An Act of Desperation - Chapter 19- New Beginnings
Mithríel soon came up and helped me dress for the day, then unwrapped and bathed my broken arm. As she felt along the length of my forearm, she gave me an encouraging smile. "It's healing well," she said as she began to re-wrap it. "In another week or so you should be able to go without the sling." I nodded, then thanked her and went downstairs.
After a quiet breakfast, during which neither Faramir nor I really felt like talking and even Merry was quite subdued, Húrin came to tell Faramir that everything was ready for his return home. Faramir replied that he would be ready to go shortly, and Merry and I waited with Húrin while he went back up to his room for the last time.
He returned a few moments later, his cloak clasped loosely about his neck. "There's no need to look so glum, Merry," Faramir said as he knelt before the hobbit, giving him a half-smile.
"Sorry," Merry said apologetically, tentatively smiling back. Faramir clapped him lightly on the shoulder, then straightened up to face me.
I couldn't hold his gaze for long, and I let my head drop as I bit my lip slightly. "Éowyn," he said, "Please, look at me." I reluctantly looked up again; the gentle warmth in his eyes was almost overwhelming. "Are you going to be all right?" I nodded mutely. I'm going to miss you, I wanted to say, but the words just wouldn't form, nor would any others. "I will come back to visit you, if you wish."
I ventured a tiny smile. "I would like that," I finally managed to say.
He dropped his hand to lift mine to his lips, brushing a light kiss on the back of my hand before saying, "Goodbye, Éowyn."
"Goodbye," I echoed. I could still feel his kiss burning into my hand, and my face grew warm at the thought. He just stood there looking at me for a moment longer. Finally, he nodded his head to me respectfully, glanced over at Húrin, and opened the door. I kept my gaze steady until the door quietly closed behind them, then my head dropped a little. I felt Merry's hand on my arm, and forced a half-smile onto my face as I looked down at him. At least I still have him here, I thought, determined to at least try to be cheerful for the Halfling's sake.
No word came from Mordor that day, and though I tried to act as if everything was fine, even Merry couldn't distract me enough from my anxiety over my brother for me to maintain a conversation with him for very long. As a result, I spent most of the afternoon and early evening pacing the walls alone, looking for any messenger from the East.
When Merry and I sat down for breakfast the next morning, I was still too anxious to eat. Merry was also quiet, as if he had finally given up any effort to draw me out again, so it was a welcome distraction when we heard Bergil protesting in the next room, "But Mother, why can't I go?"
Merry jumped down from his chair first, and walked towards the doorway. I followed just in time to hear Mithríel's weary-sounding reply, "I cannot take you, Bergil. There are still many soldiers here who need to be tended. And you are not going by yourself."
"Going where?" Merry asked.
Bergil looked at us sullenly as Mithríel replied, "He wants to go see the ceremony for Lord Faramir to take his office."
"I have to, so I can tell Father about it when he comes home!" Bergil complained.
"I could go with him," Merry offered. "I am of age."
"That's very kind, Meriadoc, but..." Mithríel started to say. A disappointed look crossed Bergil's face.
"What if I accompanied them as well?" I interrupted.
Mithríel considered this a moment, then nodded slowly. "I suppose that would be all right," she finally said. Bergil's face lit up in a wide grin. "You do know how to get there, Bergil?"
"Of course," the dark-haired boy said indignantly. "Come on, let's go!" I looked over at Merry, and he shrugged as we followed Bergil out of the room.
"People who aren't of the court are allowed to go see the ceremony, right, Bergil?" I asked as we walked through the streets of Minas Tirith, feeling suddenly uncertain in spite of my gratitude for the chance to leave the Houses, if only for a little while.
"Of course," he said cheerfully. "And I'm certain that Captain Faramir will be quite happy to see you there, my lady. And you too, of course" he added hastily as he glanced over at Merry. Merry grinned, though he quickly tried to hide it, then began asking Bergil about the buildings we passed, and I fell silent as we continued walking.
The Citadel of Gondor made me catch my breath as we approached it. Never in my life had I seen a building so large. It towered far above our heads in gleaming white stone, surrounded by a large paved courtyard in which a tree unlike any I had seen before stood. The bark was a strange, almost silvery-white color, and it appeared to be completely dead. Why wouldn't they just cut it down? I wondered. I didn't realize I had spoken aloud until Bergil answered, "That's the tree of the King. The stories say that it will come back to life if the king ever returns." The thought of something so obviously dead coming to life seemed completely absurd to me, but I kept my silence.
The inside of the hall seemed even more immense than the outside. I could almost see my reflection in the polished marble floors. Imposing statues of what I assumed were former rulers of Gondor alternated with columns of black stone lining the white walls, stretching up towards the tall ceiling. And there were people everywhere; apparently word of the morning's events had spread quickly throughout the city, and it seemed that everyone who had not evacuated the city had come to this place.
