An Act of Desperation - Chapter 22- Torn in Two
Our return journey was much slower; we alternated between keeping the horses at a fast walk and a slow trot, and spent most of the time talking about various misadventures with our brothers.
"...so Éomer, Éothain and Elfric decided to take the cask of ale into the stables, and set me as the guard when my brother realized that I would not leave," I said as we drew closer to the city. "They had just opened the cask when I saw that my uncle was walking near the stables, along with several of the lords of the Westfold who were taking counsel with him. When I ran back and told Éomer, they were unable to figure out how to close the cask again, and so he panicked. They poured the entire cask into an empty water trough just outside of the back of the stables, and no one noticed anything was amiss until later, when one of the lords went to get his horse and found that every single horse in the stableyard was intoxicated." Faramir unsuccessfully tried to stifle a laugh, and I grinned. "Éomer was mortified, of course. He was so relieved to learn that the horses would not suffer any permanent ill effects, but it was quite some time before he tried the ale again. And he, his friends and I had to muck out the stalls by ourselves for an entire week--I had to share in the punishment since I was the guard." I shook my head in mock annoyance, though I smiled at the memory.
Faramir laughed heartily. "It seems that he caused you a great deal of trouble as a child."
I gave him an innocent smile. "If I were to be honest, I would have to say that I got him into trouble just as often." My smile faded as I added, "I hope that he will forgive me for not coming. He seemed so upset with me when he left."
"Then why did you decide to stay?" Faramir asked gently.
I shook my head. "I would rather not talk about it." Especially since I still have no answer to give, I added silently.
"Very well," he replied. We fell silent as we rode through the gates of the city and up to the third level. With the aid of the mounting block, I was able to dismount by myself this time while Faramir spoke with Beleg again, saying he would be back later to make all the arrangements for purchasing Wildfire. "May I walk you back to the Houses?" he asked, turning to me once more.
"Of course." He politely offered his arm, and we began the walk back up to the sixth level. I quickly grew weary of the silence, and asked him, "What will you be doing now?"
"I hardly know where to begin," he said. "Rebuilding is a priority, of course, especially for the people who lost their homes in the siege. We have set up some temporary shelters, but I am hoping to get something a little more organized set up soon in order for meals to be distributed to those who need them. I also need to have some tallies of the damage before Lord Aragorn comes to the city. And then I must research all of the traditions for the actual coronation..." he sighed. "Needless to say, I do not think that I will be lacking for ways to keep myself occupied anytime soon. I cannot help but wonder if I am fit for this task."
"But you have been a captain of Gondor for some time now, have you not?" I replied. He nodded silently. "Then you are accustomed to leading men. And I do not doubt that you would only do what you deem best for your people. I think you underestimate yourself, Faramir. You are not a fool, and I know that you can do this."
He looked surprised, but grateful for my confidence in him. "Thank you," he finally said.
The Houses of Healing came into view, and I slowed my steps a bit, suddenly reluctant for this time to end. "I enjoyed the ride a great deal, Faramir. Thank you for letting me go with you."
"I should thank you for convincing me, my lady," he replied with a smile. "I would not have enjoyed it nearly as much without your company." He paused thoughtfully, then added, "It was good to see you smile, Éowyn."
My face colored slightly, and I could not think of a response. I was saved from answering, however, when we reached the door to the Houses. Faramir opened the door and allowed me to enter first, and I quickly found myself face-to-face with Mithríel.
"There you are!" she exclaimed. She looked me up and down, smiling knowingly as she glanced at my dress; despite my best efforts, I had not been able to fully smooth out the wrinkles nor remove all the horsehair. "Did you enjoy your ride?"
Faramir and I looked at each other, a little embarrassed. "How did you know?" I finally answered, suddenly fully aware that I must smell like a stable.
She grinned in response. "Bergil saw you two ride out from the walls. Fortunately for you both, he had the good sense to tell me when neither Ioreth nor Daeron were in earshot. Perhaps you might also enjoy a hot bath, my lady. I can make sure that dress is cleaned, and neither of them will be the wiser. Especially Ioreth," she said, winking at Faramir.
