White Lady of Rohan - Chapter 23
"Dear me, that's the third sigh in the past five minutes," teased Meren - a cheerful, chatty young woman who had returned to Minas Tirith now that the threat from Sauron was over. Meren was the daughter of the formidable Ioreth, who had suggested her to Eowyn as a companion now that Faramir had taken up his responsibilities and workload at Steward.
Eowyn looked up at Meren and gave a wry smile. "I've never been very skilled with a pencil, I'm afraid," she said apologetically. "I'm trying to draw my home - Edoras, the mountains in the distance, and the grass and flowers - but I'm afraid I'm doing a poor job of it. This is going to be a very dull tapestry."
Meren made a sympathetic noise. "You might do better once your left arm is completely healed," she said. "It's hard to get the right balance and hold on the material when you've only got one hand to work with."
"Perhaps you're right," said Eowyn, and sighed again as she put down her pencil. She grinned suddenly. "Then again, perhaps I have no talent."
Her companion laughed heartily. "That may be so. But you won't improve unless you keep working at it. What made you want to learn this, anyway, if you think you'll be no good?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Eowyn vaguely. She did not want to admit to the other woman that she hoped one day to emulate some of the beautiful handiwork of Finduilas, Faramir's mother. "I saw some pretty work not so long ago, and I thought I'd like to give it a try."
"Well, we might wait until you're fully recovered before we try in earnest," said Meren. "How much longer do you need to be bandaged up?"
Eowyn shrugged. "Two weeks at least, according to the Warden. And that's a quick recovery." She cast an eye over her drawing. "I wish I could get the roll of these hills right. Mine look too angular. And you do such a beautiful job - I'm envious."
"I had to be good at something after having no talent for following in mother and father's footsteps as a healer," said Meren with a smile. "But come: it's after noon, and high time I saw about some lunch for us both." She stood up and put her small tapestry frame down on the table. "Do you want to eat in here or outside?"
"Outdoors is always preferable to indoors," said Eowyn promptly. "Unless it's snowing heavily or pouring with rain." Her companion laughed again, and headed downstairs to raid the kitchen larder.
Left to herself, Eowyn's thoughts quickly returned to Faramir - wondering where in the city he was, what he was doing ... and whether he was thinking of her. Two weeks had passed since Sauron's defeat; the day on which he had also spoken of his long-held desire to marry her - the woman he had dreamed of for most of his life. She flushed a little at the thought.
Then the eagle had come, singing of victory beyond hope: the downfall of Mordor. Faramir had told her then about the Ring and the halflings who must have succeeded in destroying it. How much they all owed to these brave little people, Eowyn thought. Sauron was no more because of two halflings; she was alive and the Witch King was dead because of another halfling. They had come from nowhere, it seemed, and altered the fate of the world.
Now there was a future to think about - perhaps. Eowyn had not spoken to Faramir in more than a week and she missed his company sorely. While glad in the past few days of another companion, she longed to see Faramir's face, hear his gentle voice and feel close to him again. He was so busy he seemed to have forgotten her.
She stood up and walked to a bank of windows overlooking the garden, resting her bandaged arm carefully over the other as she gazed out. She and Meren were spending their mornings in a large sitting room on the ground floor of the House with pleasant views of the eastern side of the garden. In the distance she could see the apple tree under which she and Faramir had sat and talked so many times. It has started to blossom, she thought sadly. He is missing it all.
Of course, she was missing some things herself. She knew that great celebrations had begun in Ithilien, upriver from the city at the Field of Cormallen. Eomer had sent her a message - not only to tell her he was safe and unharmed, for which she was profoundly grateful - but to invite her to come and share in the joy and festivities.
Eowyn did not want to go. It was hard to write and turn her brother's offer down, and impossible to explain why ... especially as she was still coming to terms with her own feelings. Eomer was not here to urge her, at least. That made things easier.
Just then, Meren returned bearing a tray topped with plates, cutlery, bread, cheeses and fruit. "I couldn't fit a jug of wine on this as well - there wasn't the space," she said cheerily. "But I'll pop back for it in a minute."
She chatted amiably as she set the outdoor table. Her Uncle Beleg had come into the House to visit his brother, the herbalist, and they had stopped for a talk.
