An Act of Desperation - Chapter 17- Shadows of the Past

I couldn't sleep that night. Merry's news that Gríma was still near Rohan had shaken me more than I cared to admit, and every time I closed my eyes, I could almost feel him watching me again. Though I kept telling myself he could not find me here, it was a lot harder to believe alone in the dark. And I was cold. The chill that had been in the air when I was in the garden that evening seemed to have seeped into my very core, and though I had wrapped my cloak around myself and painstakingly piled all the blankets in the room on the bed, I could not seem to get warm. And I was furious with myself for being so weak. As fragile as a lily touched by frost, he said. Perhaps Wormtongue was right about me after all, I thought despairingly.

I rolled onto my back and stared up towards the ceiling, though I could hardly see a thing. A slight glimpse of the fireplace revealed that the embers had nearly burned out completely; perhaps if I could revive the fire, I might warm up a bit. So I pushed the blankets off, shivering as my feet hit the cold stone floor. After a little fumbling in the dark, I found the heavy iron poker that had been left to tend the fire, and began to prod at the charred firewood as I held my cloak tightly around myself. It did not seem to have any effect, so I picked up a small bellows. It soon became obvious to me that my shield-arm lacked the strength to allow me to work it with both hands, and resting it on the floor and pumping it with my unbroken arm didn't work either; the only effect was to scatter the ashes. I cannot wait to have the use of both my arms again, I thought crossly as I stood up again, rubbing irritably at the bandages they had wrapped around my hand to keep the splint in place.

There was a fireplace in the small sitting-room, I remembered; the room was smaller than mine, and I was almost certain that the fire would have been left burning later. Perhaps that room was warmer. With this thought in mind, I struggled into one of the dresses that the healers had brought in for me that day; I knew that several of the wounded soldiers were in the rooms downstairs, and I had no wish to possibly be caught walking around in a nightgown by one of them. Without the sling, I was able to maneuver my left arm a little better, though the time of disuse combined with the motions of pulling the lacing in the back tight soon caused my arm to ache dully. I gritted my teeth and forced myself to pin my cloak about my neck, but my hands rebelled completely when I tried to pull on my boots--my broken arm burned in pain and lacked the strength to hold on to the shoe, while my other arm was completely numbed from the unnatural chill that refused to relinquish its hold on me. I kicked one of the boots across the floor in frustration, then decided that I'd just tuck my feet under my skirts to keep them warm. If I could find a warm place. With that thought in mind, I quietly opened the door, then padded down the hall. The stone floors felt icy to my bare feet, and I couldn't help wondering how Merry could stand walking around like that all the time.

I crept past the rooms with all the beds where most of the Houses' patients were staying, running my hand along the wall to help keep me from missing the room. I soon felt the smooth wood of a doorframe, with the door slightly ajar, and I glanced into the near-darkened room. The faint glow by the hearth drew me to the fireplace as I entered, and I quietly picked up the poker to see if stirring the embers would coax the dying flames to burn brighter. It seemed to be working, and I knelt by the fireplace, trying to warm my hands as I continued to work at the fire.

I was startled to hear the sound of the door opening a little more. "Éowyn?" a familiar voice said from behind me. Reflex took over, and I tightened my grip on the poker and jumped up, ready to defend myself if necessary. After I whirled around to face whoever was behind me, I nearly dropped the iron bar in surprise.

"Faramir?" I asked as I lowered my arm. "What are you doing here?" The question came out harsher than I intended, but he just glanced up at me for a moment, then looked away. Even in the dim light, I could see that he looked paler than usual, his expression a terrible mixture of shock, grief and bitterness. I was surprised to see the faint sheen of moisture on his cheeks, as if he had been weeping. "I'm sorry," I finally said, drawing the cloak closer around myself. "You just startled me. I wasn't expecting anyone to come down here."

"Neither was I," he said flatly.

"Is something wrong? You look unwell," I said.

He looked down and didn't answer for a long moment, then finally said, "I'm sorry I disturbed you," and turned and left.

"Faramir, wait," I called out, moving towards the door, but when I looked out in the hall, he had already vanished into the shadows. I stared down the darkened hall for a minute, then turned and went back into the sitting room.

It took an effort, but I was able to shove one of the chairs closer to the fire, and I wearily sank down into it, letting the fire warm my bare feet as I tried to sort out my bewildered thoughts. There was something wrong with Faramir, I just knew it. But I couldn't force him to talk about it, especially since I had been so reluctant to speak to him in the first place. Still, I had this nagging feeling that I should have done something. I just didn't know what. So I pulled my cloak closer and let my eyes drift shut as I stared into the flames.

