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A Light in Midwinter  by Mirkwoodmaiden

4, Fourth Age, Ithilien, late spring


Èowyn stood at the balcony connected to their bedchamber here in Ithilien looking out over the countryside that was ridding itself of the taint of Mordor. It had taken awhile but now the result of love and hard work were showing.  She looked down and could see that her lord and husband was just returning from Minas Tirith having met with the King.  She watched as Faramir gave over the reins of his horse to a waiting attendant and would be home soon.  As both Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien it was a full life for Faramir, but a good one. And it was about to get better.  Not only did they have their work here in Ithilien; it was a land becoming more beautiful every day, but she had news.  On his birthday.  As she waited for him to join her in their bedchamber she mused on their life here in Ithilien.

Many settlers from Minas Tirith had taken up the King’s call to come and resettle this land and make it lush and productive and happy again.  Many were young people trying to find their way; many young couples just starting out in life together, or some older, trying to leave their sorrow in the White City, perhaps a loved one lost in the Ring War.  Or an injury taken and they now looking for a new way to live and perhaps even thrive in a new land.  Hope at what could be achieved overflowed.  The King had returned and brought that hope with him

She thought of Aragorn and what he meant to her life, to her. Not just as King, but as healer.  Healer of Middle Earth, the hope restored.  But personally, how he touched her life.  He found her in Edoras drowning in a sea of hopelessness and regret.  He pulled her back spiritually from the Shadows and provided the lifeline needed for her to find her heart.  And she did.  She found Faramir, he was her heart, her life.   And she was his.  In the last days of the Ring War, they had met in the Houses of Healing, both saved from Shadow by the healing hands of the King.  Faramir reached out with his loving, gentle heart and guided her ever so slowly through her own doubts about herself and her life.  Before him, she was lost; awash in doubt and despair and then, like light breaking across the sky at dawn she could see through the doubts that were weighing on her soul and finally accept him.

After the Ring War was won and proper mourning in the way of her people was performed for her beloved uncle Theoden, who had lost his life in the battle of good and evil, on the Fields of Pelennor, Èowyn returned to Faramir and at last they were able to begin their lives together.  The work of restoring Ithilien was hard but worthy and she felt alive with purpose.  She paused for a moment in her musings, and thought she wanted nothing left to chance, so she pulled the attendant cord.  Within minutes an attendant arrived. 

“My Lady,” Waerith stated with bowed head, “what is your need?” she looked up.

Èowyn smiled, “Waerith, I see that my lord has just returned.  Can you please bid him to come our chambers directly, if you please.”

“At once, my lady!”  Hand on heart she bowed and was off on her errand.

The smile on Èowyn’s face grew wider in anticipation as she walked back to the balcony and waited, letting the afternoon sun warm her face.  She hummed to herself a tune that her nurse used to hum when she and Èomer were growing up in Edoras.

As she was humming she felt arms circle her waist, “So beautiful, and so many talents you have, My Lady!”

“Sh-sh!  My husband has just come home and can come in any second….”

“Silly man to leave such a jewel as you alone!”  And Faramir began kissing her neck from behind.

Èowyn almost purred, “Continue along that vein and we may never get to the news I have to tell you.  Although it is the cause of the news I have to tell you….”

Faramir stopped and she could hear the deep intake of breath as she could almost feel him thinking about what it was she had to say.

Èowyn turned around in his arms and saw incredulous joy and doubt chase each other across Faramir’s brow.

“Èowyn….what are you trying to tell me?” Faramir asked, daring not to hope.

Èowyn’s smile grew wide, “Yes, I am with child.”

The doubt left Faramir’s face replaced with nothing but joy.  She watched as his gentle blue eyes started to tear up and he picked her up and swung her around and then soulfully kiss her as tears spilled down his cheeks. 

As they hugged, Èowyn whispered, “Happy Birthday.”

 

Fourth Age (SR 1425), Ithilien

Faramir sat in the garden of his keep in the newly restored Ithilien enjoying a few moments of peace puffing on his pipe filled with Longbottom Leaf, a gift from Merry and Pippin.  He puffed as he reflected upon the first time he smoked a pipe.  It was in the Houses of Healing in the last days of the Ring War when both he and Merry were healing and recovering themselves.  The first thing Merry did upon being called to speak to Faramir was pull out a pipe and start puffing and then offered up a pipe to the young Steward.  Faramir shook his head and chuckled, thinking of the curious and unabashed ways of hobbits.

“I warrant you, Pippin, we are going to have send more leaf. Our Faramir has certainly developed a taste for it!”

Faramir looked towards the gate and there stood the two hobbits he held most dear, “Merry! Pippin!”  he jumped up to embrace the two halfings. “When did you get in?  You weren’t expected until next week at the earliest.”

“Well, we decided to get ahead of the weather and come a couple days early,” Pippin said, “You know to be useful and all.” He said, all blue-eyed earnestness.

Faramir looked askance at his stout-hearted but rather work-shy little friend, “You mean Sam wanted you two for a project and you decided it was time to make yourself scarce.”

Merry laughed, “Faramir knows you too well Pip!”

“You as well, my dear Master Brandybuck!” Faramir laughed and hugged the two hobbits again. “You are of course most welcome at any time and for as long as you wish!  How are Sam and Rosie!  Little Elanor and Frodo-lad!”

Merry replied, “All are well.  Elanor is a little jewel and Frodo-lad is a little terror!  I think it is the Took influence on him!” He ended with a twinkle in his eye awaiting the aggrieved Took to his side to react.  He did not have to wait long.

“Hey!  It just means Frodo-lad has spirit!  Of the very best kind.” Pippin affirmed with a nod of his head shaking his light brown curls.

Faramir laughed again, “Most assuredly Master Took.  Most assuredly.  Come let us see what we can find in the kitchens for it is well past lunch and I am sure you are both hungry.”

At the mention of food Pippin perked up.  His love of leaf and food knew no other competition. “Lead on my Lord Prince.  We go where you guide!”  he dropped a quick little bow.

Faramir laughed, hobbits were irrepressible.  “To the kitchens!”

~*~*~*~*~*~

In the kitchens there was already a great deal of bustle and activity as preparations were underway for the evening meal and the addition of the lord of the house and two hobbits known for their appetites did at first slightly wrong foot Déorhild, the cook.  But as with all good field commanders she rallied quickly.  Wiping her hands on her aprons, she dropped a perfunctory curtsey, “What may I do for you, my lord?” she asked crisply as this was her domain within his lands. Faramir inclined his head and placed a respectful hand on heart. “Forgive me, Good Déorhild,” he started for it was a wise man who tread lightly in a woman’s domain.  “I do realise that we are interrupting you but my companions have only just arrived and if you could be so kind as to provide a light repast for them.  It would be most greatly appreciated.” Faramir smiled.

Déorhild eyed first her lord and then the two hobbits, “A light repast you say?” she echoed in a voice dripping with irony.  “I remember….” she said.  The two words laced with the memory of these two.  She held the stormy look for a beat or two and then a smile broke across her face. “Aye, I think I can rustle up a morsel or two!  Hang about over near that table in the corner there and I will see what I can find.  Ale, too? I imagine.”

Both Merry and Pippin chimed in unison, “Yes, Please!” Déorhild laughed a hearty laugh. 

Faramir again, inclined his head, hand on heart, said kindly “Thank you! Good Déorhild.”

Déorhild looked at the kind, dear man who was her lord, “For you my lord, anything.”

The “light” repast consisted of a large meat pie, a couple of roast chicken, roasted potatoes and parsnips, bubble and squeak and many apple tartlets and all washed down with a fine dark ale.  Faramir partook of the ale but not having the appetite of a hobbit left that portion of the small feast to Merry and Pippin. Going about her business of preparing the evening meal, Déorhild looked over on occasion shaking her head and looking at her kitchen maid, Eóhild, she murmured, “where do they put it all?” the kitchen maid shook her head, bewildered, “But they are dear little things though.”  She spoke with affection for much of their visits to Ithilien were spent in the kitchens.  “Aye! That they are.” Déorhild agreed, returning the task of rolling out a crust for another pie to be consumed voraciously at evening.

At length the three looked up at a familiar voice, “So this is where you had gotten yourselves to.” Faramir looked up to into the amused pale blue eyes of his beloved Èowyn.  “I asked Eirik where you had gotten yourself to and he mentioned that the two hobbits arrived.  So naturally I assumed the kitchens are where I might find you!”

“A very good guess, my lady,” Faramir stood to give her a brief kiss tasting of the fine ale he had been drinking, “As ever you are as wise as you are beautiful.”

“Flatterer! You seek to assuage me with idle words.” She added mischievously.

“Is it working?” Faramir teased.

“What do you think?” Èowyn said patting her stomach.  “Ow!” suddenly the child inside her womb kicked.

Faramir was immediately concerned and reached down to gently smooth her child-swollen stomach, “Are you well?” His voice colored with anxiety, “Did you sleep well?  Maybe you should go and lie down some more.”

“I am fine, my love,” Èowyn quickly countered.  She turned to Merry and Pippin, “You see my dear friends, my great prince has turned into a mother hen.”  Both Merry and Pippin also looked a little concerned. “Not you two as well.  Stop this nonsense and give me a welcome hug.” 

Both immediately complied, “It is so wonderful to see you, my lady” Merry proclaimed, “All is indeed well…” he added in a worried voice.

“Yes, Merry!  All is well!” Èowyn stated with all the motherly authority she could muster. 

Pippin looked relieved, “That’s all right then!” and a smile broke across his face.  “Rosie asked us to say that she hopes you are well and that she is sorry she won’t be able to attend as she is about to foal as well.”

Èowyn laughed, “Well I’m not sure she would have put it in quite the same way but I am glad to hear it!”

Èowyn sat, and as she was very far gone with child, this was not an easy task.  She rather plopped down on the bench nearest Faramir, who resisted commenting upon his lady’s lack of grace, owning to earlier ventured observations that were met with a less than positive response.  As she reached for the pitcher of ale Déorhild appeared at her side, “Begging your pardon my lady.  Midwife says you are not to drink ale in the last month before birth.”

“Pish!” was the dignified replied of the Princess of Ithilien. 

Faramir laughed, “Now, my good sirs, that is my gentle ladywife!”  Èowyn slipped him a look that should have chastened Faramir but he soldiered on to his possible doom because sometimes men never learn.  He was in far too good a mood to pay heed. “Good Déorhild, what else did midwife say?”

Déorhild looked askance at her lord, censoring out, given her knowledge of her own birthing experiences, what she was certain he would be uninterested in. “Well My lord, she did mention certain fortifying mixtures that were to be added to wine or brewed into a tea.”

“There you are my love.  That doesn’t sound so bad.” Faramir stated looking at Èowyn and smiling.

The look on Èowyn’s face was not one any sane man should have ignored but seemingly Faramir had forgotten much the warning signs of danger he learned from having Denethor as a father.  Èowyn looked sweetly at Déorhild, which set off alarm bells in the older woman’s mind. “Good Déorhild, could you bring me a cup of wine prepared as midwife has suggested, please.”

“At once, My lady!” the older woman agreed and scurried off, out of dodge.

