The Prince of Ithilien
It was, Faramir knew, three days' hard ride from Minas Tirith to Edoras. More if you wanted your horse to be worth anything at the end.
With a funeral cortege, however, the trip would be much longer.
Over two months ago, almost immediately following King Aragorn's coronation, Eomer, King of Rohan, had left Gondor, returning to his lands. He had gone home to take care of many affairs of state and to formally take his place as Rohan's new king. It was a trip made in haste and a necessary one. When things were prepared, he had said, he would send for the body of his uncle, King Theoden, to be buried with proper ceremony in the tombs of his ancestors. His sister, the lady Eowyn, had accompanied him, to assist him with his new duties.
To Faramir, two months had never seemed so long.
True, he was kept busy with his own responsibilities: the management of Gondor on a day-by-day basis still fell to him, as King Elessar filled his days with matters of diplomacy and justice. Decisions about the rebuilding of Minas Tirith's gates and the costly clean up following the battle were the sorts of things Aragorn left to Faramir, who had had little time to prepare for such responsibilities, having gone from "second son without expectations" to "Steward of Gondor" seemingly overnight.
His was an awkward position. By rights, he should have relinquished his stewardship when the new King came, but Aragorn had refused the staff of office, declaring that the stewardship would remain with Faramir and his heirs. And yet exactly what that duty entailed, now that the King sat on the high throne in the Great Court of Minas Tirith, was still a bit nebulous. At the moment, with much clean-up to be done after the battle and the siege, there was plenty for all to do and then some. But in more quiet moments, Faramir wondered what his lot would be once things settled down.
It was those quiet moments that were proving so difficult. Grief for Boromir, for the loss of an idolized brother, was never far from the surface. In some ways, he hadn't really dealt with Boromir's death yet; at the time, things had been too dire to be able to grieve much, and the lack of a body made the entire thing seem somehow unreal. As if Boromir would walk back in the door at any moment, laughing and teasing his younger brother.
On the other side was Denethor's death, and it disturbed Faramir more than he would admit that he felt no grief at the loss of his father. Or rather, any grief he felt was so overshadowed by the shock of learning just how his father had met his end–not heroically in battle nor even felled by a disease of old age, but by his own hand, his mind ensnared in madness and despair. And there was the additional pain of knowing that his father had tried to drag him into his mad maelstrom of fire, a final proof, not that Faramir needed any, of his father's disapproval, that he would rather kill his son than allow him to survive. Pippin had tried to tell him that in Denethor's madness, he thought he was saving his son from a fate worse than the fire–to be dragged into Sauron's darkness–but it didn't help. How could one reconcile that one's father wanted one dead? Even Gandalf's revelation, days later, that the old Steward had been heavily influenced by Sauron through a Palantir didn't blunt that particular pain. The Palantir may have been what had driven his father to madness, but Sauron hadn't set Denethor against his son; the Steward had done that entirely on his own.
All the years of feeling inadequate in Denethor's eyes made, in some ways, the present situation even more difficult. In spite of Boromir's love and approval, in spite of being well-read and far more learned than his hero-brother, even in spite of the King's seeming trust in him, Faramir found it hard to credit that he could actually be capable of the tasks appointed to him. He'd been in charge of a garrison of men, and though he'd earned their love and respect during his years in Ithilien, virtually all of them were dead now. How could he be in charge of an entire city, or worse, a country?
In his lowest of moments, when he was most filled with doubt, his thoughts would stray to Eowyn, and that made it at the same time both better and worse.
During their recovery in the Houses of Healing, when they'd spent so much time together, sometimes talking, sometimes not, he had fallen in love with her. Here was a woman, a pale, frail, yet amazing and strong woman, with griefs and pains that equaled, if not surpassed, his own. And yet all of her pain, all of her grief, could not dampen her indomitable spirit. Faramir knew himself to be the most reticent of men when it came to revealing his feelings. Yet he found himself unburdening himself to her, pouring out the pain and confusion in his heart, listening as she did the same.
