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Valentine's Challenge: Fractured Valentine's Day Tales
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
'Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady' by Marta

The mid-morning sun caught the edge of her sword as it arched through the sky. Her sleeve gathered at her elbow, and Faramir felt his heart skip a beat. Cross, parry, turn, cross, turn, lunge; she moved to some unheard minuet with a courtier's grace. He fancied he saw a smile cross her face, and tried not to look at her gown pulled tight across her breast as she pulled her arm over her head, and he wondered where such a practiced swordswoman found the time for the more genteel arts.

Faramir sighed heavily to himself. Aye, she was beautiful, that much any man with breath would grant him - but a warrior's heart beat in the White Lady's chest! Her bright hair and gentle curves lured men to what could never be theirs. He had counseled friends to avoid such ladies and keep their hearts free; why could he not follow his own advice?

A knock came at the door, and Faramir shook himself from his thoughts. “Enter,” he called out. The door half-opened and a man with a care-worn face stepped inside. “Good day, Húrin! Sit, sit.” He motioned to the chair beside his own, and Húrin sank back into the chair. “What brings you to the Houses of Healing?” Faramir asked.

“Surely I am allowed to visit the son of a lifelong friend?” Húrin asked. Faramir couldn't help but notice that Húrin's lip twitched, and he ran a finger down the side of his nose, though Faramir could not guess what it might mean. Húrin continued, “At least when he has been called back from death's door less than a week prior?” Faramir quirked his eyebrow.

Húrin chuckled. “Or at least that is what I told Ioreth when she demanded my intentions. I know the Warden has said you may only concern yourself with the city's affairs for one hour each day.” He smiled slyly. “I did bring reports of Elfhelm's fight along the East Road.”

“You needn't have bothered, but thank you.” By way of explanation Faramir pointed to the ledger-book balanced on the chair's arm. “Belegund inventoried the butteries, and the guard's stores may soon run low. You should send men to the farms near the western out-walls; they will have early summer potatoes and greens at the least.”

“I thought of that, and twenty men rode out at dawn to see what might be had. I will share their findings if you prefer, but you have capable clerks who can handle such matters. Have you other recommendations as well?”

Faramir glanced guiltily at the window. “No, not yet. I have been... distracted.”

Húrin smirked and produced a linen cloth from his belt-pouch. “That would certainly explain it.”

Faramir looked at Húrin in puzzlement. “Explain what?”

“My dear Faramir,” Húrin said, “you have acquired so many of your father's habits that I can nearly feel Denethor in the room.” Faramir felt the breath pulled out of his chest at that name, but Húrin pressed on. “He too tapped his pen on his nose when he could not concentrate on the task at hand, though in recent years he has trained himself to use the feather end and not the point.”

Faramir ducked his head and caught his reflection in the silver water-pitcher on the table beside him. A dark splotch stained his right nostril. He accepted the proffered cloth and took his time scrubbing at his nose. “I cannot imagine Father ever being so careless,” Faramir said. “There is a story in that?”

“Aye, but for another time. What drives you to such distraction?”

Faramir had to admit, Húrin certainly had learned Denethor's art well. A moment before the steward had not wanted to speak of Éowyn; now any topic seemed preferable to the many ways Faramir reminded Húrin of Denethor. “Nothing of consequence, truly,” Faramir said.

A high-pitched “Hyah!” split the air. Húrin jumped to his feet, and it was Faramir's turn to smirk. “Peace, Húrin, 'tis only Lady Éowyn. She cries out like that when she finishes her sword-dance.”

Húrin sat down again. “'Nothing of consequence'?” he asked. “'Nothing of consequence'? She is of every consequence. She is a daughter of kings; what's more, her people chose her when her uncle and brother rode to battle. She is more fair than any maiden birthed in Gondor this generation, to say nothing of her glory as Wraithbane, killer of an enemy that has plagued Middle-earth since before Osgiliath's foundations were laid. They shall sing of her deeds long after both of us are dead.” Faramir shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “There is little of more consequence within the Rammas.”

“What else do you know of her?” Faramir asked, intrigued. “Where did you hear all of this?”

Húrin clapped Faramir's leg. “I listen, Faramir. Elfhelm asks about his Dernhelm on occasion, and my squires are eager to share gossip of her. You, a veteran ranger of Ithilien, must know how to ferret out information and interrogate those you meet.”

Faramir nodded. “That I do, but those methods are not... fit... for friends, or west of the River.” A breeze wafted through the open window, and Faramir walked over to it, happy to seize a moment's delay. Why had it not occurred to him to close the window before now? Éowyn stood just outside, she could have heard every word spoken – but when he reached the window he saw that she was gone. He closed the shutters for good measure. Returning to his seat, he let out a sigh. “You speak truly, Húrin. Lady Éowyn is of great consequence, few greater.”

Húrin smiled at that. “I saw it in my own sons. She has captured you, heart, mind, and body, lad.”

“I am no lad,” Faramir objected, but Húrin waved him off.

