An Act of Desperation - Chapter 25: A Helping Hand
Faramir had brought our horses in order to speed the journey from the sixth to the first level of the City, and had left them waiting outside the Houses. It took me much longer than I wished to get into Windfola's saddle and arrange my skirt for riding, and I could not help wishing once more that I had brought a riding skirt with me, or that I had been able to locate the breeches I had worn into battle. Finally, everything was arranged satisfactorily enough and we left. As I followed him through the stone-paved streets, he explained the situation to me. "Several companies of the Rohirrim have returned to the city from defending the road at Anorien, under the command of a Marshall Elfhelm," he said. "In exchange for food and shelter until their king and the remainder of the army returns, they have agreed to aid us in rebuilding the lower two levels, since they were the ones most heavily damaged in the siege."
"What is the trouble, then?" I asked.
"It seems that there have been several misunderstandings in regard to the agreement, though I do not know all of the details yet," he replied. "I do not wish for them to be treated unfairly, of course, and so I might need your help in translating..."
"But I thought you could speak Rohirric," I interrupted.
"I can," he explained patiently. "It has been quite some time since I have had need to converse in your language, however, and while I can understand it well enough, I fear my skill in speaking it fluently may be a little weak. Besides, I believed that they might appreciate having one of their own people to help speak for them."
"I see," I said, touched by his thoughtfulness in the matter. "I will aid you as much as I am able, Faramir." He made no further reply other than to turn back and smile at me gratefully, and so we rode in silence until we had reached the first circle of the city.
The men were hard at work as we drew closer, but our approach did not go unnoticed--I could hear the exclamations even above the sounds of construction. As word of our arrival spread, the men stopped what they were doing, and a large group of them had already gathered by the time Faramir drew his horse to a halt. One older man stepped out in front of the crowd, his golden hair streaked lightly with silver, and I recognized him immediately as Elfhelm. As one of the Marshalls who had ridden with my father, and later my brother, I had known him my entire life. After greeting Faramir cordially, he turned to me. "My lady!" he exclaimed in our language. "It is good to see you alive and well; when we heard of your riding with us and that you had been wounded, we all feared the worst."
"Thank you, Elfhelm," I answered as he helped me down from Windfola's back, taking care to avoid entangling my skirt further. "I assure you that I have received nothing but the best of care."
Elfhelm smiled and bowed again, then turned back to Faramir, who had been picketing the horses. "It was good of you to come so quickly, my lord," he said, this time in the common tongue. "I have no wish to cause trouble, but the men are beginning to complain about the conditions."
"I will aid you as much as is in my power," Faramir answered. "The Lady Éowyn has graciously agreed to assist me in this, as she will undoubtedly be better able to discern what will best help your people."
"And we are grateful for her aid," Elfhelm said, smiling at me. "I believe it will raise the spirits of all the men, having her here."
A few of the men who understood the common tongue cheered their agreement with Elfhelm's statement, and I could not help feeling a little embarrassed at the attention. But I managed to keep my head high, and knowing my duty, I addressed them in Rohirric. "Thank you; you are kinder than I deserve." Several men cried out to the contrary, and I could not quite keep from smiling as I continued. "You have my word that every effort will be made to resolve this problem quickly. Now, what is the trouble?"
Elfhelm and a few of the other captains then stepped forward to explain the situation to me. When they had finished, I turned to Faramir, who had been standing by silently, and translated, "They have no complaint about their sleeping quarters, as they are perfectly content to camp outside the city walls. But it seems that the promised food rations have fallen short by about a third."
Faramir nodded thoughtfully. "And has this complaint been brought to the attention of the guards in charge of food distribution?"
Before I could turn back and ask the men of Rohan, one of them, who apparently understood the common tongue, retorted in Rohirric, "Of course we have complained to them! But it does no good."
"They laugh it off, my lady," another added. "They act as if we are barbarians, good for nothing more than brute labor, just because we are not from their fair land of the South."
"And they forget that if not for us, their 'fair land' would have been razed to the ground by now, nor would they have made so much progress in rebuilding their city," a third complained. Several of the men grumbled in assent. "Surely you know this, my lady," he continued, "as you had a greater hand in that than most."
