White Lady of Rohan - Chapter 20

Beregond stood uncertainly at the door the Lady Eowyn's room in the Houses of Healing. She was not there, and he did not know where to begin to look in order to find her. It would hardly be right to search the House - there were so many areas he did not know, and people that ought not to be disturbed.

He walked over to the window and thrust his head outside, uselessly looking around the foot of the eastern wall for any sign of her. Nothing. He drew his head back in and drummed his fingers on the window sill.

"Can I help you?" The voice was brisk. Beregond turned and recognised one of the Healers, a stout, middle-aged woman he had seen on the dreadful day the Lord Faramir had been brought in, so close to death. She narrowed her eyes at him. "You were guarding the Steward before the Lord Aragorn came, weren't you?"

He nodded. "Yes. I'm sorry - I didn't learn your name. But the Steward has sent me on an errand to find the Lady Eowyn."

"Well, finding her will be no trouble," she said with a sudden, dimply smile. "She and Lord Faramir have taken to spending most of their mornings together in a sheltered corner of the garden. Let me take you there." She turned and led him out and down the hallway, throwing the words "And my name is Ioreth" over her shoulder.

Thanking her, Beregond gratefully followed Ioreth as she confidently led him through her domain: at the end of the hall they went down a few flights of shallow steps, walked across a covered courtyard and into the garden under a stone archway at the eastern end.

In a quiet nook on the western side, partly surrounded by glossy-leaved evergreen shrubs, Eowyn was sitting, knees drawn up to her chin and her right arm hugging her legs. Arching over her head was an elderly apple tree, now smothered with white buds blushing pink at the tips. She looked up as she heard footsteps, but the half-smile on her lips faded a little as she saw who was approaching. Clearly, thought Beregond, I was not who she expected.

"Here's someone come to you from the Lord Faramir," said Ioreth, and Eowyn's expression cleared as Beregond bowed. "I bring you a message from the Steward," he said. "He wishes to see you urgently. I am bid to bring you to him, if you will come."

"Of course I will come," said Eowyn. She rose as quickly to her feet as her arm allowed, thanked Ioreth - who returned indoors with an obvious expression of regret - and strode out of the House with Beregond through a walkway under the northern wing of the building.

The two walked in silence for a while, Eowyn taking in the brightness of the white-walled city in the sunshine, and enjoying the mild southerly breeze. "Do you know why Faramir wants to see me up here?" she asked her companion, as they made their way into the seventh circle - the highest in the city.

He frowned. "Not really," he replied. "He is troubled about something, of that I am sure, but I do not know what it is."

"Are you not his friend, then? Who are you - his personal guard?"

"Something like that," Beregond responded, but with a smile that was oddly grim, she thought. They walked without further conversation to the king's house, which had been used as the home of the Stewards for many generations. Nodding to the guard as they entered, Beregond showed Eowyn to a spacious living room, graciously furnished in autumnal reds and greens. The walls were white and hung with beautiful tapestries, and carved and burnished timbers held up the lofty roof.

It was a lovely room, but Eowyn barely had time to admire it before Beregond bowed and left her. She frowned at his retreating back, wondering why she had been brought here, and sat down on a broad rust-coloured couch to wait for Faramir.

He was not long in coming. Eowyn heard his soft footfall and, looking away from a tapestry to meet his gaze, she was shocked by the change the night had wrought in him. His face was drawn and grey, his eyes rid-rimmed, his expression bleak.

Eowyn stood up at once and went to him, her good hand outstretched. "What is the matter?" she asked. "You look so unwell... what has happened?"

Faramir took her hand eagerly but seemed, for the moment, lost for the words to explain himself. She led him to the couch on which she had been sitting and, searching for something to engage him in conversation, remarked on the tapestry she had been admiring.

"Do you know where it is?" she asked. "Is it a place of legend in the history of Gondor?"

"No," he replied. "It is the town and haven of Dol Amroth, where my mother was born. She wove that tapestry after she married my father, because she missed her old home. Great cities did not suit her and she pined for the sea. She never saw it again."

"You father would not let her go back?"

"She died," said Faramir shortly. "There may have been a chance to go one day, but she grew ill soon after my fifth birthday, and... she did not survive."

Eowyn bit her lip. So he, too, had lost a parent when he was a small child. "This room," she said, with sudden understanding. "It was her room, wasn't it?"

"Mother did love this room," he replied with a faint smile, looking around him. "The colours and the style - it was all her choosing. I remember walking in after it was finished... I thought it was the warmest, most welcoming place I had ever seen."

"It is lovely," said Eowyn gently. "But you did not bring me here to show me this, I think. Can you not tell me what is troubling you?"

Faramir stood up suddenly and walked to the large fireplace at the rear of the room, gripping the mantel with both hands and staring into the bare grate. "It is more like nightmare than reality," he said at last. "I was told, the day after I first awoke in the Houses of Healing, that my father had died during the battle. But I was not told the whole truth."

"Not told... but what do you mean?" she said, alarmed. "What else was there to tell?"

