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27
The Birth of a Different Hope

For Dreamflower's birthday. And thanks as always to RiverOtter for the beta.


~~~

The Birth of a Different Hope


The meeting with Princess Éowyn had been intriguing, and Faramir had the distinct feeling that she did not remember him from his visit to Rohan alongside his father and brother some years ago. She'd been--what? Perhaps fourteen, he thought. A leggy thing she'd been, between childhood and womanhood, her hair snarled by the constant winds that had blown over Edoras, her eyes alive with curiosity and even then with a level of wariness and restlessness. She'd examined him briefly, and then her eyes had focused on his swordbelt and the hilt that had risen from his carefully polished sheath, then on the bow and quiver he carried at his shoulder. She'd smiled on them, her curiosity piqued. When he'd granted her permission to examine his sword her eyes had grown bright with pleasure and the honor of it, and she'd handled the blade with the casual competence of a born swordsman.

Théoden had commented, "She's insisted on doing whatever her brother does, so Théodred and our weapons masters have taught her alongside Éomer. It's difficult at times to get her to settle to embroidery and such--although she loves dresses that flatter her; and so Anhilde has been able to get her to settle to such mundane tasks. But give her a good blade or a good horse and you can capture her interest for hours. Both she and Éomer spend much of the day with the weaponsmiths and those who care for the horses. Plus she fletches a good arrow, we've found."

She'd definitely--grown--since then, becoming a woman of even more spirit than the girl had shown. Yes, more spirit--but more pain as well. The wariness he'd seen in the maiden had increased and become downright suspicion, or so he deemed; and he'd sensed a level of wounded pride also, and he found himself wondering about that. After she left him and he'd returned to his room, he sent young Bergil to summon the Warden of the Houses of Healing to him.

"The Lady Éowyn is grieved that her windows do not look to the east," he began.

The Warden appeared surprised. "She would look that way, toward the danger that threatens all?"

Faramir found himself smiling rather grimly. "She is apparently one who prefers not to seek to hide from evil truths, Master Warden. She knows that her brother has gone that way, and grieves she could not share the danger of the Black Gate with him. Can you arrange for her to be moved to a room that has a window looking eastward?"

"Of course, my Lord Steward."

"And can you tell me any more of her? How was it she came to be here among her uncle's warriors? And did I hear truly--that alongside a Pherian she struck down the Lord of the Nazgûl?"

"Yea--so it has proved, alongside the Pherian Meriadoc, who came with the Rohirrim. From what I have been told, Master Meriadoc rode with
her, and stood by her side when Théoden King was assailed by the Ring-wraith, and that each struck him, together destroying the demon."

"How was it that she rode with the army?" Faramir asked. "I still cannot believe that King Théoden would countenance such an act, particularly as she is the next in line for the rule of their people since Théodred is dead and her brother rode with her uncle here to the defense of Minas Tirith and Gondor. Although I know many women amongst the Rohirrim learn to defend themselves with bow or sword, never had I heard that they allowed them to ride out deliberately to war."

"No more they did," the Warden said. "When she was brought here she was arrayed as a Rider, and she had bound her breasts under her hauberk that they not betray her. All among the Rohirrim were dismayed and in grief to learn their White Lady had so hazarded herself. Lord Elfhelm told me that she had been given the charge of those of their people who'd remained within Rohan. That she was amongst those who followed in his eored was a shock unto him."

"So--she rode in disguise? And a Pherian rode with her?"

"So I have been told."

"I would speak with Lord Elfhelm, then, to learn more."

The Warden was shaking his head. "I grieve to tell you, my lord, that he is not here. Éomer King was greatly grieved when he found her upon the field, thinking her dead, and when he learned that she would live by the power of the Lord Aragorn he was much relieved. However, then he wished to know how it was she came there, so he questioned Lord Elfhelm, and then set him to taking back the road between Minas Tirith and Rohan from those of the Enemy's troupes that hold it. I believe this act was intended to punish him for not recognizing and forbidding his sister from accompanying their army."

Faramir thought for a time. "Then is there none whom I might question more deeply to learn the answer to this riddle?" he finally asked.

