An Act of Desperation - Chapter 18- Darkness Inescapable
Once I left Faramir, the lack of sleep the night before combined with the effort of trying to help him through his grief left me feeling suddenly very weary. I headed back to my room and pulled off my sling, then lay down on the bed, thinking just a little rest before supper might make me feel better.
I woke again with a start, covered in sweat and with my limbs tangled in my skirts and a blanket that I did not remember pulling over myself. As I extracted myself from the blanket, I tried to figure out how long I had been asleep; my room was completely darkened. I shivered violently as I rose from my bed. I needed some air; I had no desire to attempt to sleep again.
Images from my nightmares still tumbled together in my mind. I shook my head to try and clear it, but every time I closed my eyes I could still see the shadowy face of the Witch-King and Gríma's leering smile, almost as clearly as I could see my brother desperately fighting, even though he was surrounded and horribly outnumbered. I poured some water from the pitcher into the basin with trembling hands, and splashed some onto my face, then wiped it off with the edge of my sleeve.
The room still felt like it was closing in on me. I hurried out to the hall, closing the door softly behind me, then leaned against the wall as I tried desperately to calm myself. It didn't work, so I decided to go outside and get some air. I returned to my room, grabbing my cloak and throwing it over my shoulders, then closed the door once more and went down the stairs.
The sky seemed unnaturally dark--it reminded me of the perpetual twilight that we had ridden through to get to Gondor. Not even the light of a single star could penetrate it. I quickly climbed the stairs leading up to the wall, shivering and holding my cloak closed as tightly as I could while still trying to support my broken arm; I had forgotten to put my sling back on. I had not expected it to be so cold, and even my thick woolen cloak did nothing to ward off the icy edge of the wind.
The sky to the east over the mountains seemed even darker, if that was possible, interrupted only by the occasional red flicker of fire. It was like looking into the shadowy facelessness of the creature that had haunted my dreams ever since the battle, and my heart told me that if I had to face it again, I would not escape a second time. I felt afraid, suddenly, more so than I had ever been. It was not so much for myself--I was not afraid to die. Far from it. But I was afraid for those who had ridden into Mordor--if I could feel the Shadow so keenly from where I was, how much more those who had gone into the very heart of it?
"Éowyn?" I heard Faramir softly calling my name, and turned to see him standing in the doorway of the gardens. He stepped a little closer. "What are you doing out here?"
"I couldn't sleep," I said, wondering how long I had been standing there alone. The sky gave me no indication; if anything, the darkness had grown thicker. "Is it morning?"
"I believe so," he said uncertainly. He paused, then said, "Perhaps you should come inside, Éowyn."
I couldn't help feeling annoyed, even though I knew his intentions were good. "I'm not leaving," I said stubbornly. He nodded, and retreated back into the Houses. I turned my attention back to the lands beyond the Pelennor, absently trying to warm my right hand with my bandaged left hand. Though the herb Ioreth had used on it the day before had seemed to help at the time, now it felt completely lifeless again.
A sudden, slight weight on my shoulders startled me, and I turned with a gasp to see Faramir standing behind me, now wearing his own heavy green cloak. I hadn't even heard his approaching footsteps. He stepped back to stand on my right side, leaving a thick, deep blue cloak on my shoulders; I wondered if I had only imagined the feel of his hands lingering slightly longer than necessary. "I'm sorry if I startled you, my lady," he said apologetically. "You looked cold; I thought perhaps this might help."
"That's all right...I didn't hear you coming back. And thank you," I belatedly added, feeling the soft velvet brush against my fingers as I pulled it tighter about myself. Even in the dim light, the silver thread that had been intricately worked into tiny stars around the edge gleamed faintly. "It's beautiful," I said. "Where did you get this?"
He smiled faintly, his eyes softening as he looked at me. "It was my mother's," he said almost shyly. "It was one of the things I had Bergil bring; it was always comforting to have it around."
