An Act of Desperation - Chapter 23- Winter Passing
It took me a moment to recover from the shock of seeing Faramir there. But as he climbed the stairs to join me on top of the wall, my curiosity got the better of me and I asked, "What are you doing here? Does your shoulder still pain you?"
"No, it is almost completely healed," he said. "I came to see you."
"To see me?" I echoed weakly. I felt a tiny flicker of hope, but quickly extinguished it. I would not be foolish enough to see something that was not there, not a second time.
"Yes," he said, running a hand through his dark hair almost nervously. "The Warden came to me yesterday evening; he said that you were ill. I came last night, but Ioreth said that you were asleep and not to be disturbed, so..."
"Oh." My face reddened in embarrassment, as I was suddenly all too aware of how terrible I must look. "It was only a headache, but I am better this morning."
"I am glad to hear it," Faramir replied, looking relieved.
"Is your work going well?" I as
ked after a moment of awkward silence.
"Well enough, though there is still much that needs to be done." For the first time, I noticed how tired he looked, and wondered how many times during the week he had worked late into the night. I looked down at my feet awkwardly, feeling guilty for believing he had been purposely avoiding me. After another awkward moment, in which I began to keenly miss the easy camaraderie that we had shared before, Faramir said, "May I ask you something?"
"You may," I replied, glancing up at him again tentatively as I searched his face for any hint of what the question might be.
"Éowyn, why do you tarry here, and do not go to the rejoicing in Cormallen beyond Cair Andros, where your brother awaits you?"
How had he known that this was the very question that had been tormenting me for nearly a week? I opened my mouth to tell him of my decision, but somehow the words would not come. The gentle concern in his voice had unnerved me more than an entire company of orcs would have, and yet, I could not help but wonder if he wished me to leave the city after all. Finally, I looked away from him, unable to bear holding his gaze. You truly are a fool, Éowyn, I could not help telling myself as I softly answered, "Do you not know?"
"Two reasons there may be, but which is true, I do not know," he replied.
I turned towards him, my eyes narrowing slightly in frustration. "I do not wish to play at riddles. Speak plainer!"
Faramir began to pace along the wall a bit, running his hand through his hair again. "Then, if you will have it so, lady, you do not go because only your brother called for you, and to look on the Lord Aragorn, Elendil's heir, in his triumph would now bring you no joy." I bit my lip, wondering how had he known about my infatuation with Aragorn; I was certain that I had never spoken with him about it. But before I could ask, he continued, "Or because I do not go, and you desire still to be near me. And maybe for both these reasons, and you yourself cannot choose between them."
I stared at him, speechless; how could he have figured out my conflicting thoughts so quickly, when it had taken me days to sort them out? He stopped pacing abruptly and turned towards me, his grey-blue eyes intense as they met mine and he asked, "Éowyn, do you not love me, or will you not?"
The frank question threw me off-guard, and before I could stop myself, I blurted out, "I wished to be loved by another. But I desire no man's pity."
"That I know." His voice was a little sad, but devoid of any bitterness. "You desired to have the love of the Lord Aragorn, because he was high and puissant, and you wished to have renown and glory and to be lifted far above the low things that crawl on the earth. And as a great captain may to a young soldier, he seemed to you admirable. For so he is, a lord among men, the greatest that now is. But when he gave you only understanding and pity, then you desired to have nothing, unless a brave death in battle." I clenched my jaw as I turned away from him. I did not need him to remind me of my own stupidity.
"Look at me, Éowyn," Faramir said softly. I pulled my gaze away from my hand, which gripped the parapet so tightly that my knuckles were turning white, then finally turned my head and looked over at him. The intensity of his gaze was nearly overpowering, but once my eyes met his, I could not turn away. A hint of a sad smile touched his lips as he said, "Do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart, Éowyn." I lowered my eyes again briefly, looking back up at him as he continued, "But I do not offer you my pity. For you are a lady high and valiant, and have yourself won renown that shall not be forgotten. And you are a lady beautiful, I deem, beyond even the words of the Elven-tongue to tell."