“Well done, my love.  I’m sure it will be delicious and good for you.” Faramir offered helpfully, blithely missing the look in Èowyn’s eyes.

Déorhild returned quickly with said concoction and handed it to her lady. Èowyn took the cup and inclined her head, “Thank you, Déorhild.” The older woman bowed and escaped to the safety of the chopping table where meat was to be dismembered.

Èowyn turned to her husband, eyes flashing, “You think it is delicious…. Then you drink it!” at that she upturned the content of the cup over Faramir’s head and stormed off. 

Faramir sat there for a few seconds while Merry and Pippin were stunned into silence.  He licked his lips and nodded “well it is at least quite tasty.  Bit of an aftertaste though.”  He turned to the two hobbits. “Let this be a lesson to you.  Women with child are dangerous creatures.”  He turned to call for a cleaning cloth but found Déorhild standing a few feet away with said cloth already in hand.

“Thank you, Déorhild,” He inclined his head. Wiping his face he looked at the older woman.  “You knew what she was about to do didn’t you?”

“Aye, My Lord,”

“And you let it happen.”

Déorhild looked at him as would an older sister, “You are a good man, my lord.  Among the best I would reckon, but every so often when you bait the bear, you just sometimes need to be bit.” She bowed slightly and resumed her duties.

Faramir looked back at Merry and Pippin as he dried off as best he could.  He said one word, pregnant with all kinds of meaning, “Life.” And reached for the innocent pitcher of ale that had started the whole episode. 

Pippin broke his stunned silence, “Shouldn’t you go after her?  She seemed rather upset.”

Faramir looked his small friend, “Sometimes you need to fight your battles and sometimes you just need to let things lie.  It is at times like this when I need to remember that my ladywife is the one who killed the WitchKing.  She is a force to be reckoned with.”  He looked at Merry, who suddenly look stricken, “Along with my present company.  Come let us drink to remember, to forget and to enjoy each others’ company.  For we do sit in each other company here in this fair country.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

A little later that day.

Standing at the open door to their chambers, Faramir watched as Èowyn viciously ran a brush through her own hair.  He never loved her more than he did in that moment.  Energy, beauty, fire, passion she was all those things and kindness of heart, well most of the time as his wine-soaked shirt bore witness to the contrary.  She was his and was bearing his child.  He could not even begin recount how grateful he was to the Valar for bringing Èowyn into his life. 

He walked into the chamber, “You’ll have no hair if you keep on like this!” he said gently. Èowyn turned on him about to bite out a retort, but when she spun around she saw he was holding his vest and was only wearing his wine stained shirt.  She was immediately contrite, a sheepish chuckle escaping, “Oh my love, your shirt!” she said getting up to come to him.  “I am so sorry,” touching the damp cloth.

“Now you are sorry, but the she-beast who assaulted me isn’t, I’m sure.” Faramir gently teased, love evident in his eyes and gently teasing voice. 

“You were baiting me, you deserved it.” Èowyn said with laughter in her voice.

Faramir have a half laugh, “That is exactly what Déorhild said.”

“Did she now?  Well she is a wise woman.”

“mm-hmm, Very wise.” Faramir bent to kiss her,

Èowyn reveled in the light kiss.  “I don’t know what came over me.”

“I do.  My little Shrew beast.” He bent in for another kiss.

“Careful. that’s what got us in this position in the first place!”

Faramir looked down at her swelling stomach, smoothing his hand over it.  “You my little lad, are a great causer of trouble!” 

“Or lass.  Either way I agree.  Did Merry and Pippin get settled?”

“Yes, And you put them off their drink for a whole ten minutes.”

Èowyn laughed, “That long?  Goodness they must have been shocked indeed.  Now let’s get you out of that wet shirt.”

“Careful.  That’s what got us here in the first place.” Faramir declared, love living in his eyes.

Èowyn laughed.

Faramir closed the door and nothing else was heard from the Lord and Lady of Ithilien for the rest of the afternoon.

~*~*~*~*~

 

Chapter 2

The next morning Ithilien Hall was buzzing with activity.  The King and Queen were to arrive to share in the birth of Faramir and Èowyn's child and to celebrate the Winter Solstice in Ithilien.  Eirik, the Prince's squire was in the kitchens to retrieve his Lord and Lady's morning cup of warm mulled wine, "Excuse me, My lady..." Eóhild, the kitchen maid turned around at the unusual greeting and upon seeing who was speaking leveled him with a scathing look.  "Forgive me, Eóhild, the flow of red-golden hair it was so beautiful, I mistook you for my lady Èowyn."

"Aye, because her ladyship is often seen down here in the kitchens carrying baskets to and fro," Eóhild replied with sarcasm and humour in equal measure. As the Lady was not known for her culinary skills this would be indeed be an unlikely occurrence, "Are you down here with a purpose or just down to cast off idle compliments?" 

"Can't I do both?" Eirik replied with an amused glint in his eye.

Eóhild rolled her eyes and then looked beyond Eirik and hid a smile.

A clap around the ear, and then, "You can get what you came for and then be off with you."

Eirik winced, "Morning to you, Déorhild!" He turned around and saw the she-dragon of the kitchens. "Might I say you are looking particular fine this morning as well!"

Déorhild just looked at Eirik and sighed an amused sigh, "You can get the Lord and Lady's drink and then be gone, you daft boy!"

Eirik bowed an elaborate bow, "Aye, My Lady.  At once, My Lady." He went over to the warming stove to fill the morning mugs and smiled as he departed.  

He hummed as he climbed the steps to his lord's outer chamber.  The coming solstice had always been a time of reflection in Minas Tirith before the war.  A time to look back, to remember, to forgive, to right wrongs if they could be righted. A time to say good bye.  Here in Ithilien that tradition continued but after the Ring War and the hope that had been brought back into the city with the return of the king, it was becoming not only a time to look back but also to look forward to the coming day. To the beginning of the light, so to speak.  The King had brought that light.  If there was one man that Eirik admired more than his beloved lord, it would be the King Elessar, Aragorn to those who were blessed to know him. 

"Lost in thought are we, Eirik?"

Eirik started and looked up and saw Beregond, the captain of the White Guard. "Sorry, Captain.  I was just thinking about the Solstice and the coming today of the King.  Just about everything that has happened in the last years.  I don't know why but it just struck me all of a sudden."

Beregond looked at the young boy who was quickly becoming a man, "I know.  'Tis overwhelming at times, but in a good way." Beregond smiled, "and the Solstice is looming. Always a time of remembrance.  You'd better get on, or the wine will cool and we don't want that."

"No, that would not be good!" Eirik smiled. Faramir was not an exacting master but he did like his warm wine to be warm. Eirik inclined his head to the Captain and made his way down the hall to his lord's chambers.

Just before knocking Eirik hear a giggle, he rapped on the door and upon hearing a "Come!" he entered with a big smile on his face.  Faramir looked up from cinching a belt over a blue velvet vest embroidered with silver and gold, noting the grin on the face of his squire, "You can just wipe that smile off your face right now." he said with mock seriousness.

Èowyn laughed as she came forward to take her mug from the tray that Eirik was holding, "Scandal!  We have been found out. Giggling in our own chambers. Thank you Eirik," she said as she picked up her cup and took a sip of the warmed wine.

"You are welcome, My Lady." Eirik said, dazzled as ever by her beauty and kindness.  It was ever thus, with the kitchen maids he was glib but with her ladyship he was a tangle tongue.  

Faramir noting the sudden quiet from his normally garrulous squire hid his own smile and came forward for his own mug of mulled wine.  Taking pity on the earnest young man who had been his squire for many years he asked, “Is there any word on the King and Queen’s arrival?”

“Oh Aye, My lord.  Chief Steward says an outrider has arrived and that the King and Queen should be arriving within the hour!” Eirik finished excitedly.

“Well! That gives me my marching orders!” Èowyn  proclaimed, as she was still in her dressing gown and robe of dusky blue and silver.  She swallowed much of her wine and set the mug down on the chest of drawer nearest her. “Eirik, can you have Waerith come to my chambers to assist me, I must get dressed.”

“At once my, lady!” Eirik inclined his head and flew to duty her bidding.  

Faramir as ever was impressed by her ability to down wine in great gulps.  When he wondered about this at one time Èowyn gave a half-laugh and said that much of her childhood was spent trailing after Èomer, Theodred and the other riders and she just naturally did what they did.  The rest of the court ladies found her “odd” but would never say it out aloud as she was the beloved niece of the king.  He put down his own mug and walked over to Èowyn , “Downing wine and flirting with him… you have that boy in thrall.”  He said smiling as he encircled her in his arms lightly, looking into her pale blue eyes. 

“Pish!” Èowyn stated playfully.

“Well, you definitely have me in thrall.”

Èowyn smiled and leaned up to kiss the gentle man who won her heart and given her a life beyond regret.  Navigating around her child-swollen stomach was something of a challenge, but where there was a will; there was a way.  Breaking apart, she spoke briskly, “Well now, I must dress and you must start your portion of the day.”

Faramir sighed, “If I must.” He eyed her playfully, “If you are sure…”

“Yes! Now go!”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Faramir met briefly with his steward about the King’s arrival. This was not a state occasion as such so the fuss would be minimal but there were a few things that still needed his attention. Faramir entered the private breakfast nook for the family and smiled as he saw that his two hobbit guests had already tucked in for their first of two breakfasts of the day.

“Well met, my good sirs!  The food is to your liking I trust.” Faramir jovially announced eyeing the piles of eggs, bacon, sausages, ham, rolls, toast and grilled tomatoes on both their plates, mugs of coffee steaming.

“Fah—meer!  Hullo!”  Pippin said with a mouthful of egg and toast.  He reached for his coffee took too big a swallow almost choking.

“Pippin!  Chew the food first!”  Merry said, half aggrieved and half concerned. “Honestly, Faramir I can’t take him anywhere.”

Faramir smiled, “Funny he says the same about you!” Pippin just sat and nodded with an approving and yet mischievous glint in his eye.  Faramir laughed and went to the sideboard to help himself to coffee and various food stuffs.  He sat and began to partake of breakfast as well. 

Pippin, after sufficient swallowing of breakfast this time, inquired, “So never did get a chance to ask last night, how was Èowyn after the wine cup episode?”

“Purring like a kitten.”

“So I’m a kitten now, am I?” Èowyn lightly slapped Faramir up-side the head from behind. 

“Hullo, my love, my kind and forgiving one.” Faramir shook his head as the immediate impact of the blow reverberated away, “Didn’t hear you come in.”

“Obviously.” Came the deadpan answer.  She piled her plate high and sat down, “Merry, Pippin.  How is the breakfast?  Good I trust.” Èowyn said brightly as she bit down into a sausage with great gusto.   

Both Merry and Pippin replied almost in unison, “Very good, really, really good.” As they watched Èowyn eat with a relish rivaling a hobbit. 

Faramir, hurriedly taking a last swig of his coffee and taking another piece of toast as he was getting up, stated, “Well I must see to the last arrangements for Aragorn and Arwen’s arrival.”  He took a chance and swooped down to place a kiss on Èowyn ’s cheek,” She murmured something and turned to kiss him as well.  “Away with you, you silly man.”

