

I turned away from him and closed my eyes again. A moment later, I could feel his hand on my cheek, brushing away the tears that had managed to escape. Instantly my mind took me back to Théodred's graveside, and Gríma's cold hand on my cheek. I stiffened as my eyes flew open, then swatted his hand away, crying, "Don't touch me!"

Faramir jerked his hand back as if he had been burned, and I immediately wished I could take the words back. "I'm sorry," he said, eyes widening. "I should not have been so forward."

"It...it's not you...I...excuse me," I stammered, unable to bring myself to look at him as I quickly whirled around and ran down the stairs leading up to the walls.

I rushed past a startled Merry, who had just re-entered the gardens. I barely registered his cry of "What happened?" and Faramir's bewildered reply that he didn't know, then I was inside the Houses. I went to my room as fast as I could, yanked the door open and ran inside. Then I pushed the door shut and dropped heavily onto the bed, breathing hard and shaking.

What is wrong with me? I shook my head at myself in disgust as I fumbled with the clasp to the brooch holding my cloak closed. Wormtongue can't find me here. And Faramir's not anything like him. The thought briefly crossed my mind that perhaps I would not have shied away had it been Aragorn instead of Faramir. But as I pulled the brooch free of my cloak, I wondered if I could have reacted any differently. I allowed the silver horsehead to sit in my palm, absently rubbing the smooth metal with my thumb, thinking that I must be going mad, and wishing more than anything that Faramir had not seen how weak I had become.

A knock on the door caused me to jerk my head up. I quickly scrubbed at my tear-stained cheeks with the back of my hand, then called out, "What is it?"

"Éowyn?" I heard Faramir say quietly, then Merry added, "Can we come in?"

I sat there for a moment in silence, then answered, "Come in." At least Merry had come too; I did not think I could face Faramir alone after my outburst.

The door opened, and Merry entered, his anxiety written all over his face as he climbed up next to me on the edge of the bed. Faramir followed, and while his expression was calmer than Merry's, the concern in his eyes was no less deep. He sat down on the wooden chair across from me, then said, "If I offended you, my lady, I truly am sorry. It was not my intent at all to hurt you."

"I know." I suddenly realized how sharply the edges of the brooch were digging into my palm, but it still took a conscious effort to relax my hand.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Merry asked. I shook my head. I couldn't. He glanced down, then exclaimed, "You're bleeding!"

"What?" I looked down at my hand; sure enough, a little red was now visible on the edges of the brooch. "It's nothing," I quickly said.

"May I?" Faramir asked. I hesitated, then nodded, opening my hand a little more. He took my hand in his, then wordlessly picked up the brooch and handed it to Merry. "Merry, can you see any bandages or anything of that sort in here?" he asked, not looking up from my hand.

"In the drawer in the table with the pitcher," I answered. He glanced up at me, then pulled the drawer open. He released my hand long enough to tear off a wide strip of bandage cloth, then poured some of the water from the pitcher over it and began gently cleaning the blood off. "The cuts aren't deep; they should stop bleeding soon," he said, pressing the cloth over my palm to speed up the process.

I glanced up, briefly meeting his gaze. For just a moment, the look in his eyes made me catch my breath--strength mixed with gentleness, and there was something else that I couldn't quite put my finger on. But just as quickly, it was gone, and I decided it had been nothing more than my imagination.

"This looks like the brooch the Riders wore," Merry said, turning over the pin in his hands.

"It is," I said, grateful for the distraction. "My uncle gave it to me just before we left Edoras." The tears pricked my eyes again, and I looked down at my hand, still in Faramir's, and whispered, "I miss him so much."

"So do I," Merry said softly. "I wish I had known him longer."

"I wish I could have actually done something to help him." I closed my eyes and took a ragged breath; I was not going to start weeping like a child again.

"You did more than anyone else could have," Faramir said softly. I opened my eyes and looked up at him. "And I'm certain he would not blame you, Éowyn."

"That doesn't make it any easier," I murmured.

"I know." My eyes met Faramir's again, and I could see that he understood. He broke the gaze first this time, looking down at my hand again and pulling off the cloth. All I could see were a few faintly-reddish marks where the brooch had dug into my skin. He added, "I don't think it will start bleeding again."

"Thank you," I said softly. He nodded and released my hand, a silent question in his eyes. I nodded to tell him that I held no grudge against him for what had happened on the wall, and he visibly relaxed.

Merry handed the brooch back to me. "Will you be staying in here then?" he asked.

"No," I said, offering him a faint smile. "I think I'd get bored without your fine company, Merry." The hobbit grinned and slid off the bed, and I followed him to the door. "Faramir, are you coming?" I asked, looking back.

"Of course," he answered, pushing the chair back slightly as he stood and followed us out of the room.

***

I spent the remainder of the afternoon in the garden with Merry, listening to his often-amusing stories of life in the Shire. One of the lords of the city, who had introduced himself to Merry and I as Húrin, came to see Faramir and discuss the affairs of the city and the surrounding countryside; apparently he was governing while Faramir was recovering. Faramir rejoined us just in time for supper, but had been rather quiet since his return. After supper, Merry had opted to stay inside by the fire, but I was still feeling too restless to spend the remainder of the evening sitting, so Faramir and I were walking on the walls once more, watching twilight fall over the city.