One older man rubbed at his beard thoughtfully, narrowing his steel-grey eyes slightly. "Are you certain that this Steward can be trusted to keep his word, my lady? After all, it is his people that are causing this."
If Faramir understood him, there was no change in his carefully guarded expression to indicate such a thing. But the murmurs were increasing, and I realized the situation would quickly get out of hand if no action was taken. I held up my hand to silence the men, then answered, "Whatever the prejudices of his people may be, I assure you that Lord Faramir does not share this view. He is a reasonable man, and I have no doubt that he will keep his word; if he does not, you may hold me personally responsible. If you will pardon me for a moment, I will speak with him." The captains nodded assent, and I turned back to Faramir. We walked away a few paces, then I lowered my voice and asked him, "How much of that did you understand?"
"Enough to understand that they believe they are being treated unfairly by my people," he answered, a troubled look on his face.
"Is there anything that can be done about this?" I asked, glancing back at the men.
Faramir remained silent, gazing past me with a thoughtful look. "Many of the people who left the city before the siege are beginning to return," he finally answered. "I am certain that some bakers and cooks are among them; with more people to help, it should be a simple enough task to have a few of them specifically assigned to feeding the workers here."
"And that will solve the problem?"
"It should solve the problem of your people getting enough to eat," Faramir said. "As for the rest... I had hoped that the friendship between our lands could be renewed, but it seems that will take some time."
I nodded. "I have often heard talk around the court in Edoras, complaining about Gondor's lack of interest in our troubles. I doubt not that you had enough troubles of your own, but in recent days the king was often told..." My voice trailed off as I suddenly recalled the words I had often heard Wormtongue speak to my uncle on this very topic in recent days.
A strange look must have crossed my face at the memory, because Faramir asked, "Éowyn? Are you well?"
I looked up to see worry in his eyes. Though I was touched by his concern, though I knew I would eventually have to tell him about Wormtongue, I also knew this was not the time or place to do so. He has enough to concern himself with, I decided. If I were to be perfectly honest with myself, I realized, I was still afraid to talk to him about it; I could not bear for him to think ill of me. "Yes, I am fine," I finally answered, forcing a smile. "And while I cannot speak for Lord Aragorn, I have no doubt that my brother will also wish to restore our relations with Gondor."
Faramir nodded. "I truly hope so." He then glanced over to where the captains were still waiting, then added, "Shall we go see if this is an acceptable arrangement?" I nodded, and we walked back over to Elfhelm and the other captains. "Marshall Elfhelm," Faramir said, "I believe I will be able to arrange for enough food for your men without much difficulty."
"Thank you, my lord," Elfhelm said, bowing. Then he lifted his head as we heard approaching footsteps.
I glanced back to see a dark-haired man with a slight limp walking towards us. When Faramir turned towards him, the man bowed, then said, "My Lord Steward, a party of nobles has just arrived from the south; they wish to speak with you."
"Have them await me at the Citadel, and I shall attend them as soon as I am able," Faramir answered.
"My lord, they insist on seeing you at once," the messenger said, looking a bit nervous.
Faramir's jaw tightened slightly; I saw this, and quickly spoke up, "My lord, if any further arrangements with my people need to be made, I can complete the negotiations and send you word at a later time."
His face relaxed. "Thank you, my lady; I am in your debt. Marshall, if you will pardon the interruption, I must see what this urgent business is about." Elfhelm nodded, and Faramir turned and bowed slightly to me; a faint smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he raised his eyes to mine. Then he turned and followed the messenger away, leaving me to complete the negotiations.
It did not take long to complete the arrangements, and once we were finished discussing what needed to be done, Elfhelm offered to escort me back to the Steward. I assented, and amid well-wishes for my continued recovery and requests that I return to visit them again from several of the men, we departed for the gate. In his haste, Faramir had left Wildfire behind, and so Elfhelm led him while I took Windfola. Elfhelm spoke first. "He seems like a good man."
"He is," I answered automatically.
"I thought that you would say as much."
My head shot up and my face flushed scarlet at Elfhelm's knowing grin. "You knew?" I asked weakly.