“When it comes to love you are greener than when you were first commissioned for Ithilien. My boy Brethil relied on his sister to spread flattering rumours of him with the ladies he fancied, and even Boromir let my wife fill his dance card for him.” Faramir felt a twinge at a mention of his brother but he buried the memory as best he could, concentrating instead on the older man's words. “'Tis a good thing that our ladies are so forgiving, Faramir, or Gondor would die within the generation. We men are bumblers at this, every one of us.”

Faramir nodded without saying a word. He felt strangely somber. As hard as he tried not to think of him, he could not wholly banish memories of Boromir: throwing candied nuts at Húrin's oldest daughter and her betrothed when they kissed outside Merethrond; a soldierly dance at Cair Andros, where Boromir had looked so at peace precisely because there were no women and no expectations of courtship; the pure terror he had felt and seen in his brother's and cousins' eyes at facing a room full of plotting ladies at a ball in Dol Amroth.

“Have you even spoken with her, or do you just admire her from afar?” Húrin asked after a moment.

Faramir shook his head as if that would whisk away the memories. “She came to me when the Warden would not release her from the Houses so she could seek death.” Húrin coughed, Faramir guessed to cover a laugh. “Yes, 'tis true – she really expected him to agree to that. I offered her sympathy and company, and she asked for a window looking east.” He sighed. “We walk together on occasion, but she refuses to speak of her family or anything near to her heart.”

Húrin rubbed his chin thoughtfully and said, “Where words fail, actions must suffice.” He met Faramir's eyes and nodded to himself. “You should give her your mother's cloak.”

“Éowyn is not the type to be swayed by pretty things. I could give her the queen's jewel-box and she would not love me for it.”

“Then do not try!” Húrin said. “Offer her all your mother's wardrobe for a different reason. Not as a 'pretty thing', as you put it, but as a needed tool.”

Faramir looked at him blankly.

“She is the daughter of kings, lad!” Húrin exclaimed. “What clothes befitting her station would fit into a saddlebag? All of Gondor's gentry will flock to this city for the king's coronation, and before that you must take up your office. Give her the tools to show she is the equal of any of them. Let her decide to stand at your side, or not, but give her the opportunity to do it with her pride intact.”

“And you think that will persuade her?”

Before Húrin could answer a knock came from the door, and Bergil entered with a steaming mug. “Lord Faramir, I--” He stopped short when he saw the keeper of the city's keys sitting in the room. “I beg pardon, sirs, I did not know--”

“Think nothing of it,” Húrin said, smiling genially at the boy. “We were speaking no secrets today.”

“Though you should wait to be given entry,” Faramir added gently. “I am not steward yet, but the lords in this room do sometimes discuss things not meant for all ears.”

Bergil nodded, shamefaced. “Yes, sir, it's just that Ioreth said you should drink this before it cools.”

“And what is 'this'?” Faramir asked.

“Sleeping draught, lord,” Bergil said. “Ioreth says your hour is up. And that you're to sleep until the noon meal, and afterwards you can walk with the Lady Éowyn if she's willing.”

Faramir exchanged a look with Húrin before he took the mug and drained it in a single gulp. He gave Bergil his warmest smile. “Such a hard life we lords live, ey? An hour's work, then a rest and a walk with a fair lady.” Bergil laughed, and Faramir turned to Húrin. “Húrin? Bring me the cloak, and have Mother's other things aired as well.”

“You think such tokens might help you win your lady's heart?” Húrin asked.

“Nay,” Faramir replied. “I do not know what – if anything – will. But faint heart certainly shall not, and she will need them in any case.”

“That is the most sensible thing you have said all morning.” He stood and kissed Faramir on the forehead. “Get you well, boy. The city's keys weigh heavy in my hand, and that burden was not meant for me.”

Faramir walked Húrin and Bergil to the door before making for his own bed. That afternoon he would woo a shieldmaiden, and such an undertaking required strength.

~~~

Note: This story relies on a rather minor (and purely bookverse) character: Húrin of the Keys. His exact history is only hinted at. He is present at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and at Aragorn's coronation, and the Warden of the Houses of Healing tells Éowyn that he “commands the men of Gondor” during Faramir's recovery.

Húrin is one of my favourite minor characters. Because he is in a position of power but is not named as a regional lord, it seems likely to me that he is somehow connected to Denethor's family. Histories of Middle-earth volume XII says that Denethor was the first son and third child of Ecthelion II, implying he had at least two sisters. I tend to think of Húrin as the husband of one of these sisters, but that's inconsequential to this story. You can think of him as any lifelong friend of Denethor's if you prefer. (Yes, even he must have had them!)

In “The Houses of Healing”, The Return of the King, Gandalf warns Aragorn that “the full tale of the madness of Denethor should not be told to [Faramir], until he is quite healed and has duties to do.” Personally I do not believe he knew what happened to Denethor until after he proposes to Éowyn; otherwise that proposal seems much more like emotional desperation and less like true love.

For the purposes of this story I have assumed that he only knows Denethor is dead but has not been told any of the details. I've also downplayed the grief and general confusion he'd be dealing with, not because those aren't real but because as a writer I cannot write it without it weighing down the story too much even for a bitter Valentine's Day challenge.

Thank you to Annmarwalk for the beta, and to Elena Tiriel for the canon assistance.


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