Eowyn leaped across the room and flung herself into Eomer’s arms. “I didn’t expect to see you before the coronation!” she exclaimed. “What a wonderful surprise! When did you get here?”
Eomer beamed down at his sister, forgetting Faramir’s presence for the moment in his pleasure at her happiness.
“I rode on ahead,” he replied, smiling. “I couldn’t bear the idea of being nearby and not seeing you on your birthday… especially when I think of how unwell you were when I last saw you.”
“It was not just physical health that I lacked,” said Eowyn thoughtfully, clasping both of Eomer’s hands in her own.
“Your arm,” he said suddenly, looking down at her left arm and hand. “It is healed – healed already. That is a marvel.”
“The healers have done wonders,” she agreed. “But it is not only to them and to the Lord Aragorn that I owe my good health.” She stepped back and gestured to Faramir, who rose at once. “Brother, this is the Lord Faramir, Steward of Gondor. Faramir – this is my brother Eomer, the new king of Rohan.” She smiled fondly. “Although I can scarce believe that one with whom I climbed trees and who chased me up and down the hills around Edoras should now be a king.”
Faramir laughed and held out his hand, which Eomer grasped firmly in his. “I can well understand why that should seem strange,” said Faramir, still grinning. “When I think of all the scrapes Boromir and I got ourselves into as children: the soap in the fountain; eating lunch in the Steward’s chair – and then hiding as father approached and leaving the food behind; or riding out of the city on an adventure, pretending to be Elendil and Isildur, and getting hopelessly lost.” He chuckled. “But at some point we became men… and war and adventure took on a new meaning.”
“That is very true,” Eomer replied. “But come – what is this healing of which my sister speaks? For I can see there is more to your presence here this evening than meets the eye.”
“And that is where I leave you,” said Eowyn lightly. “Haleth and I will return to the Houses of Healing, brother, and see about a bed for you.” She turned to Faramir. “Good night,” she said softly, blushing a little.
“Good night,” he replied “- and happy birthday.”
Eowyn smiled at him and stood on her toes to kiss Eomer’s cheek. As the door closed behind her, Eomer turned and gave Faramir an assessing look. “Will you be frank with me?” he asked.
“Certainly I will,” said Faramir. “But before you feel the need to question me, let me make your role easier: I love your sister, and wish to marry her.”
Taken aback, Eomer sat down abruptly. He cleared his throat. “But surely she… she did not… in truth, her thoughts were completely different when I last saw her. Have you…” his voice trailed off uncertainly.
“Asked her to marry me?” finished Faramir. “I have, yes. And she has accepted – with your approval. She wears my ring.”
“Does she?” marvelled Eomer. “When I left she was – well, her heart was…” He took a deep breath. “I have asked to you be frank, so I will be the same: I thought she loved the Lord Aragorn.”
“So did she,” said Faramir. “And so did I, at least in the beginning.” He sat down, smiling at the confused expression on Eomer’s face. “How does one explain the first stirrings of love?” he mused. “But I will try. I will tell you the beginning of the story – although I think your sister may wish to finish it.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “As strange as it may seem, this tale begins when I was nine years old…”
Lamps hung from sconces in the ground floor sitting room at the Houses of Healing, filling it with a warm glow. Eowyn sat on a dark green couch in a corner of the room, lit more fully by two pairs of candles on a low table in front of her.
She gazed out of the window at the stars, burning white and clear in the night sky, but her mind was elsewhere. Would Eomer understand? Would he believe she had put aside the past? Most importantly, would the two men she loved most in the world be able to look on each other as brothers? She moistened her lips and pressed her hands together.
“He’ll be here soon,” said Haleth, who was sitting nearby. “All will be well – you’ll see.”
“I wish he had not seen Faramir and I together like that,” said Eowyn, with a small frown. “That wasn’t the best beginning. Still, it can’t be helped. If only he can understand.” She sighed.
“He will,” Haleth replied confidently. “Or he will learn to. Eomer has wisdom of his own – and he has eyes for what makes you happy. Do not fear.”
Eowyn smiled. “I told Faramir something similar not many days ago. He was troubled about the danger I had been exposed to in Lossarnach, and felt he had done a poor job of caring for me. I said Eomer would see beyond that… yet Eomer has not been party to any of my feelings. The change for me was gradual, but only I knew what I felt. To him it will seem sudden and strange.”
There was a soft knock at the door, and Haleth rose at once to answer it. Eomer greeted her affectionately, kissing her on both cheeks.
“Dear Haleth,” he said warmly. “To have you here makes it almost like home.” She beamed up at him – a king, to be sure, but also one she had cared for since boyhood. Now he towered over her, yet the smile was still the same.