"He's a wonderfully talented stonemason," she said, placing the cutlery on either side of the blue earthenware plates. "The new stonework - the balustrades, the rails and the stairways between the second and third circle that were damaged in the battle - Uncle Beleg's designing and overseeing all that. But he just told me he's also making headstones for some of the fallen in the battle. A number of the nobles and captains who travelled here to fight; I'm glad someone is undertaking such a work. They've been buried apart in a special site not far from the main gates, there's going to be a memorial there." Eowyn nodded absently, her thoughts beginning to wander.
"Uncle Beleg said a cousin of our new king is among them," continued Meren - and Eowyn's attention snapped back in an instant.
"A cousin of the Lord Aragorn?" she asked. "One of the Dunedain?" There was a sudden, sick emptiness in the depths of her stomach. "Did ... did your uncle say his name?"
Meren nodded. "He mentioned it because it was a name he'd never heard before: Halbarad. It's unusual, isn't it?"
But Eowyn wasn't listening. In her mind's eye she saw Halbarad at Dunharrow - tall and dark, quiet and thoughtful, and grim with the unshakeable sadness that came from the belief that he would not be returning from the war. Not coming home to his wife and their small daughter...
"Eowyn? My lady? Is something wrong?" Meren's normally smiling face was full of concern. "Do you feel unwell?" Eowyn shook her head, running a vague hand across her cheek to check she was not dreaming. When she spoke her voice was distant, sounding strange even to her own ears.
"I knew Halbarad," she said, looking out into the sunlight garden. "That is all. I knew him and I did not know he was dead until this moment."
Her companion's face fell. "Forgive me," she replied. "What a awful thing to find out like that. I am so sorry."
Eowyn forced a smile. "You are not to blame. How could you have known? But I must confess," she added as she surveyed the platter, "I no longer feel much like eating my lunch. I might - I might pay a visit to where they have laid him. Close by the main gates, you said?" The other woman nodded, biting her lip. "I will come back in a little while," Eowyn said. "You eat. Don't wait for me." And she walked from the room.
It was a long trek down through the city to the main gate, and by the time she reached it Eowyn was beginning to tire. But now was not the time to rest. She asked directions to the new battle memorial from one of the guards. He pointed away to his right and she could see it: in the midst of the broken stonework where some houses had been destroyed, close to the outer wall, a small green area had been marked out. It was newly planted with trees and space had been left for a monument.
Slowly, her heart heavy in her chest, Eowyn walked towards the little garden. It was peaceful and quiet. No-one was here today mourning the fallen - her only companions were some tiny, white spring flowers, mocking death as they grew gladly in the warming sun. Absently, Eowyn picked a sprig and held it, the scent of the blooms fresh and heady as she walked from stone to stone, seeking the one that bore the name she recognised.
At last she found it. A rayed star had been chiselled into the top of the silver-veined marble, which bore words in the elven tongue that she did not understand. Below these was simply graven the name: Halbarad.
Eowyn sat down by the stone, the flowers in her hand, recalling the gentle words he had used to ease her distress - so long ago it seemed now! - when she had felt rejected by Aragorn at Dunharrow. And how he had seen her the following morning by the fearful Dimholt Door, and made it clear that she must not follow.
Yet he had chosen to go himself. "This is a dark door," he had said, "and my death lies beyond it." And he had been right. Tears brimmed over in Eowyn's eyes and began to slide down her cheeks. Another wife made widow, another daughter fatherless - just as had happened to her so many years ago. A small sob escaped her lips and she hid her face in her hands.
For some time she knelt there, quietly grieving, thinking of all the losses of war. Why had she ever taken such joy in it? There might be honour in remaining loyal to one's promises - in fighting to preserve one's people from a reckless enemy - but battle could only cut things down. It could not build or grow. A home, a fireside and the ones you loved - these were what you fought for so your family could be safe and at peace, and you could put down your weapons and be glad.
A slight rustle nearby made Eowyn raise her head. Someone else was here. Before she could turn her tear-stained face she felt a soft, soothing hand on her hair, and a small sigh of relief escaped her lips. At last, Faramir had come.