"Oh, thank you, Mithríel!" I exclaimed, feeling relieved. She curtsied quickly and left, with a conspiratorial smile on her face.
Once Mithríel had left the room, Faramir turned towards me again with a grin on his face. "I am glad that she is willing to keep her silence. Ioreth is much more formidable a foe than she appears, and if she knew that I allowed you on a horse with a broken arm..." his voice trailed off as I laughed, then his smile faded a bit as his gaze grew more intense. "Éowyn..."
"I nearly forgot! Wait here, I will return shortly," I interrupted. I barely caught his confused look before hurrying up the stairs to my room. Mithríel had already had a wooden tub brought in, and was setting up a screen for privacy.
"Lady Éowyn? Are you ready so soon?" she asked, looking a little surprised.
"Not yet, Mithríel," I said, opening the wardrobe to find that my things had already been put away again. As I pulled out the blue mantle, I let my fingers brush over the star-embroidered velvet for a moment, suddenly reluctant to give it up. No, I firmly told myself. You have no right to keep this. With my mind firmly made up, I went back down the stairs.
When Faramir saw what I was holding, he looked surprised. I thought I also saw a trace of hurt in his eyes, but he smoothed his expression so quickly that I could not be certain if I had only imagined it. "Forgive me, Faramir...I meant to return this before," I said, "but I forgot. I apologize if I took advantage of your kindness in letting me borrow it."
"You did not," he quickly reassured me. "If you still have need of it..."
I shook my head, laying it in his arms. "I cannot keep something that means so much to you, but I am grateful that you let me use it." He looked down at the cloak silently. "I am sorry for interrupting before. What were you going to say?" I asked.
He looked up again, an unreadable expression on his face. "Nothing important." He paused, then added, "I should go."
"I know you have work to do, Faramir," I said, trying to look nonchalant in spite of the sudden knot in my stomach. "Forget about me; I will be fine."
"I could never do that," he said without looking at me, so softly that I could barely hear him. But when he looked up again, his eyes were clear, though his expression was a little sad. "Farewell, Éowyn." With that, he bowed and turned away.
"Farewell," I echoed, confused. I knew that I had hurt him somehow, but could not figure out what I had done. My heart sank as I watched him walk away from the Houses. Part of me wanted to run after him to keep him from leaving, though I could think of no reason to ask him to stay. But still, I could not bear to watch him go, so I turned away and retreated up the stairs. And so I never saw him stop to look back, nor the dejected slump of his shoulders when he realized that I was gone.
Had I known how lonely the life of a patient in the Houses of Healing could be, I might have chosen differently. There were still enough men recovering from their battle wounds that remained under the healers' care to keep them busy, and so I was alone most of the time. It pained me to stay in the gardens, as my solitude there stood in sharp contrast to the companionship with Faramir and Merry that I had grown accustomed to; it was still better than being confined to my room, however. So I walked alone in the gardens, watching as the warmer spring days brought it back to life and wondering why I still felt so dead inside.
For the first few days, I held on to a tiny hope that perhaps Faramir might come back to visit. But I neither saw nor had any word from him, and though at first I could convince myself that his duties as Steward kept him too busy to come, as the days wore on I began to wonder if I truly had offended him, and therefore he no longer desired my company. The thought truly grieved me, but as I still did not understand what I had done and I had no opportunity to talk to him, I could think of no way to repair our friendship. And, despite the short time I had known him, the loss hit me harder than I would have expected it to.
In my solitude, my grief over losing Théoden and Théodred became increasingly difficult to bear, and as much as I dreaded meeting with Éomer, I missed him more as each day passed. My troubled thoughts kept me up late into the night, and when I did finally manage to rest, my nightmares were even worse than they had been before. The sleepless days and nights steadily wore on me, until a pounding headache became my near-constant companion. My appetite left me as well, and though I could feel my strength waning, I could do no more than pick at the food that was brought to me, nor could I rid myself of the dark mood that had settled so deeply upon me.