Merry strained to see over the crowd, standing on his toes. "Can you see anything, Éowyn?" he asked.
I scanned the crowd, and finally spotted Faramir talking to Húrin. It was a little bit of a shock to see him wearing more formal clothing, since he had worn simple breeches and tunics during his entire stay at the Houses. The look of the more formal over-tunic, in silver-embroidered black, suited him surprisingly well, I thought, then quickly forced the thought out of my mind. "Yes, he's over there," I said, motioning towards him.
Bergil frowned. "We'll never see anything back here!"
"We'll just have to move closer then. Come on," I replied, and the three of us began slowly weaving through the crowd until we were standing slightly off to Faramir's side, just out of his line of vision. I motioned to Merry and Bergil to stand in front of me so they could see better just as Húrin held up his hand to silence the crowd.
Once the room had fallen silent, he called out, "People of Gondor! We have come here today to raise Faramir, son of Denethor, to the office of Lord and Steward of the realm." A group of soldiers clad in green and brown cheered a little, though it was subdued, and the corner of Faramir's mouth twitched as if he were trying to suppress a smile. The soldiers must have been under his command, I decided, as Húrin continued. "This office is given to him by right, as a descendent of the House of Húrin, Steward to King Minardil. However, if there is one here with reason to believe he is unfit for office, let him speak now."
The room remained silent.. After a moment, Húrin asked, "Lord Faramir, are you prepared to take this office?"
His gaze was steady as he replied, "I am." Then, to my surprise, he knelt down before Húrin. The older man seemed to have expected it, however, and listened as Faramir said, "Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go, in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until death take me, or the world ends..." a bright, hopeful smile crossed Faramir's face as he finished, "...or the king returns. So say I, Faramir son of Denethor."
"So hear I, in the name of the people of Gondor, and we will not forget it, nor fail to reward that which is given," Húrin said. Faramir looked as if he were expecting more to the oath, but Húrin shook his head almost imperceptibly, at which a faint, grateful smile crossed Faramir's face. He nodded towards one of the men standing off to the side, who walked forward with a white rod that he handed to Húrin. "And I now present you with the token of your office," Húrin continued, passing the rod to Faramir. I was close enough to hear his soft addition, "Forgive me, my lord, but there was no time to have a new signet ring made."
"My days as Steward are already numbered, Húrin. There is no need," Faramir replied smoothly. Húrin nodded, then turned back to the crowd.
"My people, I present to you your Steward!" Húrin called out, amongst cheers from the crowd.
I looked down at Bergil and Merry. "We should go back."
"Can we please stay longer, Lady Éowyn?" Bergil pleaded.
"I think we should. We haven't had the chance to properly congratulate him. And anyway," Merry added when I raised an eyebrow at him, "I am older than you, Éowyn, so you have to listen to me, right?"
The thought of taking orders from someone half my height made me laugh out loud. "Very well, Merry, we'll stay until you give us permission to leave." Merry smiled and nodded, satisfied, and we moved off to the side to wait for an opportune moment to speak with Faramir.
We had to wait longer than I expected; as I watched, he was being greeted with smiles and congratulations on recovering his health and on his new office everywhere he turned. It was obvious the people of his city loved him. He returned the greetings kindly, but though he hid it well, it seemed to me that he was growing increasingly uncomfortable. When he finally turned towards us, Faramir looked genuinely surprised to see us there, but smiled. I nodded slightly, smiling back. After many more greetings and congratulations, the crowd finally began to disperse some, and Faramir finally made his way over to us.
"Éowyn!" he said with a warm smile. "What are you doing here? I didn't expect to see you."
"You should thank Bergil, my lord. It was his idea; Merry and I were only allowed to come in order to chaperone him." Faramir looked over at Bergil, who grinned proudly.
"Congratulations, my lord Steward," Merry said with a solemn bow, though the effect was somewhat broken by the wide smile on his face.
"Thank you, Merry," he replied, smiling back as he knelt down to face the boy and the hobbit, though I could still see a hint of sadness in his eyes. "It is wonderful to see both of you as well," he said. "And thank you for coming." He stood back to his feet and added softly, "It's good to have some friends here." Then he glanced at Bergil and I and added, "Will you be going back soon?"
I gave Merry a sidelong glance, waiting for his nod. When Faramir gave me a questioning look, I smiled sweetly and said, "Merry's in charge today, since he's the eldest."
Faramir quickly stifled a laugh, but decided to play along. "Very well then. Merry, might I have your permission to accompany your party back to the Houses of Healing?" he asked formally.
"Of course, my lord," Merry answered, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. I wondered at that, though I did not have to wonder for long. Shortly after we left the Citadel, Merry and Bergil scampered off, Merry saying that since he was of age he was perfectly suited for keeping an eye on Bergil, leaving me alone with Faramir. They stayed just close enough to be in sight, but out of earshot.