And he grew to love her, certain that his love was not reciprocated, then hopeful when it seemed like perhaps she shared a little of his feeling, and finally astonished and overjoyed when she declared her love for him and readily accepted his proposal of marriage.
In the quiet times, however, all his old doubts crept in again. He knew full well that someone else had held Eowyn's heart, held it so firmly that she had nearly died of the loss. And even though Aragorn was now wedded to another, and even though Eowyn had pledged her love to Faramir, he couldn't help wondering if she really felt the way he did, the way she said. Or if he was merely a way to deal with her grief over losing Aragorn.
The smallest of smiles played at the corners of his mouth as he remembered their parting, remembered her pledge to return to him once her uncle was buried, remembered her warm, inviting kiss and the token she'd given him to remember her by, the tiny gold ring etched with fair flowers that now hung by a chain around his neck. Funny how so much of their lives seemed to be tied up in rings....
The call interrupted his reverie. The King was leaning against the doorway, arms crossed in front of him, a gentle smile on his face.
"My Liege," Faramir stood up. "Forgive me, I was–"
Aragorn raised a hand and shook his head. "I know where you were. I would be there, too, if I were you." He smiled at the Steward and pulled out the chair opposite a table which was strewn with maps and floor plans and work orders and supply lists. Faramir resumed his seat.
"I just spoke with a messenger from Rohan," the King went on. Faramir's heart skipped a beat. "Eomer is coming with an entourage to bring his uncle home. They will be here in three days."
"That is...good news," Faramir said lamely, knowing how feeble his response sounded. Aragorn must think him an idiot.
But Aragorn just chuckled softly. "The Lady Eowyn will not be with them," he went on, and Faramir felt his heart thump down to his toes, knew his disappointment must be written across every inch of his face. "She stays behind to make sure all is in readiness for Theoden's funeral. But she gave the messenger this–" He held out a small note, folded and sealed with red wax, "and bade him to give it to Prince Faramir."
Faramir sat for a moment, immobilized by shock, and Aragorn set the note on top of the nearest map.
The king got up from his chair. "I'll leave you to your letter," he said softly. Sometimes it was hard to credit this man as the High King of Gondor and Arnor, with his loose limbs and his softspoken demeanor. Faramir had spent many hours talking with him, once the Host of the West had returned from their victory and before Aragorn's coronation. One usually expected a certain stature, a certain regalness in kings. But Aragorn wore his regalness the same way he wore his crown, putting it on and off as it suited him. Faramir had seen him turn around to face an adversary and put on such a kingly demeanor as to make one believe he had never been anything else. But he'd also seen him in a simple tunic and bare feet, stretched on a balcony, a pipe in one hand, his elf-queen at his side as he talked and laughed with his friends, that close-knit group that had made up the Fellowship.
That group that Boromir had been a part of.
"Faramir?" Aragorn's voice pulled Faramir back from his musings.
"Wha-? Oh, I'm sorry, my Liege, I–"
Aragorn's hand on his shoulder was comforting and his gaze intense. "Do not doubt her," he said softly. "She is, in all things, true."
Faramir managed a nod before he looked away and gazed at the letter again.
With a squeeze of his shoulder, the King departed, and Faramir only just realized his departure, wincing at his lack of manners and inappropriate behavior.
With trembling fingers, he picked up the note, tracing the wax seal–the horsehead seal of the Royal House of Rohan. His heart was thundering in his chest and the knot in his stomach was souring his earlier lunch. He slid his thumb beneath the flap, loosening the seal.
For a long moment he just stared at the writing, not seeing words, only taking in the length of the message, the slant of her hand. His eyes drifted to the bottom and he read the signature.
Ever yours I remain,
He read it several times before it sank in.
A smile began slowly and spread across his face.
His lady. His Eowyn. His.
Quickly now, he read the entire note, and then read it again more slowly, savoring the words.
My dearest Faramir:
My brother departs for Gondor, but I will not be with him. I have sent this messenger ahead so that you would not fear, when you saw the Riders of Rohan and I was not with them, that something was amiss, or that I did not wish to come. I wish with all my heart that I could be there and could see you once again. But all must be made ready for my uncle's funeral, and that task falls to me.
