Beregond paced up and down the flagged floor in the lofty drawing room at Dol Tharas, his face set and grim. Against one wall an open fire burned brightly on the hearth and Faramir sat in a low couch facing the flames, his expression unreadable as he swirled a cup of warmed wine in his hands. Beside him Anarin, the Lady of Lossarnach, frowned and laced her fingers together in her lap.
“If our position were not so serious I would thank you for having discovered these enemies in our midst,” she said. “So many of the men are still with the king on the Field of Cormallen – only a smattering have returned to bring news and to do the work needed in the fields. Much of the land lies empty, and we are more vulnerable than I care to think.” She frowned again. “Are you sure the survivors of those who attacked you did not escape eastwards?”
Faramir raised his eyes and shook his head slowly. “No,” he said firmly. “Both the horses rode westwards, of that I am certain – further into your lands, not away.” He gazed back into the fire, stony-faced. “I felt uneasy as we rode here this morning. I should have acted on my instincts. The men of Númenor were not given these gifts of discernment so they could be ignored. And all in Lossarnach might have slept safer tonight.”
“Do not blame yourself,” said Anarin softly. “You were with the one you love. Had I been with my lord I should not have noticed if the stars had fallen.”
“We should have searched,” Beregond broke in suddenly. “I do not understand why we returned here and did not seek the Lady Eowyn.” He stopped pacing and cast a doubtful eye at Faramir. “But perhaps you did not wish to be partnered with a renegade.”
“Do not say such a thing,” said Faramir, rising and laying a hand on Beregond’s shoulder. “You may have disobeyed my command to remain in Minas Tirith but if you had not I would now be captured, or worse. I owe you my life twice over, my friend.”
He sighed and leaned against the stonework of the hearth, arms folded. “It would not have been wise to pursue them, in any case. We would have been searching miles of unfamiliar country in which other escapees from the battle may still be sheltering. And our pursuit may have endangered Eowyn’s life.”
“But is not her life in danger now?” persisted Beregond. The Steward paused, then shook his head and Beregond started in surprise. “She is safe? But how – ?
“I have felt it,” said Faramir simply. “I do not know what they intended to do to her – or to me – when they sought to capture us, and I would that she was safe under this roof. Yet she is unharmed and, for the moment, in no danger.”
Anarin looked at Faramir in wonder. “I never heard that the sons of Denethor were farsighted,” she said. “This is a skill to be marvelled at. Have you always seen in this way?”
“Only where Eowyn is concerned,” he replied, and smiled at her puzzlement. “I’m afraid I cannot explain this to you. I am still learning of it myself. And although it can comfort us to know she is safe, it does not deal with the ongoing reality of the Easterlings among you. If you have men in your guard who are woodcrafty – and can find their way in the dark from here to the River Sirith – let me advise you to send them out in pairs while it is still night. They can spy out the land and bring back word of any strays who need to be dealt with – or deal with such men themselves.”
“I will do that,” said Anarin. “We can spare perhaps two or three pairs of guardsmen for this work. But what of you and Beregond – and the Lady Eowyn?”
“The Easterlings will not return to harm her – although I am not sure why,” said Faramir. “I look forward to finding out in the morning. But in the mean time I should let Meren know that her mistress is safe, and Beregond and I must speak to your men about the Easterlings.”
Bidding her a courteous good night, Faramir and Beregond left Anarin musing on what she had just heard. Her closeness with Forlong had never included such a blending of minds. There had been no feeling of foreboding in her heart after his death – no foreknowledge to prepare her for the news the rider from Minas Tirith brought to Dol Tharas after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. The battle had been won, but her husband had been lost. Rejoicing disappeared with such a victory.
Was it better to know or be in ignorance until the news came, she wondered. Anarin did not envy Faramir and Eowyn their gift – only their joy in closeness, their joy in having each other. She fought back the tears that stung in her eyes. This was no time for self-pity. Calling a servant to her, she commanded him to summon the captain of the guard.
Early morning sun was peeping through the ragged curtains in the little farmhouse before Eowyn woke. Her rest had been long and peaceful and she felt wonderfully refreshed – even if the left side of her face stung from where she had been struck the night before
She swung her legs over the side of the divan, stood up and walked to the door. Unafraid of a return visit from the Easterling captain and his comrade – how fearful they had been when they knew it was she who had slain the Witch King! – she drew back the bolt and looked outside.
