03 December 2010 | 2983 words
Eowyn and Faramir are happily married, but then Eowyn starts to listen to the words that are whispered in the palace corridors.
The cloying scent of wax-white blossom filled her bedchamber. In the showers and twisting winds of April it blew through the marble corridors, to be crushed underfoot and to drift like a thousand broken butterflies into every corner. If she closed the tall casement windows the scent was trapped in the blue shimmer of the bed curtains and the ripple of the silken hangings on the frost-white walls. If she flung them open to the morning the overripe perfume drifted in from the courtyard. It clung to her gowns and her waist length blonde hair, until she could not even soak its all pervading odour away in a sunken tub liberally laced with oils of cedar and sandalwood.
The white tree was Gondor. It bloomed for their victory and for the promise of better days.
Éowyn hated it. When it bloomed in the overblown abundance of a southern spring it made her throat burn and her head throb. And it made her heart ache for the cool green plains of Rohan, for the scent of moss and freshly cut grass.
She could not go home again.
Three years before, in a scarlet and copper autumn, she had worn a gown of ivory silk inlaid with pearls sewn into the shape of the fabled white tree. On a day without shadows she had been married in that gown. Married to Faramir, who had sworn that he loved her truly, that he loved her only.
Her wedding had been glorious, with the bells ringing out over the towers of the city, and golden flowers cast down into the streets before her bridal procession. Then her wedding had been over and her marriage had begun. Such a marriage it was, full of love and laughter, bright as the burnished red sheen of the sun on her husband’s hair, deep as the tenderness in his blue eyes.
Éowyn knew herself to be cherished, knew herself to be adored, and that first cold clear winter the shadows did not touch her at all. She had been blind and deaf to them. It was only with the blossoming of the white tree that she became aware of the shadows that rippled around her, the shadows of silence.
Then the silence was pierced, by a word or two, quickly retracted or cut off, when the speaker hurried away to some suddenly urgent task. It puzzled her at first, but such incidents were rare and Éowyn dismissed them from her mind. There was no cause for unease, for she had everything she desired, a husband who idolised her and a child kicking in her womb.
It was when she was heavy and weary with child that a distant cousin of Faramir’s came to visit, a dark witch of a girl, with spiteful eyes. They loathed one another on sight, and the stranger’s barbs were as pointed as her silver painted nails.
“Why does she hate me so?” Éowyn had asked Faramir as she sat brushing her hair before her mirror. “Did she ever hope to marry you herself?”
“No, it was Boromir that she set her heart and her ambition upon,” Faramir said. She would remember later how the lamp cast shadows on his face, so that he was only a silhouette in her glass when he spoke again. “It isn’t you she that hates.”Elboron. Their firstborn son, who came mewing into the world when the rain lashed the windows like a whip and the white blossom lay drowned in the courtyard. Elboron, because when she sat up among her pillows and suggested that they name their son for his lost brother Faramir had looked at her with something akin to horror in his eyes.
“Do you think that I could bear, that I could truly bear, to hear his name spoken day upon day, hour upon hour?”
Faramir had been the shadow then, gone beyond her reach although his cold fingers were entwined with hers. The next day she sat by the fire, shivering in the heat of the blaze with their son sleeping in his crib and the city rejoicing in his birth, touched by a darkness that she dare not name.
So began the descent, softly falling, slowly falling, like a feather drifting down to drown in a silver pool.
The days that followed the birth of her son were long and full of tears. Éowyn drifted with the shadows, with the bone-white blossom that fell from the bough and with the whispers that seemed to echo all around her.
Perhaps we were wrong about him…
If it’s his…
Maidservants giggling into their aprons and whirling away like birds when she approached.
In the house of healing they told her that such fancies, such nameless sorrows, were common after childbirth. They assured her that her fears would past with the burning heat of summer. Yet she could not forget how the healer, a kindly old man who had served in Mina Tirith since the days of Faramir’s grandfather, never once looked into her eyes.
Faramir was the most attentive of husbands. His gifts were many, a pair of singing birds in a mother-of-pearl cage, a necklace of turquoise and gold, leather bound books, and once a honey coloured colt with an ivory mane, finer than any horse she had ever seen in Rohan. Nor did he neglect to spend time with her, stifling summer afternoons were spent in the relative coolness of her white-walled chambers and twilight evenings in the long gallery, where minstrels played and the candlelight was entrapped and magnified a hundred times in mirrors fashioned in the distant days of Isildur.
