The Prince of Ithilien

Gondor

II

It was four days later when a messenger hurried into Faramir's office.

"My lord, the King is approaching."

Faramir stood so quickly, it knocked his chair over. "That was fast. Too fast. Where was he seen?"

"The watch called the message when they saw his party riding across the Pelennor."

"Party? Who is with him?"

"I do not know, my lord."

Faramir gave the man a curt nod and took off, dashing through the marble corridors of the citadel. As it was, the riders were clattering up the Citadel gate when he came hurrying out of the building. There was Aragorn, swiftly riding up to the entrance of the Great Court.. Eomer was with him, along with two knights of Gondor he did not know. And there also was Eowyn.

"Faramir!" she called and was off her horse almost before it had stopped. She ran to him, throwing her arms around him in a desperate embrace and he found himself holding her, kissing her, almost breathless from the mixed joy and sorrow at seeing her again. How could he have something so precious one moment, then lose it the next?

"Eowyn," he said, easing her from his arms.

Her bright smile faded and became an expression of concern. "My love?"

He looked past her to where the others were dismounting. "Did the messenger I sent not find you?"

"He did," Aragorn said, passing his reins on to an attendant, "but we were already well on our way. There seemed little point in turning back."

"We rode here as quickly as we could." Eomer picked up the thread. "To avoid being slowed by those who cannot ride as fast, we left your soldier behind to guide the rest of the party in." Faramir nodded. Well, there was nothing for it; Eowyn was here now. And in all truth, seeing her again was wonderful. Just to have her arms around him seemed to lighten his heart. Until he thought about what was to come.

"There is trouble up north?" Eowyn asked.

"Yes. There is trouble," Faramir answered. "In far north Ithilien, just south of Cormallen."

"Henneth Annun?" Aragorn asked.

"North of there, but not far. Certainly much farther south and west than we've ever encountered them before." Then he looked at Eowyn in his arms. Her hair was tangled from the journey, and she was smudged with the dust of the road. He cupped her cheek and smiled at her. "And I know you all must be tired. Why doesn't everyone get settled? We will talk more later." He took her arm, leading her into the guest houses. The King, he was certain, would see that Eomer and his knights were well provided for.

They walked silently to her temporary quarters down on the sixth level, though only the Valar knew how temporary they were likely to be.

He ushered her inside and she looked around the room intently. "Well, it's bigger than my chamber in the Houses of Healing, at any rate," she commented.

"This is not how I wanted to greet you," he said sadly. "I wanted there to be banners, and songs and all manner of fine things. Instead I must leave you for a time, for I must speak with the King."

She nodded, studying his face. "This has you really worried, doesn't it?"

"I've dealt with Easterlings before, many times. This behavior is atypical. It's almost like they wish to provoke a war with us."

"They must know they will be defeated," she said.

"I don't know that they care. The King sent ambassadors to Harad and to Rhun after the War. With Harad, we struck a tentative peace. The ambassador to Rhun came back without his tongue. "I don't think they care if they defeat us. I think it's more important to them that they disrupt us, keep us constantly on our guard. Take away our way of life and the peace we worked so hard for."

He sighed and cupped her cheek. "I'm sorry."

"Shhh," she stroked her fingers over his brow, easing the frown she found there. "It will be all right. We're together now, that's what matters."

He looked away, unable to bear her sweet gaze any longer.

"My love?" she asked. "Faramir?" Until he raised his eyes again. "You will go to fight these men?"

"I was captain of the Rangers in Ithilien for a long time. I know the area better than any of the current rangers. I know the hills and the forests; I know where it's likely our enemy will hide, and where he might attack."

"What about the current captain of the Rangers?"

"Until six months ago, he was a guard of the Citadel. He is a good soldier, and bright. But he does not know Ithilien like I do.

"But, whether I go will depend on the King."

She stared at him for a long moment, her mouth open in dismay. Then she backed away a small step. "And what of our wedding?"

He swallowed. "That will depend on the King as well."

She was silent for a moment, contemplating his words. Finally she turned away. "I see. Then you had better see him, hadn't you?"

"Eowyn," he took a step toward her, "I did not want this. I have been railing against this ever since I got the report. But I cannot see any other way."

"I know," she said, but wouldn't turn toward him. "You are a soldier. Soldiers fight. I just hoped that.... I hoped that it would be different now. But it's not. Nothing ever is."

Hearing the sad resignation in her voice broke his heart. "This is," he said, going to her and putting his hands on her shoulders, leaning down to murmur next to her ear. "I love you. I will always love you, no matter what happens, no matter how far apart we are. If we cannot wed now, we will wed as soon as we are able. Do not lose faith, love."

She reached up to stroke his cheek and turned in his embrace. "I know." He lowered his head and kissed her, claiming her mouth as his own, his arms wrapped around her slender figure, reveling in the delight of simply holding her in his arms again.

