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The Healer's Gambit
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1

Nárië 3020 T.A.
Minas Tirith

The images came upon him relentlessly, one after the other... white stone falling, striking men below... soft, pained gasps for breath... Nazgûl overhead, their shrieks freezing hearts with sheer terror... a grey boat floating down the Anduin, his brother's dead body inside... a knife covered in blood... a terrifying dash on horseback across an open plain... the pierce of an arrow... flames consuming a huge pyre... screams...

He awoke with a gasp, his face flushed, his body covered in sweat. He could hear his heart thumping in his chest as he sat up and realized where he was. He was in Minas Tirith, safe in his own bed in the Steward's Chambers. Éowyn was beside him, but he must have disturbed her sleep, for he felt her stir and awaken as he lay down again, trying to calm his breathing.

"Faramir?" she asked, propping herself on one arm to reach for him. "Another dream?" she said softly, her eyes full of concern.

He took her hand and kissed it just to remove it from his chest, for he did not want her to feel how frantically his heart continued to pound. "Yes, my love," he said, as calmly as he could manage. "I am sorry I woke you. It was just a dream," he said, willing her to believe the lie. The dreams were utterly terrifying, vivid images of death and fear that plagued him in his sleep and haunted him when he was awake.

"These dreams torment you, Faramir," she protested softly, "and have for weeks."

"What would you have me do?" he snapped, immediately regretting the sharpness in his voice. He reached out and stroked her cheek, seeking forgiveness.

She gave it, turning into his caress for a moment before meeting his eyes once again. "Perhaps if you spoke of it, it would ease your mind," she said softly.

He could not speak about the dreams, but he did not wish to have this discussion now. "Perhaps," he said, "but not now. It is the middle of the night. Please, go back to sleep." He kissed her gently and wrapped his arms around her, seeking comfort in her presence even as he sought to reassure her.

But sleep would not come, and as soon as he felt Éowyn's slow, quiet breathing, he slipped carefully from their bed and dressed before leaving their chamber as silently as he was able.

Perhaps sleep would be easier once they moved to Ithilien, once he was away from the city and all the memories it held for him. But such a change was nearly a year away; Ithilien was still unsafe, and his rangers continued their long labor to clear out dens of orcs. Ground had not yet been broken on their new home in the hills of Emyn Arnen, although careful clearing of the land was progressing under Legolas's watchful supervision.

Faramir went out into the fountain courtyard, breathing in the fresh air. It would be almost unbearably warm later, but the sun had not yet begun to rise above the Ephel Duath, and it was still cool and pleasant in the predawn darkness. The guards ignored him, as was their wont, and he paid them no mind as he sat on the steps leading to the White Tower. He rested his elbows on his knees and leaned into his hands, rubbing his temples, trying to ignore the intrusion of the dream images into his waking mind.

Instead, he thought of all the work that lay waiting for him, as it had from the moment he had taken up his duties more than a year ago. Rebuilding, refugees, defense, trade, diplomacy, agriculture -- he had some hand in all these matters, whether great or trivial.

In the first weeks and months after the King's coronation, many great matters lay before them, but decisions relating to such weighty questions had been swiftly made. Now, it seemed, the problems on his table were mostly trivial, mostly matters that could be handled by lower-level administrators. Yet every man in the realm seemed to wish for the King's personal attention to his problem, which meant the problem first came to Faramir. He spent the remainder of his time, such as it was, attempting to order his own realm in Ithilien. He sighed, a part of him wishing for the life of a captain once again, when his responsibilities were his men and his mission, and his days were spent in simple, if dangerous, pursuits.

Yet he was grateful his duties no longer included writing letters to the loved ones of fallen men, trying to explain the unexplainable: "Your son fought valiantly, and he gave his life in the service of Gondor. There can be no greater sacrifice, nor any more cherished memory, than that which we hold for our fallen..."

He shuddered, feeling ashamed that the memory brought him such dread. How many such letters had he written in the years leading up to the War? Dozens, hundreds? Too many. Too many dead fathers, brothers, husbands; too many sundered families.

He tried to set the memories aside, to focus on the day ahead rather than on years past. He might have many trivial matters to address, but he also had much for which he might be grateful. He loved his wife dearly. The king of his childhood dreams had at last returned, and no man greater walked Middle-earth. He had his uncle and cousins, and the new friendships he had found with Éomer and Legolas. All were reasons for happiness, he knew. But since the nightmares had begun, knowing he had many reasons why he should be content seemed only to intensify his inner disquiet.

Studying the still-dark sky, he rose, determined to complete several hours of paperwork before he joined his wife for breakfast.