Five days passed in this manner, and late in the afternoon of the sixth, I was walking in the garden once more when Ioreth called to me from the doorway of the Houses. "My lady? You have a visitor."
The first thought that leaped into my mind was that perhaps Faramir had returned, and I could not help feeling disappointed when I caught a glimpse of the man's golden hair; my disappointment quickly turned into surprise, however, when I realized who the broad-shouldered, green-eyed man was. "Éothain?" I asked, dumbfounded.
He bowed, his wheat-colored hair falling into his eyes slightly, before straightening. "My lady," he said formally before flashing me the lopsided grin that was more typical of him.
I furrowed my brow slightly, still surprised. Though I had known Éothain for years--he had been one of my brother's closest friends since we moved to Edoras--he was one of the last people I would have expected to see in Minas Tirith. "What are you doing here?"
Éothain's smile faded slightly as he studied my face. "Can a man not visit an old friend without raising questions?" he asked, attempting to keep his tone light.
"Do not toy with me, Éothain. Éomer sent you, did he not?"
"He did," Éothain finally answered, now completely serious. "He would have come himself, but his duty forbade him."
I should have known that Éomer would not accept my answer, I realized. To Éothain, I said, "Come, let us sit down and speak of this further," motioning over towards the trees where I had sat and talked with Faramir and Merry so often. Once we were both seated, I asked politely, "When did you arrive?"
"Perhaps an hour ago," Éothain answered. "It took some time to learn where you were staying, but I was finally able to locate Elfhelm; he and his men have returned from Anórien and are now camped within the first circle of the city. He was surprised to learn that you were still in Minas Tirith, but informed me that you were probably here."
I paused before answering. "I see. I was not aware that he was in the city."
Éothain replied, "He only arrived a few days ago, my lady."
I could think of no reply, and so I looked at my hands, resting in my lap, until Éothain asked, "How is your arm?"
"My arm is not yet fully recovered, but it is healing well enough," I answered. "It no longer pains me."
"That is good news," he answered, but his eyes looked troubled.
"Éothain?" I asked.
"If your arm is nearly healed, then why did you remain in this city?" he bluntly replied. "Éomer is quite worried about you, Éowyn. Why will you not go to him?"
I looked down again, vaguely noting that my hands were trembling. I had begun to doubt the wisdom of my decision to remain in Minas Tirith, and yet, though I longed to make amends with my brother, something within me yet resisted the thought of leaving this place. Closing my eyes, I tried to fight past my indecision, but my thoughts were too muddled.
"I can see that you are not well," Éothain finally said.
"I would only be a burden to him now." My voice sounded distant even to my own ears
"He will not see it that way," Éothain answered.
"I know, and yet I cannot go to him now. I have no wish for him to see me like this. Do you not understand?" I pleaded, looking up at him.
"What shall I tell your brother then, lady?" he asked.
I sat silently, looking out over the fields as I waited for an answer to come. Finally, I heard a voice behind me answer, "Tell him that the healers have not yet released her from their charge, my lord." I turned to see Mithríel standing behind us in the garden.
Éothain silently looked from her to me, trying to assess the situation, then finally stood and bowed. "Very well. I will take my leave then. If you change your mind, I will not be riding until mid-day. Goodnight, my lady." Then he turned and went back into the Houses.
I finally looked up, my grey eyes meeting Mithríel's green ones. "Thank you, Mithríel," I said softly.
"I only spoke the truth, my lady," she answered.
"Please, do not call me that anymore," I groaned, completely fed up with the formality of the healers. "I have been here long enough that just my name should suffice."
"Pardon me, my la...Éowyn. I was just coming to tell you that supper is ready."
I nodded, though just the thought of food was enough to make me feel like a stone had settled in my stomach. As I stood up, a sudden wave of dizziness swept over me, and I quickly closed my eyes and leaned my hand against the tree trunk while I waited for the earth to stop lurching beneath my feet. "Éowyn?" Mithríel asked, concern heavy in her voice.