“I love you,” he told her when the moon gleamed silver above the great river and when the sun rose over the city. “You are the only woman I have ever loved.”
Éowyn laughed in his embrace. “Not the only one,” she said into the curve of his neck, “for you were five and thirty when we wed. Do not ask me to believe that you have never loved another.”
She felt the sudden tension in the body pressed to hers. Then she felt him shudder as if with grief and when she lifted her head tears shone like broken jewels in his eyes, but he silenced her questions with his kiss.
Winter came, the darkest, shortest days, when there was nothing to do but huddle by the hearth. Beyond the great gates of the city the roads were impassable and Éowyn could nothing but sit in her window seat to sew, until the biting cold made her abandon the window for the fireside. There she would stare into the flames and wonder about the past her husband would not speak of. She could not coax or cajole the truth from him, but she knew with absolute certainty that he had once loved another. Usually the most honest of men, Faramir had turned again and again from her questions. Until she was driven to anger and suspicion, to fretting over that which he was determined to conceal. Had he once kept a mistress in a pretty white framed house in one of the lower circles of the city? Did that red-haired child Éowyn saw playing on the kerb when she rode through the marketplace have the look of him?
Éowyn knew that she would drive herself mad if she filled the winter days with such imaginings. So if she could not have the truth from Faramir’s lips she would turn her ear to the whispering shadows.
She began with the servants, with little gifts and kind words to the rose-like girl who dressed her hair. With winter afternoons spent in a rocker next to the huge the kitchen range, where she sipped tea that was too strong and too sweet, and tried not to faint as sweat ran down her back in the flaring heat. The chief cook was motherly and old, old enough to tell stories of Faramir as a small boy, but nothing would she say of his life as a man. Éowyn was irritated and frustrated by this and then one day a sudden realisation chilled her blood. The old woman would never tell her anything because she liked her too well and pitied her too much.
So Éowyn abandoned the heat of the kitchen to pace the long, icy corridors, listening to the words that fell here and there, like snowflakes or dying blossoms. Yet she listened in vain for tales of Faramir and a mistress, whether past or present. There were none. The shadows had faded into silence and the silence whispered only of her own guilt. She had been wrong to doubt Faramir, who had spoken only the truth. So many times he had told her that he loved her only, that she was the only woman he had ever loved…
Captured in the mirror she sat, as if the glass had stolen her soul away, still and silent, a slim young woman, with pale skin and a waterfall of fair hair. She did not let the silver brush fall from her numb fingers, but laid it gently down on the dressing table before her. Éowyn caressed its smooth back as if its coolness might sooth the horror in her mind. It could not be. It just could not be.
You’re the only woman I’ve ever loved… the only woman…
And if Faramir had never loved another woman, then whom had he loved? Who had put the sorrow into his eyes, the regret into his caresses? For a moment Éowyn imagined a shadow figure in her husband’s arms, a mere illusion, sketched in shades of darkness, but male, definitely male.
Her long hands clenched into tight fists. “No,” she whispered to the ghost in the mirror, “please no.”
Yet she knew that it was so. Her husband was a deviant, a lover of his own sex. The kind of man that her brother and his friends made foul jokes about when they were too deep in their cups to remember her presence in the halls of Edoras.
Then Éowyn remembered that there had been genuine adoration in Faramir’s eyes when he had caressed her, the genuine love and passion in his touches. As surely as she knew that Faramir had once desired men Éowyn knew that he loved her now. Could she then be content with that, could his past be forever locked away in the shadows and never brought out into the harshness of the day?
Éowyn didn’t know. She was too raw and wounded to know whether she wanted to go to Faramir and forgive him everything or whether she wanted to rage at him. Did she want to snatch up her child and ride for Rohan or did she want to curl under her quilt and weep until she had no tears left?
In the end she did none of those things. Éowyn, shieldmaiden of Rohan, slayer of the witch king, gathered her courage like a cloak around her. She went on with her life, on with her marriage, and she might, just might, have been able come to terms with what she knew about her husband, but the shadows had not yielded up all their secrets.
There would be one last revelation, one that would rip her soul asunder and shock her to the core.
The whispers were not of Faramir, but of the dead brother he rarely spoke about;
They say he had a young man in Osgiliath…
Closer to home, my dear, much closer than that.
Well, I still don’t believe it.
It’s true I tell you. They were seen… hip to hip, thigh to thigh, and both quite naked, hardly a fraternal embrace.