The Warden gave a shrug. "I suppose," he said slowly, "that you might question Master Meriadoc, the Pherian. He, too, was left behind here in our keeping, although I believe he can be released today or tomorrow."

"He was not badly hurt, then?"

The Warden straightened. "Did you not hear, my lord, that he, too, was near death with the Black Breath? However, the Pheriannath appear to possess great powers of recovery, and as I said he is nearly well once more--although his sword hand yet grows chilled when he becomes tired or distressed."

"May I speak with him?"

"If I can find him, my Lord Faramir. Now that his strength has returned he spends a good deal of time amongst those of the Rohirrim who were worst wounded, for they appear most cheered to have him amongst them."

"Then if you will set one to find him and bring him to me I shall be most grateful."

"As you ask, so shall I seek to see it done, my Lord Steward," the Warden answered him with a bow, and went back into the Houses to seek the Pherian Meriadoc.

*******


He found the small person in the room in which two of the worst hurt of the Rohirrim were housed. Of these two, Elfred had been one of Théoden's oldest household knights, one of those who'd accompanied the refugees from Edoras to Dunharrow and had attended upon the Lady Éowyn before the return of those who'd fought at Helm's Deep. His horse, maddened with terror, had thrown him when the Nazgûl had stooped its fell beast upon the King on the fields of the Pelennor, and he'd shattered a hip and shoulder in his fall. So it was that he had lain helpless when his beloved lady stood to defend her uncle and King. "It was a wonder to see her stand, so straight and brave when I could see by the trembling of her legs what she wished to do was to flee, as would any sane Man, or so I'd think it. And then to see you rise up from amongst the fallen and creep behind the horror of it and strike it behind its knee! Ah--I found myself wishing to sing with joy, had it been possible. And then she struck! Sweet Bema--what a blow! And it fell--fell--its robes empty! Then you rose and came to bid our beloved King goodbye, and then came Éomer! Ah, what a day, what a fight! And our sweet White Lady--to give such a blow and to defeat such a foe! And you, too--you helped to fell him! Such heroics from among those who came here to Mundburg from Rohan, Master Meriadoc!"

The Warden smiled to see how the Pherian flushed, there where he sat in a chair far too tall for his height, there the other side of the Rider's bed. "It was only because I found I couldn't let her stand alone--and I couldn't bring myself to face him directly, you know. You would have done the same had you been able to move."

Elfred's face had become solemn. "Be not so certain, my friend--it was all I could do to bring myself to lift my head when I recognized her voice raised in challenge. The thought of joining her in her defiance of the creature never came to me, even when I realized you had been moved to strike a blow at it. Do not undervalue your courage. And it must have taken great courage to leave your own lands, as pleasant as they sound as you describe them, to come south as you have into the heart of danger and wars that are of no concern to you and your people."

Master Meriadoc was shaking his head. "One thing that I have learned in the past few weeks is that these wars should concern us, too, for we are as threatened as have been you and your people when all is said and done. The Enemy had learned of our land and folk, and sent his creatures to chase us from the center of the Shire to the borders of Rivendell. If he wins here, the Shire and Buckland won't be safe from him."

There was a gurgling noise from the other warrior, who'd been struck in the chest. Mostly he'd lain in a stupor since he'd been brought here, although he'd wakened more and more each time his position was changed that he not develop open sores from lying too long unmoved. The Pherian and Man turned briefly to look at him. "He's looking more as if he will recover," Master Meriadoc commented.

"So may it prove."

"Well, I'd best allow you to sleep for a time, Elfred. I shall be allowed to take my turn standing as one of the guards of honor for Lord Théoden this evening, I'm told."

"Then hold your torch high for his sake and mine."

With that the Pherian slipped to the floor and came out, allowing the Warden to speak with him quietly.

"If you have time, Master Meriadoc, our Lord Steward Faramir would speak with you."

"Lord Faramir? But I've not been properly presented to him as yet."

"He would speak, I understand, of the ride here from Rohan."

"I'm not certain what I can truly tell him, for I was attached to a smaller eored and was not particularly in a position to speak with the rest in it, as I was not supposed to have come along at all."

This was intriguing, and the Warden's brows lifted as he led the way to Faramir's presence.