I looked up at him, stricken; I could not bring myself to take what was perhaps the last remaining heirloom he had of her. "Faramir, I cannot take this from you!"
"Just for today," he replied. "You need it more than I right now." After a long moment, I nodded assent and murmured my thanks once more as he helped me to clasp it closed at my throat, silently vowing that I would return it as soon as I could. He nodded and looked out towards the East.
"How did you find me here?" I asked.
"I couldn't sleep either," he said without looking at me. "I saw you from the window."
I looked up at him, concerned. Although he had shaved and his hair was less disheveled at this point, he still looked exhausted and grieved. "Faramir, are you... I mean, how are you..." I fumbled for words, wishing I was better at expressing such things.
"A little better," he answered, glancing over at me and hesitantly adding, "Actually, that wasn't what was keeping me awake."
"What is it then?"
He looked out steadily towards the mountains. "Something's happening. I don't know what, but my heart tells me that today is going to decide the outcome of this war."
His words strengthened the apprehension that had been growing as I had kept my silent vigil. As my eye was slowly drawn northward, towards where I thought Éomer had gone, I shivered as the cold wind hit me full in the face, whipping strands of my hair about wildly and making me grateful for the extra warmth that Faramir's cloak provided. Still, I could not turn away.
Though I fervently hoped that Aragorn would return from this battle, my thoughts were turned more towards my brother. For so long, he had been my closest companion, even when the demands on him as the Third Marshall kept him away from Edoras much of the time. I could not accept the very strong possibility that I would never see him again, especially when we had parted so badly. Please, Éomer, be careful, I prayed silently. Please come home...
"What do you look for, Éowyn?" Faramir's voice interrupted my thoughts.
"Does not the Black Gate lie yonder?" I asked in return, gesturing towards the north. "And must he not now be come thither? It is seven days since he rode away," I added softly as I wondered once again if he regretted our parting as deeply as I did.
"Seven days," Faramir murmured. "But think not ill of me, if I say to you, they have brought me both a joy and a pain that I never thought to know."
I looked up at him, surprised. "Joy?"
"Joy to see you;" he explained, "but pain, because now the fear and doubt of this evil time are grown dark indeed." He paused, and looked down on me tenderly. "Éowyn," he said, his voice thick with emotion, "I would not have this world end now, or lose so soon what I have found."
"Lose what you have found, lord?" I asked. As I looked up at him, my heart began to pound under the intensity of his gaze. I looked away, afraid of what I thought I saw. "I know not what in these days you have found that you could lose," I said, half to myself. "But come, my friend, let us not speak of it. Let us not speak at all! I stand upon some dreadful brink, and it is utterly dark in the abyss before my feet, but whether there is any light behind me I cannot tell. For I cannot turn yet," I said, my eyes pleading with him to understand. "I wait for some stroke of doom."
He looked down on me steadily, then finally nodded. "Yes," he said softly. "We wait for the stroke of doom."
He turned back, looking towards the mountains again. The sense of foreboding weighed heavily on me, and in spite of my wish for silence, I could not hold my tongue. "Promise me something, Faramir," I said softly.
"What is it?" he asked, turning towards me.
The look in his eyes was almost enough to make me keep my silence, so I turned my eyes back towards the mountains so I wouldn't have to look at him. "If the battle should come to Minas Tirith again, promise you won't try to keep me out of it."
When I looked at him again, he looked completely stunned. "How can you ask such a thing of me?" he finally asked.
"Would you stand by and do nothing?" I asked in return. "Would you just wait for them to come kill you?"
"Of course not," he answered. "But..."
"Then why should I wait passively for death to find me? Because I'm a woman?" I asked bitterly.
"It's not that!" Faramir said, turning away abruptly.
"Then what?" I could feel my temper rising, but made no effort to stop it. "Faramir!"
"If something happened to you..." he started.
I felt like screaming. "I don't need you to protect me, Faramir!" I exclaimed. "Besides, the chances of something happening would be greatly reduced if I actually have a way to defend myself."