"Fear not, my lady; I believe your regard for the Steward was lost on most of the men, but they have not known you as long as I have. It is obvious to me that he cares for you, though."
"He has shown me nothing but kindness since our first meeting," I answered slowly.
Elfhelm nodded. "If you truly care for him, then I wish you all happiness, Éowyn. Though, I feel it only fair to warn you that several of the men you just spoke with would be more than happy to give him a good thrashing if he had treated you otherwise." He smiled at this.
I grinned in response, but my smile faded when the road we had been walking down opened close to the gaping hole in the wall where the gate had once stood. Faramir was indeed standing there, talking animatedly to two dark-haired people dressed as nobles, while a small group of servants and guards stood nearby. One of the visitors was a woman, and I nearly dropped Windfola's reins at the sight, unable to help feeling a bit jealous at the easy manner in which Faramir conversed with her. For a moment I stood frozen, trying to determine whether to retreat or to walk up to him and demand an explanation. When my curiosity got the better of me, I turned to Elfhelm and said, "I will leave the horses here for now, if I may. Would you help me picket them?"
"Of course, my lady. I can take both, if you wish," he answered. I thanked him, then once he had taken Windfola's reins from me, I began walking towards the small group as quickly as I could without running.
Both the man and the woman were facing away from me, but I did catch Faramir's gaze as I approached. He gave no sign that he had seen me, save a sparkle in his eye, but I was reassured to see that there was no guilt in his countenance when he saw me. I drew closer just in time to hear the woman say, "Oh, come, cousin! You must tell us which of those noblewomen of Gondor has finally managed to capture your heart. I distinctly recall you saying they were all frightfully dull when you last came to visit us."
Cousin? My relief was nearly overwhelming, and so I barely noticed the other man's reproachful, "Thirí, you should not say such things!"
Faramir shook his head. "No, she is correct; I do remember saying something of the sort. But," he said, smiling at me now, "I should warn you that she is neither dull nor from Gondor."
The visitors both turned to see me, and we studied each other for a moment. They were both young, and their features were similar enough that they appeared to be related. The woman's glossy, dark brown hair was swept up into a simple knot at the nape of her neck, and the man's wavier, raven-colored hair was cropped shorter, much like Faramir's. Both had eyes that were the same shade of blue as a clear summer sky. Faramir took advantage of the silence to step forward and take my hand, pulling me closer to the others. "'Ro, Thirí, this is the Lady Éowyn of Rohan. Éowyn, may I introduce my cousins, Amrothos and Lothiríel of Dol Amroth."
Amrothos nodded politely; despite his reserved manner, which reminded me very much of Faramir's own nature, there was a warmth in his eyes that indicated he was, indeed, pleased to meet me. Lothiríel seemed a bit embarrassed that I had overheard her comment, but recovered quickly and greeted me with a bright smile and a slight curtsey. "It is truly a pleasure to meet you, Lady Éowyn," she said. "Anyone who can bring my cousin such joy is well worth the acquaintance."
"Thank you," I said, feeling suddenly awkward. Faramir seemed to sense this, and squeezed my hand as he explained to me, "It seems that you are not the only one who believed I was in need of aid; my uncle, Lord Imrahil, has sent Amrothos from Cair Andros to assist me."
An amused grin crossed Amrothos's face as he added, "I was sent home first, of course, to bring news of the outcome of the battle. And once she learned that I would be traveling to Minas Tirith, my dear sister could not be persuaded to be left behind." Lothiríel smiled sweetly, but made no attempt to deny his statement.
"And I am quite grateful for your family's concern in this matter, Amrothos," Faramir answered, smiling at his kinsman. "But come! I am sure you are both weary from your journey." He paused, then turned to me and added, "Éowyn, has the situation with the Rohirrim been resolved?"
"For the moment," I answered. "Elfhelm has informed me fully of what the men require in the way of supplies; I will tell you whenever you wish."
"Thank you. I truly appreciate your willingness to help me with this," he said.
"It is the least I can do," I replied, squeezing his hand in response.
