The garden was quiet apart the whistle of an unseen bird, and the rustle of the leaves in a light breeze. Now settled comfortably in the crook of Faramir’s arm, Eowyn began to relax. He took her right hand in his and stroked her fingers.
“Can you tell me?” he asked quietly.
Eowyn did not need to ask what he meant. Faramir had arrived, not long before, to find her kneeling miserably beside the grave of Halbarad, her face streaked with tears. He had held her for some time, offering silent comfort until she was calm again and the weeping had stopped.
It was hard to find the right words to express why this death had hurt her so much. “Halbarad was a friend to me when I needed one,” she said at last. “He was cousin to the Lord Aragorn” – Faramir stirred at this – “and he and his kindred journeyed to Rohan to find Aragorn and ride into battle at his side.”
“So you met him in Dunharrow?” asked Faramir. She nodded.
“I was struggling with… with my own feelings then. You know of what I speak,” she said in a low voice. “I felt alone. Halbarad spoke to me, comforted me… even made me laugh. Yet he had his own fears. He had willingly gone out to battle, but he felt strongly that he … that he would not return.” She swallowed, trying to keep her voice steady. “He told me he had a wife and small child. His heart was heavy because he did not believe he would see them again – and he will not.” A single tear slid down her cheek and she brushed it aside with a sigh.
Faramir kissed Eowyn on the forehead and held her closer. She was a strange mix of complicated emotions, this woman he loved. Driven to deny the softer, warmer part of her nature for years by the circumstances in which she was placed, a chance meeting with a gentle soul had affected her more deeply than many events of seemingly greater importance. Within her was a storehouse of love that would bring sweet rewards to the one who found the key to unlock it. He hoped they would find it together.
“What are you thinking?” she asked, leaning back and gazing up at him with a little smile. Faramir looked into her eyes for a moment and took a steadying breath; their closeness and the scent of her hair was making his head spin. Stay calm, he thought. Stay calm until you are sure of her. He smiled back.
“I was thinking that you haven’t asked me how I knew where to find you,” he said.
“Meren spoke to you, of course,” Eowyn answered immediately. He shook his head. “Ioreth’s daughter?” she added. He shrugged, shaking his head again. “She has been spending time with me since she came back with the wains a few days ago, because I’ve been without… well… because you have been busy,” she ended lamely.
“And you thought I had forgotten you?” he asked. She flushed slightly. He smiled again and whispered in her ear. “I’ll let you in on a little secret: I have never met Meren. It was your voice I heard.”
She sat up and frowned at him. He could not mean that. It wasn’t happening any more – at least, not to her.
“It’s strange,” Faramir continued, tracing the outline of her face thoughtfully with his finger. “I had thought that this… this communication between us had stopped. I had not felt anything since we met face to face. But not only did I hear your voice just now, I knew exactly where to find you. That has not happened before.”
“I’m glad it did,” said Eowyn quietly, “because I needed you.” Faramir’s heart began to beat faster at her words. Should he speak to her here? No, no, not yet. This was a place of memory and grieving, not one to talk of love. With a great effort he wrenched his eyes from her face and stood up, brushing the grass from his clothes before holding out a hand.
“Come, let’s return you to the House,” he said, keeping his voice light and unconcerned. Eowyn hesitated.
“It’s a long way to the Houses of Healing,” she confessed. “I’m not very strong, not after all this time convalescing. To tell you the truth, I barely made it here – and it was all downhill. I don’t think I can manage the return walk without a longer rest. Can we wait awhile?”
“Ah, but I didn’t walk,” said Faramir, helping her up. He led the way towards the gate where, a stone’s throw from the guards, his horse Gwaeron was standing patiently, tethered to a tree. He whickered at his master’s return, ears pricked forward to acknowledge Eowyn’s presence.
“What a beautiful beast,” she murmured, tickling his soft nose and patting his flanks.
“We’ve been through a lot together, this old boy and I,” said Faramir, untying him and throwing the reins over his neck. “Everything from battle and ambush in our enemy’s territory to peace time rides in the country.” He placed his hands around Eowyn’s waist and lifted her carefully into the saddle before hoisting himself up behind her.
“Rides in the country?” she said. “I like the sound of that. Could we get out of the city some day? Is it safe nearby?”
“I don’t see why it shouldn’t be,” replied Faramir. He placed one arm around her waist to steady her as Gwaeron started to walk uphill, and she leaned readily against his chest. It felt so natural for her to be there, he thought. And in the way she was behaving there seemed to be a kind of acceptance of him, at least, if not returned affection. He frowned, weighing up what he should do.
Eowyn, meanwhile, felt completely at peace. It was a strange sensation to have, for once, no anxiety for her family, no distress for herself and no doubts about the future. She paused at that. No doubts at all? Nodding slightly, she understood at last all that this meant and smiled secretly, looking about her.