***

I ran my hand over the familiar carvings that adorned the wooden columns running the length of the main hall in Meduseld, feeling reluctant to take my usual place by the throne. That feeling of reluctance had been growing steadily as of late. But my uncle needed me, and I could not abandon my duty because of my own misgivings. I needed to be strong, for his sake. So I took a deep breath and walked towards the throne with my head lifted high.

"Good morning, Uncle," I said, sounding more cheerful than I felt. He lifted his head for a moment, and I felt the all-too-familiar knot in my stomach twist as I saw how distant his gaze seemed to be, and how much older he seemed to have become overnight.

"Éowyn," he murmured almost inaudibly.

"Yes, my lord, I'm here," I said, taking his hand, grateful that for once, Wormtongue was nowhere in sight. "I'm going to help you." He dropped his head again and did not reply.

"And what makes you think you can do anything?" a mocking voice behind me said. I clenched my jaw as I turned. "Your uncle is weary. He is growing old, Éowyn. I know this is hard for you to accept, but you must."

"I will not," I said, letting go of my uncle's hand and straightening up. "I will not give up hope that he will get better."

"But you're already too late," Wormtongue said with a leering grin. "Do you not remember? He is already dead."

I looked back at the throne to find it was empty, the hall behind me falling into shadow. A sick feeling settled in my stomach, along with the familiar numbness in my arm. "When Éomer returns to take the throne, you'll regret the day you ever set foot in this hall, Gríma," I said defiantly.

Wormtongue laughed. "And what can your brother do? You know he will not return either."

"He might," I protested. He has to. "Why are you still here? Can you truly find nothing better to do with your time than to torment me?"

He stepped closer, and I stepped back, surprised to feel the wall behind me. "I could never leave you, my dear Éowyn," he said, reaching out and running his hand down my cheek. I tried to reach out and push his hand away, only to find that I could not lift my arm; it felt cold and leaden. So I tried to shrink back from him, but I may as well have been frozen in place. His hand moved down my neck, lingering for a moment on the thin scar that his dagger had left, then down to my collarbone. "You know you'll never be rid of me."

My breath was coming quicker now as I began to panic. I felt as if iron bands were holding me in place, and the more I struggled to get away, the tighter they held me. "Éowyn," he said again, reaching out with his other hand and gripping my arm tightly.

"Get away from me, Wormtongue," I cried desperately, struggling even more wildly as I shut my eyes to block his face from my vision.

"Éowyn!" His voice was changing now, and I could feel him shaking me lightly. "Éowyn, wake up! It's me, Merry."

My body jerked forward as my eyes flew open to see the hobbit standing beside the chair, shaking my arm. The flickering firelight illumined the welcome sight of the sitting room and cast rich golden highlights in Merry's curls. It was a dream. He's gone, I frantically reminded myself. "Merry," I gasped, trying to catch my breath. "What are you doing here?"

"I was hungry, and decided to go to the kitchen to see if I could find something to eat. And I saw the door was open here. I heard you crying out, and I came to see what was wrong." He looked at me steadily, his eyes filled with concern. "You kept shouting at someone named Wormtongue. What did he do to you?"

I closed my eyes again and let myself slump back into the chair. For a moment, I struggled with whether to tell him. I had kept my silence for so long that I didn't even know how to begin. "You must swear to me that you will tell no one," I said slowly.

"I promise," Merry said solemnly. "Not a word."

I regarded him for a moment, still wondering whether I should talk about it. But I thought I could trust Merry. And Gríma was gone, I reminded myself again. I didn't need to stand between him and my family anymore. I took a deep breath, then slid off the chair to the floor in front of the hearth. Merry sat down next to me. "You met him before, at Isengard. His true name is Gríma. We called him Wormtongue because his words poisoned my uncle's mind and nearly handed my country over to Saruman's keeping. He turned my uncle into a dotard before his time and imprisoned my brother. And he...attacked me...once. I was able to escape before anything happened, but..."

Merry's eyes lit up in sudden understanding. "Then this afternoon, when you got upset... oh, Éowyn, I'm sorry! I wouldn't have mentioned it if I had known..."

"There was no way you could have known," I said softly.