*******


The new Steward of Gondor watched the coming of this new--Hobbit--with interest. As was true of Master Samwise, this one appeared practical and thoughtful, and more wary than seemed the small Pherian Guardsman, Peregrin son of Paladin. The hair was a warm brown and the eyes both intelligent and observant. He held his right arm rather protectively close to him, with the fist loosely closed. He wore an odd belt that appeared to be of enameled leaves, one that reminded him of the one he'd seen on his brother's body as it lay in its funeral boat, from which depended an empty sheath. This seemed odd--then he remembered that this one had used his weapon on the Witch-king of Angmar, and it was said that all blades perished that truly pierced the unseen flesh of the Nazgûl. Without realizing he was giving a small nod of understanding.

"My Lord Faramir, this is Master Meriadoc of the Shire. And this is the Lord Faramir son of Denethor, Lord Steward of Gondor."

Master Meriadoc gave a graceful bow, reminiscent of both Frodo and Peregrin. "My Lord Faramir," the Pherian said. "I am honored. How might I serve you, sir?"

"I wished in part some distraction," Faramir answered, noting more ways in which this one resembled the others of his kind he'd met so far. "I am told you are a kinsman of Guardsman Peregrin son of Paladin?"

"Who?" The Hobbit appeared rather surprised by this title, then paused. "Oh, yes--that is how you'd know him. Well, yes--he's my first cousin. His father is my mother's brother, you see."

"You are older than he is?"

"By a few years--yes, my lord."

"Come--sit by me. I will not stand on ceremony now. So, you came out of the Shire with Masters Frodo and Samwise?"

The Pherian paused in the act of settling himself on the stool opposite the Man, and appeared startled. He was now actively searching Faramir's eyes. "You know of them? Wait--are you the one who saw them? Oh, how were they when you saw them? Are they well? Where did you see them? How is my Frodo?"

Faramir was surprised and gratified to see this level of concern in the small person's eyes. "You care deeply for him?"

"Of course! He's my first and second cousin, once removed each way, and I love him deeply! He's been like my older brother all my life, you see! He's the reason we left home, Pippin, Sam, and me. We couldn't let him go alone! When did you see him? Please--tell me!"

Faramir asked the hovering Warden to have refreshments brought to them, and he swiftly related the meeting in Ithilien and the night spent in the Ranger's hidden refuge there.

"And that Gollum was with them? Why? How could Frodo begin to trust him? He wanted to eat cousin Bilbo, you see."

"Eat whom?"

Now it was Merry's turn to give an abbreviated description of Bilbo Baggins's unusual adventure with thirteen Dwarves and a Wizard, and the encounter with Gollum in the complex of caverns beneath the Misty Mountains east of Rivendell. "If Bilbo hadn't had that--thing--in his pocket and if It hadn't slipped Itself onto his finger, we wouldn't be here now," Meriadoc told him. "We aren't certain why It didn't change him more, but then from what Gandalf has told us It was mostly asleep most of the time, until a few years ago when Sauron began becoming more active himself, and by that time he'd left It to Frodo."

Faramir nodded again. "I see," he said thoughtfully. "And when Gandalf was here last he learned Its nature, I understand?"

"Yes--that is what he told Frodo--that he'd at last found perhaps a way of testing the--It--to see if It was what he was fearful It was. When the fire-writing showed itself he was terrified, Sam told us."

"Sam? Your kinsman's companion?"

"Yes. Sam is Frodo's gardener, and he always was spying on Frodo anyway, trying to make certain he knew enough of what Frodo was doing to make things comfortable for him. But this time he got more of an earful than he'd thought to find, listening beneath the window the way he did. And when he heard Frodo say he would have to leave the Shire with--with It he apparently choked, and that was how Gandalf found him out. He decided that Sam should accompany Frodo, and then I decided I would go, too, and then Pippin made it known there was no way in the Shire he'd agree to stay behind. So another cousin, Fredegar Bolger, said he'd stay behind and try to make folks believe that Frodo was still there for as long as possible so we could be well outside the Shire before anyone realized the rest of us were gone."

"I see." Faramir considered this information. "Master Samwise appears to be very devoted to his Master."