The women of Minas Tirith, expecting husbands home soon, were chattering at their windows – gossiping with neighbours while their children played – or cleaning their homes from the floorboards to the rafters. The whole city was getting itself ready – not just for the return of their victorious soldiers, but for the long-awaited return of their king.
It was no wonder, thought Eowyn, that Faramir had been so busy in the past two weeks. She felt a small flash of guilt in having mentioned it to him, but thankfully he had seemed to understand. Suddenly she was aware that they were passing by the sixth circle stables and heading into the tunnel under the jutting embrasure that led to the pinnacle of the city.
“Where are we going?” she asked. “I thought we were returning to the House.”
“A small detour,” said her companion. “There’s something I’d like you to see.”
“There’s something you need to see, too,” she replied. “Our tree is in bloom. Our apple tree. The flowers are blossoming and the scent is wonderful. I don’t want you to miss it.”
“Nor do I,” he said. “I promise to return you right to your door. We can look at it together.”
Gwaeron halted at the front door to the King’s House. Eowyn gave Faramir a quizzical look as he dismounted, then held up his arms to help her down. Smiling, he took her hand and led her inside, through the house and out the broad south doors into a walled garden.
A smooth, clipped lawn was surrounded by borders filled with newly-planted flowers and ornamental orange trees, blossoming fragrantly in the spring afternoon. In the centre of the garden was an old pepper tree, its green fingered leaves spreading shady cover over a stone bench where they sat down and surveyed their surroundings.
“This is beautiful,” Eowyn said admiringly. “How quiet and serene it is. Someone has been busy.”
“They have indeed,” Faramir said. “Everything has been trimmed and spruced up by the gardeners to get the house in readiness… for the king.”
“Of course,” she said, eyes suddenly wide. “How silly of me. Where will you live? This is your home no longer – or not for much longer.”
“Well, where I live depends on…” he began, then stopped abruptly. He stood up and walked a few steps away, keeping his back to her.
“Faramir?” she asked. “What is it? Is something wrong?”
He turned. His face was resolute. “Eowyn – I have something I would like to give you.” He reached into a pocket and drew out a small, blue velvet pouch.
“You know – my beautiful White Lady of Rohan – what I feel for you,” he said slowly. “I am yours, whether you choose me or not.” He paused. His mouth felt suddenly dry. Eowyn’s eyes were fixed on his face.
“I have had this made,” he continued, opening the pouch, “because whatever your decision, I want you to have this. To me it is a symbol of the lasting bond between us – that we are together in spirit, wherever we may find ourselves.”
He returned to Eowyn’s side and held out a small, shining ring. It was a delicate thing, made of gold, with tiny diamonds and pale green beryls set in a channel around it. “The beryls are for Rohan,” he said softly. “The diamonds, for Minas Tirith at the heart of Gondor beneath Mount Mindolluin.”
Eowyn wanted to speak, but felt she had no voice and merely nodded. Faramir took her hand. “My love, I know you need time. But I want to give you this ring now because the decision is yours. If one day you put it on, I will know that you have chosen me as I have chosen you. Will you accept it?” He returned it to the pouch and held it out. She took it, her colour rising, and slid the ring out again into the palm of her hand.
“I -” she began, and cleared her throat. Her voice would not co-operate and her body was beginning to tremble, but her mind was clear. She held out her good hand. Faramir frowned in puzzlement. “I want you to put it on,” she said at last.
He started with surprise. “Are you sure? I do not wish to force you by offering you this – do not do it unless you are certain.”
“I am certain,” she replied, her voice stronger. “I am certain,” she repeated firmly, and amid the shaking that seemed to have enveloped her whole body she began to laugh. “Dear heaven,” she said softly, “I am trembling from head to foot. Can you not help me?”
Laughing with her, Faramir drew Eowyn into his arms, hugging her tightly until the shaking subsided. She was his. She had said so. He looked down into her grey eyes, warm and filled with love for him, tipped up her chin and kissed her softly, sweetly on the lips before planting little feather kisses on her cheeks, in her hair and on her forehead. Her lips again … he was feeling a little lightheaded. She was murmuring her love for him in stumbling, almost incoherent words, laughing and crying all at once.
At last they drew apart, eyes shining, and gazed at each other. Faramir stroked Eowyn’s cheek gently with his hand and she leaned dreamily against it.
“Will you give me your hand?” he asked. Smiling, Eowyn held out her right hand and he slid the ring on her finger, fitting it snugly next to the amethyst and gold band that Eomund had given Theodwyn so many years ago. Lacing his fingers through Eowyn’s, Faramir lifted her hand and placed a sealing kiss upon the ring.
Suddenly Eowyn laughed. “What a surprise my brother is about to get,” she said with a chuckle. “And the matrons in Minas Tirith. What will they think? Will not your people say that a wild shieldmaiden from the North has stolen their Steward?”
“Let them say it,” he replied, and leaned forward to kiss her again.