An Act of Desperation - Chapter 21- A Brief Escape

After the last of the wagons had gone too far away to see them clearly, I shifted my weight awkwardly. "I suppose I should go back," I said reluctantly. "I know you have a lot of work to do; I do not wish to keep you from it."

Faramir glanced down and pushed his hair away from his face. "Actually, I was wondering if perhaps you could help me with something..."

"What is it?" I asked.

"I need to buy a horse. I lost mine during...on the way back..." his voice trailed off as a shadow crossed his face; he still did not want to talk about the retreat, apparently.

"And you were wondering if I wanted to help you look for one?" I finished hopefully.

His eyes cleared and he gave me a half-smile. "Yes. I thought that perhaps a lady of the Rohirrim might be a better judge than I."

I smiled, a genuine one this time; it would be good to be around horses again. And the prospect of spending some time outside of the Houses of Healing again lightened my spirits considerably. "Then, my lord Steward, I will do my best to assist you in this task." He politely offered me his arm and began to lead me through the crowded streets. "Where are the stables?" I asked as we walked.

"The third level," he said. "The largest stables were on the first level, but since part of the stables collapsed in the fires, the remaining horses were moved to the higher levels until they can be rebuilt."

"Do you know if any of my people's horses are there too?" I asked. Faramir's brow furrowed slightly, and I glanced down. "I know that it is a ridiculous question, but I would like to find my horse if I can. I am almost certain he was brought here after the battle, but..." my voice trailed off.

"If your horse is here, we will find him," Faramir promised. I smiled, feeling a little better.

As we walked, I heard many of the people who remained in the city shout out greetings to Faramir, along with cries of gladness that he was returning to health. He seemed rather embarrassed by all of the attention, but bore it with a smile. He also seemed to be very intent on his surroundings, as if he were mentally taking notes. As I glanced around me, I saw a great deal of damage; entire rows of buildings had been smashed or burned in the siege. Faramir saw me look around, and explained, "This level is mostly shops. But a lot of homes on the second level were destroyed. There is so much that needs to be done." I could almost see the weight of responsibility falling on his shoulders again, and squeezed his arm lightly in reply.

We finally reached the stables on the third level--not soon enough for me, as I was becoming painfully aware of the strange glances I was receiving from the townspeople, particularly some of the women. Faramir noticed my discomfort and asked, "Is something wrong?"

"Why is everyone looking at me so strangely?" I asked.

"Perhaps they are merely struck speechless by your beauty, my lady," Faramir said with a soft smile.

I was grateful for the shadows as we entered the warmth of the low stone building, since they hid my burning cheeks. "I wish you would not tease me so, Faramir," I said softly, forcing myself to take a deep breath as I released his arm and pulled my other arm out of the sling, stuffing the offending piece of linen underneath a nearby bale of hay. The familiar smell of horses, hay and leather calmed me, and I quickly changed the subject. "What kind of horse are you looking for?"

"I'm not certain, to be honest," he answered.

I was about to reply, when a sharp whinny caught my ear. I hurried towards the end of the row of stables, smiling in recognition when the stallion's head poked over the door of the stall. An old man who was mucking out a nearby stall looked up, eyes wide in horror. "Don't, my lady! That horse has gone completely wild! He will not let anyone near him since they brought him in after the battle."

Faramir looked over, alarmed. "Éowyn," he said.

"Do not worry about me, Faramir," I replied with a laugh, rubbing the stallion's sleek grey nose affectionately. "He is my horse." Windfola responded by butting his head into my chest, and I began speaking to him softly in my native tongue.

Faramir was clearly relieved as he walked over. "A fine animal," he said admiringly. "What is his name?"

"Windfola," I said. "He was a gift from my uncle, long ago. I could not ask for a better horse." Windfola kept nudging at me, and I finally laughed. "No, I do not have any food for you! You have done nothing but lounge around your stall and eat all day for too long as it is."

"Would this help you win back his favor?" I looked back to see an apple, slightly wrinkled from being stored through the winter, in Faramir's hand as he pulled it out of the saddlebag that he had slung over his uninjured shoulder.

I raised my eyebrows, impressed. "Very well-prepared of you," I said.