"If it helps, I don't think he'll ever be able to go anywhere near Rohan again. I think he's too scared of the Ents to bother leaving Isengard," Merry said with a shaky grin.

I laughed in spite of myself, though it sounded halfway between a laugh and a sob, feeling strangely better now that I had finally told someone. "Thank you, Merry." I paused, then added, "And please, tell no one of this. Not even Faramir." A frown crossed my face again as I thought of the man of Gondor. Had I somehow offended him when he found me here earlier? Or was it something else?

"I won't," he said again. "Do you wish me to leave you here to rest again?"

"No," I said firmly. Weakness or not, I couldn't take the chance of falling back into those dreams again. "You were going to the kitchens, right?" Merry nodded. "You know, you might need some help to reach some of those higher shelves."

The Halfling grinned widely. "Just because you're taller than me..." I laughed again, a more genuine one this time, then followed him to the kitchens.

We quickly found some bread and preserves, then sat down at a rough-hewn wooden table and began talking. Merry seemed to have determined to drive all thoughts of my earlier nightmares out of my head as he ate, and told me story after story of pranks he and his cousins, especially Pippin, had pulled when they were younger. My heart was slowly lightened from hearing his tales, and by the time Ioreth found us in the kitchen, I was laughing almost as heartily as the hobbit.

Merry spotted her first, letting his expression fade to an innocent grin. I looked back too, and was surprised to see that the darkened sky had faded to a grey morning light. "Good morning, my lady," he said cheerfully.

Ioreth shook her head at us. "Isn't it a little early for you two to be up?"

Merry shrugged. "I was hungry."

"What's your excuse? And how did you get dressed, my lady? You should not be using that arm!" Ioreth gave me a stern look, though the effect was weakened by the amusement on her face from Merry's reply.

"I decided the sitting room would be warmer than my room," I said innocently.

She shook her head. "Let me see your arm," she ordered. I didn't feel like arguing for once, and held out my bandaged arm obediently. She ran her hands down the length of my arm. "It seems to be all right," she said. "Do you feel any pain?"

"It's just a little stiff. But I was cold," I said.

"And no wonder, walking around here barefoot like that," Ioreth admonished. "Meaning no offense to you, of course," she added to Merry. She felt my forehead, apparently to see if I was feverish, then took my unbandaged hand. As she did, her eyes widened slightly. "This is strange," she said.

"What?" Merry asked.

"Your arm is still cold! I've never seen anything like this," she exclaimed, then turned to Merry. "And you, Meriadoc, what of your arm?"

"It's still a little cold, but..." he cut off as she took his hand too, then shook her head.

"I suppose you'll still want breakfast," Ioreth said with a pointed look at Merry, "but then I want to see both of you upstairs to see if we can do something to help." I looked at Merry, who shrugged, then nodded. Ioreth left the room, muttering something about needing to find some herb.

Breakfast was a quiet affair. One of the kitchen staff cooked sausages for us. Merry toasted some more bread for us, and we stayed in the kitchen to eat. As we walked up the stairs afterwards, Merry whispered, "What do you think Ioreth's going to do to us, anyway?"

"I have no idea," I answered, just as she appeared in the hall and waved us into my room.

"I took the liberty of using your room, my lady," Ioreth said as she motioned for me to sit down on the bed and for Merry to sit in the chair. The basin had been filled with steaming water, and a young woman with dark brown hair and grey-green eyes, whom I did not recognize, dropped a few crushed leaves atop the water. "Merry, roll your shirt sleeve up. Aredhel, help Lady Éowyn with hers. And help her put her shoes on while you're at it."

As Aredhel rolled the sleeve of my dress up until most of my right arm was exposed, I looked over at the water basin curiously. The herbs she had dropped in there gave off a strangely familiar aroma, reminding me of the crisp air in the mountains of my homeland. "Ioreth, what did you put in the water?" I asked as Aredhel tugged my well-worn boots onto my feet and pulled the laces tight.

"The plant is called athelas, my lady--kingsfoil in the Common tongue. It seemed to help your arm before, after the battle. Though I daresay I would never have guessed it to be such a powerful healing herb, had not the Lord Aragorn instructed us to use it," she chattered.