Amrothos cleared his throat quietly, and Faramir glanced back at him and his sister. "Of course. Forgive me, cousins," he said, coloring slightly, causing Amrothos to grin and Lothiríel to cover her mouth with her hand, undoubtedly to suppress a laugh. His expression unguarded for once, Faramir attempted to glare at them, but was having difficulty in holding back a smile himself. "I must escort the lady back to the Houses of Healing first," he added.
"Then we shall accompany you," Lothiríel declared. "I should like the opportunity to further make your acquaintance, if it pleases you, Lady Éowyn."
"Of course," I said, suddenly feeling apprehensive. I could not keep myself from thinking of what Elfhelm's men had just told me about the attitude displayed towards them by the men of Gondor, and wondering again if I would cause Faramir similar difficulties with his people when it became commonly known that their Steward was courting one of the Rohirrim. I had already begun to notice the dark looks directed at me by some of the women in the city on the occasions that I had accompanied Faramir outside of the Houses. And I had no wish to cause a rift between him and the family that remained to him. I regarded Lothiríel curiously, wondering if she was testing me to see if I was worthy of her cousin, but I could see nothing in her expression to indicate anything but a genuine desire to know me better, and so I decided to hope that she truly did mean well.
After Faramir helped me onto my horse--it was still difficult for me to mount without straining my arm overmuch--he and Amrothos politely looked away while I arranged my skirt. Lothiríel quickly trotted up beside me on a strawberry roan-colored mare with white-flecked legs and flashed me a conspiratorial smile. "It is good to meet another woman who is unafraid to use a proper saddle," she said. "We shall have to go riding sometime."
"I would like that," I answered as we moved our horses into a walk, smiling back before remembering that I still had nothing to wear that was suitable for riding. "I will have to see if I can obtain a riding skirt from the healers first, however," I reluctantly added, looking down ruefully at the accursed skirt that had already caused me so much difficulty in the saddle that day.
"You do not have one?" Lothiríel blurted out, then colored slightly. "Forgive me; of course you would not have one here," she said, grinning sheepishly. I gave her a sidelong look, and she lowered her voice as she explained. "Yes, I do know how you came to this city. Word of your deeds has spread rapidly, even to Dol Amroth. But please, do not mistake me and believe that I think ill of you for it; I only wish I had your courage," she finished, almost shyly. My face grew warm, and I was grateful when she changed the subject and declared, "At any rate, we shall have to find you a decent riding outfit as quickly as possible."
"Of course." I ventured another smile; though she was much more talkative than I was accustomed to, being used to the company of men, she seemed unafraid to speak her mind and I liked that. I lapsed into silence then, content to ride quietly while Amrothos and Faramir discussed matters of state behind us, with Lothiríel occasionally interjecting some comment.
It was not much longer before we reached the Houses, and Faramir quickly dismounted and walked over to assist me off of Windfola's back once I managed to disentangle my skirt from the pommel again. Fortunately for my dignity, the process went much smoother than it had on our previous ride, but I still could not help thinking that the fulfillment of Lothiríel's offer to help me find an actual riding skirt could not come too soon. Once I was safely on the ground, Faramir allowed his hands to linger at my waist as he said, "I cannot thank you enough for your help today, Éowyn."
"I am glad I was able to be of assistance," I answered, smiling at him, though my reaction was tempered by self-consciousness at parting with him in front of his cousins. It seemed that he sensed my hesitation, for he quickly released me.
From where he still sat on his horse, Amrothos nodded his head politely. "It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lady Éowyn," he said.
Lothiríel's expression was warmer as she added, "Indeed, it was. Might I call on you sometime tomorrow? I fear that I shall only get in my kinsmen's way if I remain in the Citadel while they work."
"Of course," I answered, unable to repress a smile at her forthright manner.
"And I shall also call on you, if I am able," Faramir said, taking my hand and kissing it lightly before raising his eyes to mine once more. "Good evening, Éowyn."
"Good evening," I replied, impulsively kissing him on the cheek. Faramir's expression brightened, and he squeezed my hand briefly before releasing it. Then he turned and remounted Wildfire, giving me one last smile before the party continued on their way to the Citadel. Once they were out of sight, I turned and went back into the Houses, knowing it was time for me to return to my duty as well.