He grinned in response. "I thought I might have to bribe one of these fine steeds to allow me to ride him," he answered, proceeding to pull out a knife and cut the apple into several pieces.

"And how will you win over the horse now if I take your bait?" I teased.

"I have more apples," Faramir replied with a smile. He placed about half of the apple pieces in my hand; his fingers lightly brushed mine as he pulled away, and though I quickly glanced up at him, he did not seem to notice that anything had happened. Windfola whickered at the sight of the treat, and I turned away, grateful for the distraction. I let my hair fall in such a way that it blocked off my peripheral vision and hid my slightly reddened face as I began to feed the apple pieces to Windfola. He quickly devoured them, then began nosing around for more. I laughed. "He knows we are holding out on him," I said, glancing over at Faramir.

"That will have to be remedied then," he replied, smiling as he moved to give me the rest of the apple pieces.

"Would you like to feed him some?" I asked as I took a few more.

"I could try," Faramir said. I smiled as he tentatively stretched his palm forward.

"You seem nervous," I teased.

"I am not certain that a horse of Rohan would tolerate a man of the South," he said, only half-jesting.

"What, you have never ridden one?" I asked, surprised. He shook his head. "That will also have to be remedied then." I then turned to Windfola and said softly in Rohirric, "Windfola, this is Faramir. He is my friend, so behave yourself." An amused look flashed over Faramir's face, and was gone so quickly that I thought I had imagined it. Windfola stretched his neck forward, nosed at the apple pieces, then began eating them. Faramir rubbed his nose, and Windfola snorted. "I think you have made a new friend," I said with a grin, quickly feeding him the remainder of the apple. "I will come back, I promise," I whispered to the horse before brushing my juice-covered hands off on the front of my dress and turning to Faramir again.

"Do you know if there are any more of my peoples' horses here?" I asked.

"No, but I can find out," he said, and went over to speak to the old stablehand. I stayed with Windfola while I waited for him, and a few minutes later he returned and reported, "After the battle, the Rohirrim rounded up as many of the riderless horses as they could find, and had them brought here. They took most of the horses into the battle, but they did leave some behind--mostly ones that were injured enough for them to not want to risk riding them into battle, but not so much that they would not recover. The men here are having trouble managing them--they say the horses have all gone wild--so most of them are in a paddock in the back. The only reason Windfola was stabled inside was because Lord Éomer insisted that particular care be taken with your horse."

I felt a guilty pang as I thought of my brother, and glanced down for a moment, biting my lip. "Let us go then."

As we walked out back, I explained to him, "In my country, there is a special bond between a horse and a Rider. They are not just beasts to us--they are part of the family. It is not uncommon for a horse whose master has fallen to go wild and not allow anyone to touch him. Eventually, most of them will accept a new Rider, but some never recover."

"Then why are you taking me to find one from there?" he asked.

"If you can win over my horse, I think you can manage. You are the first person outside of my family that he has allowed to touch him. Except for Merry, of course," I quickly added, frowning slightly. My sadness over missing the Halfling quickly dissipated as I saw the large paddock in the back of the stable, filled with horses of all colors. I hurried over, and Faramir joined me by the fence a moment later. I leaned my elbow on the fence and rested my chin in my hand as I quietly watched the horses. Finally I asked, "Do you see any you like?"

"What do you think about that one over there?" he asked me, pointing towards the left side of the paddock. There were two horses standing there, a bay gelding and a chestnut stallion.

"The bay?" I asked.

"No, the chestnut," he replied.

I looked at the horse a little more critically. He was a little on the small side for a stallion, but had a good build to him. As if he was aware we were watching him, the stallion snorted and tossed his head wildly. A lopsided white streak ran down his nose, and I could see the thin line of a fresh scar on his front right shoulder, which I assumed was from the battle. "He looks very spirited," I finally said, "though I am a little concerned about that shoulder. How well can you ride?" I asked, suddenly wondering if Faramir would be able to handle such an obviously spirited horse.

"Well enough, I suppose," Faramir answered. "Although, you do have a point about that shoulder." He signaled to one of the nearby groomsmen; after the man came over, he asked, "Forgive me if I was interrupting anything. That horse over there--I noticed he seems to have been injured recently. Is it serious?"