I shook my head with a smile. "Perfectly suited for getting the boy in trouble seems closer to the truth."
A smile flashed across Faramir's face, though I could still see a trace of sadness in his eyes. "He means well, though," he said.
"How are you doing?" I asked more softly, concerned.
"Relieved, now that that's over with," he said with a rueful smile, gesturing back towards the Citadel. "I am grateful that Húrin decided to keep the ceremony informal."
"That was informal?" I asked, surprised.
Faramir laughed a little. "And what would informal be in Rohan?" he asked.
"Hand over the rod, then break out the ale," I replied, making him laugh harder. "No, we have our traditions--the lords of the land must swear fealty to the new king, and any opposing claims to the throne must be dealt with before he is crowned. And we have others. But it seems that my people do not stand on ceremony as much as yours."
"I see," he said.
We walked in silence for awhile, until I asked, "Was it hard for you, taking that oath?"
He looked down. "I wish Boromir had been here today. This would have been easier if he were. Especially since this office should have been his," he added with a rueful look.
I laid a hand on his arm. "I'm certain he would have been happy for you, and that you'll do your duty honorably."
"I hope so," he said. "At least it's only for a short time."
"You do not wish to be Steward then?" I asked.
He shook his head. "I never have." He looked down. "I know it was foolish of me, but I always assumed Boromir would be here to fulfill that duty when the time came. I would have been perfectly content to aid him however I could, but..." his voice trailed off as he glanced down.
I nodded, understanding completely. "Faramir?" I asked. He looked up at me again, and I hesitated before asking, "What will happen to you after Lord Aragorn returns to the city?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "I will ease the transition as much as I can, of course, but after that..." A small smile crossed his face as he added, "Perhaps I'll return to Ithilien for awhile." I nodded, remembering how enthusiastically he had spoken of that land, but did not comment. After a moment, he asked, "And what about you?"
I furrowed my brow; my thoughts on the matter were no clearer than they had been before, and I was certain they would not be at least until I heard some word from Éomer. "I don't know," I finally said, glancing over at Faramir. He nodded thoughtfully, but dropped the subject, and so we walked in silence until we reached the doors of the Houses.
Merry and Bergil were already waiting there for us. "Finally! It took you long enough!" Merry exclaimed with a wide grin.
"Yes, I suppose it would take a little longer when you manage to refrain from running through the streets like a wild stallion," I retorted, a small smile playing at the corner of my mouth.
Merry snickered, then turned to Faramir. "Can you stay and visit any longer?"
Faramir shook his head regretfully. "I must go back. But I do have a question for you first, Bergil," he said, kneeling down in front of the boy. "I may need someone quick to run some errands for me over the next few weeks, and I know you've been a great help to the healers recently. If it's all right with your mother, do you think perhaps you could assist me a little?"
Bergil's green eyes widened. "Really?" he asked, the excitement obvious in his voice.
"I do need to check with your mother first," Faramir reminded him. "But yes, really."
"I'll go get her now," Bergil said, pulling open the door and running into the Houses.
After Faramir, Merry and I followed him inside, Merry announced that he was absolutely famished and needed to go to the kitchens to find something to eat. As he left, Faramir turned to me and asked, "What troubles you, Éowyn?"
I dropped my gaze, embarrassed that he could read me so easily. "How long would it take a messenger to get here from the East?" I asked.
"I don't know," he admitted. "All our efforts have been to defend our borders. We've never sent anyone into the Dark Lands in my lifetime, not until now." He paused, then asked, "Your brother?"
"He's all the family I have left," I said softly, still looking at my feet and fighting back the tears that suddenly pricked at my eyes. There was no point in giving in to weeping again, I told myself firmly. Not until I knew for sure what Éomer's fate had been.
I felt a light, warm touch on my chin, tilting my head up. When I raised my eyes to Faramir's, he replied, "I'm sure that Éomer will send word as soon as he can, Éowyn."
Though my mind still raised the question of whether he would have survived to send any word, the calm reassurance in Faramir's voice set me more at ease. "Thank you," I said, my voice barely above a whisper.
A light knock on the doorframe sounded, and Faramir's hand abruptly dropped as we both turned to see Mithríel in the doorway, Bergil close behind. "Forgive me for interrupting, my lord," she said politely. "Bergil says you wished to speak with me?"
"I should go," I said, a strange mixture of relief and disappointment welling up within me. "Good day, Faramir."
"Good day, Éowyn," he echoed, bowing his head before turning to Mithríel. "Yes, I did wish to speak with you," he said to her as I left the room. I paused at the doorway and glanced back; for a moment, our eyes met and the briefest smile flashed across his face. I couldn't keep a tentative smile off of my own face, though I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks as I quickly whirled around and walked away.
A/N: Sorry for taking so long to get this up... the last few weeks of school were brutal. But I do have the next couple of chapters ready to go, so I should be able to get the next part up quickly.