He stood straight, his face smoothing into the carefully controlled expression he so often wore, a slight tension in his jaw the only indication that anything was wrong. "As you wish, my lady," he finally said, not looking at me.
"Thank you," I said, once I was sure I could keep my voice calm. But in spite of my satisfaction at winning the argument, I couldn't help feeling like it was a hollow victory when I saw the pain I had caused him.
I began to deeply regret what I had said, but could not find the words to alleviate the tension that had so quickly come up between us, and so we stood there silently as the wind died down and the sky grew darker, the clouds almost black. Everything seemed unnaturally quiet, and I could not even feel my own heart beating. It seemed to me that all was frozen, waiting. I could not think; I could not be certain I still breathed.
Though I would not have believed it possible, the sky towards the East grew even more black, a rising mountain of darkness relieved only by the occasional flickering of lightning. My jaw tightened, and my hand clenched of its own accord as a cold, stabbing pain shot up my sword-arm. To my surprise, I realized that my fingers had somehow become intertwined with Faramir's, though I could not remember reaching for his hand, nor him taking mine. He glanced over at me, looking just as surprised, but neither one of us was willing to let go.
Suddenly, the ground began to tremble beneath my feet, throwing me off-balance. Faramir's hand pulled out of mine as he reflexively moved his arm around my shoulder to help steady me, gripping the parapet with his other hand. For a moment, I had a horrible mental image of the wall collapsing and us falling with it, but just as quickly the earth grew still once more.
I looked up at Faramir, wide-eyed, afraid to pull away lest the ground start shaking again. He was still staring out towards the mountains, an uncertain look on his face. "It reminds me of Númenor."
"Of Númenor?" I echoed.
"Yes," he said, sounding as if he were speaking to himself. "Of the land of Westernesse that foundered, and of the great dark wave climbing over the green lands and above the hills, and coming on, darkness inescapable." He shuddered involuntarily as he added, "I often dream of it."
"Then you think that the Darkness is coming? Darkness inescapable?" I asked, shivering as I unconsciously stepped closer to him.
Faramir looked down at me. "No...it was but a picture in the mind." His face relaxed, a strange light in his eyes as he added, "I do not know what is happening. The reason of my waking mind tells me that great evil has befallen, and we stand at the end of days. But my heart says nay, and all my limbs are light, and a hope and joy are come to me that no reason can deny." I still shivered, and he drew me a little closer; I made no movement to resist. "Éowyn," he said. As I looked up at him, I could see the hope shining in his grey-blue eyes, making him look more at peace than I had ever seen him. "Éowyn, White Lady of Rohan, in this hour I do not believe that any darkness will endure!"
I looked down, unconvinced. I suddenly felt him press a light kiss against my temple and jerked my head up in surprise. Though I was almost certain it was merely a comforting gesture, almost brotherly, I still felt a slight shiver. As my eyes met his, he gave me a half-smile, then turned his gaze eastward once more as he dropped his arm. I dropped mine as well, still wondering why he had done that, but my hand quickly found its way into his once more as we continued watching the mountains.
I felt a cool breeze on my face, which quickly picked up and blew my hair away from my face. Still, neither Faramir nor I made any move to release the other's hand. Finally, Faramir nodded towards the sky. "Look, Éowyn," he said, a hopeful look on his face, and I followed his gaze until I could see a break in the clouds, through which golden beams of sunlight spilled. As we silently watched, the wind scattered the clouds, and the darkness to the east dissipated until large patches of blue sky could be seen. In the distance, I could see the river sparkling in the sun, while the scarce patches of green grass that remained on the Pelennor swayed gently in the breeze. The air seemed to have grown slightly warmer as well. I realized, to my surprise, that the pain in my arm had completely vanished, and I pulled my hand away from Faramir's and rubbed at it experimentally with my other hand, surprised that it was beginning to feel warmer. Faramir looked at me, concerned. "Is your arm troubling you?" he asked.