"No, my lord. The cut was not very deep at all, and he seems to have completely healed since then," the man said, running a hand through his dark hair, which was heavily streaked with grey.

"I would like to have a look at him, if it is not too much trouble," Faramir said politely.

"Are you certain, my lord? Injury or not, he is one of the wildest beasts those horse-lords brought in, in my opinion." He glanced over at me as if noticing my presence for the first time, his face paling slightly as he saw my golden hair. I merely raised an eyebrow at him as he quickly added, "Begging your pardon, my lady, I meant no offense to your people."

"None taken," I replied, trying to keep my tone cool in spite of the laugh that threatened to bubble up.

"I am certain, sir," Faramir said, giving me an amused look when the man turned to enter the paddock. "I think you frightened him half out of his wits," he whispered, and this time I did laugh, quickly covering my mouth with my hand in an attempt to muffle it as I looked back towards the horses.

The man seemed to be having a bit of trouble with the horse, who kept shying away. "Stubborn beast..." I could hear him grumbling as he fought to put a halter over the stallion's head to lead him out of the paddock.

"Excuse me...what is your name?" Faramir asked.

"Beleg, my lord," the man said, glaring at the chestnut, who tossed his head contemptuously as he reared up.

"Beleg, may I try?" Faramir finished.

I looked up at him, suddenly nervous, as I did not want to see him get hurt. "Are you sure, Faramir? There are plenty of other horses there."

"Do not worry, Éowyn. If I am to ride him, he will have to get used to me at some point, right?" he pointed out, giving me an endearing smile as he went to the paddock gate.

Beleg handed him the halter and lead rope, looking a little relieved, then came over to me and bowed his head. "Do not fret over him, my lady. Lord Faramir has always had a way with horses." I shook my head, then watched as Faramir walked over towards the stallion.

The chestnut snorted and shied away from him. Faramir began speaking to it calmly, though the words were too low for me to hear. The horse once again snorted, pawing at the ground, but Faramir kept calmly speaking to him. It reminded me somewhat of the way I had seen horse trainers of my own people soothe a nervous horse. Eventually, the horse calmed down enough for Faramir to slide the halter over his head, though he kept tossing his head somewhat as Faramir led him to the gate, still speaking to him softly. Beleg went over and opened the gate for him as I stared at him in disbelief.

"He seems to be walking fine," Faramir said.

"What did you do?" I asked. "I did not know that men of the South could tame a horse so easily."

"I didn't tame him," Faramir said with a shrug. "Truthfully, it is a technique I learned from watching the men of your people, long ago. Some horses were brought here from Rohan as part of a trade agreement, and the men who delivered the horses calmed them in such a manner." I nodded, still surprised as he asked, "Could you hold the rope for a moment?" I took the lead rope from him, speaking to the horse softly to keep him calm as Faramir ran his hand along the injured shoulder, then began checking him over for any other problems. The stallion snorted and stamped a hoof from time to time, as if to remind me that he had not lost his spirit completely, but it did not seem to bother Faramir. He finally straightened and turned to me. "Now that you have seen him closer, what do you think?"

"I think he is a very fine horse. He has a fiery spirit; I like that," I said, rubbing the stallion's neck after Faramir took the lead rope back. And he certainly seems to know what he is doing, I'll give him that, I silently added.

"I think I will take this one, Beleg," Faramir called back.

"What, without riding him?" I asked, horrified.

"You said yourself he was a fine horse," Faramir argued.

"No man of my people in his right mind would think of purchasing a horse without riding him!" I protested. "How else would you know if the horse is right for you?"

"My lord," Beleg timidly spoke up, "if you wish to ride him first, that can be arranged." I flashed him a smile, grateful for his aid.

Faramir considered this a moment, then turned to me. "I do not wish leave you here by yourself," he said, a somewhat guilty look on his face.

"Then I will go with you," I replied with a smile.

"But your arm..." he started to protest. I raised my hand to silence him.

"I will be fine, really. Please reconsider, Faramir," I said, not even caring that I sounded close to begging. My eagerness to get back on a horse and out of the city was too strong.