Reluctantly, they broke the kiss. "You had better go," she said, her fingers lingering on his cheek. "He will be waiting for you."

He held onto her hand, kissing her fingertips before he let go and backed away. "I'll be back soon."

 

The Prince of Dol Amroth was in the Great Court when Faramir arrived. A couple of other Councillors were there as well, talking together in low tones.

"Is your lady comforted?" he asked.

"I've seen her settled," Faramir answered. "Comfort may be too much to hope for."

"Mmm," Imrahil agreed sadly.

"Where is the King?"

"Presumably, seeing his own lady settled."

Faramir hadn't even noticed the Queen in the party, but it made sense; Arwen was an excellent horsewoman and would want to be with her husband, especially after being separated for so long. They might have waited decades for each other, but now they were loath to be parted for long. Presently, the King came in, accompanied by Eomer and followed by the rest of the High Council of Gondor. He nodded in greeting to the assembly.

"I have asked Eomer, king of Rohan to join us, as this situation is of interest to him as well."

Eomer nodded to the gathering. "Rohan will serve in whatever way it can," he said.

Faramir was glad to have him with them. Eomer was a good soldier and an even better commander of men. If this went ill, they would need all the help they could get.

Aragorn took his seat at the head of the table and the council filed in around him. "My Lord Steward, please reiterate the facts as we know them."

"My Liege," Faramir nodded. "Four days ago, we received word from Ithilien that Easterlings had been sighted in the woods north of Henneth Annun. The Rangers intercepted a scouting party, four were killed, one was captured and one escaped. The prisoner then killed himself before he could reveal any information.

"Coupled with the border skirmishes that have occurred over the past two months in that region, it is my opinion that Rhun is preparing a much broader attack."

"We already know what they think of peace," one of the other Councillors said, reminding them of the poor maimed ambassador.

"But they haven't actually attacked anything, have they?" another asked. "What if they're simply guarding their borders the same as we guard ours?"

"But they're not on their borders, my lord," Faramir said. "They were discovered many miles inland, well away from their lands. Not to mention that Rhun does not touch Gondor up there, Mordor does. Or did."

"But the Easterlings have long had the run of Mordor," the councillor said. "It might as well be theirs."

"Gentlemen." Aragorn held up his hand and the room fell silent again. "For now, let's stick to facts, not opinions nor suppositions." He glanced at Faramir, who looked away. Was the King unbelieving in the seriousness of the situation? Did he not know what kind of threat this could be?

"What we know," Aragorn went on. "Easterlings have engaged our rangers multiple times in recent weeks, along the northern and easternmost edges of Ithilien. A small party of Easterlings was intercepted not far from Henneth Annun, but all were killed or escaped before they could be questioned. Rhun has refused our entreaties for peace. And at the moment, the North Ithilien corps is less than 100 men strong. These are our facts. Our conclusions, therefore, should be drawn from these. First, that Rhun has no love for Gondor and would see her glory diminished. And second, that should there be difficulties on our border, our present force there is insufficient."

"And third that Rhun is planning something, probably an attack, in the near future," Faramir added, but Aragorn shook his head.

"That is supposition, not a clear conclusion."

"My Liege, this is not typical behavior from them," Faramir insisted.

"We no longer know what typical behavior from them is, Lord Faramir," the Prince of Dol Amroth suggested. "We know what they did before, when they were under the control of Barad Dur. But they are self-governing now. We cannot draw current conclusions based on previous actions."

Faramir frowned at his uncle; they'd talked about this at length, and Imrahil had agreed with him regarding the need of a show of strength in the north. Why was he refuting that now?

"I'm not trying to go to war," Faramir countered. "Believe me, that's the last thing I want. But I also don't want to wake up one morning to find the North Ithilien Rangers wiped out and Easterlings heading down the river to Osgiliath. We've been that road before and it went ill. How many more tongues does Gondor have to lose before we take steps to subdue this enemy?"

"Your concern is laudible, Prince Faramir," one of the councillors said, "after all, it is your lands that are threatened. But Gondor has yet to recover from the last war; we don't want to jump into another one, not if we can help it."

"That's my point," Faramir said. "If we move against them now, we can keep this thing from escalating. And I would be just as concerned were it Umbar moving against Belfalas," he added, looking directly at his uncle. Imrahil simply gazed at him impassively, as if daring Faramir to provoke him.

"Gentlemen," Aragorn held up his hands again and the assembly quieted once more. "First of all, thank you, Prince Faramir, for your timely bringing of this situation to our attention. Believe me when I tell you it is being treated with the important consideration it deserves. Now then. There are two main objectives here. First, we need to send reinforcements to the Rangers in North Ithilien, so that if any action does happen, they are not outnumbered nor unprepared. And second, we must seek to know more about our enemy's movements and his plans. And that means personal reconnaissance." He held up a hand again, forestalling the interruptions. "I will remind the Council that I was a ranger long before I became a king. I think a foray into Ithilien will not be beyond my capabilities." He smiled.