"I am fine. I just stood up too quickly." I opened my eyes and straightened up.
She eyed me critically, then walked over and took my arm. "Please, let me help you."
"I told you, I am fine!" I said, irritated.
"No, you are not," she firmly replied, her green eyes glinting. I felt too weary to protest as she led me to my room, then motioned for me to sit down on the bed. As I sat down, leaning against the carved wooden headboard and resting the back of my head against the wall, she sat down on the chair and looked at me steadily. "I know that you have barely eaten for several days now, Éowyn. And when was the last time you had a good night's sleep?"
Before Wormtongue came to Edoras, I could not help thinking. Mithríel eyed me impatiently, and I finally answered aloud, "I cannot remember."
Mithríel sat there for a long moment, looking deeply concerned. She finally asked, "Will you try to eat at least part of your supper?" I nodded mutely; surely I could manage a bite or two. "And if I gave you something to help you sleep, would you take it?"
"You mean you wish to drug me?" I asked indignantly.
"Not exactly; we have an herb that, when brewed into tea, helps one to relax. Perhaps sleep might come a little easier if you tried that."
I thought about it for a moment, then reluctantly agreed, "I suppose it would not hurt to try."
"I will go prepare the tea then, and have your supper sent up here," she replied, and left.
True to my word, I did manage to eat about half of the small bowl of soup that was sent up to me. When Mithríel returned, she helped me change into my nightshift; in spite of my protests that it was still rather early for sleeping, she firmly told me that I needed the extra rest in order to help the headaches to subside. "Now make sure that you drink all of it, Éowyn," she said sternly.
I sniffed at it cautiously, then took a tiny sip; it had a surprisingly pleasant taste that reminded me of apples. "This is not bad at all," I said, looking up in surprise.
Mithríel just smiled. "I hope it helps," she said before leaving me alone. I slowly finished the tea, then lay down and stared at the wall until I lost the battle with my weariness.
When I awoke late the next morning, I still felt exhausted, but my headache had greatly subsided. Sunlight was streaming into the room and I turned my back to it and shut my eyes again, hoping to clear my thoughts.
Though the tea had helped greatly--I had not awoken during the night for the first time since I had come to Gondor--my dreams still left me feeling unsettled. I had been standing on the stone platform surrounding Meduseld once more, though I could not see past the edge for the darkness that surrounded me. I had heard someone behind me, calling my name, but though I stood dangerously close to the edge of the platform, I could not turn towards him. He kept calling me, and the warmth in his voice made me want to go to him, but I was frozen in place. It was not until waking that I realized whose voice I had heard.
Faramir. I sighed. I had not realized just how much I missed his company, until then. Of course you miss him, I told myself. He was your friend, just like Merry.
No...there was more to it than that, and I knew it. As fond as I was of the hobbit, and as much as I missed his cheerful company, it was...different, somehow. Nor was it like the sharp pain I had felt when Aragorn took his leave in Dunharrow; more like a dull, numbing ache that refused to leave. Almost like...
My eyes flew open. I could not love him...could I?
"No!" I muttered to myself. "This is not happening again. I will not be fooled again."
You care for him...you cannot deny it.
"Of course I do, as a friend. Nothing more." I silently cursed myself for thinking too much, and wished that there was some way I could just escape from the mess I had gotten myself into. Are you really that fickle? What about Aragorn?
As soon as the thought crossed my mind, I knew in my heart that this was different. Aragorn had been right--I had never really known him; he had been nothing more than an escape from my life as the king's nursemaid. I could not have truly loved him. But Faramir... I had spent so much time with him since coming to the city, and I had thought he understood me, at least a little. Now that he was gone, I could clearly see how much he had helped me through the time before the war ended, though I had not at the time. And I thought that maybe I had helped him too. His words had led me to believe so. I should have known, I sighed. Words do not necessarily mean anything.