The day was fair and cool, with dew still dripping from the trees nearby. A rabbit sat in the clearing at the front of the house, one ear up and one ear down, considering her, before lolloping off into a stand of fir trees. Eowyn took deep, appreciative breaths of the clear morning air before returning inside to prepare herself for Faramir’s arrival. Odd that she should know he was coming, but there it was.
She took her left arm out of its sling and moved it tentatively. It had held up well in her fight with the Easterlings the night before, and while it felt a little stiff this morning she was confident the bone was now fully mended. Eowyn stretched both arms appreciatively above her head, revelling in the unfamiliar sensation, then lowered her hands and began to make a search for some kind of grooming implement in the house – determined to appear at her best when Faramir arrived.
A thorough investigation of all the cupboards and drawers unearthed one comb. It was old and fairly rickety, but it would serve. Buffing up a long disused glass she undid her braids and set to work, combing slowly and carefully until her hair shone. She braided it again loosely over her shoulder, masking the black bruise left by Tibor, then smiled at her reflection and walked outside to find a path to the nearby stream so she could wash.
He was close now. Eowyn strolled back to the house, roaming along the sides of the path to pick wildflowers. As she emerged into the clearing Faramir appeared at the farmhouse door, frowning.
“Is she not there?” asked Beregond, who had remained in the saddle. Eowyn grinned and walked forward. “Good morning, my lord,” she said demurely. Faramir started and turned, the anxiety on his face vanishing into a wide smile.
“So you are here after all,” he said, coming towards her and taking her hand. “For a moment I thought I must have been mistaken.”
“Surely not,” teased Eowyn, then added softly: “It was a pleasant thought to wake up to – the knowledge that you were on your way.” Her left hand crept up to his chest.
Beregond harrumphed and murmured something about watering the horses, and retreated hastily to the creek. Faramir took her left hand in his and gazed at it.
“I discovered my arm had healed last night when I fought the Easterlings,” she explained. He frowned at that, but said simply: “Tell me.”
Eowyn recounted the story of her capture by Tibor, his threats and what had happened after Marbad’s arrival and their discovery of her part in the fight for Minas Tirith.
“He wished to bargain my life for their freedom,” she said. “But when Marbad spoke of the battle and my combat with the evil one who is… who is no more, they left me immediately. They seemed almost afraid to look at me, let alone touch me.”
Faramir nodded. “Some Easterlings worshipped the Nazgul just as they worshipped the power of Sauron. To be faced with someone who had the strength to slay such a thing, well… they would have treated you like a goddess.”
“It’s a pity they didn’t find out I was a goddess straight away,” said Eowyn drily. “It would have saved a lot of time and difficulty.” Faramir chuckled and smoothed his hand across her left cheek. She winced as the bruise made its presence felt. Frowning, Faramir lifted her hair to one side and took in a sharp breath as he saw the blackened mark near her ear.
“They will pay for this,” he said softly.
“They will not, I suspect,” Eowyn replied gently. “I think Tibor and his companion have long since left these lands behind them. They rode southwards last night, and if they kept up the speed at which they started, they would be halfway to Pelargir by now.”
She smiled into Faramir’s glowering face. “Let it go, my love,” she said. “They were fugitives – alone and friendless in a foreign place. I am unharmed, and I am yours.”
“You are not unharmed,” said Faramir angrily. “And I could not sense where you were. You shut me out until you were asleep so I could not protect you or come to your aid. Those Easterlings could have, they could have…” he swallowed and steadied himself. “And you wish me to let them go free and be happy?”
He swung away from her. “What am I to tell your brother?” he asked, his voice sharp and bitter. “He who I am to ask for your hand – what shall I say to him about the way I have cared for his sister in his absence?”
“You will tell him the truth,” said Eowyn simply. “The truth about what has been between us, and what now is. That will be enough. He is not as wise as some, perhaps,” she added, smiling a little, “but he is not such a fool as to refuse the valiant Steward of Gondor.”
Faramir shrugged. Eowyn caught his face between her hands and looked at him intently. “He will see what I saw when I first met you,” she said – “a soldier who would be his equal or better on a field of battle, but a man also of wisdom and compassion. Do not pursue these Easterlings out of revenge. It would be a poor deed. Let them flee knowing their lives are in our hands and we chose to draw back. They are wretched and nearly starving. Let them go.”
He leaned forward and kissed her lightly on the brow. “Who is now the wise one?” he murmured softly. “I wonder. Come, let us find Beregond and go home.”