White Lady of Rohan - Chapter 32
The wind blew keenly across the fields of the Pelennor. War had destroyed the great gates of Minas Tirith, but between their stone pillars a heavy barrier had been set. Hurin, the warden of the city's keys stood before it, as did Faramir. They were flanked by the citadel's guards with Thalion, Faramir's second in command, at their head, and beside them stood Eowyn with Elfhelm with a dozen Riders of the Mark, there to represent their people on this historic day.
In full armour, gleaming in the sun, they stood proudly at the symbolic entrance to the city and waited, the silver banner of the Stewards fluttering above at the topmost point of the city. This was the last day a Steward would reign in Minas Tirith, for below on the Pelennor the new King of Gondor was striding towards them: the captain of the army that had dared to challenge Sauron at the gates of Mordor itself.
The people of Gondor's outlying lands had thronged to the city, and now they made a guard of honour, six or seven deep, spanning many hundreds of feet towards the Rammas Echor. Thousands were there, yet for the most part they stood silent - struck by the gravity of the moment that was about to change their land and their futures forever.
Aragorn and the hosts of the west had camped at the edge of the Rammas Echor the previous night, as he had wished to enter the city in the dawn of the new day. As he walked up the broad road to the gates, with Elladan before him bearing the standard of the kings, and Eomer and Imrahil on his right and left, Ioreth could contain herself no longer.
"Is he not the tallest and most noble lord you've ever seen?" she whispered to her country cousin Meril, who had travelled from Imloth Melui to be part of the great day. Before Meril could reply, Ioreth continued: "I'll never forget him walking into the Houses of Healing after the battle - he wore that beautiful green stone you can see pinned to his cloak - and although he wasn't dressed like anyone special, there was something about him. You could tell. Everyone listened to him. Everyone wanted to look at him. And when he healed the Lord Faramir in front of my eyes, well - "
Ioreth was shushed by a neighbour: the Lords of the West had reached the gates, and Aragorn stood before Faramir. Great love and pride was in the Steward's face as he bowed before the king and held out the white rod that was his symbol of office. He spoke quietly to Aragorn, who handed him back the rod with a brief reply. Ioreth saw a sudden smile on Eowyn's face and, as Aragorn stood to one side for the Steward to address the people, she made a note to ask Eowyn later what had been said.
Drawn tall and proud before them all, Faramir cried in a loud voice: "People of Gondor, at last the day long-looked for has come! One of direct descent from Isildur, Elendil's son of Gondor has come to claim the kingship of this land, and has proven with hands and mind, with sword and with healing, that he is worthy of the title. Shall he indeed be king and enter into our city and dwell there?"
A tremendous shout of acclamation rose among the people. As they cheered, Aragorn smiled in reponse to their joy and lowered his head a little - almost humbly, it seemed to Ioreth. How strange, she thought. You'd think a king would be more proud than that. My, he's a good man. Then she gripped her cousin's hand. "Look!" she cried.
Faramir was holding the ancient crown of the kings, its gems flashing in the sunlight. He handed it to Aragorn, who held it up and spoke in a loud voice words that Ioreth did not understand - words of power and kingship, no doubt. Even she was struck still with awe by the moment. Then suddenly Gandalf came forward with Frodo ("He's the one who went with his servant and fought with the Dark Lord all by himself!" hissed Ioreth quickly into Meril's ear) and the new king knelt down.
"Oh my!" said Ioreth softly, her eyes filling with tears. The crowd watched in silence, the flags flapping above them, as Frodo brought the crown to Gandalf - who placed it on Aragorn's head and helped him to his feet. For one heartbeat, for two and three, the people held their breath and gazed at him - victorious, courageous and wise. It was true. It had happened. Their king had come back to them.
"Behold the king!" shouted Faramir. All took up the cry, calling and singing his praises. And Ioreth watched, happy tears streaming down her face, as the King Elessar moved beyond the boundary wall and strode into the city.
It was the first time in many a year that Merethrond, the lofty hall of feasts, was filled to overflowing. A few thousand of the soldiers were being catered for in fine style in the mess halls of the citadel below, but many thousands more were taking part in the feast with the king.
Roast meats were laid in platters along each table with fresh picked spring vegetables, sauces, soft white loaves of bread, thousands of fruits laid into sculptures, cunningly creating the shapes of eagles and dragons, delicate pastries and jugs of deep red wine and beer. Swathes of soft green fabric hung in soft folds above their heads, intertwined with scented flowers.