I furrowed my brow in confusion. Why was he saying these things? Whatever he thought of my deeds in battle, they had failed to bring me the peace that I had sought for so long. And even Wormtongue had admired my looks. That meant nothing. My head dropped, and I was about to turn away again when he added, almost desperately, "And I love you."
He...loves me? My head jerked up and my breath caught in my throat as he began pacing once more, obviously nervous as he confessed, "Once, I pitied your sorrow. But now, were you sorrowless, without any fear or any lack, were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, still I would love you." He looked me straight in the eyes and asked once more, "Éowyn, do you not love me?"
How could you love him? The mocking voice that had been tormenting my thoughts for so long asked. A shieldmaiden with a heart of ice is all you will ever be. No one would truly be able to care for someone like you. Or would he?
Or would he?I looked steadily into his eyes; it was the same look that I had seen so many times before when he looked at me, a mix of warmth and gentleness and something else that I had never been able to put a name to. Until now.
He loves me. He had never given me a reason not to believe him before; there was no reason to doubt the truth of his words now. As they slowly sank in, I realized how blinded I had been by the treacherous words that Gríma had so often spoken to me. With that, I felt like an enormous weight had been lifted from my heart, and I was finally able to recognize the tiny hope that had lain dormant for so long: that someone would be able to fully accept, even love me, for who I was.
But do I love him? I wondered. I certainly liked him; I could easily think of him as one of the closest friends I had ever had, in spite of how short a time I had known him. Then I thought about how much I had missed him recently. I missed the ease with which I had been able to talk to him, the quiet strength that he had so often displayed, the way his eyes sparkled when he was amused by something, that almost-shy smile that I sometimes caught when he looked at me, the gentle concern he had shown towards me so often. I remembered the frequent arguments that I had so often had with myself in the past several days, and my realization that even the possibility of having a chance to perform more great deeds in battle no longer had the all-surpassing appeal it once had. Could I--would I want to--continue my life the way it had been before, without him in it?
With that thought, I had my answer. "I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun, and behold! The Shadow has departed," I said softly, half to myself. Faramir's eyes lit up hopefully as I added, "I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren." I looked up at him and smiled. "No longer do I desire to be a queen."
Faramir laughed as he took my hand, a mixture of joy and relief in his voice. "That is well, for I am not a king." My smile brightened as he continued, "Yet I will wed with the White Lady of Rohan, if it be her will. And if she will, then let us cross the River and in happier days let us dwell in fair Ithilien and there make a garden. All things will grow with joy there, if the White Lady comes."
"Then must I leave my own people, man of Gondor?" I teased. "And would you have your proud people say of you, `There goes a lord who tamed a wild shieldmaiden of the North! Was there no woman of the race of Númenor to choose?'"
He stepped a little closer to me, and I could feel my pulse quicken as he gently reached up and brushed a stray tendril of hair away from my face. His calloused fingers lingered on my cheek as his gaze, filled with a thinly veiled longing, met mine. "I would," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. He leaned in a little more, his eyes still locked with mine as his other hand rested lightly on my upper arm and I had only enough time to close my eyes before his lips lightly brushed mine.
Before I had quite comprehended what was happening, it was over. I felt him pull away slightly, and I realized I was holding my breath. I released it as my eyes opened. When I looked up at him, I could not help smiling; he smiled back before quickly closing the distance between us once more. Though I still felt tentative at first, I was quickly able to relax and enjoy the warmth of his lips against mine. The kiss, though still gentle, took on a little more intensity as he drew me closer, his fingers gently playing with my hair as his hand moved to rest against my back.
We pulled apart abruptly as we heard a few cheers from below. He looked as breathless as I felt, and I could feel my face reddening at having been caught--even more so when I realized my unbroken arm was around him now. I could not even remember moving it. We glanced down at the street below to see a few men standing there, looking up with grins on their faces. "'Tis about time you found yourself a woman, Captain!" one of them called up cheerfully.