"But my liege, if anything should happen to you...." one of the councillors began.

"Gondor still has its Steward," Aragorn said simply with a nod to Faramir.

Faramir frowned. He was meant to stay behind in Minas Tirith while Aragorn rode to war? "May I remind his majesty that I was captain of the Ithilien Rangers for years? I know those hills and woods better than any man in Gondor."

"Yes, but if you–" the councillor began again.

Aragorn raised his voice above those of his council. "We will not discuss details now. Suffice that this will be our decision. Reinforcements and reconnaissance, that will be our road. Thank you, gentlemen, that will be all." With that he stood, dismissing the council.

Faramir stood, staring at him, until the King caught and held his gaze, then dropped his eyes for a moment before returning them to Faramir's face. They were not done with this discussion yet. Then he turned and whispered something to Eomer as the rest of the council filed out.

The door to the High Court closed, leaving Aragorn, Eomer, Imrahil and Faramir alone in the great hall of Kings.

Faramir turned to his uncle, unable to hide his anger at the outcome of the meeting and not wanting to turn that anger on Aragorn, at least not yet. "What was that all about?" he asked Imrahil. "I thought you agreed we needed to put these devils down."

"I do," Imrahil replied mildly. "I'm just not convinced the time is right, and moreover, that you're the one to do it."

"I know Ithilien, Uncle," Faramir insisted. "I know what to look for."

"I don't doubt you do," Imrahil said. "But you are not the only one, and you have responsibilities here."

"Greater than defending my land?"

"Faramir." Aragorn's tone was soft, but forceful for all that. "We none of us doubt your abilites nor your knowledge of the region and its situation. Were it a month from now, or a month previously, this discussion might be different, but–"

"What will be different in a month?" Faramir asked.

"My sister," Eomer said softly, but at his words, all conversation stopped.

Faramir swallowed against a mouth gone dry. "I'm sorry, my lord, but I don't see what Eowyn has to do with–"

"Have you forgotten you are to be wed soon?" Eomer cocked an eyebrow at him.

"Of course not! But however much I love Eowyn and however much I desire to marry her, I cannot ignore these other responsibilities, responsibilities greater than my desires or hers. Surely, my Liege," he turned to Aragorn, "you most of all should understand about circumstance interfering with desires of the heart."

He took a deep breath. "Do you really think we could marry, do you think we could rejoice knowing that our friends and loved ones were marching to battle? We have stayed behind and waited too often before. We will not do it again."

"It is the ‘we' that has me concerned, brother," Eomer said. "If you go to Ithilien to fight, she will want to go with you. She will want to take up arms again and be a foot soldier in your army. I came too close to losing her last time to–"

Faramir opened his mouth in disbelief. "That's what this is about? Whether Eowyn fights?" "She's already set the precedent," Imrahil said.

"She has shown her devotion to you," Aragorn continued. "She has just endured a separation, she will not take to being separated again."

Faramir shook his head. He couldn't believe he was hearing this. "So you would keep me out of the battle to keep her out? I am not her master, Eowyn will do what she will. If she wishes to fight, I cannot–"

"She will not wish to fight if you are not there," Eomer insisted.

"And tell me again why it would be so terrible if she were to ride to Ithilien with us? Has she not proven herself in battle? Is she not Eowyn of the Shield-arm, the most valorous of the heroes of the Pelennor?"

"She almost died!" Eomer cried.

"It was a war!" Faramir shot back. "Theoden did die. And a great, great many others. But not her. She survived. She was victorious and she survived. And if she wishes to strap on armor and march into battle again then I shall march at her side, proudly. But to keep me, to keep us out of the action out of a fear that she might get hurt is short-sighted and does a great dishonor to a woman who deserves your praise, not your scorn.

"Besides which, I have no mastery over Eowyn; she will make her own choices."

"You would if you were her husband," Eomer said.

Faramir just stared at his future brother-in-law. "You are her brother. Do you have mastery over her? Theoden was her uncle-father and her king. Did he have mastery over her? No, my lords," he looked at the others, "Eowyn will do as she pleases. If it pleases her to go to war, then she shall go."

"And what of you, nephew?" Imrahil asked, his tone soft and reasonable, irritating Faramir the more. "Would it please you to have her go to war?"

"You cannot seriously ask that question," Faramir scoffed.