Faramir stuffed the piece of toast in his mouth in lieu of any more words that might escape and land him in more trouble and departed pondering upon the curious behaviour of his wife. 

~*~*~*~*~*~

Faramir stood in the garden near the front landing simply absorbing the peace and quiet that this portion of the day was bringing.  He needed to get away for a few moments before the responsibilities of the morning once again crowded in demanding his attention.  He was about to become a father. He did not really know that meant exactly.  His relationship with his own father was fraught with difficulty, misunderstanding and pain.  Only at the end did he truly know the depth of his father’s feelings and even that knowledge was bought with much pain and anguish.  It was not a model to be followed.  He sighed.

“Well that sigh had the weight of the world behind it!”  Faramir nearly jumped out of his skin.  He turned and found Aragorn standing right behind him. “A Elbereth!  When did you get here, My Lord!” he nearly shouted.

Aragorn looked at his Steward with an ear-to-ear grin, “We had only just arrived when I saw you standing out here.  And I couldn't resist.  Arwen!  Come out and bring little Eldarion with you!”

Arwen stepped from behind an outgrowth of tall shrubbery, and smiling and shaking her head almost apologetically and saying, “I tried to stop him.   But apparently the King of the Reunited realms of Gondor and Arnor needs to act like a child sometimes.“

“What?  I just like to harken back to my Ranger days to see if I can still not be seen if I wish!”

“Well apparently you can!” Faramir stated as his heart slowed the tattoo it had struck up upon Aragorn’s words. 

Arwen side-glanced her husband and came forward with little Eldarion in tow. “How are you, Faramir?” She reached out with her free hand to clasp his. 

“Well, part from a short, sudden shock to the heart, I am fine!”  He looked askance at his King and bent to given Arwen a kiss on the cheek.  “And you, My lady?”

"I am quite fine, My Lord Steward!"  

"And you, My lord?"  Faramir inquired giving Aragorn the gimlet eye.

“Well, very well.” Aragorn replied with a smile in his voice.

"Yes, well..." Faramir finished with amused exasperation. He, then knelt down so he could look at Eldarion eye-to-eye, “And you my young master!  How are you?” He said as he tickled the little boy’s stomach, Eldarion let out a squeal of delight.  Faramir laughed and hugged the child.  

"And Èowyn, she is well?" Arwen inquired.  

"As well as can be expected."  Arwen raised a quizzical eyebrow at the response and thought to ask Èowyn when she saw her.

Aragorn was not so subtle, "Is she not well?" concern started to cloud his visage.

Faramir quickly added, "No, no.  She is well."  He gave a pointed look to Aragorn as if to say discussion was desired.

Arwen looked at both of them and shook her head slightly.  Men, they were about as subtle as wargs on the hunt especially when they thought they were being subtle. "Well now that Estel has had his fun perhaps we can seek out Èowyn and have a proper greeting!"

They trundled up to the house on foot.  Aragorn signaled for Harthedir, his chosen attendant of the Tower Guard, who was even further hidden among the trees, to take the horses to stables and placed little Eldarion on his shoulders for the rest of the journey and was met with another squeal of delight.  Faramir saw the two together and admitted to himself he really did want a son.  Someone who could fill the void that had been left by Boromir within his heart.  He would praise the Valar for whatever gift he and Èowyn were given, but in his heart of hearts he did really want a son.

Èowyn looked down the garden path and saw the four of them climbing up.  She was struck by the family picture presented by the royal three and the tableaux of happiness made her tear up.  What wrong with her, she wondered.  Lately she had been crying at the drop of a hat and it was worrying Faramir to a fairly large degree.  She quickly wiped tears away with a trailing sleeve and called out, "So this is where you've gotten yourselves to!  Here I am waiting decorously and I find you four traisping about the wood!  Really!" she ended playfully. 

"It is entirely my fault, my lady Èowyn."  Aragorn flipped Eldarion to the ground causing another squeal of delight from his young son who then ran to his Auntie Èowyn to collect another hug, "Auntie E-wyn!  Spice Cakes?"  Èowyn laughed, held out her hand and said "Well we will see what Déorhild has on hand? Shall we?"  She looked up at Arwen, held out her other hand, "So good it is to see you again!  It was a good ride?"  

Arwen immediately clasped her hand, "Aye it was, not withstanding last minute mischief on Estel's part."  They laughed.  Arwen looked down at Eldarion, "Off to the Kitchens, shall we? Spice Cakes?"  Eldarion nodded enthusiastically and the three went off leaving the menfolk without a second thought.

Aragorn looked at Faramir, "Well, we have clearly been found wanting when compared to a spice cake."

Faramir laughed, "Apparently."

Aragorn clapped him on the shoulder, "So what it is you wished to speak to me about?"

"A cup of Ale first and then there are many things I would ask you!"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Quick A/N:  In this chapter I write of something called a Tadaura, a hobbit celebration. It is not canon.  It is my own invention mentioned in my story “Changes and Acceptances.” I looked at the history of hobbits in the Shire and the Long Winter and how many people especially children died. I created the idea of the Tadaura, the celebration of hobbit children surviving to their second birthday after the effects of the Long Winter had passed.  At least I think I created it and not the Professor. It has been a long time since I wrote that story. 😊  Enjoy!

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Chapter 3

Faramir sat in the local inn with a mug in one hand and a pipe in the other.  He was trying to calm his jangled nerves and was not meeting with much success.  He sat across from the two hobbits who, on previous visits, had found the delights of the ale house much to their liking.  According to them nothing surpassed the Green Dragon or the Golden Perch but the ale at the King’s Arms drank well enough.  He smiled at the comparison he had heard often.

“What’s that?  I do believe it is a smile.  What say you, Master Pippin?”

Pippin chimed in, “Strider, I do believe you are right.  It definitely bears resemblance to one!  What do you say, Merry?”

Merry puffed, leaned forward and pronounced, “Yup! That’s a smile all right!  Rare these days!  Well spotted, Strider.  Your ranger instincts are still intact after all these years, for indeed, that smile has been a rare beasty of late.”

Faramir shook his head, “Are you all quite finished, now?”

Aragorn looked at the two hobbits and they mutually agreed, nodding their heads, curls bobbing.  Then he looked at Faramir, “Yes, I think so.”  He paused a couple beats, “Now are you going to tell me what is the matter?

Faramir sighed, "I don't know what is the matter.  That is the matter!"

"I have not heard a riddle so rendered since Gandalf left these shores." Aragorn declared. 

"Well," said Faramir, "Speaking plainly, I think Éowyn hates me."

Aragorn and the two hobbits simply stared at Faramir.

"Well, maybe she doesn't hate me, necessarily." Faramir explained, weakly, "But I certainly can't seem to please her.  I say one thing, she snaps, I say the opposite she snaps.  I mean she's always had a temper but...

"You just can't seem to do anything right....?" Aragorn finished.

"Yes!  I'm almost beginning to think a spirit has possessed her," Faramir finished, exasperation evident in his voice.

"It has," said Aragorn, Faramir looked at his king with some concern. Aragorn held up his hands in a calming fashion, "At least it is the same spirit that inhabited Arwen just before she gave birth to Eldarion.  Though she was far more down-spirited in her last few weeks."  He turned to Merry and Pippin, "You remember when Arwen gave birth in the Shire, I had departed to see Lord Elrond and Arwen ..."  Both hobbits nodded sagely, which in and of itself was most unusual.  

Faramir remembered that time for he and Éowyn had been there as well.  Friends and family had gathered for the Tadaura celebration for the second birthday for Sam and Rosie’s first born, little Elanor.  And Eldarion had been born while Aragorn and Arwen were in residence at Bag End. It had not been a happy time leading up to Eldarion's birth.  After the birth however joy was in abundance that much he remembered and Arwen had recovered her merry nature.

"So you are saying that Éowyn will stop being a raving she-beast after the child is born?” Faramir ventured hopefully.

“Well I’m not sure my sister has ever stopped being a raving she-beast, but I would not take my own life in my hands to even suggest that she change!”

Faramir looked up and was surprised to see Éomer arriving at their table.  “Éomer!  What are you doing here? When did you arrive? You were expected until tomorrow.  Did Lothiriel make the journey as well?”

“It is good to see you as well, my brother!” Éomer said chidingly but with good humor.  “My Lord,” He inclined a bow to Aragorn as his Liege Lord, but as he knew in circumstances such as these Aragorn preferred as little ceremony as possible to be performed.  Aragorn inclined his head and gestured that Éomer be seated.  Rohan’s king turned a chair around and sat astride as he would a horse, leaning his arms on the back of his chair, “And Aye, I have brought Lothiriel, I could not keep her away even I had wanted to.  She was very insistent on being here for the birth of her new nephew or niece.  But alas the little one is too young to travel.” Éomer looked at Merry with a glint in his eye, “Have you no greeting for your king?” At once Merry straightened and made ready to rise, but Éomer stopped him with his words, “Be at ease, Master Holdwine.” For that is what Merry was named in Rohirrim, “I am at ease and so should you be.  And what is this I hear of my sister as ravaging she-beast?” He turned to Faramir, as he motioned for a serving maid to visit their table.

“That is just it.  I know not what has come over her.” Faramir stated, clearly confused.

“She is very close to foaling, is she not?” Éomer asked.  A look of compassion and fear crossed his ruddy features.  “Lothiriel,” he lowered his voice to a near conspiratorial whisper, “threw a ledger of figures at me nearing her time to foal.  For no reason other than I mentioned she was wearing a new gown and it looked larger.”

Pippin added enthusiastically, “Éowyn dumped a mug of wine on Faramir’s head yesterday!”

Éomer roared with what turned out to be sympathetic laughter and Faramir looked at the overenthusiastic Took, “Thank you Pippin!  I can tell my own tales of woe if you please!”

Pippin pasted an apologetic look on his face, “Sorry…but please continue!”

Faramir sighed and took a gulp of his tankard of ale, while Éomer spoke to the serving maid about drinks for the entire table.  This met with universal acclamation from the gathered population of the table.  “For celebration purposes!  My dear brother-in-law is about to become a father and is uncovering the secret kept from us all until such times.  Women bearing children are dangerous and unpredictable beasties.  A lifetime battling orcs never prepared us for the real battles to come.”

Aragorn looked at Faramir, “Éomer speaks true.  Lothiriel threw more than one ledger at his head in the last weeks before she birthed Elfwine.”

Éomer counted on his fingers, “A flagon of wine, a bolt of green silk which I foolishly kept insisting was blue, and a live chicken,” he finished with remembered fear in his eyes, shaking himself from the reverie.

“A live chicken?” the population of the table said in a voice of one.

“It is a long story and I do not wish to speak of it right now.” Éomer spoke quickly, haunted blue eyes trying to look beyond the memory how upset Lothiriel had been.  “But the point being these are not normal times.” The rest of the table, however, was still in thrall to the idea of the fiery-spirited Lothiriel chucking live poultry at her warrior husband.

Éomer sighed, grabbed the tankard of ale off of the serving tray proffered by the returning serving maid.  He downed that pint wiped his mouth on his sleeve and reached for another tankard, saying to the serving maid, “Another please for my friend as I just drank his.”