I felt a pang at the mention of Aragorn, but did not answer. Instead, I focused my attention on what the healers were doing with the herb-infused water; though I knew some of the basics of healing from years of binding up soldier's wounds, the herb-lore of the Gondorians was altogether new to me, and I found their methods somewhat fascinating. Aredhel took a clean cloth and soaked it in the still-steaming water, then carefully squeezed out most of the excess and began to bathe my arm in it. The warmth of the water on my cold skin soaked in gently, like the warmth of sunlight, and the dull ache in my arm abated somewhat. The surprised look on Merry's face seemed to indicate that the herb was having a similar effect on him. I flexed my fingers gingerly, in wonder that they did not feel as stiff as they had.

"Is your arm feeling a little better, my lady?" Aredhel asked shyly.

"It is," I said, giving her a small smile. "Thank you."

"Yes, thank you," Merry echoed, looking at Ioreth.

"Very good," the older woman said, beaming. "I've sent Mithríel's boy in search of some more of the herb. Now, Aredhel, if you could help me take this downstairs..." she waved a hand towards the water basin. "I'd like to see if the herb will aid some of the wounded. And we mustn't let this go to waste. I'll send someone to check on you two later," she said as she left the room, Aredhel following slowly so as not to spill the water.

I turned to Merry. "What should we do now?"

"I suppose we could go out to the gardens," Merry answered. "I'm sure Faramir's wondering what's keeping us."

"I hope so," I said softly, feeling uneasy as I remembered how pale his face had been during the night. Nevertheless, I followed Merry down the hall, putting on my cloak as I went, and out the door into the deserted garden.

"That's strange," Merry said, looking around. "Faramir's usually out here by now."

"Perhaps he'll come soon," I replied, though I could not shake the feeling that he would not.

Sure enough, though Merry and I waited in the gardens until after lunch, Faramir did not come. "This isn't like him at all. At least, I don't think it is," Merry wondered aloud.

I frowned. "Something's wrong." I told him of the strange mood he had been in when I saw him in the sitting room during the night, and Merry said, "That doesn't sound like him either."

"I know," I said. "Something is troubling him, I'm certain. I just don't know what."

"We should go talk to him then," Merry replied.

"And if he wishes to be alone?" I asked. "We can't force him to tell us what's wrong."

"I think he might talk to you," Merry said softly, a somewhat strange look in his eyes. "Anyway, we have to try." I reluctantly nodded agreement, and we went back into the Houses.

"It's no use, Ioreth," I could hear Mithríel saying as we climbed the last few stairs to the upper hall. "He hasn't even touched any food today, and he's barely said two words since..." her voice trailed off as she saw Merry and I.

"Is something wrong with Faramir?" I asked. The two healers looked at each other uncomfortably.

"He's not sick, is he?" Merry added.

Ioreth looked at Mithríel. "Perhaps he'll speak to one of them," she said slowly. Mithríel nodded.

Merry boldly walked up to the door and knocked. "Faramir? Are you all right?" he asked. There was a pause, then I could hear Faramir's voice, quiet but firm, saying, "Go away, Merry." Merry looked surprised and a little hurt.

I clenched my jaw, feeling a little angry with Faramir for being so uncharacteristically rude. "Is the door unlocked?" I asked Mithríel.

"It is, my lady. But I am not certain he will wish to see you," she reluctantly answered.

"If I can kill an orc, I think I can handle talking to your Steward," I said, lifting my head proudly.

"I must warn you, he can be quite stubborn when he gets a notion in his head," Ioreth cautioned.

"And I can be just as stubborn, if not more," I retorted, knocking on the door. "Faramir?" I asked.

"Please, just leave me alone," he said, his voice muffled through the thick wood.

"I'm sorry, but I can't," I replied. I glanced back at the others as I laid my hand on the door latch. Mithríel and Ioreth nodded, then left.

"If you need me, I'll be down the hall," Merry whispered. I nodded and gave him a grateful smile, then opened the door and entered the room, not bothering to close the door behind me.

The small room was much like mine, with simple furnishings and a window facing towards the mountains of the East. I could see that the fire had completely burned out--quite some time ago, if the chill in the room was any indication. I did not see Faramir at first; it took me a moment to find him sitting on the floor, with his back against the wall on the far side of the bed. He rested his elbows on his knees, with his head slumped heavily against the wall. His unshaven face looked haggard, as if he had not slept at all; he wore the same clothes as he had the day before, but much more rumpled, and his dark hair fell haphazardly into his closed eyes. I sat down on the ground next to him, smoothing my skirt and resting my broken arm in my lap. As he heard my skirts rustling as I sat, he opened his eyes; his gaze was nearly lifeless. "You don't listen very well, do you?" he muttered, not even looking at me.

