Drifting in the outer realms of sleep, Eowyn shifted slightly on her pillow, smiling. Opening her eyes, the voice still echoed in her head, bidding her a soft “Good morning”.
She lay on her back, watching the morning sunlight shift and play on the ceiling as the curtains moved at the window, thinking how strange it was to hear Faramir’s voice so close to her even though he was somewhere else in the city. He walked in and out of her thoughts as easily as if he had a front door key – which she supposed he did, in a way.
Eowyn hugged her arms close to her chest, revelling in their new intimacy It still seemed dreamlike to think about: that a man lived who could love her – who could have searched for her so long, wanting no other and willing to settle for nothing less.
She wondered why it had taken her such a long time to open up to him in her dreams, when Faramir had been waiting for her since he was a boy. Had her parents’ death closed her off to love in some way? It had not done so to him. Faramir had become gentler, more compassionate and thoughtful in response to the death of his mother, whereas she had become hard, like ice – until Aragorn had ridden to Edoras with Mithrandir. Perhaps she had something to thank him for after all, she mused.
Her thoughts returned to the day before. Faramir had brought her back to the Houses of Healing where, as he had promised, they stood under their blossoming apple tree in the garden – well aware that the perennially curious eyes of Ioreth were on them. It was hardly a private moment.
Faramir had made a small noise of annoyance in his throat. “I see I have little chance of getting you to myself in this place any more,” he said with a wry smile. “And unless we want every man, woman and child in the city to know we are betrothed before the sun sets, we shall have to behave as polite acquaintances once more. Your brother must be the first to know, not the last.”
“He will give his permission, you know that,” she had said, leaning comfortably against the tree trunk. “He’ll be delighted, in fact.”
“Happy to have you off his hands?” teased Faramir.
“Something like that,” she responded with a grin. “I’d never had the slightest inclination of love towards anyone in my life, not until – well, you know,” she finished awkwardly, still unwilling to say Aragorn’s name. “So when he hears that I not only love but am loved in return – and that you want to marry me – well… I think he’ll find it hard to believe. I’m still a little shocked myself.”
“Do you think you’ll be able to get used to it?” he asked with mock seriousness.
“I don’t know,” she said slowly. “Clearly I’m going to need some help persuading him.” She looked at him provocatively through her lashes before lowering her eyes with a smile.
“Don’t look at me like that,” groaned Faramir, sitting beside her and hugging his knees. “My dear love, if you entice me in this way I shall soon forget myself – and then we shall be in serious trouble with Eomer.”
“Then why don’t we take that trip into the country?” asked Eowyn. “I’d welcome some time away from stone walls and prying eyes.”
Faramir rubbed a finger thoughtfully across his chin. “We’d need to take someone along with us, of course,” he said at last. “It would not be fitting for me to take you alone…”
Eowyn sat up in bed suddenly, an answer forming in her mind to yesterday’s problem: Meren. She was her mother’s daughter in many ways, but Eowyn was confident that a propensity for gossip was not one of them. Why had she not thought of her earlier?
Jumping out of bed, she reached for a jug of water and filled the silver bowl on her bedside table. Splashing her face and hands, she dried them quickly with a cloth, reached for her green gown and began to dress.
They set off the following morning for Lossarnach: Meren driving Eowyn in an uncovered wagon and Faramir riding beside them on Gwaeron. Occasionally he rode ahead a short way to assure himself that the road was safe, but the region was clearly quiet and at peace. Every now and then a farmer, newly returned from battle, lifted a hand in a nearby field to acknowledge their presence as they passed.
Eowyn took a deep and thankful breath of fresh air. “What a relief to be out among the trees and the farmlands again,” she said. “The city is beautiful, but I was beginning to feel hemmed in.”
“Is not Edoras the home of many people?” asked Meren. “Forgive me,” she added, “but I know little about the lands north of Minas Tirith. I thought Edoras was the centre of Rohan; the capital.”
“And so it is,” said Eowyn. “But most of our people live in villages across our land. Not many choose to dwell in the larger settlements of Edoras and Helm’s Deep. Even then, Edoras is small compared to Minas Tirith. It is beautiful – particularly the golden hall of Meduseld – but it is not a grand city. And the country around it is rugged and wilder. I don’t think I could live in a city such as Minas Tirith all my life.”
“So you need a country home, then?” asked Faramir lightly.
“It certainly suits me better,” she replied, in the same offhand tone. Meren looked from one to the other and smiled slightly, but said nothing and clicked her tongue to encourage their cart horse to trot. Eowyn had not said she and the Steward were courting – not in so many words – but their feelings for each other were abundantly clear. Meren was not about to poke her nose into what was clearly not her business, but she was gratified that Eowyn had trusted her enough to ask for her company.
Lossarnach was a pretty place, only a day’s ride away, and she had family there – as did Eowyn, it seemed. The lady of Rohan had spoken of her much-loved grandmother, Morwen of Lossarnach, and her desire to travel to the place where she had been born. It was natural enough… and if Eowyn had an extra motive in wishing to spend a little time with the Steward, Meren could hardly blame her. Most of the women in the city would have given a great deal to see him looking at them in the heart-stopping way he gazed at Eowyn. If she was the lady of his choice, thought Meren, she was indeed a fortunate woman.
Faramir, for his part, was thinking of what he should say to Anarin, the widow of Forlong the Fat, the Lord of Lossarnach who had fallen in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Their son Forlin, the new lord, was not much older than he had been upon his own mother’s death. He was glad of the opportunity to speak to Anarin: to offer comfort if she would take it, to ask how Forlin was coping and to perhaps talk to her – from his own experience – about what she might expect from her son in the coming days. How they moved forward after that was their own affair.