His face relaxed into a smile. "It would be nice to have some company," he finally admitted. "But if Ioreth finds out, she'll have my head, Steward or not."

"Thank you!" I cried, impulsively hugging him, then quickly stepping back once I realized what I was doing, my face growing hot. "Forgive me--I should not have..."

Faramir ducked his head briefly, his face also reddening slightly, then said, "It's fine," giving me a reassuring smile. "Come on--I do have to get some work done today, but if we leave soon we could get a decent ride in."


"I do not care if proper ladies of Gondor only ride side-saddle! I am not of Gondor, and undoubtedly, no one of your city would accuse me of being a proper lady," I growled at the stablehand who had been asked to tack up Windfola for me. I had reluctantly been forced to admit that my broken arm still lacked the strength to allow me to perform the task myself.

"But, my lady," the grey-haired man protested.

Faramir re-entered the stable; he had left the chestnut outside while he saddled him. "What is the matter?" he asked.

"I cannot ride with that...thing... on my horse's back!" I exclaimed, gesturing contemptuously towards the side-saddle.

An amused twinkle lit up Faramir's eyes as he said to the man, "Sir, if you would give the lady a different saddle, it would be greatly appreciated."

He sighed reluctantly. "As you wish. Do you have any particular saddle in mind, my lady?"

"Was there tack on the horse when he was brought in?" I asked.

"Aye, there was." The man left for a moment, then returned with my familiar-looking saddle. "Is this the one you wish to use?"

"It is, thank you," I said, satisfied. As he went to exchange saddles, I turned to Faramir and asked, "Don't any of the women of your people know how to ride?"

"Not with a regular saddle. If they ride at all, they ride side-saddle. The only exception I have ever known is my cousin, Lothíriel. My uncle and cousins taught her to ride in a traditional saddle, and now she refuses to use anything else," he admitted, smiling fondly. "You would like her, I think."

"I like her already," I declared. Faramir grinned at that as the man led Windfola out of the stall.

"Is this more to your liking, my lady?" he asked, sounding slightly exasperated.

"Much more so. Thank you, sir," I said politely, trying to make up for my earlier belligerence. He handed me the reins, bowed and departed, and Faramir followed as I led Windfola out of the stables.

One of the stablehands fetched a sturdy wooden box, to allow me to mount without assistance in spite of my arm. As I mounted Windfola, I suddenly realized that my outfit was going to cause a bit of difficulty. I was used to riding in breeches or divided skirts, and while the skirt of the brown linen dress I wore was rather full, it still took me longer than I wished to arrange the fabric in order for me to sit comfortably and still cover most of my legs. As it was, I could still see the tops of my boots peeking out from under the coarse fabric, and tugged self-consciously at the hem of the skirt.

"Are you ready?" Faramir asked, walking the chestnut over to stand beside Windfola. I nodded, and he nudged the horse into a walk. I followed him through the streets once more to the large gap in the walls where the gate had once stood.

"Where do you want to go?" I asked, looking over the fields around the city and feeling suddenly rather reluctant to travel those paths again so soon.

He looked around for a moment, then decided, "Perhaps that way, towards the river," he said, pointing a little south-east. The field looked as if it had been mostly cleared there, and I nodded my assent.

Faramir kept the horse to a walk, and I was content to stay back with him at first. But although I had never ridden with a half-healed broken arm before, it did not take me long to adjust, and so I quickly grew tired of the slow pace. Windfola also grew restless, prancing and pulling at the bit. "I know exactly how you feel," I whispered to him, then looked back at Faramir, smiling mischievously. "I think that it is time to see what that horse is capable of," I called back to him, spurring the stallion into a run.

I heard a choked sound behind me, as if Faramir could not decide whether to laugh or call out in protest. "Very well," he called out, finally laughing. "I'll see you at the river." I glanced back to find that the chestnut was quickly catching up. I smiled to myself. Good, I thought, glad that he wasn't going to just let me win.

"How far do you want to go?" I shouted, nudging Windfola to make him go slightly faster.

"Perhaps that tree over there? That will give us enough time to slow the horses before they run into the Anduin," he called ahead, gesturing with one hand.

