The two days of the muster of the Army of the West passed quickly, for there was much to do and little time to do it in. The Ranger scouts returned with good news; Elfhelm and the Riders of Rohan had scattered the Orc and Easterling army in Anorien and sent them fleeing northward towards Cair Andros. And in the ruins of Osgilliath the Northern Rangers discovered nearly a score of Faramir’s Men who had not only managed to hide themselves from the Enemy but to cut the bridge over the Anduin for a few key hours, so that the Haradrim came late to the field - after Rohan had broken the Orc army. The City was as secure as it might be and the road eastward clear. All was ready for the final throw.
Half past noon on the second day Merry knelt at the feet of Eomer King, in the Lady Eowyn’s chamber in the Houses of Healing, and received from him a short sword and a shield ensigned with the running horse. “Rise now Meriadoc Holdwine, Knight of the Riddermark!”
Merry blinked rather blankly up at him. “Pardon?”
Eomer laughed. “Holdwine, ‘true friend’ I call you in our tongue. And a true friend you have been to all our House. Will you serve as my esquire as you served my uncle, Sir Meriadoc?”
Merry got to his feet and bowed. “I would be honored, my Lord.”
Eowyn was lying in the big bed, propped up with pillows but smiling almost happily. She beckoned Merry to her and kissed him. “Hail Sir Holdwine!” she said. “I count on you to take care of my brother for me.”
“I will.” he promised.
“But who‘s going to take care of Merry?” Pippin wondered.
“Merry can take care of himself.” said Gandalf, and cocked an eyebrow down at Pippin. “As can you, my lad.” And the young Hobbit blushed with embarrassed pleasure.
A knock on the door preceded the entrance of the two Women who attended Eowyn, both carrying trays of dishes. Merry and Eomer settled down to share the Lady’s lunch but Pippin and Gandalf excused themselves and went down the passage to see Faramir.
They found him sitting at a table piled high with books. “What’s this?” Gandalf asked picking them up one by one and reading the titles: “’Annals of King Eldacar’ ‘A History of the Kinstrife’, ‘On the Royal Succession’, ’Of the Restoration of the True King’, ’The Accession of King Earnil II’...?”
“I am looking for precedents.” Faramir explained and grimaced. “Unfortunately it seems King Elessar has no legal right to the Throne of Gondor.”
“What!” Pippin exclaimed in horror, “but Faramir, you said you wanted him for King -!”
“I do,” the Man answered, “we all do, Peregrin. But laws were made long ago by Men who did not want Isildur’s Heirs to rule in Gondor, and now I must find some way around them.”
“Can’t you just change them?” Pippin demanded.
Gandalf snorted and Faramir smiled wryly. “I don’t know how such things are managed in your Shire, Peregrin, but in Gondor the making or changing of law is no simple matter.”
“Give the matter to the Great Council of the Realm and Aragorn will be a grandsire before he is crowned.” said the Wizard grimly.
Faramir nodded rueful agreement, then smiled reassuringly at Pippin. “Never fear, Peregrin, I studied law as well as literature and lore. I will find a way.”
“I certainly hope so.” said the Hobbit, and sighed gustily. “Honestly, Faramir, sometimes I think you Men deliberately set out to make things as hard as possible for yourselves and everybody else!”
“It’s not deliberate, Peregrin,” Faramir assured him, “at least not usually.”
Gandalf snorted again, then the bells rang the seventh hour.
“Bother!” said Pippin. “I have to go back on duty. I’m glad to see you so much better Faramir.”
“Thank you, Peregrin. And would you do me the favor of asking Beregond to come see me?”
“I’d be happy to.” the Hobbit answered with a short bow before heading for the door. “See you later Gandalf.”
Faramir smiled after him. “Remarkable creatures these Hobbits, so small and vulnerable and yet so brave.” he glanced at Gandalf. “To resist the Dark Lord‘s will, even for a few moments, is no mean feat. Peregrin doesn‘t know his own strength.”
“No, and I hope you didn’t tell him.” the Wizard answered crisply. “He’s thoroughly ashamed of that little incident, and it’s best he stay that way. It might keep him from taking any more foolish risks.”
“All is risk now.” said Faramir, then sighed. “I am worried about Beregond. He will take oathbreaking and bloodshedding hard.”
“Ah,” said Gandalf, “you know him do you?”
Faramir nodded. “He was a Citadel Guard when Boromir and I were boys, and our first arms-master. Father had a prejudice against him, I never knew why.”
“Something to do with his family, I believe.” said the Wizard.
“Very likely. Boromir said it was foolish - but there was no arguing Father out of it.” Faramir grimaced. “Bad blood, good blood, we Gondorim are far to concerned with ancestry and not enough with what a Man is.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” said Gandalf.
Beregond arrived not long after the Wizard left, having now no duties to detain him. “I am glad to see you so recovered, my Lord.” he said formally. “No doubt you are concerned about the fate of the Anor stone. Mithrandir entrusted it to my keeping as you were unfit at that time for the charge. And I gave it into the hands of the King. He has since had it returned to its place in the uppermost chamber -”
“Beregond!” Faramir interrupted, “I did not call you here for a report.”
The other Man fell silent, waiting respectfully for orders. Faramir sighed in exasperation. Beregond had always had a way of using formality to keep others at a distance. His reserve would have been exceptional even in a Dunedain of Ancient House and was quite extraordinary in a commoner. He had unbent long ago with a small boy, but the boy was now a Man and his superior officer.
“Are you all right.” Faramir asked bluntly.
“Well enough.” the other Man answered quietly, then his stiff soldier’s bearing softened and he almost smiled. “I have placed the matter in King Elessar’s hands and am content to await his judgment. Peregrin tells me I have nothing to worry about.”