Faramir left his hand resting lightly against the small of my back as he looked down; the warmth of his touch made me feel a little better about the embarrassing situation. "I cannot help it if I am a little more choosy than you, Damrod!" he called back, laughing. My face colored even further as the man laughed good-naturedly, and he and his companions walked away. "I suppose I should have thought about where we are standing before I did that," Faramir said apologetically as he looked back at me.
"It is fine," I assured him, smiling even though I knew I was still blushing. "Though, I do have one question for you..." He gave me a quizzical look, and I asked, "Why did you not return sooner?"
"I thought that you wished me to stay away," he answered, a hint of regret in his eyes.
I stared at him for a moment, uncomprehending, before I remembered. The blue mantle. Of course. "Forgive me; I never meant to hurt you, Faramir," I said softly, glancing down. "That was the last thing I wanted."
"I know." He tilted my chin up with his hand until I met his gaze again, then took my hand and lightly kissed it, just as he had done so many times before. I felt relieved to know that all was forgiven as he lowered our hands, his fingers intertwining with mine, and together we left the wall and entered the Houses.
Daeron and Ioreth were waiting inside. As soon as we entered, Ioreth greeted us with a wide, knowing grin. "Well, it is about time!" she exclaimed, and I blushed again, wondering if the entire city had been watching us.
Faramir looked embarrassed as well, but he smiled at me before turning to Daeron and saying, "Here is the Lady Éowyn of Rohan, and now she is healed." I smiled back at him, feeling a little better.
Daeron smiled kindly. "Then I release her from my charge and bid her farewell, and may she suffer never hurt nor sickness again." His gaze shifted towards me, and he added, "I commend her to the care of the Steward of the City, until her brother returns."
I looked down at my hand, still in Faramir's, and could not keep myself from smiling at the irony of it all; I finally had what I had wanted since I came to Minas Tirith--my freedom. "Yet now that I have leave to depart, I would remain, for this House has become to me the most blessed," I said softly. Faramir looked at me, a questioning look in his eyes. I smiled up at him, feeling suddenly shy, and he slowly returned the smile as he understood; it simply would not be proper for me to stay with him.
Ioreth gave us an approving smile, then looked over at Daeron and nodded slightly. Daeron nodded as well. "Of course you may stay."
I thanked him, then Daeron bowed. "With your leave, my lord, my lady, I must get back to work." Ioreth reluctantly followed him out of the room, still beaming.
Faramir turned towards me again. "I should also go back to the Citadel," he admitted.
"I know," I said, just as unwilling to part with him so soon. "When will you be able to return?"
"I could come back tonight, if you wish," he answered.
I smiled. "I would like that."
Faramir's eyes were filled with warmth as he returned the smile. "Until tonight then, my lady," he said, leaning over and kissing me lightly before releasing my hand and turning to go.
After he closed the door behind him, I went back to the garden and stood atop the walls once more, looking out over the city. Faramir was no longer in sight, but I still could not keep a smile off my face. He loves me, I thought again, marveling how I had not seen it sooner, and how I had so completely failed to realize that my own feelings towards him were changing.
A movement near the outer walls walls caught my eye, and I looked down to see a lone mounted figure riding away from the city. "Forgive me, brother," I said softly as I watched Éothain ride away, hoping that Éomer would be able to understand, then went back inside, determined to find some means of keeping myself occupied during the remainder of my stay in Minas Tirth.
I could find nothing to do within either my room or the sitting room where I had often shared meals with Merry and Faramir, and eventually made my way back out to the gardens. With the arrival of spring, the neatly-ordered planting beds were coming alive with green shoots poking out of the soil, which looked surprisingly rich for a city that seemed to be made entirely of stone. I knew these had to be the herbs used in the Houses, and could not help wondering how the healers of Gondor had found so many uses for the plants. I knelt down on the grassy path beside the stone-surrounded planting bed, tentatively running a finger over the tender new leaves.
"Éowyn? What are you doing?"
I quickly withdrew my hand and turned to see Mithríel behind me. "I am sorry," I said, feeling like a child who had been caught in some mischief. "I did not hurt it, did I?"
A sudden amused smile crossed the healer's face. "No, my lady."
Feeling a little more relaxed, I asked, "What does this plant do?"