"Oh, but he is. He was ten when Frodo came to live in Bag End, and he's always been Frodo's shadow in spite of the difference in age. Oh, he's only two years older than I am, Sam is; but Frodo was raised by my parents as if he were my older brother, you see. I suppose it's only normal I should think on him as if he were my big brother, while Pippin has always acted as if he were little brother to both of us. Sam is about Frodo's best friend in many ways, although almost everyone who knows Frodo loves and cares for him--except for Lotho Sackville-Baggins and Ted Sandyman--and Bartolo Bracegirdle, I suppose. Although Bartolo's never been spiteful the way Lotho and Ted Sandyman have. Bartolo may not like Frodo, but he's no bully, after all."

"I see." Faramir was feeling amused. "How was it you did not ride here with Mithrandir alongside Guardsman Peregrin?"

"Oh, that. Well, that's a--difficult story. It started when Gríma Wormtongue threw this big glassy, stone ball out of the window in Orthanc, and Pippin caught it before it rolled into a puddle. Gandalf took it away from him, but that night Pippin was obsessed just with the thought of examining it more closely and wouldn't stop going on about it. I finally told him that I'd be as curious about it as he was in the morning, but that he should go to sleep then, or at least let me sleep for a time. After I finally nodded off he seems to have got up again and stolen it from Gandalf, then looked into it." He paused, and the Man could see the fear the Hobbit had felt then mirrored in his eyes. "He said he saw--he said he saw Sauron, and that Sauron could suddenly see him once he admitted he was a Hobbit, and Sauron said to tell Saruman that he was sending to fetch him away. I've never seen Pippin that terrified, you know. Then a shadow passed between us and the Moon, and I knew it was one of the Black Riders only somehow riding a winged thing of some kind. Gandalf said he needed to get Pippin away--that the Enemy was after him somehow, so he brought him here.

"I hated it--I'm his older cousin and ought to be taking care of him--only once we were caught by the Uruk-hai it seemed mostly he was taking the lead, if you know what I mean. Of course, I was wounded and he wasn't, so he was able to think more clearly and all and saw how we could get away from the orcs, and left his cloak brooch behind for Strider to find to let him know we were alive and all."

The Hobbit went quiet for a few moments, and Faramir could see the weight of care that lay on him. "And now what good am I?" he asked in a quieter tone, as if to himself. "Frodo and Sam slipped away eastward from us--at least they didn't get caught when the orcs found us on Amon Hen, and I'm not helping them at all. Boromir's dead--the orc who was carrying me was so gleeful about how they'd slain the great warrior, you see----"

Faramir straightened, his face going pale. "Boromir? You were with my brother when he died?" he interrupted.

Master Meriadoc stopped, suddenly remembering he wasn't alone. The Man could see he was cradling his right hand to his chest. "Brother? He was your----?" He stopped and swallowed. "Then, you are that Faramir, the one he told us about! Oh, but he was so proud of you, you know."

Looking into the earnest gaze of the Hobbit, Faramir felt again the grief at his brother's death as well as a sudden warmth. "Let you tell me of it," he suggested quietly.

The Pherian gave a slight nod and complied.

They eventually ate a meal together as the Man continued to ply the Hobbit with questions that Meriadoc continued to answer. At last they came to the question of the Lady Êowyn. "And you had no idea she was a woman?"

"No, my Lord Faramir, none. She'd seen to it I was given a hauberk and gambeson and all that were appropriate for my stature, and even found me a helmet. I understand that Thengel King had them made for my Lord Théoden when he was a child. They are still a bit big for me now, but they serve well enough. I understand that Aragorn had asked her to have these things ready for us when we arrived there in Dunharrow so that I could be appropriately armed to travel with the Riders to Gondor, where we'd thought to be reunited with Pippin and Gandalf. Only after Gandalf and Pippin left us we were joined by the Rangers from back home. We've always seen them, the Rangers, as they've ridden through the Shire on their own business. And they're often seen in Bree. They brought more messages from Lord Elrond, and that was when Aragorn decided he and his folk were needed southward as swiftly as might be, so he left me in Théoden King's care and went off with his kinsmen and Elrond's sons and Legolas and Gimli, and suddenly I was alone with folk I didn't really know at all. I hated it, you see. But King Théoden was a very polite fellow, and I came to love him a good deal. When I offered him my sword and he accepted it I was so proud! I think that was almost the proudest moment in my life--besides when I was younger and Frodo was proud of me, that is. And I knew it was going to be all right--that I would be able to ride alongside the King and come here and help Pippin and fight Sauron.

