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waving flares in the air

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The light enters the room before she does, a rolling dry heat with it; just enough warning for Faramir to close one book and open another. She enters hard on its heels. “Hail, Steward, from the south fair tidings,” she says, pulling off her helm halfway through, so the words are muffled. “I can’t stay long. I came to give you word of Harad and your brother.”

“Éowyn,” he says, which is about as artful as he usually is when she’s concerned. “Ah– sit down. I’ll have water brought.”

He stands to call for a servant, and Éowyn descends into the guest’s chair, then, irresolute, to her feet again. Both she and Boromir move swiftly now, as though spurred. Although for all he knows she has always been this way. He hadn’t known her before, except for a few minutes, in her uncle’s court; and then she had been still and spellbound like the rest. “Thank you. How goes your work here?”

“Blankets, wine, bandages, grain,” he says, and watches her go immensely blank with the effort of not wrinkling her nose. He can’t restrain his own smile. “I would rather not bore you.”

The startlement and then the self-control. “Your brother never tells me of the thoughts he reads on my face,” she says. “Is it the virtue of your second birth?”

“Boromir has more direct methods to look at the heart of a man,” Faramir says, and her mouth twitches, which is probably why he keeps saying suicidal things. “How fares he?”

“Hale and victorious,” she says. The Bright Riders always talk about each other like the other one is two hundred years dead, and a very attractive corpse. “He’s borne Nenya to Umbar. I’m to join him with reinforcements. Can you spare a band of twelve?”

“Yes, if you have need,” Faramir says, and realizes a moment after that it may be true. He does not think of the last twelve men. “Yes– Ceredin’s company. He’s on the walls at present. He will rejoice.”

“I thank you,” she says. “The soldiers you find us are always strong and proud to serve the Light.”

“Mm,” says Faramir, and her eyes slide to his, cool and questioning.

“Very proud,” she says. “More proud even than you. You still haven’t put on the ring.”

“No, Lady,” he says.

“They truly have been purged of malice,” Éowyn says. Her eyes are still fixed on his. “You can’t imagine how it feels to wear one.”

Faramir says, “No.”

“Some fear has come between you and the Light,” she says. “Don’t you see that I know? I too have dwelt in the shadow. But no one can stop you now; no one hold you back. The Lady Galadriel has named you the Steward of Arnor and Gondor. Why not take up your task with a whole heart?”

She sounds– fervent, fervid, and for a moment he sees in her restless conviction what she sees, him at her side when next she and Boromir ride out, cleansing the unwary, slaying the unwilling. Then he sees something else, a flash of mischief, and she says, “Or do you only fear yourself with me?” And the White Lady of Rohan grabs his shirt with both hands and kisses him.

He’s brought his hands up to her face before he knows what’s happening, and is kissing her back. She is as feverish as she sounds. A dull pain blossoms where they touch, and he wonders involuntarily if she feels it or if she no longer notices. The desperation he keeps at bay washes through him, a pounding, bruising flood, and when she would pull away he kisses her again, hunting, as she did him, as though he has any right to. She makes a startled noise against him, and one hand fists in his shirt. He does not let go.

Suddenly Éowyn half-drops, half-shoves him back into his seat, and belatedly Faramir realizes there was a knock at the doorframe– that the servant, red to her ears, is placing a pitcher of water on the table before the lady Éowyn. Éowyn is almost as red. She thanks the servant at random, and pours herself a glass. Faramir is still trying to see properly through the bright afterimages in front of his eyes; he can’t read her expression. She finishes her drink in one pull, slams it down. “I’ll, ah,” she says. “Well.” And taking her helm up she bows and goes. The servant is still picking up the broken halves of the glass when the light leaves behind her.

Faramir shuts his eyes until the spots fade. Then he opens the other book and flips through Arwen’s information–Umbar, fifty ships there. A sea campaign then. He wonders if Lady Galadriel will slay the pirates, or cleanse the waters. Or raise Númenor. With Ceredin’s men; those who live. In the spirit of inquiry, he tries telling himself that he’s protecting his people. His mouth still tastes of blood.

Galadriel in Rohan had burnt out of Theoden at a touch all of the malice and grief of years, and left him with all that he still had else, a kneeling grandfather with shaking hands. She had turned to Éowyn, still, straight and cold, and said in her vast compassion, “But you were never born to flower only.” Faramir remembers Éowyn turning to Galadriel then, seeing no other; he remembers, even before Vilya had slid onto her finger, the sun kindling in her eyes.