And even if I did care for him, it does not matter, I added silently. He does not love me. I felt suddenly frustrated at feeling like I needed to justify myself to my own mind. "He could not!" I exclaimed out loud. He only pities me. That is why he was so kind to me; he was simply trying to be a good friend. This answer satisfied me for the moment, but left me feeling even sadder. I did not want his pity, that much I would freely admit. But in that moment, I realized that if I were perfectly honest with myself, I did not want only his friendship either.
But then, it seems I have lost that as well. Not even so much as a message had come from Faramir since the day he left. Perhaps I truly had been nothing more to him than a diversion while he was under the healers' care, and now that he was free he had no more use for my company. Part of me could not, or would not accept that, but I had no other explanation to give.
My thoughts were thankfully interrupted when the door opened. I glanced towards the door just in time to see Mithríel stepping inside the room. "Oh! I apologize if I woke you, my... I mean, Éowyn."
"I was already awake. And the tea did help; thank you," I replied, forcing myself into a sitting position and pushing my hair behind my ears.
She nodded, then began rummaging through the wardrobe. After a moment, she pulled out my white dress. "Perhaps you would like to wear this one today?"
I nodded silently, forcing myself to my feet so she could help me into the dress. The dress felt strangely loose, as if my frame would no longer fill it out even though it had fit perfectly before. As Mithríel tightened the laces in the back, I asked, "Mithríel, have you heard any word from your husband?"
"Yes," she replied, sounding surprised. "He is well."
"That is good to hear." I paused, then added, "Did he say how long they would be staying at Cair Andros?"
"At least a month, he said. They wish to give the wounded enough time to recover before making them travel," she said. "Why do you wish to know?"
"I was just wondering." I fell silent after that, deep in thought. Could I really stay here alone for another month? I did not think I could, especially with my argument with Éomer still weighing on my mind. Besides, it seemed there was no reason for me to stay in Minas Tirith any longer.
Once I had forced down a bit of food, I went to the gardens and stood alone on the walls once more. Though the sun shone brightly, I could still feel a damp chill in the air. The city sprawled out below me, and I could see the small figures of people going about their morning activities, and hear various sounds of people beginning the day's tasks. I pulled the rough green fabric of my cloak a little closer and drew my hands underneath, hoping to warm them a bit; my fingers felt stiff and cold. Faramir would be somewhere down there as well, I thought sadly, among the growing crowds. If the noise I had heard drifting up from the lower levels of the city over the past week had been any indication, he had certainly found enough to keep himself occupied.
As for myself, I felt trapped. I wondered if perhaps it was not too late to go to Éomer after all. Éothain would not have lied to me; my brother would be happy to see me. At least then I would be among my own people again, away from these walls of stone. But Aragorn was there as well. Though I was now certain that I did not love him, I could not bear to face him again, knowing what a fool I had been.
But you are being a fool again by staying here, are you not? I thought. There was nothing for me here. I was caged again, but this time I had built the prison myself. I rested my hand on the cool white stone of the parapet, looking down at the city. The drop was dizzying. I closed my eyes, my hand clenching into a fist. I cannot stay here any longer. Not like this.As I stood there, a new resolve formed in my mind. I would go to Cormallen. And if my people would no longer accept me, then so be it. At least by leaving I would be doing something.
Éothain would not have left yet; I could send word to him easily enough, asking him to wait until I had gathered my things. I was about to turn and go back to the Houses when I remembered that I should tell Faramir that I was leaving Minas Tirth; though I had not seen him for nearly a week, I had no wish to leave without saying farewell to him. I began planning what I would say; I had decided to heed my brother's wishes and go to Cormallen. I could make all the necessary preparations for the journey myself, but...
"Éowyn?" a familiar voice asked behind me.
As I whirled around, startled, the entire speech I had been so carefully composing flew out of my head. For a moment, I just stared, feeling strangely unnerved and warmed at the same time by the concern on his face. Finally, I managed to choke out, "Good morning, Faramir."