"You said it yourself," Eomer continued. "You sat out the last battle. Perhaps you wish to be redeemed in–"

"You know nothing about what–"

"Gentlemen. Gentlemen!" Aragorn had to shout to overcome their arguing. They quieted and he continued, more softly. "Friends, this gets us no place." He turned toward Faramir. "I know you would not wish this battle on anyone, least of all your beloved. But I also know you, both of you, have been waiting for your marriage anxiously. I would not withhold from her, or from you, your joy."

But Faramir just shook his head. "It is impossible, what you suggest. That we could have a wedding full of ceremony and celebration when those we...." He swallowed. "When those we love ride into danger. There will be time for us, once the danger is past."

"I said marriage, brother. Not wedding."

Faramir looked up at the King, startled.

"I know a large wedding was planned," Aragorn went on, "one suitable for the Princess of Rohan and the Prince of Ithilien. But you are correct, to stage such a celebration on the eve of battle would make a mockery of all that it represents.

"But that does not mean the marriage cannot take place. A wedding is proper whether it is witnessed by thousands or just a few. A marriage needn't begin with ceremony and celebration; it can be sanctified with simple words and a kiss." The King looked from Faramir to Eomer and back again.

"If Faramir and Eowyn marry now, before we march, then there can be no question about whether she is truly his."

Faramir frowned at him. "You think if we marry that I can control her? You obviously don't–"

"No. I think that if you marry, she will have the assurance, the tangible assurance of your love for her, and hers for you. And that if, after that, you must ride to battle, she will be more willing to remain in Minas Tirith because she knows she waits for a husband, not for a promise that may not come to pass.

"And I think that if you marry, you will be less distressed and less...hot-headed. In truth, brother, I have never known you to let go of your temper like this." Aragorn offered him a small smile.

Faramir studied the face of his king for a long moment. He saw in Aragorn's eyes the compassion and the concern.

"Or," Faramir suggested quietly, "if we marry and I then ride to Ithilien, I could well leave her a widow and then where would she be?"

"Still better off than if she had nothing but promises," Imrahil said. "If you wed, you will have your wedding night. She will have memories of that to sustain her. Even should the worst happen, she will still have those memories. Don't discount the comfort of memories, lad."

Faramir looked at his uncle carefully. His beloved wife had died some five years past and in his eyes, Faramir could see the love that still burned there for her.

He looked from Imrahil to Aragorn, and finally to Eomer. "And what does her brother say to all this?"

Eomer paused before answering, as if formulating his response. "I would see her happy," he said simply. "I know that you make her happy. I would not see her left alone in Gondor with nothing but promises. A hurried marriage is not what I had hoped for her, but under the circumstances, it would be for the best.

"Brother," he went on, his gaze intense, "grant her this. If she is to be left behind, leave her as the wife of the Steward, not some poor foreign girl waiting for her soldier to come home. Allow her the respect and position within Gondor that she deserves."

Faramir's heart softened and his belligerence faded. He had not considered Eowyn's status here, should he be gone. Until they were wed, she was merely the visiting sister of a foreign emissary, with no position in the community, no status except that conferred by her brother. He looked at them all again. "If we do this, if we wed.... Then there will be no question about my going to Ithilien." This last was directed to the King.

"No," Aragorn shook his head. "You are right in saying you are the best man for the job." The King looked at Imrahil. "It looks like you'll be left minding Minas Tirith again, my lord Prince."

Imrahil gave a mock sigh. "Such is the life of the elder statesman, my Liege," he said, then grinned. "It will be my honor, sire, as always."

Aragorn clapped him on his shoulder with a smile. Then he turned his attention to Eomer. "My brother," he began.

"My Marshalls and I can ride with you, if you will. Rohan's fighting men have keen eyes and swift mounts."

"Even if this keeps you away from the Mark for longer than you'd originally planned to be away?"

"One cannot choose when the battles come," Eomer said. "Once my sister is safely wed, I will serve your majesty in whatever way you think best."

"Believe me, my lord king," Aragorn chuckled, "none of us is going anywhere until the Lord Faramir is joined to his lady."

Faramir cleared his throat. "If you will, my Liege, I'd like to speak with Eowyn now, to tell her of these latest developments."

"Yes, of course, Faramir." The King nodded.

"When shall I tell her we shall be wed?"

Aragorn thought for a brief moment. "Are you busy tonight?"

"Tonight!" Faramir's eyes widened in shock.

"No point in delaying it. The sooner we ride, the sooner we can assess the situation, and the sooner we can be home again."

"When do we ride?"

"Tomorrow, with luck. The next day at the latest."

Faramir digested this in a heartbeat. If they married this evening, that would give them tonight and nothing more. The thought of going directly from his marriage bed to a saddle and a hard drive into Ithilien was a miserable one, but his uncle was right on one count: without the memories of that evening, the separation would be even more bleak.

He nodded. "I will let you know what Eowyn says."

"Thank you."

 

Chapter 3
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