“At once, My lord.” said Teliril, the dark-haired serving maid, “Keep them coming?”

“Aye,” said Éomer.  He drew a deep breath and began the tale.

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Edoras  1423 SR

Lothiriel sat in her bower in the golden hall of Meduseld running her hands over a beautiful bolt of greenish blue silk that her father had sent from Dol Amroth, his holding by the sea.  It reminded her of the color of the seas by her home.  She longed to see the sea again.  It was bred into her blood.  She longed as also to see this fabric made into a new gown but as she stroked her child-swollen stomach she decided that it would be best to wait until the child was born.  She sighed; she was beginning to feel as she was putting off so much while she waiting for the child to be born.  It was not a rational thought, perhaps but she was growing impatient with everything these days. She wanted to be useful and she could do nothing without great effort, even getting up from the chair took effort.  She did manage to stand up and she walked over to the window overlooking the landscape before her.  As much as she loved the sea and missed the breezes of her seaside childhood home she had to admit that the rolling plains and valleys, high promontories and rocky strength of her new Rohirrim home had stolen into her heart as well.  There was a quiet strength and beauty in this land and in their people.  At first the Rohirrim were quiet and reserved toward her, not unfriendly, but also not as open as those she had grown up with.  It gave her pause at first, but Éomer was adamant that she only needed to give his people time to grow accustomed to her.  Soon they would love her as much as he did.  He had been right.  After a few months they began warming to her and she came to know the quiet strength, loyalty and resolve of the Rohirrim.  They too, had found a place in her heart.  

“It is beautiful view…” came a voice from behind.  Éomer’s arms encircled her from behind.

“The golden hills are beautiful at this time of year.” Lothiriel agreed in a soft voice, trying to hide her discontent.

“I was thinking more of your soft golden hair flowing down your back, but the hills are nice, too.”

Lothiriel turned around and looked at her stern warrior husband.  His blue eyes softened he looked at her and his brow smoothed from the worries of kingship.  In his eyes she saw his heart, full of loyalty and kindness, emotions that were always below the stern visage that he showed the world.  She fell in love with those eyes.  When they first met during the week of wedding festivities for his sister and her beloved cousin, Faramir she had not known what she would think of the newly crowned king of Rohan.  She had known very little of his people and had heard they were stern and serious.  But one look into Éomer’s eyes and she saw the truth of that statement and yet, so much more.

“Éomer, you are a silly man.”

“Only with you, my love, only with you.”  And he turned her around proceeded to kiss her neck in a very distracting fashion.  So much so that she forgot for a while her discontent.  Until the child kicked and made itself known again. She winced slightly.  And Éomer immediately became concerned. 

“Are you alright?”

“Aye, I am fine! Tis the child making his presence known, as if I could forget!” was Lothiriel’s fervent response, “I can do nothing but notice!  I need to do something useful or I will be driven to distraction with this incessant waiting!”

Éomer sensing a definite change in mood and should have proceeded warily, all his warrior’s instinct were warning him of danger and to tread carefully, but unlike on the battlefield he crashed straight through the warnings.  “But you are with child, you need to rest! You can do nothing strenuous!”

“DO NOT TELL ME WHAT I CAN AND CANNOT DO!” his normally sweet-tempered wife yelled at him, disentangling herself from his arms.  She beat a hasty retreat, grabbing her wrap and storming out of the room past a very startled Fastred who had been about to knock and bid them come to lunch.  He cast a quizzical look at his King.  Éomer walked up to the young rider, just shaking his head and placing a hand on the young man’s shoulder, he opened and shut his mouth, shaking his head again, “Fastred, I am as confused as you are… But I envy you.”

“My King?” the confused young man queried.

Éomer looked at him, “You don’t have to go after her while she is in this mood…I do.” He sighed and mentally martialed his resolve.

Fastred looked his king, “May I wish you good luck and safe hunting, my King.” He ventured. 

Éomer smiled the smile of one who has accepted his fate, “Live well, Fastred.  I go forth.” Fist on heart he saluted the young man. 

Fastred stated solemnly, fist on heart, “It has been my honor to serve you, My King!”

They departed as brothers in arms, Éomer left the bower to seek his she-dragon.

He went outside and listened.  He heard some squawking from the pen where the hens were nesting. It was at least a place to start the search for his wayward wife. He quickly made his way down the path and saw the gate to the chicken coop slightly ajar; it had not been properly latched and one chicken was making a bid for freedom.  He quickly scooped up the chicken tossed it inside the pen and latched it from the inside.  He heard more disturbed squawking inside the hen house and intrepidly decided to investigate.  What he saw melted his heart.  Lothiriel was bent over talking to one of the hens. She was holding a basket that as yet held no eggs. She was intent on her task so much so that she did not notice Éomer’s presence.  But she had clearly never collected eggs before. She spoke to the hen, “Now listen here, I have to collect these eggs.  It is a useful task and I must do something!  Don’t give me that look.  This is what I must do.”  Losing patience she thrust her hand under the chicken who had been eyeing her with much suspicion.  Everything seemed to happen at once.  The hen flapped indignantly having been so rudely disturbed, flew into her face, Lothiriel in self-defense batted the chicken away receiving a few scratches on her hands and face and the chicken flew straight at Éomer and hit him in the stomach and then fell to the ground and woke up the other chickens, who had quietly sleeping.  Éomer ran to Lothiriel to protect her from the angry flapping birds and shielded her as they flapped out of the hen house and into the yard.  After a few minutes when all was calm once again within the hen house Éomer looked at his upset and befeathered wife. He hugged her as she sobbed from the trauma of the moment.  He took a cloth from his pocket and started to dab the blood from the scratches on her face and hands and hugged her more. 

“My love, just what were you trying to do?”

“Well I can’t have been doing it well enough if you have to ask.” Lothiriel answered with some semblance of her normal humour, as it were perfectly normal for her to be collecting eggs, she attempted a laugh through her tears. She attempted to swat away chicken feathers and only succeeded in stirring up more.  Her shoulders slumped, “I just thought if I could do one useful thing I would feel a little bit better.  But those hens were NOT co-operating!”  Éomer was trying desperately hard not to laugh and failing at his valiant attempts.  His body was shaking with the efforts.   “It isn’t funny!” Lothiriel claimed as her fist pounded the nesting shelf causing more feathers to fly. At seeing those feather flying the indignation written across her face changed to amusement and she started laughing as well. 

After some moments when tears were shed in both frustration and humour Éomer said, “I think we should vacate the hen house and let the hens back in.  Though I doubt we will be getting many eggs from them today!”

“I don’t care if I ever see another egg again!” Lothiriel said as Éomer made a valiant yet mostly futile effort to remove excess feathers from her clothing.   After that effort was only partially achieved they left the henhouse to its intended occupants.

“Let’s get those scratches seen to.”

“Can you do it?  The explanation to the healer would be more shame than I could bear.”  Lothiriel looked imploringly at Éomer.  His heart melted a second time that day.

“I will personally speak to the healer and explain the situation and command that she never reveal what caused the injuries.  She will understand.”  Éomer King spoke.  No one would ever disparage his lovely and indomitable wife, ever.

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“So you see, do not ever make any mention of the scar on her cheek or hands.” Éomer took a gulp of from his tankard and paused, “And it is best that you never mention that I told you this story.  She would have my guts for garters.  But I tell you this.”  Éomer looked at Faramir, "only to reassure to you that these are not normal times and your Éowyn will return to you."

Faramir paused and looked at Éomer, "Thank you, my brother."  He took a gulp from his own tankard and declared, "and at least Éowyn has never thrown a live chicken at me!"  They all raised their tankards. "Yet."

 

Éowyn sat in the breakfast nook overlooking a view of the forest near the settlement they were helping to build here in Ithilien.  She sat reveling in a moment of calm.  Calm, an emotion that been an infrequent visitor of late.  She looked at both Arwen and Lothiriel, both good friends, though they were separated by distance more often that she would like.  She knew that she could confide in both and not feel embarrassed or judged.  Relationships that she treasured, as she had not grown up with many of the kind in Edoras.  She was thought strange and unmannerly by the women of the court of Meduseld. 

It was true, she had always been much happier in the company of her brother and cousin, always seeking after a life she could not have.  Faramir had saved her from that life of wanting, a life of regretting who she was and who she could never be.  Now she was embarking on a new life which frankly at times scared her.  At one time she had said to Faramir she feared neither death nor pain, only a cage.  That was a life she understood though it was unattainable.  Life as she faced it now bore much uncertainty and unfamiliarity which is why she valued her friendships with these two women.  She sipped her milky tea and looked at Lothiriel, "Did you ever just ever want just throw things on a whim at Eomer?  I mean, granted he is my brother and just growing up I know he merited having things thrown at him throughout our childhood!  But I mean recently." She dropped her voice lower, "Especially just before giving birth to Elfwine?" Éowyn ended doubtfully.

Lothíriel laughed,  "Oh my yes! There were times I would have gladly run him through with his own sword!"

Éowyn let out the breath that she had not realised she had been holding and flopped back in her chair as best she could given her child-swollen stomach, "Praise the Valar!  I am so happy to hear that.  I have been getting angry with Faramir for seemingly no reason at all, though I would never admit that to him!  Just yesterday I dumped a whole cup of wine on his head!  He just kept insisting that I drink it because the midwife said it would calm my nerves!"

The other two women started laughing.

"And you know what.... It did calm my nerves all right, right after I dumped it his head I felt much better!"

"Well, see.  Listening the midwife produced good fruit," Arwen proclaimed with a mischievous elven glint in her eye, sipping her tea.  She looked at the cup.  "You know this is delicious tea...but it is lacking something."

A knowing look glowed in Lothíriel's eye, "Do you think this would help?" she pulled from her skirts a small silver flask etched with flowing swirls and the delicate curl of a horse's tail.

"My lady Lothíriel, just what might that be?" Éowyn inquired, feigning innocence.

"Just what you might think, my lady Éowyn..." Lothíriel looked up unrepentant, as she began pouring a little of the golden contents from the unstoppered flask into her teacup, "It gets cold in Edoras in winter."

"And sometimes even in summer!" Éowyn said, pushing her teacup forward. "Don't spare the horses!"  Lothíriel laughed as she splashed the dark golden whiskey into Éowyn's cup.

"Neither Imladris or Gondor have very harsh winters," said Arwen, laughing "but that matters very little!  Drop some in!"  After Lothíriel obliged, she swirled her cup around, inhaled deeply and then took a long sip.  Joy spread across her pale and lovely countenance, "That is just what it needed.  My compliments to your master distiller.  He is truly an artist."

Lothíriel nodded as she sipped from her own cup, "Yes he is."

Éowyn tasted her own cup, eyes closed, "Mmmm! Master Holdgar has lost none of his abilities!"

"No, he hasn't." Lothíriel agreed.

"I wonder if we could lure him away to Minas Tirith....," Arwen pondered teasingly, “Surely you wouldn't want to deprive your liege lord!"

"In a heartbeat!" Lothíriel laughed.

