Now that the war’s over, it’s time to turn to love!
But first, we must backtrack a little, returning to Minas Tirith in the days after the Captains of the West left, where Éowyn is ill at ease in the Houses of Healing.
‘I am healed,’ she said, ‘healed at least in body, save my left arm only, and that is at ease. But I shall sicken anew, if there is naught that I can do. Are there no tidings of war? The women can tell me nothing.’
‘There are no tidings,’ said the Warden, ‘save that the Lords have ridden to Morgul Vale; and they say that the new captain out of the North is their chief. A great lord is that, and a healer; and it is passing strange to me that the healing hand should also wield the sword. It is not thus in Gondor now, though once it was so, if old tales be true. But for long years we healers have only sought to patch the rents made by the men of swords. Though we should still have enough to do without them: the world is full enough of hurts and mischances without wars to multiply them.’
‘It needs but one foe to breed a war, not two, Master Warden,’ answered Éowyn. ‘And those who have not swords can still die upon them.’
While the wars of Gondor have seemingly been just, it’s giving rise to a culture that values “men of swords” over the healing arts, and in turn promotes a violent way of life heedless of the consequences. It is, perhaps, the difference between those who fight for glory (personal or national) and those who fight to protect what they love – much like Boromir and Faramir.
Speaking of Faramir, Éowyn demands to see him once she hears that he might be able to help her escape the Houses of Healing, but he refuses to cross the will of the healers.
‘But I do not desire healing,’ she said. ‘I wish to ride to war like my brother Éomer, or better like Théoden the king, for he died and has both honour and peace.’
‘It is too late, lady, to follow the Captains, even if you had the strength,’ said Faramir. ‘But death in battle may come to us all yet, willing or unwilling. You will be better prepared to face it in your own manner, if while there is still time you do as the Healer commanded. You and I, we must endure with patience the hours of waiting.’
She’s still trying to escape her cage, and since she’s already won her renown, she’s come to realize that didn’t bring any release, so now she just wants to die in a culturally acceptable fashion, because she doesn’t see any other way out. She doesn’t want to be healed unless it brings her closer to death.
When he asks if there’s anything she’d like besides leaving the Houses of Healing, she admits that she’s frustrated that the healers want her to stay in bed for another week, and also that she doesn’t have a window that faces east, toward their doom.
Faramir smiled, though, his heart was filled with pity. ‘Your window does not look eastward?’ he said. ‘That can be amended. In this I will command the Warden. If you will stay in this house in our care, lady, and take your rest, then you shall walk in this garden in the sun, as you will; and you shall look east, whither all our hopes have gone. And here you will find me, walking and waiting, and also looking east. It would ease my care, if you would speak to me, or walk at whiles with me.’
Then she raised her head and looked him in the eyes again; and a colour came in her pale face. ‘How should I ease your care, my lord?’ she said. ‘And I do not desire the speech of living men.’
‘Would you have my plain answer?’ he said.
‘Then, Éowyn of Rohan, I say to you that you are beautiful. In the valleys of our hills there are flowers fair and bright, and maidens fairer still; but neither flower nor lady have I seen till now in Gondor so lovely, and so sorrowful. It may be that only a few days are left ere darkness falls upon our world, and when it comes I hope to face it steadily; but it would ease my heart, if while the Sun yet shines, I could see you still. For you and I have both passed under the wings of the same Shadow, and the same hand drew us back.’
‘Alas, not me, lord!’ she said. ‘Shadow lies on me still. Look not to me for healing! I am a shieldmaiden and my hand is ungentle.’
Faramir accepted his duty, and although he very nearly lost his choice between life and death, he was ultimately given a second chance. Éowyn rejected duty in favor of choice, but she feels more trapped than ever, because she didn’t really want to live – she chose death, but death was denied her. Now that Théoden’s dead, her old life would seem more lonely and aimless than ever.
Still, she’s grateful for his concessions, and eventually takes him up on his offer to walk with him in the garden.
They were clad in warm raiment and heavy cloaks, and over all the Lady Éowyn wore a great blue mantle of the colour of deep summer-night, and it was set with silver stars about hem and throat. Faramir had sent for this robe and had wrapped it about her; and he thought she looked fair and queenly indeed as she stood there at his side. The mantle was wrought for his mother, Finduilas of Amroth, who died untimely, and was to him but a memory of loveliness in far days and of his first grief; and the robe seemed to him raiment fitting for the beauty and sadness of Éowyn.
Of course, Faramir has already showed a greater interest in her than she has in him (he also went out of his way to learn what he could of her backstory from Merry), but this seems like a surprisingly intimate gesture. He hasn’t exactly been subtle about his interest, but Éowyn either maintains willful ignorance or just deliberately misconstrues him – but considering her current mental state, not to mention Imminent Doom, it’s hard for me to blame her for it.