"The healers have said nothing else," I said in a pitiful attempt to lighten his mood somewhat. He made no reply, as I expected, so I asked, "What's wrong?"

"Why should you care?" he asked, and I was surprised at the bitter undercurrent in his voice.

"Because," I said firmly, "You're my friend, Faramir. Or has everything you've said to me this week meant nothing?" My jaw clenched slightly at the thought; I truly wanted to believe that I could trust him.

His face softened slightly, and he finally glanced over at me out of the corner of his eye. The raw pain in his gaze was almost overwhelming. He finally shook his head slightly. "No...I meant every word of it."

The relief I felt at those words made me release a breath I hadn't known I was holding, and I unclenched my jaw. "I'm sorry if I was harsh with you before. But you've been saying all week you wanted to help me, Faramir. Please...give me the same opportunity to try to help you."

"You can't," he said softly.

The despair on his face grieved me. "Faramir, about what I said earlier... if you do wish me to go...I do not wish to trouble you," I stammered. He still did not answer. "Do you wish me to leave then?" I asked more gently.

He stared into nothing for awhile, seeming to be having some sort of silent debate with himself. "No," he finally whispered.

"Then I won't," I assured him. We fell silent again for a time. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. "Do you want to talk about it?" When he didn't respond, I asked, "Was it something Lord Húrin said to you? You've been so quiet ever since he came last night."

Faramir lifted his head a bit. "All we spoke of was how things stand within the city, particularly the defenses. The gates were destroyed in the siege, so if we have need to defend ourselves against another attack, it will be much more difficult this time. And we did speak a little of what will need to be done once I can begin fulfilling my duties as Steward."

I just looked at him, unconvinced. "I don't think that's what's troubling you."

Faramir sighed, staring out listelessly into the room once more. "No," he finally admitted. "After he left...it made me start thinking of my father. No one would tell me how he died, and..." his voice trailed off.

I reached out and turned his face towards me, then dropped my hand to my lap. His eyes were filled with such intense pain that it hurt me to look at him, but still I kept my gaze steady. "Faramir," I said, "If you do not wish to speak of this, I will not force you to. But if you do want to talk, I will listen."

Faramir glanced down, then took a deep breath and began. "We...we didn't part well. He thought I had erred in my dealings with Frodo, that I had failed him and all of Gondor by letting him go. And with Boromir gone... he sent me to attempt to keep Osgiliath from falling. We both knew it was a lost cause, but he wouldn't be moved. I asked him to think better of me if I returned; he said that would depend on the manner of my return. That was the last thing I ever heard him say to me."

How could anyone say that to his own child? I wondered, feeling angry. Though I could hardly remember my own father, I had never had any reason to doubt that he cared about me. And even during the darkest days of my uncle's illness, deep down I had always known that he loved Éomer and I. Then I was struck anew with fear for my brother--what if he died, and the last thing I said to him was to berate him for his stubbornness in refusing to let me accompany him? I bit my lip, then forced my mind back to the present as Faramir continued softly, his voice thick with emotion. "I can't remember being brought back to the city, or anything else that happened until Lord Aragorn called me back. All I knew was that somehow my father had died, and no one would tell me what happened to him. I knew all along in my heart that it had to be a terrible end, but...I ordered Daeron to tell me. I had to; he wouldn't speak of it otherwise. I wish I hadn't..."

"What happened, Faramir?" I asked gently.

Faramir's breath was ragged now, and he looked like he was struggling hard to maintain control of himself. "He thought I was dying. And the city was under siege. He...he decided that there was no hope, and he..." He closed his eyes for a long moment, swallowing hard, then finally took a deep breath and finished, "He built a pyre...he died there, in the fire."

I fumbled for something, anything to say to him. "Faramir, I...I..."

"That's not all," he interrupted. His voice was a choked whisper, and I suddenly realized that I was holding his hand as it trembled slightly. I almost pulled away, startled, but one look at his face was enough to keep my hands steady. He refused to meet my gaze as he said, "He tried to burn me too."