"No," I said, amazed. "It's fine." I paused, looking down. "Faramir, I'm sorry. I just... I mean..." I couldn't explain that I couldn't bear to be caged up again. Especially not by him.
"I know you can fight. I never intended to say otherwise," he replied.
"I know." I relaxed a little more at that, but still felt the need to ask, "You really would not have kept me from the battle?"
Faramir finally looked at me, an intense look in his blue-grey eyes. "I wouldn't have been able to stop you, would I?"
"No," I admitted.
"Had the battle come here, I'd rather fight beside you than spend what time I had left wondering what your fate had been. But I..."
"Lord Faramir," a voice behind us interrupted. We both turned to see Daeron standing in the doorway. He quickly bowed, then added, "The Lord Húrin is here to see you."
A regretful look flashed across Faramir's face, then disappeared just as quickly. "I must go," he said.
"Of course." He nodded, his gaze holding mine for just a moment, then he headed back to the Houses. I looked back over the city again, biting my lip as I cradled my right hand in my left, rubbing at it absently. I could hear the sounds of celebration starting to rise from the lower levels, and wondered why my heart still felt so heavy.
Not long after Faramir left, I went back inside as well, and found Merry sitting on a bench, looking out the window. He looked over as I entered the Houses. "Oh, hello," he said half-heartedly.
"Hello, Merry," I replied, echoing his greeting as I sat down next to him. The hobbit looked unusually downcast, so I added, "Is something wrong?"
"I don't know," he said. "They're saying we won, and that's why the Shadow's going away. But I'm really afraid for Frodo and Sam, and for Pippin. I don't know if they'll..." his voice trailed off.
"I know," I said softly, looking down. "If anything happened to Éomer, I'll never forgive myself."
"It wouldn't be your fault though," Merry protested.
"I know, but..." I sighed. "I wish I knew if he's all right."
We both fell silent as we kept our vigil at the window, looking for any word from Mordor, even though we both knew that the news could not arrive so quickly. I could scarcely dare to hope that somehow they had escaped whatever had happened beyond the mountains, and Merry, too, seemed to lack his usual optimism.
I looked up as the door opened, and Bergil practically ran into the room, an excited look on his face. "Bergil? What's happening?" Merry asked, plopping down into a sitting position.
"We won!" the boy exclaimed, a huge grin on his face. "The Eagles just came and said that we won!"
"But what about Éomer? Or Aragorn? Is there any word about them?" I blurted out.
Bergil's smile faded a bit. "Well, no, my lady, but I'm sure they're both fine," he said, brightening up again. "I need to go find my mother." And he quickly left the room.
I rested my elbow on the windowsill, then propped my cheek on my hand as I turned back to the window. Merry put a hand on my arm. "If anyone could make it out of there, Éowyn, I'm sure that Éomer could."
"Thank you," I said automatically, swallowing hard past the lump that was rising in my throat. I wanted to believe him, but I was still too filled with doubt. When I didn't answer any further, Merry got back to his knees and looked out the window once more.
Merry and I finally decided to go back to our rooms, as it had become painfully obvious that no further word would come from the company that day, and went to the hallway in the upper level of the Houses. We paused outside an open door as we heard Ioreth saying in a lecturing tone, "And if that shoulder bothers you again in the slightest, you must come straight back here, my lord. I won't hear of you permanently injuring yourself or making yourself ill again because you're too busy to look after yourself."
Merry and I peeked around the doorframe to see Ioreth and Húrin in the room with Faramir, who was tightening the laces at the front of his tunic. "Of course, Ioreth," he said, an amused sparkle in his eyes in spite of the serious look on his face.
"Faramir?" Merry blurted out. All three occupants of the room turned towards us, and the amusement faded from Faramir's face. "Are you leaving?"
"Please, excuse me," Faramir said to Ioreth and Húrin before stepping into the hall. He looked down at Merry before adding, "I am to take up my duties as Steward in the morning. Ioreth says I'm healed enough to go home."
