White Lady of Rohan - Chapter 28
Silent for the moment, they walked companionably together - drawn to each other not just by circumstances, but by experience. Anarin might be a widow with a child, but as women only a year apart in age - both from ruling houses - their lives of responsibility, waiting, worry and loss had been all too similar.
Now Eowyn was waiting again, as Faramir had ridden off in the dark before dawn with two guards to comb south-eastern Lossarnach for any sign of Easterlings. To Anarin's surprise Eowyn showed no sign of frustration at being left behind. Rather, her expression was one of resignation.
"They're likely to spend three nights or more out in the country before they return," she ventured, and Eowyn nodded, then shrugged."The men I saw would be well beyond your borders now," she replied, and Anarin frowned slightly.
"Does this not trouble you?" she said. "I thought you wished to fight - to overcome your enemies. Did you not fight in the great battle at Minas Tirith to avenge your father's death?"
Eowyn looked at her thoughtfully. "I'm not sure," she said at last. "That was certainly part of my desire - to destroy orcs as they had destroyed my family. But now... I believe the wish to fight was more for myself. I wanted to be proven as a warrior and be worthy of glory, whether I lived or died."
"I no longer wish for glory," said Eowyn, smiling. "And we have the victory. The orcs are witless or destroyed, and the Men who followed Sauron now have nothing to place their hope in, and no leader to follow." She laughed a little, softly, to herself. "It's strange. Before the battle I was filled with an insatiable hunger to put an end to all my enemies, but now I pity them. I do not desire battle, but healing - for others as well as for myself."
"Fighting will continue, though, with those who do not surrender," persisted Anarin. "And whatever their state now, I cannot pity those who killed my husband."
Eowyn nodded. "I speak only for myself: that my days as a warrior are over. I am strangely changed. Perhaps it is the experience of battle. Perhaps it is love. I do not know. But I understand you. If the enemy had taken Faramir from me, I also would find it hard to forgive."
Her companion turned and met her eyes. "Are you betrothed?" she asked. "For you speak as one who is certain of what her future holds."
"You see with a keen eye," Eowyn replied. "But forgive me. I cannot say more. Faramir must speak first to Eomer. He is all the family I have, and we cannot do otherwise."
Anarin laughed. "But you and I are kin. Did you not know?" She laughed again as Eowyn's expression of wide-eyed surprise. "Your grandmother was one of three children. Did you never consider your wider family in Lossarnach?"
"I did not," said Eowyn, in a voice expressive of wonder that such a thought had never occurred to her. She sat down abruptly in a sunny part of the garden, shaking her head as she sought to take in this news. Anarin settled beside her and waited until Eowyn raised her head and, smiling, asked how they were akin.
"My grandfather Cened was Morwen's younger brother - so we are cousins in the second degree," said Anarin cheerfully. "There was also an older sister, Golwen - Maien is her granddaughter. Maien did have a brother in the service of the Steward, but he..." she sighed. "He was killed some years ago."
"I am sorry," said Eowyn. "My own cousin Theodred died in battle not long ago - and I saw my uncle struck down with my own eyes. It has been hard. Each day I am aware of my good fortune to have a brother still alive." She placed a hand over Anarin's. "Eomer will be as glad as I to hear we have more family beyond our borders. And..." - she blushed a little - "although you have guessed at the manner of my relationship with Faramir, rejoice for me, but forgive me if I do not speak of it. It is for Eomer's ears first."
Anarin nodded, understanding, and promised to keep the secret until it could be told. "But," she added, "there is no reason why I need to keep you a secret from Maien. Come! Let us drag Forlin away from his riding lesson and pay her a visit."
The sun was sinking towards the mountains when Faramir and the two Lossarnach guardsmen returned to Dol Tharas. They had ridden, with only two short breaks, for more than a day to reach the southern borders, for Faramir had felt that it was here where they would find news. Others had been sent west and east to see what could be heard or found of the Easterlings, and had returned with nothing: no houses despoiled, no food or livestock missing, no unexpected disturbances.
Faramir and the guards, Camlach and Gorlim, rode into the gates and dismounted wearily. He thanked the men frankly for their efforts in the past days and, as they climbed the steps to the house, promised Camlach to provide Anarin with a full account of their journey.
Before he had washed and changed, however, he went in search of Eowyn - finding her easily thanks to the shouts of laughter and encouragement he could hear from the first floor. She was giving seven-year-old Forlin some sword fighting practice on the broad southern balcony, with Anarin and Meren as their audience. Meren had given up even pretending to do her tapestry work and was egging Forlin on in his attempts to break through Eowyn's guard. Anarin was smiling, her sewing also in her lap as she watched her son thrust forward with his wooden sword, only to be held at bay by a swift parry from Eowyn.
"That's a good try, Forlin," she said, grinning, "but you've overstretched and made yourself vulnerable - see?" She touched him briefly on the shoulder with her sword.
"Ohhh," he said grumpily. Faramir let out a little chuckle, remembering his own childish attempts to best his brother at swordplay. Eowyn looked up, her face lighting in delighted surprise and Forlin, taking his chance, rushed forward and quickly pressed the blunted end of his sword into Eowyn's stomach.
"I win!" he cried. "You're dead! You're dead!"
Faramir laughed heartily and ruffled the boy's hair, before lifting Eowyn's hand and planting a quick kiss on her fingers. "You're lucky that your opponent was distracted," he said, still grinning. "Most enemies won't give you that advantage. My lady," he added, bowing to Anarin. "I have some news you might wish to hear."
She nodded. "It's time for you to wash for dinner, Forlin," she said promptly. Her son's delight at his victory quickly evaporated. "I don't want to go now - I want to hear about Faramir's adventures," he pleaded. "Why do I always have to go? It's not fair. Please, mama."
