21 July 2012 | 3252 words
Pictures: Water Colours,pencil
The first meeting of Faramir and Éomer, right after the war. Fluff, I presume…
Once upon a very long ago Lacerta asked for a fic including Éomer (and horseys. And stables.). Well, from a global point of view I´d say nine month delay isn´t that bad… XD
And this year´s “Saving somebody from making herself an idiot” Award goes to my beta Iris. Thank you very much! :)
I would also like to mention that the pictures were developed over a period of a few, err, months, and therefore might lack of stylistic coherency… please take my excuses for that..
A Breeze of Spring
“And we love them: tall men and fair women, valiant both alike, golden-haired, bright-eyed, and strong, they remind us of the youth of Men, as they were in the Elder days.”
I had laughed when I heard these words first. They surely were not meant to reach my ears and it was a sheer incident they did not pass me unheard in those days of change and turmoil after the war. So many threads to put together, so many things to learn swiftly for the new king of the Mark. My way has always been one of the sword, quick and straight, and getting accustomed to my new role demanded a great deal of me. Therefore I made use of any acquaintanceship I could get, be it in stables or hallways. I spoke to Elf, Dwarf and Man, even to the halfings from the North, and it was one of the latter who dropped a few words he had heard on his journey through the eastern provinces, deep in the heart of Ithilien. Kind words they were and who would not gladly listen to such a generous praise of his own people? Yet to me who had seen nothing but death and grief for years they seemed like idle reverie, the fancies of either a child or a very fatuous man who had spent his life in blissful ignorance, untouched by loss and sorrow.
And now the man who had spoken so stood at the barn door and he looked anything but fatuous. As a matter of fact he did not even look much like the son of highborn lords he was. If it had not been for the legendary resemblance to his brother who had paid Edoras several visits during his youth, I would have passed him on the street without recognizing him. What I saw when we met first was a man who had been laid low for a long time, stricken by both disease of body and spirit. Pale he was, the struggle against wounds poisoned by more than the enemy´s arrows had drawn all colour from him, so much the blueish shades beneath his eyes made his skin look thin as paper. Even his relaxed position – leant against the doorpost – seemed to rather support a solid stand than emphasize a bold pose. And yet there was a welcoming smile playing in the corners of his mouth and a warm light brightened his eyes; eyes that rested on me serenely as I run the horse brush through Firefoot´s mane.
If it was his intention to go unrecognised he had quite succeeded. Nothing about him gave away the Steward of Gondor. His clothes were as plain as could be, a loose shirt made of white linen, plain, threadbare breeches and knee-high walking boots. It was the most unpretentious appearance of a noble-man I had seen since the king of Gondor has risen from the grass before my very eyes and frankly spoken it took me a while to regain my manners.
“Hail Faramir steward,” I finally said, not sure whether that unadorned salute we use to greet out lords would be appropriate for an heir of such a noble house. “I am glad to see you have finally left your bed.”
“And you have no idea how much I am.” His smile widened and I was relieved my wording had not been received awkwardly. “Westu Éomer hal.”
I must have stared at him like a fool. Not only he seemed to have no issue recognising me. Although I could not remember Boromir having been anything else than polite he had never considered it worthwhile to greet me in my own tongue. To crown it all I became aware that my shirt was lost somewhere at the other end of the stables where I carelessly dropped it by the time I started to clean Firefoot´s hooves. Certainly not a state seemly to a king and I did not even dare to think about how I might smell. But either he was oblivious to my poor state or simply indifferent, at least he did not show any hint of disapproval or embarrassment. Instead he looked around.
“Are these stables to your satisfaction?” he enquired. “Your men came at the time of uttermost need and my people and I owe you nothing less than our lives. Where the riders are honoured the horses shall not be neglected.”
I followed his scrutinising gaze. It was obvious we had been given the royal stables, on the seventh level, close to the citadel. High narrow windows shed light on the aisle between the boxes, each of them clean and tidy and equipped with a well-filled manger made of – Eorl himself might know why – white marble. Personally I would have given preference to our own wooden constructions and I missed the rich carvings and the scent of resin. But this was only my private opinion and there surely was no reason to complain.
“My lord,” I replied. “These accomodations are worth a prince of the Mearas and I do not dare ask what happened to your own horses since they had to yield their homes to foreign visitors.”
He laughed, a soft and gentle sound, so unlike his brother, even in this.
“Do not fear for them, friend,” he said. “There are not so many horses belonging to the court these days and for the few who did not find their fate in war there is still enough room. And, please, do not call me Sire. During the past weeks I have been surrounded by too many people who addressed me this way, mostly ensued by an earnest admonition to stay in bed and take my medicine.”
