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A Light in Midwinter  by Mirkwoodmaiden

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."      

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