"It helps to soothe an upset stomach," she replied. "Why do you wish to know?"
I looked back at her steadily. "I was simply curious. My people use several of the more common healing plants, but not to the extent that your healers do, nor do we know of as many herbs. It is rather intriguing, actually."
Mithríel looked surprised. "You wish to learn more about healing?"
"Yes, I do." My voice sounded more confident than I felt about the prospect, but I continued nonetheless. "I know a little bit, about treating wounds and such, but..." I paused, uncertain how to continue. Finally, I finished, "Truthfully, if I am going to be staying here, I would like to find a way to be useful. I do not know how much help I can be, but I will do my best."
"I would be happy to teach you what I know," Mithríel offered. "I will have to speak with Ioreth first, of course, but it would be good to have some extra hands around here. Or one hand, anyway," she added, eyeing my arm with a bit of a smile.
"It is practically healed," I automatically argued. "I am certain that I could at least use it for light tasks."
"I believe you could," she said thoughtfully. "I will go and speak with Ioreth on your behalf."
"Thank you," I replied as she turned to go.
Mithríel nodded, then paused at the doorway and looked back at me. "I am happy for you, Éowyn," she said. "He is a good man."
I could feel my face growing hot again. "Word certainly travels fast around here," I muttered.
Mithríel smiled, an almost-mischievous twinkle in her green eyes. "Truthfully, everyone is surprised that this did not happen sooner." At my surprised look, she added, more seriously, "It was obvious to us from the first time he spoke with you that he cared deeply for you. And both of you seemed more at peace when you were together. I think he needed you here as much as you needed him."
"But I did not do anything to help him," I protested.
"Yes, you did. Especially after he learned of what happened to his father," she replied, lowering her voice.
I lowered mine as well as I asked, "How did you know of that? Does everyone here know?"
"No," she quickly answered. "To nearly everyone in the Houses, it is still simply a rumor. I think the only one who knows the entire story is Mithrandir, and perhaps the Halfling that was with him and the Lord Imrahil. I am certain that he only told Daeron and Ioreth what he thought they needed to know, and they spoke to no one about it, except Lord Faramir. "
"Then how did you know?" I asked again.
Mithríel turned away and looked out of the window. "My husband told me. He was there when it happened," she said softly. "It was he who held the door against the other Citadel guards until Mithrandir could come. He killed two of them--they attacked him first, he had no choice but to fight back. But..." Her voice trailed off.
I had forgotten that Mithríel had told me that her husband had been involved. "Are you angry with him?" I asked, unable to read the look on her face.
She wiped at her eyes quickly, then turned back towards me. "No. He did what he knew was right, and I do not fault him for that. Had their places been reversed, I am certain that Lord Faramir would have done the same. But Beregond shed blood in the Hallows to save him. That is a crime punishable by death; his motives do not matter. Lord Faramir tells me he will do all that he can to help, but I do not know if there is anything he can do."
I glanced down, uncertain of what to say. "Mithríel, I am sorry," I finally said. It is not right, I thought. He should not have to die for saving a man's life.
Mithríel shook her head slightly. "It is no fault of yours. I will go find Ioreth now." She turned and left, leaving me wishing there was something I could do to help.
Ioreth was more than happy to have another person to assist around the Houses, though she thoroughly lectured me about not overworking my arm before finally agreeing. I spent the remainder of the afternoon with Mithríel, and although the sheer amount of information she gave me on the various herbs she used was rather overwhelming, it was good to be able to do something useful again. I had not realized just how many men still remained under the healers' care, as several of the less seriously wounded lay within other nearby buildings, nor how many of them were of my people. I was also surprised at how warmly the men of Rohan greeted me, and at the respect I could see in their eyes as I spoke with them. And so, though I was not much help as a healer that day, it was with a much lighter heart that I greeted Faramir when he returned to the Houses shortly after supper.
"I am a little surprised, to be honest," I said to him as we walked through the gardens. "I was certain that I would be labeled a traitor by my people."
"Why would you think that?" he asked.