"It's hard to be kept out of the secrets when you're little," said Faramir, with a smile. "But your time of responsibility will come soon enough."
Forlin was about to reply but at a stern look from Anarin he scowled, sighed gustily and headed indoors, his shoulders drooping. Eowyn, seating herself beside Anarin, just managed to fight back her smile until he was gone.
"Poor little soul," said Meren sympathetically. "One minute he's a warrior hero and the man of the house and the next he has to remember he's only a boy." She looked up at Faramir. "Do you wish me to go too, my lord?"
"There's no need," he said, "but Forlin might be grateful for the company."
"In that case how could I refuse?" she said with a laugh, and gathering up her tapestry work she bobbed a curtsey to Anarin and set off after the young lord.
"How I hated being told to leave while the grown-ups were discussing important matters," said Faramir, watching their retreating backs. "It used to make me very angry when I was Forlin's age. I thought I should never be old enough to be a man and take part in all that was done in Gondor. Yet ... when it comes, the weight of responsibility is sometimes more than you want to bear."
"Indeed," said Anarin. "I have felt that keenly since Forlong died. I can advise and guide my son as my child, but I am ill-equipped to manage this land or advise its lord."
Faramir nodded. "I have given thought to that," he said. "There are some wise captains in Gondor, accustomed to leading, who can spend time in this land, help guide your son and teach him what he needs to learn. Of course," he added, turning to her with a smile, "it must be someone who meets with your approval - but all will be under the king's jurisdiction before long. I need to meet with him when he returns to the city. But until any arrangements can be made, with your permission I will take on this role for myself."
"Thank you for your kindness," Anarin replied. "But what of your news? Did you find the Easterlings?"
"Yes - and no," said Faramir, lowering himself onto a settee. "We took the South Road all the way to Pelargir, stopping by the way to gather any news that we could of them. There was none to be had - apart from the sound of hooves heard in the night. It might have been them, and it might not. But I spoke to the Master of Pelargir as soon as we arrived, and he had a strange tale to tell."
"What is it?" said Eowyn, responding to the odd expression on his face. "Something has happened."
Faramir continued as though he had not heard. "There had been rumours of sheep and cattle disappearing, but no-one had suspected the reason why. Then the Master said that, a day before our arrival, he received a message from the king. It warned him that there was a large band of Easterlings hiding close to the port. All care must be taken to protect themselves, the letter said, but the Easterlings were to be shown mercy - if they would accept it - and be allowed to return to their homes."
"How did he know?" asked Anarin, puzzled. "These men were in our land for weeks and we were completely unaware of their presence. How could the king know while he was at Cormallen?"
"I do not know," said Faramir. "The message said the information was to be relied upon, so the Master took counsel with some senior men of Pelargir as to where the enemy might be hiding. They decided the most likely place was the ancient caves dug into the hills a short way to the north and east of the road. The men armed themselves but went, as the king said, to offer the Easterlings an opportunity to retreat peacefully across the river."
"They did not take it," said Eowyn bluntly. "They are dead, aren't they?"
Faramir paused, then nodded. Eowyn hung her head, surprised at the sudden pang of sadness she felt. "What happened?" she said after a moment.
"The men of Pelargir are sailors, merchants and farmers - unskilled in warfare - so the Easterlings became aware of them well before they reached their hiding place. Before any words of parley or peace could be spoken they attacked ... and they would listen to no call for surrender. There were 34 of them all told, and 15 men of Pelargir were killed or wounded before all their enemies were brought down.
"But that is not all." Faramir stopped and drew a small parcel, wrapped in an old grey cloth, out of a pouch at his side, then handed it to Eowyn. "I believe this is for you," he said.
Puzzled, she removed the wrapping and held up a small dagger. It sparkled in the light, its hilt made of delicately engraved gold that was bound at one end with woven threads of purple and black. A black onyx at the base of the hilt flashed as she turned the dagger over in her fingers. She laid it in her lap and looked at Faramir, the unasked question clear in her eyes.
"When I arrived with Camlach and Gorlim the Master told me all that had happened," said Faramir. "He then drew me aside and asked me if there were a pale or fair-haired lady in the house of Lossarnach's lord, as the captain of the Easterlings wished to give her this gift. The man had been mortally wounded in the fighting, and spoke to the Master before he died."
"What did he say?" asked Eowyn quietly. "Do you know what he said?"
"The words to the Master were: 'Give this to the White Lady in the Lord's house'."
"He said nothing else?"
"Yes," said Faramir heavily. "His last words were 'I ask her to forgive me'."
Eowyn bit her lip, staring at the dagger in her lap, then rose silently. "Would you excuse me?" she asked. She walked inside slowly, stopped for a moment on the landing as if uncertain, then took the few steps up to the guest wing and headed for her room.
Anarin and Faramir sat in silence, gazing out into the twilit evening. "That is a hard gift to receive," said Anarin at last. "A token from your enemy - and yet, for Eowyn, an enemy no longer."
"How so?" asked Faramir.
"You have changed her, my Lord," Anarin replied. "You, and the first-hand experience of battle. Eowyn wishes for mastery and the glories of war no more - at least, not for herself. I am sure she can explain all this to you far better than I, although not tonight, I suspect."
She stood, and Faramir did the same. "I will have some food sent up," she said gently. "Let us leave Eowyn to her thoughts until she is ready to share them - and let us also find Forlin and tell him the secrets are over for tonight."
"Not that this will stop him asking questions," said Faramir with a small smile, offering Anarin his arm.
"There's no law against asking," Anarin replied serenly. "But do tell him some tales over dinner or he'll be bad company all night."
Faramir laughed and promised, and they walked inside.