"Only it didn't happen that way. My King didn't think I could fight properly, so he wanted me to stay safe in Rohan and asked me to serve the Lady Êowyn for him. As those who were gathering from his own people in Edoras began to mount up ready to ride this young warrior approached me. He had his helmet on him, and I thought that was rather strange, for most had their helmets at their saddlebows at the time. He said that he could tell I wanted to go with the King, too, and that if I wished I could ride with him. He said he'd not wanted to be left behind, either, and so he'd found a way. He said to call him Dernhelm.

"I'll tell you the truth, sir--I thought this one was considered too young to go and so had been ordered to stay behind, and that maybe he'd taken the armor of an older brother or kinsman who'd been killed or injured so he could ride undetected. He said I could ride under his cloak until we were too far to send us back, and that's what I did. He didn't join the King's folks, though--instead when we got down into the valley he rode in Elfhelm's eored. It wasn't till the second day that I realized that several of the Men knew I was there, and that they were glad of it. Suddenly one of them stopped near me, but didn't look at me, and left a small skin of wine for me. I shared it with Dernhelm."

"Did Dernhelm tell you anything about himself?"

Meriadoc shook his head. "Oh, no, sir. Didn't speak much, you see. Maybe afraid if someone recognized his--her--voice they'd tell Êomer or the King. I really don't think that Elfhelm knew. He told me that first day after I awoke here that he'd known I was there, and that he'd thought that was what Dernhelm was hiding--besides the fact he was too young, that is. Elfhelm said he understood about wanting to fight to protect others in spite of being too young--he was only fifteen when he rode out with the Men the first time, he told me. So he didn't ask too many questions of Dernhelm, for he'd thought him but a lad after all. He'd just never realized that Dernhelm was the King's niece!

"I've spoken more to Lady Êowyn here than I did in Rohan or on our ride, really. She tells me we are sword-brethren, having ridden closely together and fought together as we did. She fought on one side of Windfola, and I did the other, and we must have killed about twenty or more orcs each that way. I've never fought from horseback before, and was glad Boromir had told Pippin and me something of what it's like as we traveled. I tried to do things just as he'd told us, and I must have done most of it right."

Faramir found himself now smiling when the Pherian mentioned his brother. "And you've spent much time in her company?" he asked.

Merry nodded. "A fair amount, although I've also spent time with many of the Riders as well. It's been told them that I stood with Lady Êowyn to defend King Théoden, so they seem to want to thank me, even if in the end we didn't manage to save him.

"Those from Edoras want to tell me their tales of him from before the days when Saruman ruled him through this Gríma Wormtongue, and Elfred particularly has told me of how Wormtongue's poisonous counsel was aimed as much at those close to the King as at Lord Théoden himself. He appears to have done his best to sow distrust between the King and his son as well as his nephew Êomer, and to make both the King and Êowyn feel powerless and alone.

"Herrbold, who's always followed the Third Marshall, has told me of Êomer's awareness that Gríma sought his sister. He said that the Man followed behind her always, spying on her; and when she sought to get away from him by riding out or visiting other villages or settlements he would have his own Men shadow her, and would go through her quarters and possessions while she was gone. I understand that one time she drew a dagger on him when she was cornered by him in a storeroom. Many believe he may have--hastened the death of the King's son, Théodred. Elfred mutters about poisons and the like. It does sound as if this Gríma was rather--unpopular, and as if he'd convinced Théoden King he was too old and weak to make proper decisions regarding the Mark. All rejoiced when he was unmasked by Gandalf."

"Have they spoken of the lady being drawn to anyone?"