“Well then,” I answered. “You will be pleased to hear that I do not intend to send you anywhere you would not go by free will.”
“Is that so? In this case I shall forthwith dismiss my advisors and make you my personal healer.”
He laughed again and with obvious joy and I could not help feeling a wave of warm affection.
“Now I am even more glad we came at the right time. If I had known I would find the heirs of Ecthélion being of such cheerful disposition I would have come earlier to pay my courtesy visit.”
Whatever made me say this, I rued it immediately for his smile fade and the memory of a black winged terror brushed his features.
“There was not much cheer in Ecthélion´s house lately.” he said softly. “I am afraid you would not have found our company very agreeable.”
Although since recently a king, I felt like a clumsy courtier. My various chats with lords and servants had brought more than one thing to light and it was no secret to me that Lord Denethor´s passing was considered rather a blessing for his younger son than a curse. Nevertheless the loss of both father and brother in so short a time was a load I wish nobody to bear.
“Forgive me,” I said. “Hard times lie behind your folk and the dreads you had to face suffice for two lives. Your heart must be verily strong and I wished the sight of the White Tree being in buds again would restore some of the joy it was devoid of for so long.”
Even speaking like that I felt like a halfwit. How could I know he held no grudge against Aragorn? The new king had claimed the throne when he, Faramir, laid in feverish dreams of fire and torment, unable to either contradict or accept. Again the kingship passed those who had administered the realm for so long. Would he not feel overlooked, cheated of what was rightfully his? Most men may have seen it that way and had it been his brother I spoke to, my words had possibly roused his rage. Though the new steward of Gondor was of a different kind than his brother.
“It does. Yet more joyful it would be to leave these walls, that bear the mark of death and demise, behind for a while and roam the grasslands of the Riddermark as a free man. The burden of dark remembrances weighs heavier, when a man finds himself caged and bound to bed, while all the world around is striving back to life.”
He trailed off; his eyes distant, as if he tracked an old memory or yearning. Finally I asked him:
“Are you not the steward of Gondor? Should you not be free to go wherever you want?”
When he answered his tone was careless yet the silence had lasted a moment too long.
“There are multifarious duties that keep a steward where he has been put and it is not his privilege to speak of his own desires first. And in older days, when I was captain of the White City the constant life within sight of the Black Land forbade every thought of idle pleasures. “ The smile in the corner of his mouth could not betray the sadness in his eyes. “I was not aware how much I miss the wind of my skin and the grass beneath my feet until I heard the shield maiden of Rohan speak of those things as of well acquainted friends.”
And suddenly I understand why he had taken the way from the Houses of Healing to the stables on the other side of the citadel. It was not a dutiful act of politeness towards his guest and ally.
He had longed for this trifling chat of ours, for a friendly voice talking of other things than war and duty. He relished it as a convalescent may relish the first spoon of watery soup after along disease. The desire betrayed him, fervidly glinting in his eyes, eyes now downcast to avoid my investigating gaze. And yet he did not lose grip on it, as if it was an undue behaviour to be held down; like a child´s rude demand for sweets when more severe things are to be discussed. If I had asked him for his needs, his utmost wish may have likely been nothing worse than a cup of wine or a book, placed too high on the shelf. His rigour towards himself surprised me, for he was obviously a compassionate man who was very aware of other people´s urges; and I wondered how merciless his schooling had been.
“Then ride out with me” I said impetuously, “And I will bring you the touch of the wind and the whisper of the grass! That is…” – I remembered I was talking to a man who needed a doorpost to brace his stance – “as soon as your condition allows it.”
“Would you do that?” He rose an amused eyebrow, the irony of a man who has seen too many disappointments to give himself to anticipation too soon, yet in the wells of his eyes I could see stars dazzling, like jewels of a forgotten treasure under the surface of a lake. “Would you fulfill a fool´s wish and guide his first steps back to life?”
I smiled. “Fulfill your wish I gladly will.” I said. “And not a foolish one, if I may say. Many days and nights you have spent surrounded by stone and all this sturdy walls must weigh heavily on your heart. Yet I entreat you to blame my concern for you if I say I wish you would postpone your purpose until you have regained your full strength. What a guide – not to speak of guest – would I be if I brought back the steward of Gondor unconscious and tied to his horse?”
He returned my smile with the same warmth as before but it was sad now.