I hope you will accompany the cortege back to Rohan. First, as Theoden was a noble king and deserves to be buried with all possible honors. And the presence of the Steward of Gondor, long Rohan's ally, will do honor to both houses. But more importantly, and not at all politically, because I miss you constantly and long to see you again. To talk with you, to have you hold my hand as we walk together. I wish to show you my land and my people, in hopes that they may help you understand me better. And I wish to show my people that I will be leaving my homeland for the very best of reasons and the very best of men.
I could go on about all the ways I miss you, but will refrain, for fear of embarrassing myself, or embarrassing you, should anyone happen to read this. Suffice it to say that I long to be with you again and shall anxiously await your coming.
Be of good cheer, my dearest love; we will be together soon.
Ever yours I remain,
It was only after his third reading that Faramir even noticed the tiny post-script:
Amin mela lle.
He knew it to be Sindarin, but his knowledge of that tongue, especially written, was much rustier than he liked to admit, the histories and legends he'd studied having been written in high Quenya. He frowned. He couldn't ask the King. Nor any of his ministers. Nor any of the high elves still residing in Minas Tirith.
She was on a terrace, radiant in the sun, and when she saw him, she smiled in greeting. "He is not here, my Lord Steward."
"I know, My Lady. It's you I wished to speak with."
Arwen Undomiel looked surprised at this. "What is it you wish?"
"Can you tell me what...what Amin mela lle...means?" He asked, certain he'd mangled the pronunciation.
But she didn't look affonted; instead her wide eyes grew even wider and her mouth opened in an expression of surprise and pleasure. "It means I love you," she said.
His heart gave a thump, and he had to look away, feeling himself redden.
"Is she coming with her brother?" Arwyn asked.
He shook his head, speech having left him.
"But you will go to Rohan."
That made him look up. He'd been assuming he'd follow the cortege, doing Theoden honor and seeing Eowyn at the same time. But now he realized he couldn't just pick up whenever he wanted; he was the Steward of Gondor now. Aragorn was the diplomat, he was the one who would go on trips of state. Faramir would most likely be needed here to manage things in his absense.
"I don't know if I can, my Lady," he said, hearing the catch in his voice.
"No, you will go to Rohan," she repeated. It wasn't a question.
"If I can."
"You misunderstand me, Prince Faramir. You will go to Rohan." Her gaze was intense and her deep eyes told him that whatever it took, she'd ensure that he would be able to go.
"I will go to Rohan," he repeated and she smiled brightly.
She came to his side and her hand on his arm was soft as a dove, her scent like a meadow. "When you see her, you can tell her I mela lle ‘a."
He repeated the phrase, twice as she corrected his pronunciation, and didn't need her to tell him what it meant.
"Thank you, my Lady."
She merely smiled and nodded. "Be patient; you will be together soon." She patted his hand and let him go.
Faramir kept her letter in a pouch inside his tunic, next to her ring, next to his heart. Whenever he started having doubts again, he'd take it out and read it once more. He had it practically memorized, but he still liked to see the words, the tangible proof of her heart.
Apparently, there had never been any question about his going to Rohan. When the Rohirrim arrived and plans were made, he'd asked Aragorn what he wanted handled in his absence.
"Nonsense," the King dismissed. "You are Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien," he said, using the title he'd late bestowed upon Faramir. "For you not to go would dishonor the memory of Theoden-King, who deserves all of our respect and honor. Things are quiet enough here right now that the Council can handle whatever comes up in our absence. Besides, the strengthening of ties with Rohan would be more beneficial in the long run than anything you could do here."
His gaze was intense, as it always was, and Faramir couldn't tell if more lay behind it than political expedience. Of course, if Aragorn's lady Queen had anything to do with it, it did. Amazing people, the Elves; so delicate yet so strong.
Still, it didn't matter why, only that when the time came, Faramir joined the entourage that followed Theoden's bier to Rohan.
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