Eldarion, who been playing quietly, stopped and came over drawn as he was to his naneth's merry laughing.  He reached for his naneth's white enameled cup.  "Nay, my little love.  That is not for you!" Arwen sang out, picking up the four-year old and kissing his slightly leaf-shaped ears. "Waerith, can you bring us another cup and some water."

"At once, My Queen," Waerith intoned.  She brought forth another cup and the required water.

"Thank you, Waerith!" Arwen spoke in her most musical voice, her elven ways enchanting Éowyn's ladies maid.

"You are very welcome, My Queen."

Arwen was holding Eldarion with one arm and serving up a little water and whiskey into the cup with the other arm.  Éowyn wondered if she would ever be that agile and graceful, child in one arm and doing whatever else with the other.  She was graceful and balanced swinging a sword and shield, honed over years of practice, but had never sought much knowledge in what were called the womanly arts.  She laughed, though, as Eldarion sipped the watered-down whiskey then laughed delightedly. 

"Like Father, like son." Arwen stated, with another mischievous grin. 

Éowyn relaxed a little, and not simply because of the slight tot of whiskey that had been added to her tea, but because she was among friends who understood what she was living through and did not pass judgement on her, thinking her strange and ungainly. It was truly a relief to know that she was not going mad with her inexplicable behaviour. She truly loved her life here in Ithilien and Faramir, when he wasn’t giving her “helpful” advice.  She smiled; she had blindsided the poor man of late, thinking of him with wine and herbs poured over his head. She started to chuckle, which soon grew into full laughter, the kind of which one had trouble stopping.  It was infectious and soon all were laughing.  Lothíriel tried to catch her breath and was wiping tears of mirth from her eyes.  She picked up her cup looked into it and proclaimed, “I did not think I put so much into my cup!  But perhaps I did.”

Éowyn, wiping her own tears away, stated, “I do not think you did.  I was just thinking of Faramir as I dumped that wine on him, before I stormed off in a huff, of course.  Dripping wet, and I think he had a small bit of leaf stuck to his nose!  He looked so shocked!  Poor man!”  A few more giggles escaped before she got control of herself and took another large sip of her whiskey-flavoured tea and leaned back in her chair again, her hand rubbing her stomach, “You little sir, had best make an appearance sooner rather than later or your dear father will not have one nerve yet that hasn’t been frayed.”

“Is he really that bad?” Arwen inquired, “Estel was beside himself most days with worry, though he would never admit it now.” She ended with a smile.

“Skittish as a cat!  Any bump, any jolt.  Should I be doing this?  Should I be doing that?  It has stretched my patience!” She paused thoughtful, “Honestly though, I know that he is nervous about being a father.” Her visage clouded, “As if he had such a ‘stirling’ example to follow!”  Éowyn grew serious. “Every time I think of that man, I just see red. How could he not see the goodness in Faramir?  To treat him as he did.” Éowyn’s eye flashed, “It took Faramir so long to understand that he was worthy of love! I do NOT understand!”  Éowyn threw herself back in her chair.

Lothíriel looked at Éowyn with sympathy, “We never could either.  My father would comment on occasion that Denethor would at long last come to see Faramir for who he was. At least I think he hoped he would.  Faramir was such a kind boy.  Whenever he would come and visit Dol Amroth he always had time for a young cousin who absolutely idolized him.” Lothíriel smiled and then frowned, “As much as I remember Denethor was cold with everyone, except Boromir, and sometimes even with him. They say that Denethor loved Finduilas beyond reckoning and that he never got over her death.  That is what they say though I was too young to have much of an impression.”

Éowyn just shook her head and gave in to uncharitable thoughts, maybe that was true, but she was beyond forgiving a man who at best thoughtlessly hurt his small son. A son too young to understand why his father could not even look at him, “Horrible man, I should not speak ill of the dead, but still horrible man!” She paused, “Did you know Boromir at all.”

Lothíriel remembered, “Not as well, he was five years older than Faramir and I did not see him as often.  He was, to a child’s mind, a bit rougher around the edges but not unkind.  But I do remember the bond between them, even then it was strong.”

Éowyn thought of the brother she never had a chance to know, but dearly would have loved to have gotten to know, if only to thank him for loving and protecting Faramir, so she could have the chance to love the person that Faramir became. 

“Do you think it is going to be a boy?” Arwen interrupted her musings for which Éowyn was glad because she was starting to get maudlin.

“I do not know. Some signs point to a girl, others to a boy.  I think Faramir wants a boy, of course. He will not admit to it, but I think it is because he wants a chance to be a far better father than he had.  Terrible man!” Éowyn once again declared, “how could he not see the goodness in his own son until too late?  Faramir says he did in the end, but that is not something he is willing to talk about overly much, not even to me.” Éowyn shuddered. “But enough of this!  We are getting far too serious,” She looked at Lothíriel. “How is little Elfwine?” Genuine interest and a genuine desire to change the subject rivaling each other for primacy in her feelings.

"Well," Lothíriel began, smiling...

The next few hours passed pleasantly and Éowyn listened as Lothíriel regaled them with stories of her little one and four-year-old Eldarion told them stories of his own, in between spice cakes.  Éowyn was able to relax in the company of good friends which is exactly what she had been needing for many days. 

 

Two weeks later…

It was the eve of the Solstice, a time for looking back and reflecting in Minas Tirith and now a time for looking forward in Ithilien.  At the informal family feasting that took place on the eve of the Solstice Éowyn looked around at those who formed her life around her now.  She laughed as Merry and Pippin had their mugs in hand and were once again regaling the gathered friends and keep inhabitants with songs from the Shire, or more correctly songs from Shire pubs.  She laughed with the dear little ones; they brought such life and such happiness wherever they went. 

She looked to her left as she heard little Eldarion squeal with laughter as he played with a horse that had been gifted to him from Éomer last solstice.  Éomer was surprisingly good at carving in wood; he had inherited their father’s talent and on the rare occasions he had a moment or two he loved to work with wood.  He made Eldarion a pair of horses, one rearing up and one at full gallop, much like the one Eomund, their father, had made for them. Aragorn had the other horse, the one at full gallop and was riding the horse across the tablecloth to clash with Eldarion’s rearing up horse and was making suitable horse noises.

Arwen looked on laughing and then turned to Éowyn, joy lighting her fair elven features, “Honestly, There are times when I am sure I have two little boys and not just one!”  Éowyn laughed.

Aragorn chimed in, “This is a very important battle we are re-enacting!  It’s,” Aragorn paused searching for a thoroughly good reason he and Eldarion were playing Horses, “Educational!”

“Mmm-hmm!  Educational, I’m sure!"   Arwen grinned and her eyes flashed with elven mischief.  From inside her pocket she brought out a perfectly carved image of Asfaloth and joined the fray.  Éowyn laughed again as she watched the Royal family of the Reunited Kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor sitting at table playing Horses.

She took a sip of her spiced wine. It was indeed the same kind of wine that she had unceremoniously dumped on Faramir’s head. Considered in a more reasoned light she gave the mixture another try and had managed to not dump it on Faramir's head.  She had been drinking it for the better part of the last two week and had grudgingly admitted to Faramir it was quite good for her anxiety. A hand reached around her to pick up her goblet, interrupting her thoughts.

"You know this does taste much better when taken from a goblet than when dripping from my nose!" Faramir placed the goblet on the table again and leaned over as Éowyn looked up.

"I wouldn't remind me of that if I were you." She stated but the seriousness of her words were belied by the smile on her lips and the amused glint in her eye.  Faramir leaned further to kiss her and she could taste the spiced wine. She smiled as Faramir sank into the armchair nearest her after their wine-flavored kiss. The main trenchers and plates had been cleared away and dessert was now being served.  He looked at the far end of the hall and saw tall and small, or at least stout entering the hall. 

Eldarion looked up at the same time, "Leg-las!" cried the delighted child and before either his Adar or Naneth could stop him he slipped underneath the table and ran to his favorite elf and dwarf, still holding his carved horse.

Legolas saw the little whirlwind bearing down on him and he crouched, waiting to receive the little prince. He swooped him up in his arms and continued walking forward, "So lovely it is to see you again!  It has been an age since I have seen you!"

"No...” Eldarion protested, “It has only been a couple of days before Ada and Nana and I left to come here!"

"Oh that's right! I forget these things so easily!"

Gimli harrumphed, "Always bewitching children!  I can't take you anywhere!"

Legolas laughed and approached the high table and made a low bow while still holding onto Eldarion, which caused the child to squealed delightedly, "Mae Govannen, my King!"

Aragorn sat with a knowing smile on his face, "You're late!"

Legolas stated, "But I do not look terrible!" paraphrasing words spoken at a very fraught time in Helm's Deep during the Ring War.  Aragorn smiled wide. Arwen continued, "Evening meal is complete--" 

"But dessert is coming!" Little Eldarion shouted.

"Well then," declared the mercurial elf, "we have arrived just in time!"

Éowyn laughed, "Well then, have a seat," she gestured toward two seats at the front table that were set aside specifically for them as they were frequent visitors to Ithilien and were known just to show up for evening meal.  All from the elven enclave here in Ithilien were welcome anytime and these two in particular had a habit of just appearing.

All joined in dessert and the merriment that followed.  Songs were sung, many by Merry and Pippin. Stories were told and a warm glow settled in the room as Midnight and the beginning of Solstice approached.

Éowyn was laughing as Éomer had been telling the story of his first time as a rider which ended inauspiciously for the very young fourteen-year-old, when she felt severe contractions and a warm gush down below.  

"Oh dear," Lothíriel said, "Well, I believe it is time to retire to her lady's bedchamber."  

The midwife, Leofwyn, took one look downward and said, "My lady, I do believe you are right."  She noticed the menfolk in the room were looking varying degrees of discomfort or anxiety, especially Faramir who looked particularly stricken.  She looked at the kind man who was her lord and said matter-of-factly, "Pish-tosh! All should be well and you will soon have a strapping lad to bounce on your knee!"

Faramir tried to look reassured but failed miserably.  As the ladies and the men separated, Arwen and Lothíriel moved to join the midwife and the men stayed behind, Aragorn stood beside his intensely worried Steward. "Faramir..." the younger man merely stared at the retreating forms of the women and seemingly did not hear his liege lord.  Aragorn saw fear and anxiety start to gather across the younger man’s brow and he recognised the course he must take. "My Lord Steward..." Aragorn spoke more forcefully, "Look to me!" Faramir responded to the tone of command as he was trained through a lifetime of service to answer. He looked to his king, blue eyes beset with worry.  Old habits die hard, Aragorn mused silently. While Faramir had overcome much of his scarred upbringing there were times where old fears found fertile ground upon which to make mischief. Aragorn placed his hand upon Faramir's shoulder and could feel the younger man’s tense bearing. He looked into Faramir's fearful eyes with a strong, clear-eyed stare, the Ranger playing at Horses with his son slipping away and the aura of the Healer King growing in the minds of those who beheld him in this moment, "She will be fine..."  