Now the Pherian was examining him, his eyes somewhat widened; and a hint of a smile lurking at the corners of his mouth. His voice, however, was solemn enough as he answered. "They told me she--may have--favored certain Riders when she was younger, although nothing came of it. I am told all were older than she by several years, and most were happily married. She was apparently fascinated by Strider when he came to Edoras with Gandalf, and somehow, I'm certain without meaning to do so, he managed to offend her when he and the Rangers came through Dunharrow in order to go through the Paths of the Dead. Gimli and Legolas both said she asked to go with them, and was upset when Aragorn told her that he didn't have the authority to allow her to do so. Elfred was serving as her personal guard at the time, and saw her approach Strider. He wasn't certain what she was asking, but it was plain that Aragorn's answer was no. He said that from what he could see Lord Aragorn was most polite and correct, but that nevertheless she was angry and humiliated when she returned to her own tent, and the next morning as their party left it was as bad again."

"Then she might have considered herself in love with the one who will be our King?"

"I'm not quite certain, my Lord. When I've spoken of some of the things he did for us during our journey she listens avidly, but with a certain--set to her mouth, if you can understand what I'm trying to describe."

"Does he have one he loves and cares about?"

"Well, if he does, he's not spoken of it to us. Not, of course, that we've been in much of a position to see anything in the way of ladies since we left Rivendell, and he wasn't there all that much during that time. I did see him a time or two speaking with Lord Elrond's daughter Arwen, but then as Lord Elrond served as his foster father after the death of his own when he was a faunt--or whatever it is Men call that time when children are learning to walk and need so much supervision--I suspect that was just him speaking with the one he thought of as his sister. He did tell us several times that Lord Elrond's twin sons were like brothers to him, after all. The only other time we were around women was when we were in Lothlorien, and we appear to have been there a month. Now, he spoke with the Lady Galadriel easily enough, but she's married--and apparently happily so, from what I saw of her and Lord Celeborn together. And never was there any indication that he felt anything but the strongest respect for one who wields a good deal of power and benevolence. And neither Pippin nor I was there in Edoras with him, or even Dunharrow. The King's party didn't arrive until long after he and Gimli and Legolas and the Rangers had
left, going through the Paths of the Dead."

"Did the Lady speak of Lord--Aragorn there in Dunharrow while you were in her presence?"

"Well, yes, she did. But it was always with a bit of a pursing of her lips as if she weren't quite happy with something he'd said. And if it was him saying he couldn't allow her to go with them, I can imagine it was that."

"I see." Faramir thought for a time. He could certainly appreciate that her imagination would have been caught by the person of the Heir of Isildur, much as his own had been. But if the Lord Aragorn didn't respond to that fascination....

*******


It was late that evening that Mistress Ioreth came to his chambers.

"Would you feel the desire for a sleeping draught or something of that sort, my Lord Faramir?" she asked him. "Or perhaps you'd like some more juice--ever since the first night you've been here we've tried to see to it you have some in the evening----"

He interrupted smoothly, "Oh, and I do appreciate that thoughtfulness, Mistress. You and those who serve in this house have been so good to me and so thoughtful for my comfort, and I've wished to thank you."

She beamed at him. "It is so good to know that you appreciate it, Lord Faramir. But you know that we would do anything in our power for you, for after all we've known you all your life and have watched you grow from the dear child you were to the responsible Man you are today. And for your sake and that of your father and brother--and your mother as well--well, all of us who knew her did love her, you see. A fine lady, your mother was. But we do what we can for the sake of all your family.

"Not, of course," she continued, "that we'd do any less for any who need our care. Take the Rohirrim--ah, that they should have come so far to our need as they did--they certainly deserve all the comfort and aid we can offer them, and the Pherian Meriadoc even more. He's come, apparently, from the furthest reaches of the north kingdom that failed so long ago, after all. A remarkably hardy race, the folk of this Shire of theirs. To have been so deep under the influence of the Black Breath as he was and to have recovered so well? Why, the Lady Êowyn has not recovered anywhere as swiftly, for all she now sees herself as strong enough to have followed the army toward...." For the first time words failed her. Apparently she could not bring herself to name the Enemy's lands.

"Ah, yes, the Lady Êowyn! She also came to the needs of the lands of the West behind her uncle and brother." He smiled at the older woman. "And how was it she was brought out of the depths of the Black Breath, Mistress Ioreth?" He gestured to a nearby chair, wordlessly inviting her to remain with him for a time.