***

Éowyn sat in the small courtyard outside her sitting room, enjoying the midmorning sun as she reviewed a rather hastily scribbled pile of notes. The hint of a cool breeze remained, yet once the sun reached its zenith, she knew, the air would still and they would be subject to another oppressively warm afternoon.

She bent her head back to her notes, trying to concentrate, wondering why she had taken this task upon herself. She was awaiting Legolas, who was teaching her to speak and read the Elvish tongue. Despite her new friend's evident gifts as a teacher, she had begun to doubt she would ever master it.

"Éowyn," Faramir had said a month earlier, taking her in his arms, "You need not do this, if you do not wish to. It is of no matter to me whether you learn the Elf-tongue."

"It matters to me," she had insisted. "For is not this tongue still spoken among the highborn of Gondor? Are not many of the books in your library written in Elvish?"

"Indeed, but --"

"Then I shall learn it, my lord," she had said. She knew there had been many whispers at court that Faramir had erred in choosing a woman of Rohan for a wife rather than one of Númenorean descent. While she despised the prejudice behind the words, and knew Faramir did also, she was determined not to offer any cause for criticism.

Éowyn's level of book learning far surpassed most of her people, due in large measure to her grandmother, who had come from Gondor herself and brought with her a love of books and scholarship. While Éowyn had mastered reading and writing the common tongue as a child, she had not learned Elvish, preferring to ride and practice martial skills with her brother and cousin.
But now her life was in Gondor, so she had set herself the task of acquiring an education equal to any lady of the realm. And that required learning Elvish.

She sighed and returned to her notes, muttering, "Gohenon, gohenach, gohena, gohenam, gohenach, gohenar..."

"There is much forgiveness going on this morning, I see." She blinked, turning to find Queen Arwen standing in the open doorway, a smile on her fair face.

"My lady..." Éowyn said in surprise, quickly rising. "I did not expect you. Good morning."

"Good morning," the Queen said. "I am here on Legolas's behalf. Something required his attention in Ithilien this morning, and he left before dawn. He asked if I would come in his stead. May I?" she asked, gesturing to the seat next to Éowyn.

"Of course!" Éowyn said, returning to her own chair. "But my lady, I'm sure you have more important tasks to attend, and I would not mind forgoing today's lesson..."

The Queen smiled. "Truly, I have no more pressing matter this morning. Is the prospect of my tutelage so daunting?" she asked.

"Indeed, no, my lady." Éowyn blushed. In the months since her wedding, she had not often seen the Queen, for as soon as the court had returned from Rohan, she and the King had left for a tour of the southern provinces. She did not know the Queen well, and she could not help but feel unnerved by her beauty and grace.

"Good, then it is settled," the Queen smiled, looking over at Éowyn's notes. "Verbs, very well. Your present tenses of goheno sounded excellent, would you like to try past?"

"Yes, my lady," she replied, ready to begin, but the Queen stopped her, placing her hand over Éowyn's own.

"Would you do me the kindest favor, and call me 'Arwen' when we are not before the court? For I long to be just Arwen again, with someone other than my husband." Their eyes met, and for the first time, Éowyn felt she saw past the Queen's stately grace. She saw someone who was as foreign as she was in Minas Tirith, perhaps moreso; not a queen, but just a woman who needed a friend.

"I would be honored, Arwen," she said quietly, returning her smile.

"Let us proceed then," Arwen said briskly, though the warm smile remained on her face. "'I forgave'?" she prompted.

Éowyn took a deep breath before plunging forward. "Gohennen, gohennech, gohenn..."

The morning flew by, and Éowyn relaxed, enjoying Arwen's easy company as well as the sense that she was progressing. She stretched and yawned. Arwen smiled, raising an eyebrow.

"Goheno anim," Éowyn said quickly, wondering what had come over her.

Arwen smiled. "Gohenon le," and they both laughed.

"A useful verb, 'to forgive,'" Éowyn mused.

"Indeed," Arwen replied. "Though not needed here. Are you tired? We should conclude, I think."

"It is the heat," Éowyn said, for it had grown warmer during the lesson. "And perhaps, yes, I am a bit tired."

"The best way to learn a language," Arwen said, "is to practice, not just at your lessons, but in speech. Perhaps we should take some refreshment, and then go for a walk, and speak only Elvish? What think you?"

Éowyn's eyes grew wide, daunted at the thought of holding actual conversation in this strange tongue. But she nodded bravely, hoping she could manage without humiliating herself too badly.