“I have already been brought back that way,” he answered, softly and mostly to himself. “Though perhaps with more consciousness than anybody knows and there may be parts of my strength that will not be regained.” He looked up and remembered me. “Forgive me my friend; I see your worries and it is not my wish to put you into a predicament. It was the first spring breeze after the long darkness that made me speak selfishly. Long years I was told it is the steward´s task to serve his people, not the other way around, though not long enough, it seems, since I failed at this as at so many other issues.”
He had spoken almost light-hearted and his voice had not lost one iota of its rich timbre. Yet the stars in his eyes had been faded and the depths beyond them lay as dark as the waters of a wintery marsh. And it was as if a veil was removed and revealed his desperate struggle for the few he had left. And I recognized that even if his pride would not bow, the man it shielded would finally succumb to his burden and my heart broke.
“Come with me friend,” I said, “If I may call you that way. Come with me now and we shall find you a horse whose skills will fit you.”
He abandoned his doorpost. Together we headed down the aisle, I still stripped to the waist and with the horse brush in my hand, he soft-footed and setting each step carefully. I found myself unable to take my eyes from him. Light he seemed as he walked beside me, almost transparent and shining from inside. So alike my sister, as she was now that her praise was sung in the streets.
Maybe that is how people become who have been touched by the shadow and defeated it, I thought. Maybe evil itself has its secret; one that even Sauron the Deceiver could not foresee, that even the most abyssal malice entails the seed of good.
The horses in the bays stirred as we passed by. Most of them I knew and golden motes rose and glittered downwards when manes were shaken and voices were raised to greet me. I was grateful for each of them, each one who had followed its master into the savagery of war and survived. I introduced them all to my guest – for that was how I saw him now – and he listened patiently.
“Fáma, the brown one on the left. Seven winters old yet still hot-tempered. A proper cure for those who hold their own riding skills in higher esteem than it suits them.”
Faramir laughed quietly; he may have recalled certain tales his brother had told – and possibly slightly altered on his own behalf.
“Over there you see Heirian, mother of many mighty chargers, and still a legend on the battlefield herself. She would carry you safely across the Grinding Ice and I would give her to you if her pace was not too harsh for a wounded man to be comfortable with.”
There was that eyebrow again, a habit being such a crucial part of himself it seemed to lead a life of its own.
“Oh, I think that after all I should be able to take a bit of a thrust.”
As I said, I was never a man of talk, and usually the sheer notion of casually chatting along with a person more well-spoken than Gríma Wormtongue would have turned my tongue into lead. I don´t know what spell lay in the presence of this gentle, that made the words come to me that easily.
“Since you have just made me your personal healer I must insist on you following my orders thoroughly.”
“Maybe I should say that I do not require so much regard.”
“Maybe I should say that if I take somebody for a ride I take care for my companion to return safely.”
“Then I am glad to be in your care.”
He turned his face to me and I saw the tender mockery in the corner of his eyes. For a moment I would flare until I recognized the truth in every single word, including those spoken in the woods of Ithilien and I understood why his people loved him.
I went to the next box, all of a sudden my skin felt like the belly of a foal brushed by summer grasses.
“Hasufel´s pace might require a softer saddle but as long as you keep your feet in the stirrups there should be not much of a risk. Take him and he will be a better brace to you than any doorpost could be.”
He laughed with no grudge because I had detected his little secret and though his laughter was soft it filled the large hall to the last corner. I watched him reaching out his hand and Hasufel, who used to choose his company with great care, bent his head and brushed the offered palm with soft nostrils. Somewhere below my southernmost rib the foal was rolling in the grass, catching thistles and dandelion seeds in its mane.
I said: “I think there should be a fitting saddle in the next bay,” and he smiled at me, nose to nose with Hasufel, both their sight restricted by streaks of auburn forelocks. The foal was galloping through a summer storm.
Eventually I found a saddle and headgear. The bridling took more time than usual, since he insisted on helping and I refused to let my guest do the work. Hasufel looked mildly disturbed, though did not move a muscle, not even when I checked the saddle girth for the third time, but finally it was done. I led him out of his box to give Faramir room to mount and since I did not know how much help he would need I placed my hand on his shoulder in an, as I hoped, unobtrusive way. He shivered under my touch yet it was not out of fear, for when I looked at him I knew there were not many things left that man was afraid of. Childish, that was what I had secretly called him, but when I met his gaze I found myself being the child.
Though being of noble blood myself, the company of highborn, well-read men had always made me feel inappropriate and dim-witted. Yet now all that seemed inappropriate to me was the thought of laying the steward of Gondor on a horse blanket in the kingly stables. And the only thing I felt dim-witted about was the fact that I had been such a peasant to assume that all the time we were talking about horses.
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