I blinked, stunned. I had never considered that Faramir would be leaving eventually--truthfully, I had never believed in the possibility that our peoples would be victorious in this battle. Feeling stupid for not having thought of that sooner, I finally managed to choke out, "You're... leaving tonight, then?"
Faramir looked at me, and for a long moment neither of us spoke as he held my gaze. "Tomorrow morning," he said softly. I broke the gaze first, looking down at the floor.
"But you'll come back and visit, right?" Merry prodded.
"There is much that needs to be done, so I don't know how often I'll be able to get away. But I will come back to see both of you as soon as I can," he promised. I couldn't think of anything to say, but I could feel him looking at me, and finally raised my eyes to his grey-blue ones. He looked down at me warmly, although I could see traces of sadness on his face. I dropped my gaze, biting my lip. "I need to gather my things," he finally said.
"We'll see you at supper then," Merry replied, and Faramir nodded and retreated into his room. I turned and quickly walked towards my room; I was about to close the door behind me when Merry appeared in the doorway, preventing me from shutting it. For a long moment we just looked at each other, then Merry said, "Is something wrong?"
"No, I'm fine," I quickly answered.
"No, you're not." Merry crossed his arms and looked up at me stubbornly. I turned my back on him and unclasped the blue cloak, tossing it onto the bed, then repeating the action with my own cloak. "He said he'll come back, you know."
"I told you, I'm fine," I said, glancing back just long enough to glare at him; his words hit a little too close to the mark for my comfort. "It's just going to be...different."
"It won't be for long though; everyone will be coming back now that the war's over."
"I know," I said softly.
Merry nodded slowly, looking thoughtful. "I'm going to go see how long it will be until supper."
"Let me know when it's ready," I said absently. He nodded and closed the door behind him, leaving me alone in the room.
I walked over to the window and stared out at the darkening sky; I could see the faint twinkle of the first stars of evening. It felt strange to see them; I had been certain that their light had been veiled forever. A long time ago, perhaps, the sight would have brought me hope. But now it just left me feeling strangely empty.
It made no sense. The Shadow had departed; perhaps my people and the people of Gondor would finally know a time of peace. If my brother had not fallen in the battle, he would be returning soon. And Aragorn...
No, I would not think of him. Though I was beginning to realize that he had not meant any ill in healing me and then leaving me here, I knew he did not love me, nor would he. And the thought of facing him again once he returned, knowing what a fool I had been to believe something that so clearly was not there, was nearly unbearable.
Thinking about Faramir, strangely, left me just as unsettled as thinking about Aragorn. I reasoned to myself that I was just upset that he would be leaving. I had never expected him to become such a good friend so quickly, and I truly would miss his company. But he had his duty to his people; I could not begrudge him that.
And what would you know about duty? I shivered as the night grew darker. What would I do now? The stars seemed to mock me as much as my own thoughts; their very presence was a painful reminder that I had missed my opportunity for death with honor. I would return to my homeland and, if I were not imprisoned or banished for failing to obey a direct order from the king, would return to my place in the court. But even if Gríma never returned, I could still see no hope of anything being different--I would still be spending my days waiting on the king and his guests, and staying behind watching for their return when they rode out to battle. How could I go back to that?
For a moment, though I knew full well that Éomer would never allow such a thing, I allowed myself to entertain the thought that perhaps, now that I had proven myself in battle, I might at times be allowed a place among the Riders. But I could see no good that had come out of my attempt to fight to defend my people; my king and uncle had still fallen, I had estranged my brother, and more likely than not lost the trust of my people completely.
I took a ragged breath and leaned my forehead against the cool wood of the window frame, closing my eyes. I could still see no clear path out of the darkness that surrounded me, nor could I see any hope for me in the day's victory.
A knock on the door made me jerk my head up. "Éowyn?" Merry said through the door. "Supper's ready."
"I'll be right down," I replied, looking up at the stars imploringly for a final moment, then taking a deep breath as I walked towards the door. With hope or without it, I would go on as I had for this last week. There was nothing else I could do.