Faramir looked into the grey eyes of his King and tried desperately hard to believe in what he said, in the possibility that he could be happy, that Éowyn and the babe would be healthy.  The idea that happiness was not something that other people experienced and that he only viewed from the outside looking in. It was so hard. His life up until Éowyn had entered it had never shown him this.  Until Éowyn, happiness was fleeting and paid for by more disappointment and more harsh judgement. Fear was once again trying to take hold and it was winning. He averred in a soft, tremulous voice to his king and Éomer, who was standing close,"I cannot go back to that life." Éomer's heart broke upon hearing such despair from one so good.  Aragorn held Faramir's head in both hands, "You will not have to." He leaned to kiss his steward's forehead, "I will go to her if you wish, if it will bring you peace."

"Yes. Please." came a supplicant whisper.

Those in the hall could not turn away from the emotions unfolding and those words of despair and distress were heard unbidden. The feeling as if they had stumbled into their ruling family's private pain prevalent. An awed silence ruled as they were present to see the fabled healing hands of the king.  Stories existed but now they had their own story to hold within their hearts. The story of how the king brought the steward back from the brink of despair using only his voice and the laying on of hands. It was a scene none were ever likely to forget.

Faramir stood with his back to the gathered many, watching as his King traveled at his behest to aid in the safe delivery of his child.  He would never stop owing the man, but he would spend the rest of his life trying to be worthy of his king's favor. He thought with shame the weakness he had shown to his friends and those he ruled over.  He could not, he would not turn around and see the contempt in their eyes, as he had always seen in Denethor's eyes when his second son did not yet again measure up to his exacting standards. He felt so ashamed, he just wanted to disappear. He then felt a strong, supporting hand on his shoulder, "Brother," Éomer spoke gravely and with what Faramir thought was unearned compassion, "What can we do to make this time easier for you?" Faramir blinked, he heard no contempt, only compassion and kindness.  Éomer had seen his weakness and yet there was nothing in his voice to suggest anything other than respect.

Faramir turned around, grasping at the tenuous hope that what he had heard was real.  He saw such compassion in Éomer's eyes. He gulped and looked at the other inhabitants of the hall.  Legolas was standing close and smiled, "What can we do?" Gimli, stoic as ever looked fiercely supportive.  Merry and Pippin stood with tears in their eyes but with love as well. All looked on him with no trace of contempt or disdain.  His heart’s fear had been laid open and none had turned away. It was a revelation to his battered heart, "You already have, Thank you." At those words Merry and Pippin ran forward and enveloped Faramir in a tearful yet happy hug.  Faramir laughed at this onslaught of hobbit affection. "My Dear friends." He looked at the assembled many, "My friends, I want to thank you all for sharing this time with my family.  Thank you all for the love you have shown.  I will retire till news reaches us and all shall share the joy to come." His heart was full, he was stunned by the love and support shown to him. He turned back to Éomer, "Thank you, brother.  Today of all days you have shown me that you are truly my brother." 

Éomer placed his fist on his heart, "Always," he swore, "I have known few finer men.  I am honored that you call me Brother."      


Chapter 6 - Herbs, Hops and a New Life

Aragorn entered the birthing room his heart heavy with Faramir’s sorrows.  The birthing room was a hallowed enclave for women during the birthing, nevertheless when Léofwyn saw the King enter she immediately dropped a low bow for his renown as a healer was second to none within the restored kingdoms. Aragorn immediately raised her from her knee, “We do not stand on ceremony in this room, I consider all who have dedicated their lives to healing and life worthy of my respect and my equal in their dedication.”  Léofwyn blushed to her blond roots, unaccustomed as she was to be considered the King's equal, but she rallied quickly, “Yes, my lord,” bobbing a small reflexive curtsy, “the Lady has been given a tea for strength and endurance and been settled in her bed in a clean shift and linens. A Lanolin sheet has been placed under the fresh linen and she is awaiting her next contraction which should be coming soon.”  Aragorn looked around the room.  It was well lit and the air fresh.  It smelled of health and pungent herbs used in the birthing process.  He nodded his approval to Léofwyn, “Well done, all seems to be in good order Mistress Léofwyn, I commend your organization.”

Again Léofwyn blushed to her roots and then added, “Thank you my lord, it is my solemn duty to perform this service for Princess Éowyn.” A slight emphasis on "my solemn duty" placed an implicit question that she could not put into so many words.  Aragorn smiled at the midwife’s tact. 

“Good Mistress Léofwyn, my presence here is in no way meant as a slight to you,” he looked around approvingly a second time, “and your very much apparent knowledge and abilities, but rather to ease the mind of the Lord Steward.”

“Aragorn!” came a voice beyond a billowy white sheet that had been hung as a partition. He answered Éowyn’s voice with all innocence.

“Yes, my lady?”

“Come here at once!” came the command.  Labor knew no hierarchy other than its own.  Aragorn bent to the midwife and went through the partition.  He saw Éowyn sitting in her bed, her reddish blond hair in a loose plait and escaped tendrils sweaty with her exertions; a look of concern on her face.  “Why are you not out there with Faramir.  He needs your strength, more than I need your knowledge!” 

“He asked that I look in,” Aragorn again stated in all innocence.

Éowyn saw right through the pretense of casual observation giving Aragorn a sharp look, “That man!  I will be fine.  I wanted to you out there salve his worry!”

“I think that is perhaps what I am doing by attending here…” Aragorn suggested.

Éowyn pondered his words “Very well.  You can stay.  Is he—” that sentence was cut off by the expected contraction.

Léofwyn ran past the partition and took Éowyn’s wrist in her hand.  “That’s it, m’lady.  Short sharp breaths.”  Aragorn went to the other side of the bed to observe and listen.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Meanwhile back in Faramir’s study.

Faramir looked up, reacting to a sound unheard by the others.  His face was sheet white.  Eirik, his squire jumped up to tend his lord but he was stayed by the hand of Éomer, “Easy Lad, I shall attend him.”

Faramir looked at Éomer, “Something’s happening!”

Éomer sighed a compassionate sigh, “That’s right.  And that something is going to continue to happen until it stops happening and we hear something.  You are going to have to relax.”  Faramir shot him a look, Éomer continued, “At least somewhat….this is going to take some time.”

Faramir shot him an aggrieved look and then took a deep breath. “All right,” He said somewhat doubtfully, “What do you suggest?”

Pippin piped up, “Hops in a Barrel!”

Faramir laughed, leave it to a hobbit, especially one that raised sitting in a pub to an art form, to suggest more drinking and in the form of a game. “No.”

Pippin looked momentarily chastened.  Beregond, who had joined the group after his duties as Captain of the White Guard had allowed, started laughing, “Oh but my lord, you have to admit that was quite the night!”

Faramir admitted nodding, “Yes it was. What I remember of it.” He chuckled.

Éomer started laughing, “What is this?  What happened.” He stole a look at Faramir.  He saw that his color had returned and he was smiling. Éomer inwardly breathed a sigh of relief.  His  efforts at distraction were beginning to bear fruit.  It was most likely going to be a long night and he needed to get Faramir through it in one piece. He looked at Beregond, “Do tell. When was this night and what is ‘Hops in a Barrel?”

Beregond accepted a goblet of wine handed to him by Eirik, and swallowed some of the contents.  “The King and Queen had travelled to the Shire for Samwise Gamgee’s daughter’s birthday and well we all found ourselves in a pub.”

Pippin broke in, “The Green Dragon.  It is a quality establishment.”

“Master Pippin speaks true,” Beregond agreed, looking at the irrepressible Took, “we were refugees escaping the lash of Field commander Rosie.”

“We got out from underfoot before you,  I know what Rosie is like when she is in full organizational mode,” supplied Pippin as he went over the pitcher of ale Faramir’s staff had thoughtfully supplied and pour himself a pint, “We were of no use to her,” he replied matter-of-factly as he walked back to his armchair and took out his pipe.

Merry added, “It might have had something to do with that plate of mushroom tartlets that went missing.  That was when Pippin’s backside met with the business end of Rosie’s mixing spoon!”

“We definitely needed to make ourselves scarce after that!”

Faramir laughed, “I knew it! We were setting up tables on the Party Field and we found you already in the Green Dragon when we finished!”

“Relaxing is key to after a hard day’s work!” Pippin stated knowledgeably.

“How would you know? You’ve never done a hard day’s work!”  Merry chimed in.

Pippin nodded, “True, True," then laughed.

Éomer prompted “So what is this ‘Hops in a Barrel’ you ended up playing.” He wanted to keep the conversation light and flowing to keep Faramir distracted so he would not have time to be nervous.

Pippin warmed to the subject. “Well you see.  You need a bucket and some ale.”  He started looking around for something suitable. 

Éomer caught Beregond's eye and motioned him for to go and get what Pippin was looking for pointing at Faramir indicating he wanted to keep him distracted while they wait.  He wasn't sure that Beregond caught every nuance of what he was signaling but he left just the same.  Next he caught Legolas' eye to continue the conversation as Pippin was casting about for said materials.

Legolas started laughing, "I remember!  As I recall the Elves in the party were quite good at it. Until a certain dwarf started cheating that is." He smiled wickedly at Gimli.

"Cheating!" chortled the dwarf, feigning indignation, "I recall nothing of the sort! I can't help it a few little sneezes might have thrown off the vaunted Elven concentration!" Gimli laughed, "I do recall as I won the game!"

"That's funny because I seem to recall it was one of us Elves.  We after all hold our drink exceptionally well," Legolas continued to spin the yarn just to see Gimli sputter in more indignation.

Beregond re-entered the room with a bucket and Eirik trailing with a cask of ale. 

Pippin's eyes just lit up with excitement. "Right!  Put the bucket on the table here!" he said pointing to the middle of the table.  Merry quickly cleared the table of papers and what-not to make room.

Faramir just laughed to see the level of Pippin's excitement. He still did not think this was the best idea because of his vivid memories of the last time this game was played, but he did not have the heart to squelch the dear hobbit's excitement.  He looked at Éomer, who seemed fascinated by what Pippin was constructing.  He knew that Éomer was instigating this whole thing to keep him distracted so he would not worry overly much about Éowyn and the babe and he loved him all the more for it...but he did not want contemplate the possible hangovers that could result from this night.

“Right!” Pippin said, “For those of you who were not there the last time we played this game here are the rules!”

As Pippin was retrieving a wooden mug Eirik appeared at Faramir’s side, “May I, my lord?” Faramir saw that his squire, who had now seen eighteen winters, half of them in his lord’s service, was looking at the bucket being filled with ale. Faramir chuckled lightly and shook his head then sighed, the boy was his responsibility.  He did not think that Eirik’s mother would be terribly pleased to know that he was learning drinking games at Faramir’s knee.  But something that Éomer had said stuck in his mind. “These are not normal times!” were the words of wisdom he imparted in a pub his first night here in Ithilien.  They certainly were not.  He knew it was not proper to allow his squire to join in but again he did not have the heart to say no. “Go on.  But don’t let your mother know!  She’ll not thank me!”

“Yes, m’lord.  I mean no, my lord!  Thank you m’lord!”  Eirik babbled, delighted to be allowed to take part.

“Oh get on with you!  Over to the table!”  Faramir laughed at the boy’s excitement.  “Children!"  He said with amused agitation remarking to Éomer as they walked to the table for Pippin’s sage instructions.