All I could do was stare at him in horror; no words would come. Faramir's jaw tightened as he said, "We rarely saw eye-to-eye on anything. I knew I was a disappointment to him, that he held my brother in much higher esteem, but..." I could see the last remnants of his self-control crumbling as he let his head fall into his free hand; the pain in his eyes was unbearable. I could barely hear him as he said, "Perhaps he was right...perhaps it would have been better if I had taken Boromir's place. I was prepared to die at Osgiliath; if my death was needed to save my people, it would be worth the sacrifice. I tried to ensure that as many of my men would return as possible, though I was certain I would not return myself. Perhaps it would have been better to have died there than to have been party to my father's madness and awaken to this...dishonor." Faramir swallowed hard, and I could the faint glimmer of tears in his eyes as he opened them. He abruptly reached up and pushed his hair away from his face, wiping his hand against his eyes slightly as he did so. "Forgive me... I shouldn't..." he stammered, looking ashamed. "I should not have burdened you with this."

Something in me softened as I watched his struggle to regain his composure. I genuinely wanted to help him, if I could. But what comfort could I possibly offer him? I wondered; I certainly hadn't been able to find any for myself. But somehow...perhaps it was from the years of fighting Gríma's effects on my uncle; perhaps it was my own grief over those I had recently lost. Either way, I felt as if I could understand, if only a little, what he was going through, and so I had to try.

"A wise man once told me that it is not weakness to grieve for those you loved," I said softly, looking down at his hand in mine. "There is nothing to forgive, Faramir. And, I don't know how much this is worth," I added, feeling suddenly shy as I lifted my eyes to his face, "but I'm glad that you came back."

After a long moment, he finally glanced up at me. Through the tears that still gleamed in his eyes, I could see a faint glimmer of--something. Gratitude, perhaps, I finally decided. "Thank you," he whispered. I nodded and squeezed his hand a little. What would drive a man to such madness that he would slay his own son? I wondered. And what was it about Faramir that drove his father to hate him so, that made him so desperate to prove himself to him that he would throw his life away?

But did you not do the same thing, when you resolved to ride into battle? The thought startled me, but I could not deny that I too, would have gladly traded my life for a chance to prove my worth. For a moment, I wavered on my resolve not to tell him what had brought me to Gondor, thinking that perhaps it might ease his pain to know that I understood, if only a little. But as I looked at him, still struggling not to completely succumb to his grief, I realized I could not burden him with the shadows from my own past now. So instead, I continued to sit by him silently, still holding his hand, hoping that somehow the gesture would convey what I could not in words.

After awhile, a tentative knock on the door sounded, and I could see Merry's curly head poking into the room. He gave me a questioning look, then asked, "Faramir?"

Faramir's head jerked up. "Merry," he said hoarsely. "Forgive me, I should not have spoken to you so."

"Oh, it's all right," Merry said. "What's wrong, Faramir?"

"Can I tell you about it later?" he asked weakly. "I don't know if I can..."

"Of course," Merry interrupted. "I just wanted to see if you were all right."

"I'm a little better, I think," he said.

Merry smiled half-heartedly. "I'll talk to you later then." He bowed his head quickly, then left me alone with Faramir once more.

He looked away from me again, as if he were embarrassed to look at me. "Faramir?" I asked tentatively.

"I wish you hadn't seen me like this." His voice was soft, and he sounded as if he were speaking half to himself.

As much as I wish I wasn't always at my worst when you're around? I wondered. But I kept those thoughts to myself. "I don't think any less of you for grieving for him," I replied.

He looked a little relieved at that. "I shouldn't keep you here any longer," he said.

"I'll stay if you wish," I replied. His eyes lifted to mine, and I was suddenly aware of how warm his hand felt in mine. I could feel my face grow hot. "Forgive me, that was terribly forward of me," I quickly amended.

He almost smiled at that. "Thank you for the offer. I...I think I'd like to be alone for awhile though," he said slowly.

"I understand. If you want to talk about it any more later, I'll be in my room." I moved to stand up, releasing Faramir's hand. Before I was halfway to my feet, however, he caught my hand in his once more.

I froze, unable to pull my eyes away from his. "Thank you," he said softly. "For listening, I mean."

"It's the least I can do; you've been so kind to me." I squeezed his hand slightly again, fighting the impulse to wrap my arms around him to offer him what comfort I could. But the impulse passed, and I let go as I walked to the door.

I paused at the door, then turned and looked back, reluctant to leave him there. But though I could still see the grief in his eyes, he seemed to be a little more at peace than when I had first entered. He met my gaze steadily this time, and once again I was the first to turn away, taking a deep breath as I walked back towards my room.

Special thanks to RakshatheDemon for helping me out with Faramir in this chapter.

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