‘Does not the Black Gate lie yonder?’ said she. ‘And must he not now be come thither? It is seven days since he rode away.’
‘Seven days,’ said Faramir. ‘But think not ill of me, if I say to you: they have brought me both a joy and a pain that I never thought to know. Joy to see you; but pain, because now the fear and doubt of this evil time are grown dark indeed. Éowyn, I would not have this world end now, or lose so soon what I have found.’
‘Lose what you have found, my lord?’ she answered; but she looked at him gravely and her eyes were kind. ‘I know not what in these days you have found that you could lose. But come, my friend, let us not speak of it! Let us not speak at all! I stand upon some dreadful brink, and it is utterly dark in the abyss before my feet, but whether there is any light behind me I cannot tell. For I cannot turn yet. I wait for some stroke of doom.’
Or it’s possible she’s just that dense…maybe.
Anyhow, they see Sauron destroyed, although they don’t know that’s what it is.
‘It reminds me of Númenor,’ said Faramir, and wondered to hear himself speak.
‘Of Númenor?’ said Éowyn.
‘Yes,’ said Faramir, ‘of the land of Westernesse that foundered, and of the great dark wave climbing over the green lands and above the hills, and coming on, darkness unescapable. I often dream of it.’
‘Then you think that the Darkness is coming?’ said Éowyn. ‘Darkness Unescapable?’ And suddenly she drew close to him.
‘No,’ said Faramir, looking into her face. ‘It was but a picture in the mind. I do not know what is happening. The reason of my waking mind tells me that great evil has befallen and we stand at the end of days. But my heart says nay; and all my limbs are light, and a hope and joy are come to me that no reason can deny. Éowyn, Éowyn, White Lady of Rohan, in this hour I do not believe any darkness will endure!’ And he stooped and kissed her brow.
This helped to pinpoint Faramir as (one of) Tolkien’s avatars, since he too was haunted by dreams of the Fall of Númenor. Also, allow me to squee over my favorite ship in the series – it’s my favorite non-hobbit dude and the only female with a character arc!
An eagle shows up to tell Minas Tirith the good news (because they can talk in the books), and invitations to the Field of Cormallen follow soon after – which only Merry accepts. Faramir wants to prepare the city for the arrival of the King, but Éowyn is silent on the matter, and with all the said preparations to be made, Faramir doesn’t notice until the Warden of the Houses of Healing points out her pining. So he asks why she turned down an opportunity to leave the Houses of Healing.
And she said: ‘Do you not know?’
But he answered: ‘Two reasons there may be, but which is true, I do not know.’
And she said: ‘I do not wish to play at riddles. Speak plainer!’
‘Then if you will have it so, lady,’ he said: ‘you do not go, because only your brother called for you, and to look on the Lord Aragorn, Elendil’s heir, in his triumph would now bring you no joy. Or because I do not go, and you desire still to be near me. And maybe for both these reasons, and you yourself cannot choose between them. Éowyn, do you not love me, or will you not?’
‘I wished to be loved by another,’ she answered. ‘But I desire no man’s pity.’
‘That I know,’ he said. ‘You desired to have the love of the Lord Aragorn. Because he was high and puissant, and you wished to have renown and glory and to be lifted far above the mean things that crawl on the earth. And as a great captain may to a young soldier he seemed to you admirable. For so he is, a lord among men, the greatest that now is. But when he gave you only understanding and pity, then you desired to have nothing, unless a brave death in battle. Look at me, Éowyn!’
And Éowyn looked at Faramir long and steadily; and Faramir said: ‘Do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart, Éowyn! But I do not offer you my pity. For you are a lady high and valiant and have yourself won renown that shall not be forgotten; and you are a lady beautiful, I deem, beyond even the words of the Elven-tongue to tell. And I love you. Once I pitied your sorrow. But now, were you sorrowless, without fear or any lack, were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, still I would love you. Éowyn, do you not love me?’
What woman could say no to that?
‘I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun,’ she said; ‘and behold! the Shadow has departed! I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.’ And again she looked at Faramir. ‘No longer do I desire to be a queen,’ she said.
Then Faramir laughed merrily. ‘That is well,’ he said; ‘for I am not a king. Yet I will wed with the White Lady of Rohan, if it be her will. And if she will, then let us cross the River and in happier days let us dwell in fair Ithilien and there make a garden. All things will grow with joy there, if the White Lady comes.’
‘Then must I leave my own people, man of Gondor?’ she said. ‘And would you have your proud folk say of you: “There goes a lord who tamed a wild shieldmaiden of the North! Was there no woman of the race of Númenor to choose?”‘
‘I would,’ said Faramir. And he took her in his arms and kissed her under the sunlit sky, and he cared not that they stood high upon the walls in the sight of many.
Be still my heart!