Words like poison, seeping into her heart, killing her slowly, even as she crept away from the speakers to curl like a wounded animal in her bed. Éowyn bolted the door to her chamber and drew the heavy winter curtains around her bed. She nursed the destruction of her life in silence, tearless grief. She did not want even to see her child and she did not know if she could ever bear to look upon Faramir again.
It was vile. To discover that her husband harboured unnatural desires for other men had been bad enough, but this was the stuff of nightmares, his brother, his own brother…
The face that Faramir presented to the world was that of a noble, honest and chivalrous man. That was the man Éowyn had married, in love and in good faith, but her faith had been shattered and she felt that he was a stranger to her now. What did she know of a man who could lay naked with his brother? Nothing. There was nothing that she wanted to know.
Éowyn heard a door open and close with a heavy thud on the floor below, then footsteps on the stairs. She tensed, afraid that it was Faramir, but it was only the servants going about their nightly duties. When they knocked on her door she told them to let her be and they moved on, going about their tasks as usual while her world unravelled around her.
Left alone in the darkness Éowyn wondered how many times those same servants had found other doors locked against them, doors behind which her husband and his brother indulged their depraved passion for one another. Often enough it seemed for speculation and gossip to turn into whispers that flowed like an underground river beneath the respectable surface of their lives.
Had they heard the words that seeped into the very fabric of the palace? And if they had, did they care that they were mocked and reviled for their twisted lust or did they, the Sons of the House of Hurin, think themselves above condemnation? Faramir was, to all appearances, a modest man, but that brother of his had been proud, although Éowyn did not know how any man who had such a terrible secret could hold his head high before the world. Boromir, the dead hero. Éowyn found that she could take a sudden vicious pleasure in his death and wish him damned forever.
Oh, it went on for years…
They say that they were besotted with one another.
She let the whispers enfold her like the arms of a cruel lover. They were ever present, echoing within her, granting her no peace. Louder even than the midnight knock at the door; no she wanted nothing, desired nothing, nothing but the rolling hills of Rohan. There was purity in that open landscape, with its little wooden towns and solid stockades, to which the overblown glory of Gondor could not compare.
So Éowyn left Faramir, even though he swore that he loved her.
She left him because she could not bear his lips upon hers, nor his hands when she knew that those same hands had caressed his brother. His touch defiled her. She could not bear it, could not endure it, when he whispered words of love in the darkness, contaminating her with his passion.
Éowyn almost, almost, left the child that carried his tainted blood. She would have done so had not a thought so terrible that it left her shaking on the stairs, the rail gripped tight in her bloodless fingers. “What will happen when he is a babe no more? Soon he will be a beautiful child playing under the white tree, with stray blossoms falling like tears into his hair. Then he will be a handsome young man in silver armour, riding through flower strewn streets. Will you have corrupted him long before that day, my unnatural husband, whose lusts know no boundaries?”
Faramir had looked at her then, with hell in his eyes. “What kind of monster do you think I am?”
“One who could couple with his own brother.”
He had drawn a great shuddering breath, one that was either a gasp or a sob, and the torment in his eyes had spilled over into dreadful silent tears. Éowyn had forgotten for an instant all the rage that burned in her soul and half-reached for him, but he had recoiled from her touch.
Then she had seen something in Faramir that she had never expected to see. It was not her gentle husband who stared at her so contemptuously with eyes grown dark and bitter, it was Denethor’s son, proud and unforgiving. His gaze ripped into her soul and stripped it bare.
“They said you were cold, lady, and you are, not in your body, but in your heart and your little limited imagination. I loved you. No, do not protest.” Faramir came towards her, with the fire casting his long shadow up onto the panelled walls. “I loved you truly and for a time I thought to find peace in your arms and contentment in our child, but you chose to dwell in the shadows of the past. So I will tell you one more tale, not whispered in corners, but told plainly, I loved Boromir, loved him far more than I ever loved you.”
“You are wicked, depraved,” Éowyn whispered, appalled to find that he still had the power to wound her.
“And you, lady, are consumed with jealously.” He smiled then, icy and cruel. “There are no more words, no more whispers. Go, I am well rid of you.”
So Éowyn left Faramir, because he cast her out, because she was unforgiven and all the tears she wept into her son’s curls on the long hard road to Rohan could not give her back that which she had lost.
In Minas Tirith, in the corridors of silver and marble they whispered of Éowyn, the wife of the Steward, who had fled back to her own land.
She found out, about him, about Boromir…
Such a fool she was…
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The following people read the story, enjoyed it, and would like to thank the author: Minx , Ingu