He seemed troubled; his eyes had taken on a far-away look, and he kept brushing his raven locks away from his face in what I was quickly coming to recognize as a nervous gesture. Hoping to draw him out of his silence, but uncertain how to proceed, I decided to pick a neutral topic and asked, "What's the sea like, Faramir?"

Faramir paused, looking out over the fields as if deep in thought. Finally, he answered, "Have you ever seen a river on a windy day? The way the wind disturbs the surface?" I nodded. "It's a little like that, only the water stretches as far as your eye can see. And it's different every time you look at it; sometimes it's as grey as storm clouds, and often when the sun shines it's all ever-changing shades of blue and green and silver. And if the sun is rising or setting, the water looks as if it were made of gold. I think that's my favorite time to watch it," he said with a small smile.

"It sounds lovely," I answered. "Have you been there often?"

"When I was a boy, Boromir and I would often spend our summers with our mother's kin in Dol Amroth. It's been years since I've been there. But I would like the opportunity to see it once more." He rested his hands on the parapet and looked out towards the east, a faraway look on his face. "The first time I ever really saw the sun rise was on one of those visits. Boromir woke me up while it was still dark--I think I was about six years old at the time--and insisted that he wanted to show me something. So he brought me down to the dunes on the eastern side of the city, and then he sat down. I asked him what we were looking for, and he told me to wait." Faramir smiled wryly. "I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew, Boromir was shaking me and telling me that it was time. So I looked, and I could see the sun just starting to come over the horizon and reflecting off the water. We sat there just watching for a long time; I had never seen anything like it."

I looked at him, surprised, and he said, "All my life, there's been a shadow over the mountains. It's grown darker in recent years, but it was always there, dimming the sunrise. We could never clearly see the sun until it rose past the peaks of the mountains, and even then it turned the sky blood-red until it had risen past the ash and smoke. I'll never forget what Boromir said to me that morning; he said that someday, we'd be able to look out from our city and see the sky just as clear. I always hoped he was right, but now..." he dropped his head a little.

I wanted to say something, to reassure him, but how could I offer him hope when I had none myself? I was spared from having to answer when a child's voice called out, "Lord Faramir?"

Faramir turned towards the Houses; I followed his gaze to where a dark-haired boy stood, clutching a cloth-wrapped bundle to his chest. "Good evening, Bergil," Faramir said with a faint smile.

"I have your things that you asked to have brought here, my lord," the boy said politely as Faramir left the wall and I followed. I then recognized him as the same boy who had been with Merry the day that Éomer left.

"Thank you," Faramir said, taking the bundle. "And give your mother my thanks as well."

"I will, my lord," Bergil said with a bow. Then he looked over at me and asked, "Did you really kill a Nazgûl?"

"Bergil!" Faramir exclaimed, shooting me an apologetic look.

"I...um..." My face reddened. "Merry helped," I finally blurted out.

Bergil looked slightly awed as he smiled at me. "I think you're the bravest girl ever." My face reddened even further as Faramir tried rather unsuccessfully to hide a grin.

I was spared any further embarrassment as the silhouette of a woman appeared in the doorway and called out, "Bergil, come inside. It's getting late."

"But Mother, can't I stay out here a little longer? He tells the best stories!" Bergil protested.

"I'm sure the Lord Faramir has much to do, Bergil," she said. I recognized the voice now as Mithríel's, to my surprise. I hadn't known she had a son, especially one who had remained in the city; Faramir had told me most of the women and children had left before the siege began.

"I'll make a deal with you, Bergil," Faramir said, kneeling down before the boy and lowering his voice so that only the three of us could hear. "Do what your mother says now, and if you come back tomorrow, I'll tell you any story you want to hear."

"Really?" Bergil's face lit up. "Even one about the Rangers?"

"Even one about that." Faramir smiled, and I couldn't help smiling myself as Bergil grinned widely, bowed and called out a good-night before running back to the house.

"You're good with the boy," I said. He would make a good father someday. My face colored yet again at the thought, but Faramir didn't seem to notice. His smile faded, and his eyes took on the faraway look again. "What's in there?" I asked, gesturing towards the bundle, hoping to take his mind off of whatever was troubling him.

"Oh... just some things from home, some books and things like that," Faramir said absently, brushing his raven-colored hair away from his eyes.

I decided to change the subject as we went inside. "Your mother's kin is from Dol Amroth? Where Prince Imrahil is from?"

"Yes; he is my uncle. You've met him, then?"

"A few days ago, yes. He was with my brother." I eyed Faramir suspiciously. "Are you well? You seem somewhat... distracted."

"Yes, I'm fine--just some things I need to take care of tonight," he said.

"I'll take my leave then; I would not wish to hinder you. Good night," I replied, then added, "And thank you; I know I have not been the best of company. I don't know why you're so patient with me."

"I've enjoyed your company these last two days," he said, then paused and added, "I wish I could help you, Éowyn."

"I know, my friend." I wish you could too, Faramir, I couldn't help thinking as I left.

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