Now that I’ve got that out of my system, about Éowyn’s decision here. A lot of people read this as her giving up on her dreams to “settle” for being a wife (or merely being a woman). First of all, THERE IS NO SETTLING WITH MY PRECIOUS FARAMIR. She’s only accepting that those dreams were empty, thinking she could somehow escape sorrow by being rich or powerful or famous. Once she attained her renown, she knew that it didn’t really make things easier, and that’s why she lost hope.
Faramir wants her to be happy, and to live, and he loves her! So she’s just accepting his love and life and happiness. And it is beautiful.
Then Aragorn finally shows up to properly claim the throne with all due ceremony.
Then to the wonder of many Aragorn did not put the crown upon his head, but gave it back to Faramir, and said: ‘By the labour and valour of many I have come into my inheritance. In token of this I would have the Ring-bearer bring the crown to me, and let Mithrandir set it upon my head, if he will; for he has been the mover of all that has been accomplished, and this is his victory.’
The Stewards kept the crown (and Gondor) safe for this day, Frodo’s actions made victory (and peace) possible, and Gandalf was pulling all the strings to make it happen (and, y’know, died).
Once he’s assumed the throne, Aragorn starts doling out rewards, punishments, and “punishments”.
And the King said to Beregond: ‘Beregond, by your sword blood was spilled in the Hallows, where that is forbidden. Also you left your post without leave of Lord or Captain. For these things, of old, death was the penalty. Now therefore I must pronounce your doom.
‘All penalty is remitted for your valour in battle, and still more because all that you did was for the love of the Lord Faramir. Nonetheless you must leave the Guard of the Citadel, and you must go forth from the City of Minas Tirith.’
[…] ‘So it must be for you are appointed to the White Company, the Guard of Faramir, Prince of Ithilien, and you shall be its captain and dwell in Emyn Arnen in honour and peace, and in the service of him for whom you risked all, to save him from death.’
Why yes, he DID give Faramir Ithilien to rule over as a prince. Although I remain slightly confused about the whole “spilling blood in the Hallows” thing – are there places in the City where violence and/or killing IS permitted?
The hobbits still remained in Minas Tirith, with Legolas and Gimli; for Aragorn was loth for the fellowship to be dissolved. ‘At last all such things must end,’ he said, ‘but I would have you wait a little while longer: for the end of the deeds that you have shared in has not yet come. A day draws near that I have looked for in all the days of my manhood, and when it comes I would have my friends beside me.’
Of course he’s waiting for his wedding day, because Elrond promised Aragorn could marry Arwen if/when he reclaimed the throne of Gondor. But even without as much danger, it’s still quite a long way from Rivendell to Minas Tirith (and I imagine a wedding party might be slower than usual), so after a long wait without any news, he’s anxious to find any sort of sign that they’ll actually show up. Then one day Gandalf takes him up the Mountain to a sacred place meant only for the kings.
‘This is your realm, and the heart of the greater realm that shall be. The Third Age of the world is ended, and the new age is begun; and it is your task to order its beginning and to preserve what may be preserved. For though much has been saved, much now must pass away; and the power of the Three Rings also is ended. […] The Third Age was my age. I was the Enemy of Sauron; and my work is finished. I shall go soon. The burden must now lie upon you and your kindred.’
‘But I shall die,’ said Aragorn. ‘For I am a mortal man, and though being what I am and of the race of the West unmingled, I shall have life far longer than other men, yet that is but a little while; and when those who are now in the wombs of women are born and have grown old, I too shall grow old. […] The Tree in the Court of the Fountain is still withered and barren. When shall I see a sign that it will ever be otherwise?’
‘Turn your face from the green world, and look where all seems barren and cold!’ said Gandalf.
Then Aragorn turned, and there was a stony slope behind him running down from the skirts of the snow; and as he looked he was aware that alone there in the waste a growing thing stood. And he climbed to it, and saw that out of the very edge of the snow there sprang a sapling tree no more than three foot high.
While the initial focus on Faramir indicated a more obvious reading of the titular Steward, I’m reminded of Gandalf’s claim that he was also a steward, not tied to any one kingdom, but aiming to protect and preserve anything good in the world, and here Gandalf too relinquishes his stewardship into the hands of Man, however fickle he may be.
So it’s not that surprising when shortly afterward, Elrond, his children, and many other High Elves (including Galadriel) arrive in honor of the King.
And Frodo when he saw her come glimmering in the evening, with stars on her brow and a sweet fragrance about her, was moved with with great wonder, and he said to Gandalf: ‘At last I understand why we have waited! This is the ending. Now not day only shall be beloved, but night too shall be beautiful and blessed and all its fear pass away!’
Then the King welcomed his guests, and they alighted; and Elrond surrendered the sceptre, and laid the hand of his daughter in the hand of the King, and together they went up into the High City, and all the stars flowered in the sky. And Aragorn the King Elessar wedded Arwen Undómiel in the City of the Kings upon the day of Midsummer, and the tale of their long waiting and labours was come to fulfillment.
Next time: Many partings…