At the great table were many of the captains and nobles from Gondor and other lands. Aragorn sat at the head, with Eomer to his right and Faramir to his left, and at the far end sat Gandalf. Eowyn was placed next to Prince Imrahil, whose daughter Lothiriel sat opposite, dressed in a gown of blue and silver. She was a pretty thing, thought Eowyn, as she watched Lothiriel smiling and chattering happily to Merry.
Imrahil leaned towards Eowyn in a conspiratorial fashion. "I am glad she has such a companion," he said. "This city unnerves her, much as it did her aunt Finduilas. She prefers the open spaces and the less exalted style of Dol Amroth."
"Pomp and ceremony are not much to my liking, either," said Eowyn kindly. "And I understand entirely how she feels about this city. It has been my home for some weeks since the battle, and after a while I felt so closed in by its walls and its size that I jumped at the first chance to leave it."
"That was when you and Faramir travelled into Lossarnach?" asked Imrahil. She nodded, and he smiled. "And how did you like your new kinswoman, the Lady Anarin?"
Eowyn raised her eyebrows in surprise. "You are remarkably well informed," she replied. "I have told few people about this, but it does give me great joy to at last discover my grandmother's family. How did you know of it?"
"The Steward has arranged for my brother Adrahil to oversee the administrative needs of the region," her companion explained. "While I welcome his work with me in Dol Amroth, Adrahil can be of greater value now to the Lady Anarin - and perhaps he can continue the swordsmanship lessons you began to teach her young son?"
Eowyn laughed. "Perhaps," she agreed gaily. She turned and saw that Lothiriel was now watching them silently. Her goblet was untouched and while she had eaten, she was clearly beginning to wilt amid the noise and busyness of the hall. Eowyn suggested a restorative walk outside, where it was quieter.
"Can we do that?" asked Lothiriel doubtfully, looking around.
"Of course we can," replied Eowyn. "This is a celebration, not a council of war. We will not be the only ones seeking a few moments of peace before returning to the feast. Come." She motioned Lothiriel to rise and they walked the length of the table together, curtseying briefly to the king as they departed.
As they walked out into the sun, Lothiriel saw that there were indeed groups of people, here and there: strolling about Ecthelion's tower, looking out at the city and lands below or just sitting quietly in the sunshine. She and Eowyn found a stone seat by the enclosing wall near the King's House and Lothiriel sat down with a sigh of relief.
"That's better," she said thankfully. "I can manage the events and cemeronies at Dol Amroth, but everything is so much grander here. And there are so many people."
"Dol Amroth sounds a little like my home in Rohan," said Eowyn. "There are many people where the king makes his home in Edoras, but for the most part the Rohirrim are scattered across the country. Yet we have no ocean to gaze upon; we have the open spaces and wild countryside instead."
"Anywhere quieter than Minas Tirith would do me very well," Lothiriel replied with a laugh. "To be honest, Father only encouraged me to come today in the hope that some nice captain might be found who..." she flushed suddenly and faltered, realising what she was saying. "But I don't think I'd suit them," she finished quietly. "Not if I had to live here. I don't think he's going to be too happy with me." She looked down at her toes.
"Your father is a kind man who would want you to be happy," Eowyn answered. "I had to endure thoughts and musings aplenty from my uncle over the years, so I understand more than you know. But Imrahil will seek your happiness first, of that I am sure."
"Oh no!" whispered her companion suddenly, and Eowyn looked up. No less than the king was walking towards them, with Eomer at his side. Eowyn looked at Lothiriel with compassion. How overawing this must all be for her. She stood up and moved towards them, allowing the younger woman time to prepare herself more fully.
"What brings you both out here?" she asked, approaching them with a smile. "Surely the feast is not already over?" Eomer did not answer - he was looking at the maiden sitting nearby with a curiously concentrated expression. Aragorn and Eowyn exchanged looks, and the king cleared his throat.
"Indeed not," he said at last. "We shall be making merry for many hours yet, I imagine. But so much eating and merriment is tiring work. Eomer and I felt the need to stretch our legs before we go back and sample the sweeter things at the table."
"Well, now that you are here," said Eowyn, remembering all at once a promise she had made some days ago, "there is something I should like to speak to you about - more than one thing, in fact. But" - she looked again at her brother - "the young Lady Lothiriel should not be left all on her own."
Eomer started. "Lothiriel? She is Imrahil's daughter?" His eyes strayed again to where the lady was now standing, serenely looking out towards the hills of Ithilien.