“It does me good too see you safe, ” she replied. “I hope there will soon be time to sit and hear all the tales of your adventures, but for now” – she glanced over at Eowyn – “I think it is time for me to seek out my pillow and let two long-sundered siblings have time to talk.” With soft goodnights she left them, closing the door gently behind her.
Eomer turned and faced his sister, who still sat quietly by the window. “I thought nothing you could do would surprise me again – not after your battle with the Witch King,” he said, walking over and sitting by her side. “But tonight I have heard the last thing I expected: that you are happy and content. I don’t think I have ever known you to be so; not since we were children.” He reached out and took her hand in his. “Can you … can you tell me?”
“I have been wondering if I could do that ever since this journey of mine began,” Eowyn answered slowly. “At each step I have said to myself, `How will I explain this? Who will understand it?'”
“Faramir spoke to me of a dream,” Eomer said. “It should not surprise me, I suppose, that he should dream of other things, given that the message that sent Boromir to Imladris came to him so many times. Yet it seems to me almost a thing of magical tales. Are you certain beyond doubt that this is so? That it is not – forgive me – some strange fancy?”
He shook his head, his face troubled. “I do not doubt your love for each other, believe me. I simply find what has happened between you – what Faramir has told me – hard to accept.”
“There have been so many strange events under the sun in recent days,” said Eowyn after a pause. “The dreams only came to me after the battle at Helm’s Deep. I could never remember a face when I awoke but I heard a voice, and I felt… I felt much that I could not explain. It frightened me at first – then after a while I grew to accept his presence, although I did not know what it meant.” She paused and looked at Eomer but he sat silent, his head bowed.
She frowned, seeking the right words. “What I thought I longed for was Aragorn, or a quick death in battle beside my comrades” – here Eomer’s hand gripped hers more tightly – “but even before I was aware of it my hopes and heart were drawing closer to this stranger. When he was wounded in the final fall of Osgiliath, it was all I could do to keep in my saddle.”
Eomer looked up, confused. “What do you mean? You were not there. At the last fall of Osgiliath the Rohirrim were still riding to Gondor.”
“I felt the arrow strike,” Eowyn said simply. “I heard the Nazgul’s cry and felt the arrow pierce below my left shoulder – where he was wounded at the same time, on the same day.” Her brother stared, a look of awe on his face. “That is the strangest moment of all,” she continued softly. “I do not think that close a connection will ever be repeated, not unless his life is in grave danger once more. But that was when my loyalties, my thoughts, my fears, were finally tied unbidden to him, once and for all.”
“It is a matter far above me,” said Eomer. “Something ordained to be so, it seems, and beyond all wisdom. I do not understand,” he added gently, “but it is a thing with which I will not meddle.”
A small smile twitched at the corner of Eowyn’s mouth. “Does that mean you have given your permission?” she asked, a hint of mischief in her voice.
“I would have given it even without this, as you well know,” he replied, leaning back and folding his arms. Then he grinned suddenly. “Truly, the greatest marvel to me is not that the Steward of Gondor should wish to marry my sister, but that she should say yes – and with a smile on her face. I’ve spent most of my adult life waiting for some poor swain to be thrown out of Edoras, or challenged to a fight, for daring to look at you.”
Eowyn laughed heartily. “They were – didn’t you know?” she teased. “How I wish I had done that. It would have given me more pleasure than I can say to have done as you did, and challenged Grima to a swordfight.”
“Do not speak of him,” said Eomer, a note of disgust in his voice. “I hope he and Saruman spend long years tearing each other to pieces in their tower at Isengard.” He sat forward again, his chin in his hands. “Yet the shadow of Grima troubles me,” he said. “Our uncle was an experienced ruler and he was swayed by a man such as him. Now I am king. How can I be sure I will not also fall prey to someone false?”
“Seek out Elfhelm as your counsellor,” said Eowyn. “He will stand at your side as you learn the craft of kingship. He will never fail you.”
“You are right,” Eomer said. He sighed. “How I will miss you once you are wed – I will have to find many excuses to come to Gondor.” He squeezed Eowyn’s hand. “I know the king will be overjoyed to hear this news.”
“Let me be the one to tell him,” Eowyn said. “When you return to the camp tomorrow just let him know I have recovered, and beyond your expectations. I want to share with him in my own words how complete my recovery is.” She grinned and Eomer laughed.
“On that note, I shall leave you to your rest and seek out my own bed,” he said, rising. “I need to set out early in the morning – but I will look in on you before I go.” As Eowyn rose beside him he hugged her tightly.
“I like your Faramir,” he said suddenly. “I felt I lost a brother in Theodred and… well…” he shrugged and harrumphed.
“I know what you wish for,” she said, “and nothing would give me greater joy. Come, let us go and get some sleep.”