He also felt a nagging disquiet about the journey, despite their untroubled passage. His instinct told him that all was not as well as it seemed, yet there was no logical reason for him to feel so. Old habits die hard, he thought grimly, casting his mind back to the years spent battling the enemy in Ithilien, almost always by stealth and woodcraft.
Beregond had also been uneasy and had not wished them to travel without an armed escort. The look on his face when Faramir had commanded him to remain in the city was positively mutinous. He sighed gustily.
“What troubles you? asked Eowyn. “That’s the third sigh in five minutes.”
“Is it? Forgive me. I was thinking about Beregond. He was not happy to be told he had to remain behind.”
“But you had no choice, surely?” she replied. “As a man awaiting trial, he could not have left the city.”
“No,” he said shortly. “But given that all he has done so far has been for my sake, to be told that I would be travelling unprotected was a little more than he could bear, I think.”
Deciding it would be more prudent to change the subject, Eowyn asked about the road ahead, and when they would reach Dol Tharas – the lord’s house hard by the banks of the River Erui. He replied that it was just on 40 miles from gate to gate, and they could expect to arrive in the late afternoon.
As his countenance told her there were other matters pressing on his mind, she let the conversation lapse and they rode on in silence.
Eowyn leaned on the stone balcony of her bedroom at Dol Tharas, looking outward to the river that splashed and gurgled below. It certainly was a beautiful place. The lord’s house was at the foot of the southern slopes of Mount Mindolluin, near the headwaters of the river. It was cool and green outside, and she watched the shadows lengthen as the sun began its descent towards the westward edge of the mountain behind them.
Her lofty chamber had decorative linen hangings on the walls, while the floors were covered with large, softly coloured woollen rugs. Spring flowers were placed in a vase by her bed, which had been freshly made after their arrival – and her introduction to Anarin, the lady of Lossarnach.
Eowyn had been surprised to find her so young… not many years older than herself. She was Forlong’s second wife – his first having died in childbirth some years earlier – and Eowyn wondered how Anarin had been happy to marry a man so much older. For she clearly had been happy, and missed him dearly. But it would be impolite to ask.
A knock roused her from her thoughts and Meren popped her head around the bedroom door.
“All settled?” she asked. Eowyn nodded. “I’ve been asked to see if you’d like to take a short ride before dinner…?” Meren let the question hang.
“I’d love to!” exclaimed Eowyn at once. “Have we time? Can it be arranged?”
“It’s already done,” Meren replied with a little smile. “The lord Faramir thought you might want to see the sunset from the waterfall you can hear down the valley a way. It’s very beautiful, I hear.” She cleared her throat politely. “But I thought I might visit it tomorrow.”
Eowyn understood. Meren knew the way things stood – a little at least – and wished to give them a few moments alone. Not for the first time, she felt glad she had such a companion. Coming over to where Meren stood by the door, she gave her hand a squeeze then turned to where her clothes had been laid out, reaching for a workaday gown to ride in.
Standing in the golden light by the water’s edge, Eowyn and Faramir watched as the setting sun sent bright shimmers across the river, which was overhung by soft, graceful willows. They had ridden only a mile or so from Dol Tharas and had left their borrowed horses grazing contentedly nearby.
Faramir stood behind Eowyn, holding her close as they watched the sun sinking towards the mountain. “Almost as beautiful as you,” he murmured, kissing the side of her neck.
She chuckled. “Love is truly blind,” she said affectionately. “Any beauty I might have is but a poor reflection of what we are seeing. I am wearing my plainest dress, and look before us: the dazzling light as it sparkles on the water, the pinks and blues of dusk in the sky…”
“Are no match for you,” her companion finished simply. “Do you not have eyes that mirror the twilight, and hair more golden than the sun’s rays on the water?” She blushed and shook her head. “I see you need some convincing,” he replied. Turning her head towards him he ran a finger across her parted lips before kissing her, slowly and sweetly. Eowyn responded eagerly, sliding one hand up the back of his neck and pressing ever closer. A sudden spark ran through his body and she caught her breath.
A water bird shrieked and broke from the cover of the bank. They started and broke apart, watching it flap across the surface of the river, its wings just skimming the water.
Faramir laughed. “I owe you a grudge my friend,’ he said lightly, as the bird disappeared amid the glints of the setting sun on the water. He put an arm around Eowyn’s waist and kissed her on the forehead. “My love, our wedding day will be sweet indeed,” he said, still smiling, “but do convince your brother not to insist upon a long engagement.”
Eowyn hugged him tightly, but did not speak. Her blood was still tingling and her breathing a little fast. So this was what it was like… this was how your body could feel. It was completely beyond her experience but she felt excited rather than scared, and full of confidence in the man standing beside her.
Suddenly he pulled away. “The very thing!” he exclaimed, and headed down river at once. “Wait here – don’t move!
“What on earth are you doing?” she asked, amused. But she waited, watching as Faramir ducked in and out of the trees, heading for something she couldn’t see. Chuckling to herself, Eowyn turned back to the water. Leaning down, she scooped up a handful and drank a little, then let the rest of the droplets fall shining back into the river, caught by the last of the sun’s rays.
In the next breath two things happened: the sun dipped completely behind the peak of the mountain, and she felt the edge of a knife at her throat.