"That sounds good," I shouted back, giving Windfola a little more rein as I bent low over his neck. I couldn't help laughing as I rode, enjoying the feel of the wind rushing past my face and feeling freer than I had in a long time. I finally took the chance of looking back, and saw Faramir's horse inching up towards mine. "Aernan, Windfola!" I called out, and Windfola strained at the bit as he stretched his neck out, but the chestnut was still gaining.

"You look like you are enjoying this," Faramir shouted, smiling as he pulled ahead momentarily.

I grinned back at him. "The women of your people do not realize what they are missing." With that, I nudged Windfola slightly faster so that I was riding neck-and-neck with him. I became fully focused on the race after that, losing myself in the rhythm of my horse's pounding hoofs, but I still could not pull ahead of Faramir's horse, nor was he able to gain any more ground.

We passed the appointed place at the same time, and I turned Windfola away from the river as I gradually slowed him down, laughing breathlessly. Faramir did the same, and finally trotted the horse over towards me with a smile on his face. "You ride well, for a man of Gondor," I teased.

"A high compliment, coming from a Rider of the Mark," he retorted, rubbing the chestnut stallion's glossy neck affectionately. "Though I think the credit belongs to him." The horse snorted and tossed his head proudly, as if in agreement.

"Do not tell him that. You will make him so proud that he will never listen to you again," I said with a laugh, smiling at Faramir as I turned Windfola around. As I did, I caught a glimpse of the White City, towering over the field and shining in the sun. Though I could still see signs of the damage from here, it was still a magnificent sight.

"Should we give them a chance to cool down?" Faramir asked, snapping me from my reverie.

"That sounds good," I replied. Faramir quickly descended from his horse, and I carefully started to swing my leg back over the saddle, trying to figure out a way to dismount that wouldn't put too much strain on my arm, but my skirt got tangled over the pommel. "What I would not give for a real riding skirt right now..." I muttered under my breath as I attempted to disentangle myself, then added so Faramir could hear, "On second thought, I think I would prefer to keep riding."

Faramir appeared at my side, trying rather unsuccessfully to hide his amusement. "May I be of assistance, my lady?" he asked, his eyes sparkling.

"What about your shoulder?" I asked, still feeling embarrassed over the situation, and not wishing to cause him to re-injure himself.

"It's fine," he assured me as I finally managed to disentangle my skirt. "It has not pained me in several days." I finally nodded my assent, resting my hand on his shoulder as lightly as I could, as he lifted me free from the saddle by my waist. As he did so, Windfola moved slightly, sending me practically falling into his arms with a cry of alarm as my arm slid around his neck, my other arm slamming against his chest. The sudden movement made him lose his balance a bit, and he stumbled backwards as he tried to regain his footing, his arms tightening around my waist. Then my feet were touching the ground lightly, my skirt swirling around my legs as it settled back into place. I couldn't keep myself from laughing, as much from relief as from exhilaration, as I looked up at him.

I could not help noticing that his eyes looked more blue than usual. Undoubtedly the color of his shirt, a deep blue much like the star-embroidered mantle he had lent me, brought it out. I marveled again at how they sometimes seemed to shift colors even as I looked at him; it reminded me of his description of the sea. And I was afraid of drowning in those blue-grey depths.

I suddenly realized just how close I was standing to him. My broken arm was still resting lightly against his chest, my other hand on his shoulder, and his face was only a breath away from mine. Faramir's smile faded a little, his gaze growing more intense, and I became all-too aware that his arms were still encircling my waist. "Éowyn," he murmured.

I couldn't look away. Nor, to my surprise, did I want to. What is wrong with me? I desperately thought. "I...I should see to my horse," I stammered, dropping my hands and pulling away a little.

Instantly he released me and stepped back, looking startled. "Of course," he said. His face flushed slightly.

I mumbled a quick thank-you for his help, but it still took all my willpower to turn away and walk over to Windfola. After removing the bridle so he could graze, I began fumbling with the leather straps that would loosen the saddle's girth, determined to do it myself in spite of my arm. As I worked, I muttered, "You better not have done that on purpose," to the grey stallion. Windfola just shook his mane out, blinking as if he were trying to give me an innocent look, then began grazing. I shook my head slightly and forced myself to take a deep breath, trying to sort through my muddled thoughts. There had been something too familiar about whatever it was that had just happened...