“As I was saying,”  Pippin continued excitedly, “For those of you not present at the Green Dragon the object is to fill the barrel,”  he waggled the wooden mug and placed it in the bucket, filling it a little so that it would stay upright, “but if you sink the mug then you have to retrieve from the bucket and chug the contents! If not then the next one has a go.  Simple, really!”

Eirik said, “Well, that doesn’t sound too hard!”

Beregond looked at Faramir upon hearing that and said with a smirk, “Ah the arrogance of youth!”

Faramir laughed and ruffled Eirik’s dark hair, “We shall see, lad, we shall see!”

The game commenced amid much good-natured jockeying of both the verbal and elbow-jostling kind.

There was tentative pouring to begin with and a couple of full rounds were completed before Gimli took matters in his own and let out a huge sneeze that vaguely resembled a foghorn having words with a moose just at the point where Legolas was carefully approaching the rim of the mug on his turn. Explosion and the mug capsized and sunk. 

"Tough luck, laddie!  Well get on with your chugging!"

Legolas dipped his hand in to retrieve the submerged mug amid raucous laughter. “Treacherous Dwarf,” Legolas claimed, good naturedly.

“Someone had to chug and you were faffing about!” Gimli stated emphatically. 

Faramir laughed, “Peace, peace!  As lord of this manor I claim right of judgment!  Legolas, you did sink the hop barrel, so yes it is yours to chug.”

Gimli was heard to say, “Quite right, quite right!”

Then Faramir turned to Gimli, “but in all fairness, Master Dwarf! That sneeze loosen shingles on the roof, so loud was it.  I think the timing of said sneeze was also a tad suspicious.  Therefore as judge and jury I say the forfeit is…” Faramir paused for effect, “that you both have to chug!”

This judgement received round acclamation from all, even the Elf and Dwarf.  The chugging, filling and tipping continue on and Éomer looked at Faramir smiling and laughing and he felt relief.  Faramir caught his eye and mouthed a very sober “thank you” and he had a knowing look in his eye.  Éomer nodded and raised his own mug to his friend and brother, smiled and took a drink from his own mug.              

Later in the night all were still waiting.  Although this waiting had taken on different forms.  The two hobbits were dozing peaceably together on the sofa in the corner.  The detritus of waiting and merrymaking was scattered throughout the room.  A tapped cask was in the corner; empty, tipped over mugs were everywhere.  There was spilt ale on table and floor.  Eirik was in an armchair snoring lightly.  Gimli was in another armchair snoring somewhat more volubly. 

Faramir stared at him, his head resting on his crossed hands flat on the table, “One would not think such a noise could come out of a so short a body.” 

Sitting across the table head leaning on one arm, Legolas looked at Gimli with old and wise blue eyes, “You would not think so but you would be wrong!  I have endured his snoring for years.”  The Elf ended not without affection.

Éomer, sitting astride a chair, arms resting on the back, tossed back the last of his ale from his mug and said, “At least in Master Gimli here it might be expected. But I will tell you a secret,” he lowered his voice, so no one else could hear, and continued conspiratorially  “Lothiriel snores.” Faramir sat up and Legolas tilted his head. The two looked incredulous. “I am not kidding, out of that tiny beautiful little nose comes some truly horrific sounds, like a mountain moose in heat.”

“If I were you, I would never tell her in quite that way.”

Two men and an Elf immediately stood up to see Arwen, looking very tired but otherwise happy. Éomer looked alarmed and completely contrite, “Please my lady, can you never tell her I just said that.”

Arwen giggled a little, it had been a long night, “Éomer, you may be assured that those words will never pass these lips, but more to the point,” She walked to Faramir, “You, my dear man, have a healthy baby son and Éowyn is fine.  She came through it like the warrior she is.” Arwen revealed with tears of joy in her eyes.

Faramir, at first, stood there in shock, unable to believe his ears.  He looked into Arwen's star-filled eyes, “Truly…” a happiness began deep in his heart, filling his soul.

Arwen said, bubbling with happiness for the kind and good man, “Aye, you can go see her right now---”

Faramir took off at a dead run to their bedchamber.  The sight he beheld there never left him all the long days of his life.  Éowyn sat in their bed, sweaty and clearly exhausted, but she had a radiant smile on her face.  She had never looked more beautiful to him.  He paused at the doorway to take in the sight.  Aragorn walked up drying his hands, "Come in and meet your son."  

Faramir spared a stunned look for his friend and then walked to his wife and baby, locking eyes with Éowyn's smiling light blue ones.  There were no words for the happiness inside his heart.  Having reached the bedside he heard Éowyn say, "Meet your son..."  Faramir looked down and innocent blue eyes so reminiscent of his beloved brother met his in an instant bonding of souls.  

Tears fell from his eyes as Faramir sobbed "He is beautiful!" 

Léofwyn appeared at his side and Éowyn was handing the babe up for Faramir to hold. He vaguely heard the midwife saying, "support the child's head.  There you are m'lord.  You are a natural."  

Faramir looked at the babe in his arms, healthy and blowing a spit bubble.  He laughed and then grew serious, "I will ALWAYS love you.  You will never be in any doubt of that.  My son."  Only Éowyn heard the fervently whispered words and her heart broke at the avowal father was making to son.  So much it said about the father he had and the father he never had.  Tears fell from her eyes.  Faramir chose that moment to look at her.  He leaned down and whispered words into her ear that brought more tears.  "Thank you.  For my life." And he kissed her forehead and stood looking at everyone in the room, which now bore all those who had kept watch with him overnight. Faramir beamed with pride. "My son, everyone. We have a son."  Dawn broke at that moment; the day of the solstice had begun with the light of a new life just beginning.


~*~*~*~*~*~

A/N:  That first drinking game of "Hops in a Barrel" that they talking about is referring to my story "Changes and Acceptances. Chapter 4: The Green Dragons Awaits."

 

The morning dawned with the pale brightness of the winter sun.  The recovering forest of Ithilien was quiet with only the soft sounds of morning, the occasional tree squirrel searching for a spare nut for breakfast afters, the slight wind blowing through the leafless branches. Faramir stood at the balcony of their bedchamber gently holding his newborn son.  Swaying the child slowly, he looked into the blue eyes that so reminded him of his beloved brother, Faramir was filled with a love unlike any he had ever known. He kissed the tiny perfect forehead of his son, “This is all yours,” he promised looking out onto the forest of Ithilien, of which the king had named him prince, “I shall keep it safe and give it all to you, my son.” His voice choked a little at those last two words. His son. He could not get over the wonder of it all, that his life had brought him to this point.  He was a father.  Faramir drew in a deep calming breath; he really did not know what that meant as the model he had been given was one no one should ever follow.  But one thing he did know, it started with love.   That he was sure of; Éowyn had shown him that.  “I love you, my son.”

Éowyn had awoken just as Faramir had approached the balcony.  Nurse would not be happy that the baby was out and about, but she would deal with that later.  Father and son needed time together, she felt this in her very bones.  She simply laid on her side, arm propping up her head and watched father and son share a quiet moment together.  She watched him sway the child, speaking gently.  When his voice caught on the words “my son” her eyes filled with tears.  So much emotion was loaded into those two words.  She knew how much it meant to him to have a son, to fill his heart, to be the father he never had.  Tears fell in earnest as she heard the whispered avow of love. She wiped them away and got out of bed, stepped into her fur-lined slippers and walked the few feet to her husband and son, placing her arms around Faramir’s back, placing her cheek on his back breathing the scent of musky brocade that was her husband surreptitiously wiping away the last of her tears. “Morning,” she murmured.

“You should be in bed,” Faramir declared.

“Nonsense, I feel fine” It was a day past the solstice, and she was feeling more fit than expected.  She came over to his side, “he is so beautiful…” she said looking down at their son.  Blue eyes, wisps of blondish hair, blowing a spit bubble looking at the both of them.

Faramir smiled and still looking at their son, “Do you think he is thinking ‘who are these two people looking at me so adoringly?’ “

Éowyn laughed as she reached to hold the baby, “Perhaps,” as she cradled the child to her chest.  Faramir was struck by the beauty of this picture.  He leaned over and kissed Éowyn on the forehead, “Thank you,” tears once again gathering in his eyes. Éowyn looked up into the tear-lined earnest blue eyes of the man she loved, her heart swelled with love and lips met.

After a few moments, a “Ahem” was heard.  They broke apart to see Nurse, “Begging your pardon, M’lord and Lady but baby needs to be placed back in his cot.”  Both Faramir and Éowyn, raised to obey Nurse, immediately said, “Aye, Nurse.” 

Faramir took their son into his arms and walked to Nurse and in his most charming voice said, “My son and I needed a little time together, I’m sure you understand.”

Nurse looked at him for a few seconds, “Away with you!” she smiled, as he handed her the child and she proceeded towards the nursery down the hall.

Éowyn looked at him with an amused smile, “Butter would not melt in your mouth,” as she shook her head.

“Well thank you, M’Lady.  I do try.  Now where were we…”  Faramir closed the door and from behind the closed door a giggle was heard and then it went quiet.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The next day preparations were well underway for the child’s Naming Day in three days time.  As tradition had it in Gondor it was not until Naming day that the child’s name was revealed to the world, friends and family included. On that day the babe was surrounded by family and friends. The new life celebrated, symbolic that life and hope were continuing.  A Naming cowl in the family’s colors were given to those family members and friends chosen to become part of the child's family.  It was a high honor to be given a naming cowl. 

The Naming Day of the heir to Prince Faramir was especially joyful not only for his family and friends. All of Ithilien would rejoice that a little prince and heir had been born and was being named on that day. Before the actual day of the naming, there was much speculation as what name was to be chosen and there was even a small flurry of “secret” wagering happening at the King’s Arms.  Merry and Pippin were at the King's Arms once again sampling their wares; Beregond joined them after his duties were discharged They sat watching the casual wagering take place and thought about placing a couple of wagers themselves. Of course when the King walked into the pub looking for the two hobbits all activity of this nature stopped.  It was one thing to make book; it was quite another to make it right under the king’s nose.

“So once again this is where I find you!” Aragorn stated.

Pippin looked at Aragorn, “Really Strider, was it really so difficult to figure out?” and proceeded to take another swallow of his ale.

Aragorn just smiled and shook his head at the irrepressible Took. “So very true, Master Took.  Be that as it may your presence has been requested by the seamstresses.  Measurements must be taken for your naming cowls.”

Merry looked at him slightly askance, “Not be cheeky in any way, Strider.  But you were sent to fetch us?”

Aragorn looked at Merry and knew it was time for truth telling to his hobbit compatriots, “In truth, it is a real request but I did use it as a way to escape ‘planning.’”

Pippin looked at Aragorn, “Strider, I am shocked.  Impressed and pleased but shocked that you should shirk 'planning'.  Have a pint and tell us about it.”

Aragorn pulled up a stool and flagged over Teliril, the dark haired serving maid, “Round of Ale please.”

“Aye, My Lord,” Teliril smiled, dropping the smallest of reflexive curtsies to her king.