***

Their walk was lovely, and it became a ritual in the following days. Several times a week, Éowyn and the Queen -- Arwen -- would walk together, speaking only Elvish. With Arwen's gentle correction, Éowyn was improving rapidly, applying the skills learned during her book lessons.

Éowyn found she was not only enjoying her lessons more as a result, but she was quickly growing to treasure Arwen's company. She had begun to despair of ever finding a real friend at court, someone with whom she could truly be herself, and she found she longed for such a friend desperately, given the tension at home.

She loved Faramir, yet she knew something was troubling him terribly. His nightmares had continued unabated, to the point where he was sleeping less and less. Most frustrating of all, he would not speak about the nightmares with her, excusing them as a soldier's postwar legacy. Yet she had spent her life among soldiers, and while she had never shared a bed with one, she did not believe this to be true.

Thus, she was ever more grateful for Arwen's quiet, assured presence. The differences in their backgrounds, rather than keeping them apart, seemed to draw them together. In addition to their walks, they often found themselves together in one of their sitting rooms with sewing or needlework or some other task upon their laps. While they worked, they shared stories of their people, or spoke of life at court in Minas Tirith.

One afternoon past midsummer, they were resting after a long walk, sitting together on Arwen's shaded balcony. Arwen did not suffer the heat as she did, Éowyn thought, but even her eyes looked to the west, as if she was willing the sun to begin its descent.

Éowyn set down her cool drink and yawned, then smiled an apology at Arwen.

Arwen smiled, but examined her with concern. "Are you well, dear? You have been quite tired in recent days."

Éowyn was about to excuse the yawn to the heat, but the quiet compassion in Arwen's voice brought tears to her eyes, and as their gaze met, the concern in Arwen's face deepened.

"What troubles you, Éowyn? Let me share your burdens, if I might." She moved her chair closer, draping an arm around Éowyn's shoulders.

Éowyn let the tears fall, leaning in to Arwen's gentle embrace. "It is Faramir," she began. "He suffers terrible nightmares, and sleeps little. He will not speak of the dreams, or accept my help in this matter." Her voice was almost flat, even as her tears fell. Arwen wiped them away with a handkerchief as Éowyn told what she knew of the nightmares, which was only that they concerned the war in some respect.

"Has he spoken to anyone of this?"

She shook her head. "I think not."

Arwen sighed. "Would that men could learn to speak of their feelings, and know there is no shame in them. The pride of men knows no bounds, I fear."

Éowyn nodded. "I worry about him, and soon I leave for Edoras, to help prepare Éomer's wedding. I promised him I would come, for he has no one else, yet I loathe leaving Faramir alone for such a long time."

"I will keep such an eye on him as I might," Arwen said.

"Thank you, Arwen. That means a great deal to me."

She nodded. "And perhaps," she said, "I can think of some manner in which he might be helped, without disturbing his pride too greatly."

Éowyn smiled wanly. She worried for Faramir, yet it did help to share her burden with a friend.

***

The days and weeks slipped by, and Éowyn soon found herself packing for her trip to Edoras. She planned to stay for several months, to oversee the preparations for Éomer's wedding to Faramir's cousin Lothíriel. As much as she looked forward to visiting her home, she regretted her decision to absent herself from Minas Tirith for so long. Despite Arwen's assurances to watch over Faramir, she was worried. He rarely slept more than a few hours each night, and even that rest was often disturbed by dreams. She was torn between her love for her husband and her promise to her brother, and as late as the evening before her departure, she had almost changed her mind.

She and Faramir were in their sitting room after the evening meal. "Perhaps I should not go," she said.

Faramir looked up from the report on his lap. "What is this?" he asked.

"I worry for you, Faramir," she said. "You are exhausted, you work too much, and you barely sleep. How can I leave you thus, and for so long?"

"Éowyn," he said, meeting her gaze. "You must go. I would not have you break your promise to your brother. He truly needs you."

"And you do not?"

He set aside his reading and knelt next to her chair, taking her hand in his. "Of course I need you, my love, but I shall be fine here." He kissed her hand. "You must go. I cannot imagine how Éomer would manage without you."

Nor could she, Éowyn realized with a sigh. "I wish you could go with me," she said.

"As do I," Faramir agreed. "But you know it is impossible, between the Steward's office and all that must be done if we are to move to Emyn Arnen next spring. But I will be there for the wedding, this I promise."

He moved into the chair, shifting her onto his lap and wrapping his arms around her. Éowyn leaned into the embrace, soothed by his presence, although her concern remained. She hated feeling helpless more than anything in the world, especially when it came to those she loved. But she had made a promise to her brother, and she must keep it.

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