Then I remembered. The field, the city, even the color of the horse--I had seen it all before, in one of those dreams about Aragorn that never quite seemed to fit. It is merely a coincidence, I firmly told myself. So what if it was Faramir instead of Aragorn? It meant nothing. At least I didn't think it did. But even if it was coincidence, it was a strange one.

Stop it! I told myself sternly. I would not make the mistake of seeing something that wasn't there again; somehow, I knew that it would be much more painful to lose Faramir's friendship than it had to watch Aragorn walk away. Faramir is just a friend. Nothing more. I picketed Windfola, then turned back to Faramir and asked, "Is the horse to your liking?" Horses were a safe, neutral topic.

"Very much so. That was the most enjoyable ride I have had in quite some time," he said, smiling as he finished picketing his horse. He looks much more handsome when he smiles, I mused in spite of my sudden annoyance that he had managed to compose himself so quickly while I still felt so flustered by...whatever had just happened. Then I started silently lecturing myself again for even entertaining thoughts about his smile. Even as I did, the smile faded as he added, "Of course, it is the first ride I've been able to take for pleasure in quite some time."

"It is for me as well," I confessed. "It has been a long time since it was safe to ride alone in Rohan, and after Grí...after my uncle fell ill, he could not spare me very often." I still couldn't bring myself to tell him about Wormtongue, although the thought briefly crossed my mind that perhaps Faramir would be able to understand, after what he had been through with his father. I decided to change the subject and asked, "Why do the women of your people not wish to ride?"

The amused look returned to his face as we walked towards the water. He sat down on the riverbank, and I sat down next to him as he said, "Perhaps some of them do, but I do know that among the nobility, at least, it is not considered proper for a woman to ride as a man would." I choked back a laugh, which Faramir must have thought was indignation, because his face sobered as he added, "I meant no offense--I know that is not the way of your people."

"I am not offended," I said, smiling. "So I suppose the `proper' women of your people sit around and do embroidery all day."

Faramir laughed. "I'm afraid I'm not the greatest authority on such matters. It has been awhile since I have spent any significant amount of time in female company--yours excepted, of course." My face reddened a bit; growing up surrounded by warriors who were as brothers to me and often treated me as one of their own made it difficult for me to understand how anyone could see me as a woman. "I take it embroidery is not one of your favorite ways to pass the time," he added.

I wrinkled my nose in distaste, making him laugh again. "I can sew when I need to. And it has proved to be a useful skill, although I've probably had to sew up as many wounds as holes in my clothing. Éomer and Théodred insisted I was better at it then the men were, though I think they were just trying to tease me. But embroidery just seems like such a waste of time." I rolled my eyes and added, "I am certain that your people would consider me a barbarian for saying that, but..."

Faramir laughed. "Perhaps so, but whenever Boromir and I had to spend time among the noblewomen, I always found them rather dull." He looked as if he were going to continue, but paused, then asked, "Is it common for the women of your people to be trained in combat?"

"It's a tradition among the women of the royal family, though we are not expected to actually fight," I answered. "And it is not uncommon for women to be taught basic use of a sword. It is almost a necessity in some places, where the orcs frequently raid; if the men are out fighting and a village is attacked, the women are the only ones left to defend it." I looked down, smoothing out the wrinkles in my skirt with my hand as I continued, "We lived in a town about a two day's ride east of Edoras when I was a child. Besides being used as a base for my father's éored, Aldburg was one of the main places where horses were raised in the Eastfold. Just before my seventh year, our town was attacked. It was during foaling season, and most of the men were out in the fields with the mares. Mother grabbed a sword and sent Éomer and I down to the cellar and told us not to come out until she or my father came back for us. I could not see what was happening outside, but we could hear it...I know she was fighting alongside my father.