She flushed as she seated herself, but who was she to turn down the invitation to speak further with their new Lord Steward? "Well, of course, my lord, it was due to the intervention of our Lord Elfstone, as it was with you. I don't know if you realize just how close you came to leaving us altogether, for even he said that all three of you were close to death, and you most of all, sir."

He let her chatter on, describing how Aragorn had asked for athelas or kingsfoil, and how none could be found, and of the empty help offered by the Herbmaster. "Not, of course, that Master Varadorn is all that helpful at the best of times. Oh, but I know I shouldn't speak poorly of those who are masters within the Houses, for they are all my betters, of course; but Master Varadorn, for all his learning, truly little appreciates just how the plants he uses grow, much less possible effects of those herbs not commonly used. There are some uses of lemon balm, for example, that he has sniffed at, although we always used the leaves when I was a maiden in Lossarnach for----"

Afraid that this might take them too far off the path he wished to tread, he lifted an eyebrow, and she immediately ground to a halt. She took a deep breath, realizing that even as understanding as Lord Faramir had always shown himself, nevertheless even he would not tolerate all the frankness she preferred to express. "Right," she said. "Well, as Master Varadorn finally admitted he had no kingsfoil within his stores, our Lord Elfstone merely looked at him with a bit of a shake to his head, almost as if he'd not expected more of him, and Lord Mithrandir sent him on his way with the call to one of less learning and more wisdom who might just have some in his house. Young Bergil was watching from the doorway, and commented to me that the woman who watched in the house in the Street of Lampwrights where he and the other younger boys were staying kept some always to help with her headaches--and I know she does have headaches, the dear woman, for she's always come to us----"

Again it took but a raised eyebrow to bring her back from this tangent to the main topic. She'd sent Bergil off to the apothecary in the Fifth Circle where the woman had obtained her store of kingsfoil, and of a wonder the Man had answered the door and given the boy all he'd had--a few leaves his apprentices had culled from the mouth of a valley called the King's Refuge that now served as one of the havens where women, children, elderly, and infirm had been sent to keep them safe during the siege. His apprentices had gone there a week earlier with the wife and daughters and younger son of the apothecary to see them comfortably settled and to bring back what herbs they could gather in haste, the apothecary foreseeing there might be need for a great store of healing herbs in the coming days.

Faramir listened, fascinated, as she described how the Lord Elfstone, as she kept calling Aragorn, had called him back to life and consciousness again. "I slipped out of the room just ere he left yours to have one of the apprentices fetch more water near to boiling so it would be there when he went into the Lady's room, for it was obvious that he would go there next. Oh, but she was in a bad way. I was there with the basin of fresh water and I saw him lean over her and call to her to return, worrying to the others as they came in also that she might waken to despair and so fail to strengthen. And he would not stay by her after he'd set the kingsfoil to steep and called her back--once he sensed she was making her way back from the Gates he had her brother sit by her side, saying that she loved him truly, not as she thought she'd loved him. Ah, how much regret I saw in his face when he said how hard it had been for him to not be able to return the love she'd begun to hold for him."

The Steward felt a level of relief at that. So, the heart of the Lord Aragorn was not inclined toward the Lady Êowyn, and she apparently realized it?

He allowed Ioreth to continue to chatter on about the waking of Master Meriadoc, and then the family members of others who'd already heard from the apprentices that one with the ability to call folks back from death was within the Houses and had called him, their new Lord Steward, back from the very Gates themselves, and now they were now waiting for him as he emerged from the Pherian's room and begging him to see to their own sons, fathers, brothers, kinsmen and companions of various degrees.

But he was listening less and less as she spoke, for his own curiosity had now been slaked, and he was realizing that the warmth he was now feeling in the depths of his heart had a hope. There was some reason that the one he would see as their King had turned from the adoration he'd seen in the Lady Êowyn, and that heartened him somehow. He could feel free, he realized, to test the growing feelings he'd found in his own heart this day, for he admitted to himself that he'd been fascinated by her from his first look at her discontented, frustrated expression. Could it be that at last he'd found the one to stir his heart?

Giving Ioreth another encouraging nod so as to consider his own emotions under the cover of her chatter, Faramir son of Denethor set himself to considering those feelings.

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