“Aye, Aye, off with you,” Aragorn stated. He was still not used to people genuflecting around him.  For years he, as a ranger often went unnoticed and unremarked.  If remarked upon it was more often negative.  “Strider” he had been named in Bree and it had not necessarily been a compliment.  Now he was only called Strider by Pippin and Merry and sometimes Sam.   For them it was a term of endearment and familiarity and with everything they had been though with Aragorn during the Ring War they earned that right.  They were family.  Without them he would not have a crown.

Now he valued them for the dear loyal souls that they were.  Others could try to earn trust or not. The hobbits had it implicitly.   He looked at Pippin and smiled as Teliril was serving up the pints of ale.  “You, my good sir, are going to lead me down the wrong path.”

“Strider,” Pippin was immediately indignant, “I would never!  I merely asked what was happening at Ithilien House and to share refreshment with us.  Nothing more!”

“Of course, perish any other thought,” Aragorn agreed with a knowing smile.

“Quite right,” Pippin confirmed with a bob of his head, brown curls bouncing. 

Aragorn relaxed with his stool against the wall and drank the fine red ale that the King’s Arms brewed.  Errand completed; message delivered. 

Within half an hour Éomer appeared at the entrance to the King’s Arms, “There you three are!  You realize Arwen is looking for you.  There is work to be done!”

Merry chimed up, “Of course there is!  This ale isn’t going to drink itself!”  He poured some ale from the table’s pitcher and offered it to his liege lord.

Éomer walked over and looked in the cup being offered up by Merry, “Is that the fine red ale we had the other night.”

Merry stated unequivocally, “Aye, would I offer my King any less than the best!”

“Aye, Master Holdwine, you would not.  Well, it would seem a shame to waste an already poured pint.” He pulled a chair backward and sat astride.

“Quite right!” Pippin stated emphatically. 

Éomer tossed back some of the fine red ale and relaxed in here in the King's Arms listening to the roaring flame in the hearth.  Errand completed; message delivered.

About a half an hour later Legolas and Gimli appeared.  “The women are beginning to see a pattern here!” Legolas related, “They send someone looking and they disappear and they send another someone and they disappear.  We have been told that if we do not re-appear within half-an-hour, Éowyn is calling up the White Company to come and get us.”

Beregond chimed in, “Too late, I’m already here.”

Legolas chuckled, “Aye, well I don’t think Éowyn realises that quite yet.”

Aragorn stood and sighed, “Come good sirs!  It is time we are returning.  It is our lot to fetch and carry.  It is the way of things.”

“Aye that it is!” Éomer stood and affirmed Aragorn’s words, “Up Master Holdwine," he said, clapping Merry on the back, "it is time we do our duty. The womenfolk have called us back!”  Seeing Merry’s reluctance, Éomer added, “When you take a wife, Master Holdwine, you will discovery there is a time for play and there is a time for doing what you must do!”  He clapped Merry on the shoulder again and laughed, “There are compensations, you will see.  Up, Sir!”

Merry tossed back the last of his pint and stood.  Pippin followed suit but murmured, “And this is why I’m never getting married.”

Aragorn heard and added, “And I will remind you of those words on your wedding day,”

Pippin looked doubtful at the concept of his marrying, but he did not want to gainsay his king.

The motley group made their way back to Ithilien House to be met by Éowyn, sitting in the main hall as the only nod to the fact she had given birth two days ago.  Normally she would have been bustling about giving orders on the move. Instead she was holding court about what needed to be done next.  Hair tied back and a ledger in hand, she was speaking animatedly with the housekeeper, Guthhild, a stern and capable-looking woman.  She looked up, “Legolas, I see you have found our wayward ones! Good!  There many things to be done! Go and get measured for your naming cowls and then return here for your assignments! Scoot!”

They all filed out like schoolboys off to lessons.  Éomer said, to no one in particular, “And before you ask.  Aye, she has always had a bit of a bossy streak.”

They arrived at the seamstress’ room and saw Faramir being fitted for his new tunic of forest green and silver.  “Ah, I see you all were found.  What did it take?”

Legolas said “Éowyn threatened to call out the White Company!”

Faramir laughed, not without a slight amount of truthfulness, “And don’t think she wouldn’t have done it, too.”

“Aye, she is my sister.  I don’t have to imagine.  I know.”

The seamstress interrupted, “Okay, My lord.  That is done.  Take that off and give it to Théoddis.” Saerid motioned to a small blond girl waiting at a worktable. “Right!  Who wants to be next?” she said with an air of command whipping a worn cloth measuring tape around her neck.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The morning of the Naming Day dawned bright, Éowyn stood at the balcony at their bedchamber overlooking the forest. Off to the side was the courtyard where the ceremony was to happen. Only the finishing touches were needed then it would be ready. She sipped her morning mulled wine before she began the day.  She let the calm beauty of the forest soothe her after the week's activity.  She felt arms around her and Faramir's familiar scent permeate her senses.  "My lady, what is going through that beautiful head of yours?"

Éowyn leaned back into him, "Nothing, everything.  Every good thing, every bad thing that has brought us to this point of happiness.  Would we have met if I had not disobeyed my orders to stay at Edoras and not ride with my brothers to war?"

Kissing her neck had distracted Faramir from the first portion of what she was saying. "Mmm... dunno know..." he murmured distractedly. Then stopping briefly, "I do not know," he stated more clearly.  "I suppose everything that has happened was needed to lead to this point..." His voice trailed off.  Thinking of the past was not something Faramir chose to do very often.

Éowyn turned in his arms and saw the troubled aspect in Faramir's eyes. "I'm sorry.  I did not mean to delve into unpleasant memories." Setting down her goblet on the wide railing, she caressed the side of his face with the palm of her hand.

"It is not you," Faramir whispered, "The past is past. It needs to remain there. There is so much I would forget but I find I cannot.  It will be with me."  He sighed. He could almost hear his brother speaking within his heart, "Remember this day, little brother. Today, life is good."  It warmed his heart. And deeper still hearing with a child's memory, the soft voice belonging to his mother, "You are so special to me, Faramir. I love you."  Melancholy settled in behind those words as it always did when he remembered Mama.  He blinked and there was nothing more.  He looked down to Éowyn, who had become his whole life and he held her close.  "The past is the past..." he said beyond any pain he hid in his heart.  "We must learn to move on from it."

~*~*~*~*~

The Naming Ceremony went back in Gondorian tradition to the time of the first ruling Stewards.  It was a way for families to believe in their futures and not their pasts.  Gondor had fallen into the mire of looking backwards, lauding those who had come before and ignoring those in the present. Gondor had lost its way. After the last king Eärnur was lost, possibly murdered by the Witch King and the Stewards became the rulers in all but title in Gondor, a slow growing tradition of celebrating the next generation became the Naming ceremony.  To honor the future, while not forgetting the past.  It was a time-honored tradition.

The sun was at its zenith when the ceremony was to begin.  The women of Emyn Arnen wore winter holly and berries in their hair symbolizing fertility and protection. The men wore sprigs pinned to their tunics. 

Faramir watched as Lothiriel and Arwen placed the Holly leaf and berry wreath upon Éowyn’s loose hair and smoothed down the forest green velvet of her dress and train. Nurse placed their child wrapped in a presenting blanket made of a patchwork of greens, gold and silver, the combined color of Ithilien and Rohan in her arms.  Éowyn smiled nervously at Faramir, who looked resplendent in the new forest green velvet and brocade tunic.  He said, “You have never looked more beautiful than you do right now.”

“Flatterer!” Éowyn said with a smile in her eyes.

“Is it working?”  Faramir countered, laughter in his eyes.

Éowyn looked down at their son in her arms, “I think possibly…Maybe just a little!”

Faramir laughed softly with joy in his heart.

Éomer stepped forward with Merry and Pippin.  All had matching forest green naming cowls trimmed with the silver of Ithilien.  Pippin was wearing his sable and silver uniform and Merry had donned his uniform of Rohan. Pippin held the holly wreath for Faramir’s head.  Faramir knelt to allow the wreath to be placed.  “Thank you, my friend and my brother.”

Pippin’s eyes misted and said in a choked-up voice, “It is my honor, my friend and my brother.”

Next, the men left to take their place for the ceremony and the women would follow Faramir and Éowyn.  All were clad in the forest green cowls proclaiming they were all now family to the small babe in Éowyn’s arms.  Lothiriel as kinswoman to Éowyn carried in a green crystal flask the special infusion of Holly leaves to be sprinkled on upon the child for protection as were all newborn babies.

The ceremony was out amid the winds of Manwë and the green of Yavanna symbolizing that it was amid nature we are born and amid nature that we also have the seasons of our lives.  Normally it was the elder of the two families that presided over the ceremony but Imrahil and his wife, who had arrived a few days before to share this moment with his beloved nephew bowed to Aragorn as king to lead the solemnity.

Aragorn stood beneath an archway of holly leaves.  Behind him stood Éomer, Beregond, Merry and Pippin standing proudly in their matching cowls.  All waited as Faramir and Éowyn walked under the Holly Archway to stand in front of Aragorn in his role as Chief celebrant.

Aragorn looked both Éowyn and Faramir, joy written across his face.  He began, “Two have come forth to stand amid the winds of Manwë and the life slumbering in the winter of Yavanna’s forest.  Faramir, son of Denethor and Finduilas and Éowyn, daughter Eomund and Théodwyn.”  Both Faramir and Éowyn nodded solemnly.  Aragorn continued, “Your love has produced hope and love in the creation of this child, step forth and receive Manwë’s blessing.” Faramir and Éowyn took one more step forward.  “What shall all call this child?

Éowyn spoke in a clear voice, “To honor the great love that Faramir that bore his brother, Boromir, our child shall share his name.”

Faramir spoke with tears in his eyes, “And to honor the family of my heart; my wife, not only shall he share my brother’s name but we shall honor her family as well. The child, our son shall be named Elboron.  A son of both Gondor and Rohan.”

Aragorn “Elboron.  It is well.  Bring forth the Holly infusion.”  Lothiriel walked forward and bowed her head and raised her hands holding the green flask to her king’s liege lord.

Unstoppering the flask, Aragorn poured the contents into a crystal bowl and dipped a silver sprinkler wand into the bowl, and sprinkled the child with the holly infusion, “Elboron, son of Faramir and Éowyn.  Son of Gondor and Rohan.  May you bring honor and light.  May you live to bring happiness and joy.  May you know peace.  May you bring honor to your family lineage. And should need arise may you always fight for what is right and in the service of others.  Elboron, you bear a name of made of strength and honor and love.  May you always be true to its spirit.”  Aragorn looked Faramir and Éowyn and sprinkled the Holly infusion upon them, “May your family know joy and draw strength from adversity and from each other, remembering that the core of a family is love, strength and forgiveness.” 

At the word “forgiveness” Faramir felt within his heart words in a voice he never thought to hear again, “I am sorry, my son. For all.  Can you ever forgive me?”  Faramir somehow knew from deep within his heart it was his father, asking forgiveness.  Looking at his son in his beloved wife’s arms he knew he could never deny it.  Within his heart he said “Aye, I do.”  Immediately his heart filled with light and the way forward was clear.  Whether it was real or simply the wish of his heart did not matter.  Within his own heart he had forgiven his flawed, tempestuous father.  He then looked at little Elboron and knew a new life.

 





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