Sometime during the battle, she was was no more than a scratch, and when the attackers were finally routed, there were others who were wounded much more badly, so she did not have it taken care of right away; she was too busy helping the others. It wasn't until she fell ill later that night that we knew the blade was poisoned." I closed my eyes for a moment, then finished, "We thought she was going to get better; she seemed to be growing stronger every day after her fever broke. But then my father was killed about a month later...the grief was too much for her in her weakened state. My uncle brought us to Edoras to live, hoping that the healers there could do something for her, but she just got worse...she died too, a few months later." It was all I could do to choke back a sob, and I let my head drop a little further. "I do not know why I am telling you all this," I said softly, feeling foolish.

Faramir stared out over the river, as if lost in thought. "I was five years old when my mother died," he finally said. "She was ill for almost as long as I can remember...the rumors around the Citadel said she was pining for the sea, that she wasted away shut up within the city walls. I can hardly even remember what she looked like, only that she was beautiful. Boromir always said her eyes looked like mine..." He idly picked up a twig and tossed it into the water, watching as the current carried it away. "After she died, Father withdrew completely. He had her rooms shut up and all her things taken away; he refused to even speak of her. Boromir was the one who gave me her cloak; he hid some of her things so we would have something to remember her by. She often read to me in the evenings...she would wrap that mantle around both of us to help her keep warm." A sad smile touched his lips at the memory. I bit my lip, remembering that I still had not yet returned the blue cloak like I had promised, and vowed that I would give it back to him before the end of the day.

We sat by the river for some time after that, each of us lost in our own grief for those we had lost. The sound of the water was soothing, as was watching the sunlight dance across the rippling surface. Though neither of us spoke, the silence was comfortable; he understood, I knew, and somehow that made the pain easier to bear.

"I should probably return to the city soon," Faramir finally said, looking over at me reluctantly.

I nodded. "By this time, the healers might think I decided to run away after all," I said, standing up and brushing my dress off. Faramir got to his feet, then walked over towards the horses. As he began tightening the girth on the saddle, I added, "Are you going to give him a name?"

"What?" He turned towards me, pushing his raven hair away from his eyes.

"The horse. If you are going to keep him, he needs a name."

"How do the Rohirrim name their horses?" he asked.

I rubbed Windfola's neck fondly. "Sometimes we name them at birth. Other times, we wait to see what kind of horse he or she is. My uncle named Windfola; we knew early on he would run fast--like the wind, he said." I smiled faintly.

The stallion snorted as he finished tightening the girth. "What about this one?" Faramir asked, walking over towards me as I struggled to tighten the girth on the saddle. "Do you need some help with that?"

"Yes," I reluctantly admitted, stepping back and allowing him to tighten it. "As for your horse..." I observed the chestnut, watching him toss his head proudly and prance around while Faramir finished checking Windfola's tack. Faramir would never be able to tame the horse completely, I realized; there was too much fire in him. "Wildfire," I finally said. "That is what I would call him."

Faramir looked over at the horse, then turned to me with a smile. "It suits him very well." I smiled back, feeling almost shy at the compliment as he handed me the reins and took Windfola off the picket line. Faramir went to get his horse, and I managed to pull myself into the saddle while his back was turned and took the opportunity to arrange my skirts while he was otherwise occupied. "Cuman, Wildfire," he said to the chestnut, patting his flank once he was mounted. Then he looked over at me, noticing my incredulous stare. "What is it?" he asked.

"You spoke Rohirric," I said in disbelief, quickly trying to remember if I had said anything potentially embarrassing in my native tongue around him.

Faramir shrugged nonchalantly. "Both my brother and I learned to speak it long ago, in case of any dealings with our Northern allies."

I just shook my head in wonder as we began our ride back to the city.

A/N: Hope you enjoyed the brief respite from all of the angst in this story! After taking some riding lessons over the summer, I couldn't resist putting a horse chapter in.

I'm basing Faramir's ability to handle horses on a comment that Beregond makes to Pippin in ROTK, saying Faramir "can master both beasts and men." Besides, I'm tired of fanfic depictions that make him out to be a terrible rider because he's not from Rohan.

Also, the information about Éowyn living in Aldburg comes from

Rohirric words are from, an Old English dictionary. I apologize to any of you Old English scholars out there if I butchered the grammar or anything.
Aernan, Windfola! = Run, Windfola!
Cuman = Come

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