"Too much - or so they thought," he replied. "I was not to know the true manner of my father's death until it was thought I was strong enough to bear it. Perhaps they were right. I do not feel strong enough to bear it on my own... so I sent Beregond to ask for you."

Eowyn stood and walked over to the mantel. Unsure how to show her concern she placed her hand over Faramir's. He turned at once and caught it between his own, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. When he spoke, his voice was abrupt and harsh with emotions barely held in check.

"My father killed himself," he said. "He burned himself on a pyre, and sought to burn me with him while I was still alive. Mithrandir - whom you know as Gandalf - he was warned by a young perian about the danger and rescued me. He came... only just in time."

Speechless, Eowyn pressed Faramir's hand, trying to give him some comfort. He looked bleakly into her eyes. "Tell me," he asked, "have you known despair enough to kill yourself? Is that what you came into battle for?"

Surprised, she fought to explain what had driven her decision to ride with the army. "I thought... I thought that all I loved were leaving me behind," she stammered. "I thought there was no final hope in the war. It was better to die with honour in battle than to wait for death to find me in some hiding place in the hills."

"But did you despair?" he asked again.

She shook her head. "I do not know," she answered. "At times I thought I wanted to die. At other times, I was desperate to live, to find..."

"Find what?"

"Something I sought," she ended lamely, taking her hand from his and carefully lowering herself onto the rug in front of the fireplace. This was not the time to talk about her dreams - dreams she had not understood herself. "I cannot explain now," she continued. "But I think... looking back on it, I do not think my feelings were clear. I just knew that I must go to the battle. That to stay behind would be my death, one way or another."

"Mithrandir was preparing to face the Witch King himself when he was called up to the Hallows to save me," said Faramir, bluntly. "If you had not been there, there would have been no-one to face him - no-one to fight him."

Eowyn opened her mouth to speak and shut it again. Something had happened during that combat... something she should remember. But she could not. Her memory of the fight was so vague. Shaking her head, she looked up at Faramir and frowned.

"There is something just beyond my reach that I do not understand," she said. "The battle is a blur, and things I know are important are lost, I think, unless something brings them back."

Faramir looked startled at her words. He stared at her more intently, willing her to tell him more. Unnerved, she asked instead to hear anything else he had learned about his father.

He sighed and sat down beside her. "My father did despair. He had seen the greatness of Sauron's army in a palantir - a Seeing Stone that is an heirloom of Minas Tirith -" he paused at her sharp intake of breath. "You know of them?" he asked, surprised.

She nodded. "Aragorn looked in a Seeing Stone and determined to ride the Paths of the Dead," she said. "I thought he had gone mad, or sought death. But he saw truly - he saw truly, and his actions helped save this city. Why did your father not see in this way?"

"Perhaps he did see truly, and that is why he despaired," said Faramir. "I do not know. All I do know is that when Mithrandir sought to carry me from the Hallows to the healers, I called for my father amid my dreaming. And he wept." Faramir felt his throat grew suddenly tight. "He wept for me."

"How did you find out all this?" asked Eowyn softly.

"Beregond," he replied. "I had heard some strange things - guards had told snatches of the truth without realising. I had to know. So Hurin commanded Beregond to tell me what he had seen." He swallowed hard. "Beregond risked his life for me. He - killed three men who refused to let him pass. My men. The men of this city."

So this was where the greatest hurt lay, thought Eowyn. Not only his father dead, but men of Gondor killed so he might live. "War forces hard decisions upon all of us," she said. "Not all of us choose rightly, but do you think Beregond is among them? Would you rather have died and these men had lived?"

He looked at her keenly. "I do not know," he said simply. "My greatest concern in every role of leadership has been for the welfare of my men. Their deaths, especially in such a way as this, are hard to accept. Had I been in command I would not have put my life above their own."

"They might have," said Eowyn, and smiled slightly at the look of shock on his face. "Don't look so surprised, Faramir. I have not been in this city long, but I have seen the love these people have for you. Had these men had the choice in battle, they may well have fought to preserve your life and sacrificed their own. This manner in which they died... it is ugly. Of course it is. But do not hold your life so cheaply that you cannot honour theirs - and Beregond's, for he would have died for you."

"I know it," said Faramir. "And he may yet. However remorseful he feels for his actions, what he did was treason."
He sighed again. "But there are bigger battles to be fought first - and not by us." He stood and walked to the eastern window, considering the mountains beyond. "I do not despair, Eowyn," he said, finally. "There is a hope beyond what my father knew - a desperate secret that may mean the end of Sauron. I cannot speak to you about it, for I found out only by chance. But there is still hope."

"I believe you," she said, rising and standing beside him. "But do not wait in here and dwell upon your sorrows amid memories of those that are lost. Consider taking up your duties as Steward instead. Do your work - and wait with me for whatever will come."

"I will," he said. "But come, we must return to the House. Until the Warden pronounces us fully healed of our wounds, we are not free to come and go as we please - even if I am the Steward of Gondor." He smiled. "And I do not want to incur the wrath of Ioreth, do you? Let us return to our garden."

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