I stopped walking, glancing down. "My uncle wished for me to stay behind and govern in Dunharrow, and I disobeyed him. I failed in my duty to him and to my people." I looked up at him again and asked, "Did I do the right thing, Faramir?"
He did not answer immediately, but looked like he was deep in thought as he resumed walking. Finally, he said, "It is difficult to say; I do not know the circumstances or the consequences for those left behind. But I do believe that if you had not come, my people might not have survived." I shook my head, still unconvinced, and he frowned slightly. "You did what we could not."
"You were wounded," I said. "And I do not doubt that you would have stood up to him, had you been in my place."
He turned away for a moment, then began to speak softly. "We--my men and I--encountered him and his kind often in recent days, in Osgiliath." I turned slightly and looked up at him; it was the first time he had spoken to me of the events that had led him to the Houses of Healing. "It was all I could do to stay on my horse; had it not been for Mithrandir's intervention, I am certain that none of us would have returned to the White City once we were forced to fall back. When we were sent out the second time..." He paused, then continued. "I spoke truly when I said that I do not remember much of that battle. I can only recall fighting the Haradrim, then the dark creature flying overhead. I remember the screams...I could not move. Then the arrow struck me and I fell; that is all I remember."
"Faramir..." I started.
He shook his head, then stopped and took my hand. "Even if I had not been wounded, Éowyn, I would have been powerless to stand before him. There was a prophecy, spoken by one of the Elf-lords long ago, saying that no man would be able to slay him."
I could not speak. I could feel my fingers tightening slightly around Faramir's as I tried to come to terms with what he had just said. Finally, I asked, "Why did you not say anything sooner?"
"I did not remember, at first," he admitted. "It has been a long time since I read that. But it seems a strange chance, if chance it were indeed, that one who could fulfill that prophecy would come to Gondor just when our defeat seemed certain."
I looked down, too ashamed to look at him. "When I was facing him, he told me that no man could kill him. I did not think anything of it at the time; I believed that he was just trying to intimidate me." I paused, staring at nothing as I tried to remember what had happened that day. "I laughed at him when he said that. I know not why...I suppose I simply did not care what happened to me anymore." I shivered a little, and Faramir released my hand before placing his arm around my shoulders, drawing me a little closer as I added, "My only thought then was to save my uncle. He had just been restored to us--I could not bear to lose him again so soon. And yet I still failed him." I pulled away from Faramir, walking away a few steps. "You asked me once why I came to Gondor. Do you remember the answer I gave you? I have heard what my people here say about me, and what some of your people say. They speak of my courage, but they are wrong, Faramir. I was afraid--more afraid than I had ever been of anything. The only reason I fought was because I believed that all I could hope for was death with honour; I do not deserve the honour they give me."
Faramir moved to stand next to me again. "Do not believe that your courage is lacking because you were afraid, Éowyn. I have seen even the most battle-hardened warriors cower in terror before those servants of the Nameless One." He paused, and a shadow seemed to briefly cross his face as he added, "Fear and despair are their weapons; no mortal may face them and remain unaffected. You achieved victory in spite of your fear; that is the mark of true courage. And hope..." The cool breeze ruffled Faramir's dark hair as he looked up towards the sky. "Long have my people--our peoples--been bereft of hope," he said quietly. "'Tis a difficult thing to learn to live with it once more."
Feeling oddly comforted by his words, and realizing that he was talking about himself as much as me, I turned to face him as I followed his gaze upwards, taking his hand; his calloused fingers felt warm against my skin. The first stars of the evening were beginning to appear, shining brightly against the deep twilight, and I smiled to see them. "Yes, it is difficult," I said softly. He glanced down at me, and my eyes met his as I added, "But no longer something that I deem impossible."
He smiled then as he pulled me a little closer, tilting my chin up slightly with his free hand. Just before his lips gently pressed against mine, I barely caught his whispered "I love you, Éowyn." I simply squeezed his hand in response; no words would come. But as he pulled back from the kiss, wrapping his arms around my waist lightly while I leaned back against his chest, I sensed that he understood. And so I stood there with him in silence, watching the stars emerge from the darkening sky and feeling more at peace than I had for a long time.