“I agree with him.” said Faramir, thinking wryly that Elessar’s real problem would be finding some penalty that would appease Beregond‘s aching conscience without displeasing the people, who had sided solidly with the Guardsman, by its harshness. “I have thanked Mithrandir and Peregrin, I wish also to thank you for my life. And even more for trying to save my father.”
“Even tempered steel with break at the last,” Beregond said quietly. “and Denethor had had much, in the end too much, to bear.”
“Yes,” Faramir agreed as quietly. “Even the strongest have their limits. It was my father’s misfortune that the darkness of these times pushed him beyond his.” he turned the subject. “I hear you will be riding with the army.”
Beregond nodded. “My first campaign.” he said a little wryly.
“Try not to make it your last.” Faramir said, quite seriously.
“I will.” Beregond promised and Faramir was satisfied. He himself had almost thrown his life away in a fit of grief and despair, but saw his old friend was too level headed do the same.
It was early evening when the King came to the Houses of Healing to see his Steward. He found Faramir lying on his bed frowning over a dusty tome which he put quickly aside at the sight of his visitor and started to rise.
Elessar waved him back. “Leave that. I am here as your physician not your King.” He took Faramir’s pulse and laid a light hand on his brow to check for fever - and other things - then smiled. “You are doing well and are a credit to me. Yet I would have you remain in the care of this House at least a tenday more. Your body and mind have been sorely tried for many years, give them a little time to rest before you make more demands upon them.”
“As you wish, my Lord and healer.” Faramir answered, studying his sovereign closely. The King was dressed now as became his rank, in deep green velvet and silk gilded with embroideries of gold thread, and washed clean of the grime of travel and battle. Yet there was still a hint of something - not weariness exactly but a kind of strain - shadowing his eyes and honing the strong bones of his face. “How many long years have you been hard tried, my King?” Faramir asked softly. “And when will you take rest?”
A flash of laughter lightened that usually sad face and the deep eyes glinted. “I am the physician here, my lord Steward.” Elessar said, mock sternly, then smiled openly. “Never fear for me. I have a wife and a number of determined and persistent Men to see that I take proper care of myself.”
*And are more than equal to all of them.* Faramir thought, but said out loud: “The army marches tomorrow.”
The King’s smile vanished. “Yes.’
“My Lord, by the law of Gondor the King may not ride out to war unless he leaves behind an heir of years to rule.”
“So the Council has already told me.” Elessar replied calmly. “I have such an heir. He is Gilvagor son of Armegil, my father’s brother, and my own foster son.”
“You have him here with you?” Faramir asked.
Elessar shook his head. “No. He remained in the North as my deputy.”
“That fulfills the law,” Faramir admitted, “yet it would be hard for Gondor to regain her King only to lose him again. Will you come back to us, my Lord?”
“I do not know.” the King answered softly. “From the day I first set my foot upon this road I have been unable to see its end.” he turned away, moving to the window to look eastward, towards the Enemy. “I do not know.” he said again, but strongly and with a ring of conviction. “But I believe these days will see Sauron’s end. The Ringbearer will succeed in his quest and Middle Earth be freed from the Shadow.”
“But you do not believe you will live to see that end.” Faramir said to his back.
Elessar turned. “I do not know.” he said yet again, heavily. “I know only that I will do what I must, whatever the end may be.” then he smiled gently, trying to reassure. “I do not want to die, Faramir. If I can come back I will, but I can only promise not yield up my life easily, not that I will succeed in keeping it.”
“I understand.” At least the King was not riding out almost eager for death as Faramir himself had done just a few days ago. There was a healthy share of fear behind those level eyes, as well as the courage to master it. “We must hold to hope.”
Elessar nodded somberly. “Always. Hope is the strength of Men.”
Aragorn had thought long and hard about his next visit, whether it might not do more harm than good. But the Lady Eowyn was not only his patient but his friend, and had been a kind and gracious hostess to him. To not see her would be a grave discourtesy. Finally he left the decision to her, sending to ask if she would receive him. She decided that she would.
A Woman in the service of the Healers, grey gowned and veiled, opened the door to him. Eowyn was sitting, well wrapped, propped up in a cushioned chair set beneath a window open to the sweet night air and garden scents. She was deathly pale, save for two spots of color high on her cheeks, and her eyes were feverishly bright. Aragorn’s heart ached at the sight of her.
He bowed. “My Lady, I come to see how you fare and if there is any more service I can do you before my departure tomorrow.” far too stiff and formal but talking to her like a father or elder brother, which was how he felt, would have been even worse.
“I would ride with you.” she answered.
“You are not fit for such a journey,” he answered, “and your brother and King has forbidden it. If he falls you will be the last of the House of Eorl, your people will need you, Eowyn.”
“He will fall, as will we all wherever the black tide overtakes us!” she cried. “I would die with those I love, is that asking so much?”
“You seek death, Eowyn, and that is not defiance but surrender.” he heard the steel edging his voice and stopped. No, sternness was not meet for this case. Eowyn was no malingerer but a young Woman tried beyond her strength. Her despair was all too understandable.
He knelt before her chair, put his hand over her cold one and felt her quiver at the touch. “Eowyn, you have struck the greatest blow in all this war by depriving the Enemy of his chief captain. It may well be that Minas Tirith stands and I still live only because of you. If this hand accomplished so much cannot others do the same? And together may we not topple Sauron from his throne? Lady I have fought the Shadow for more years than you have been alive and I tell you there is yet hope - there is always hope!”
But his words kindled no answering spark. He could not give Eowyn what she needed, he could only pray that somewhere there was one who could - and that she would find him soon. He rose; “Hail and farewell, Lady of Rohan, it may be we shall meet again beyond the Shadows.” He kissed her cold brow then turned and left her, careful not to look back.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.