"Are you quite well, brother?" asked Eowyn lightly. "Clearly you have eaten far too much this early in the day. Lothiriel!" she called, and the lady turned. Eomer drew in his breath sharply, but Eowyn pretended not to notice as she introduced each to the other. "Lothiriel would take very kindly to a walk away from the crowds and the noise," she said pointedly. "And it seems as though you need some exercise to clear your head."
Eomer looked a little shy - absurd in such a tall man, thought Eowyn fondly - then held out his arm. Lothiriel took it with a little smile, and they walked slowly in the direction of the tunnel leading to the sixth circle.
"Do you think they'll make it all the way to the bottom before they pluck up the courage to talk to each other?" asked Eowyn.
"I think he will be courting her with enthusiasm well before they get that far," Aragorn replied with a grin, and laughed at Eowyn's expression. "He saw her as I was being crowned and almost forgot to follow me into the city," he explained. "I had not seen her before, but I guessed who she was. I just did not tell your brother."
Eowyn laughed in her turn. "I see there is more to your decision to walk out here than meets the eye," she said. "Well, now it is up to him, I fear - and I say that as one who knows and loves him well." She shook her head with a chuckle.
"All things come together at their proper time," said Aragorn softly, leading the way back to the seat upon which she and Lothiriel had been sitting. "And I understand that you also have some happy news for me?"
Eowyn flushed a little as she sat down. "I see that my brother has given me away," she said.
"Not at all," Aragorn replied. "He told me your were healed, and beyond his expectations, but I did not need more than a few moments to see the reason why. You are loved by the Lord Faramir, and you love him in return."
"How quickly you see things," Eowyn murmured. "I want to - I wish to -" she faltered, her eyes trained on the ground. "Would you accept my apology for the way in which I behaved towards you after we met?"
"There is nothing you need to reproach yourself for," said Aragorn. "You were under great pressure, as was the king. Great evil lay upon the land, and great anxiety upon us all. It is a different world now - for both of us. And I rejoice that you have at last found what you sought."
She raised her eyes to his face. "You speak more truly than you know. I had dreams... visions - I still do not know what to call them - of Faramir weeks before I met him. I heard his voice. I felt his pain. It scared me... but it drew me also."
Aragorn nodded. "I knew of this," he said quietly. "After the battle, in the Houses of Healing, when I healed Faramir I waited. I wished to be sure he was returning to himself. And as he did so, he called to you - is that not so?"
Eowyn looked at him in wonder. "I do not know," she said, unable to keep the awe from her voice. "I remember naught of that time, other than that voices told me Eomer was dead." She turned to him. "What did you see?"
"It is best not to darken the day with memories of that place," Aragorn replied. "But as you struggled against the blackness, his voice kept you listening and hoping until I could come to your aid. It is possible that, but for Faramir, you may have been lost to us that day."
Eyes sparkling with sudden tears, Eowyn pressed a hand to her mouth to steady herself. "Then what I needed to say to you is all the more important," she said soberly. "Before you take up your duties tomorrow I wished to ask for pardon - for forgiveness - for the deeds of Beregond in the Hallows on the day of battle, when his father sought to burn them both. Beregond acted out of love and service for Faramir, and if what you say is true then that act - though it cost lives - saved more than just the life of Faramir. It saved mine also."
Aragorn sighed. "His is a difficult case," he said at last. "There are grieving families to be considered as well as Beregond's claims. I am still considering which avenue will best serve justice."
"We are all at your mercy," Eowyn answered, "and I know you to be a compassionate man." She placed her hand on his. "But it is not just for myself I ask - for the relief and joy I know it would bring to the one I love. It is also for the one who loves Beregond - who has watched him struggle to bring up his son alone and who wishes nothing more than to be at his side, strengthening his household and loving both father and son. I ache for her," she said, half to herself, "now that I know what true love is. And Beregond's courage also saved Faramir a second time when we journeyed into Lossarnach. If Beregond were to be put to death..." she swallowed, and fell silent.
Aragorn placed his brown, weatherbeaten hand on top of Eowyn's, held it tightly and looked into her grey eyes. "Do you trust me, Eowyn?" he asked.
"My life or death has been placed in your hands," she replied simply, a stray tear sliding down her cheek. "Without you, I would have no life, no husband - no freedom. You will always have my trust."
"Then you need not fear," said Aragorn. "I will not fail that trust."
Smiling amid her tears, Eowyn lifted his hand to her lips and kissed it. "Thank you, my liege lord and healer," she said softly, then rose. "Forgive me - I wish to walk and think awhile."
The king watched her go, a slight smile on his face, then stood to walk back into the hall. At the entrance, his eyes fixed on the king's face with a frown, stood Faramir.