His breath blew in short, visible puffs as he opened the door, and he drew his cloak more securely around himself to ward off the chill. Streams of pale sunlight gleamed through the tiny crack in the roof. Prisms of dust glimmered in spirals, and the soft, shuffling sound of the horses in their stalls soothed Faramir, as nothing else had been able to do.
Here he could breathe.
He stuffed his pockets with a few apples, and shuffled to the first box, petting a velvet nose. His soft murmurs were in halting Elvish – he remembered reading long ago that all the horses of the realms were related, however distantly, to the legendary Mearas. Faramir thought that speaking to them in their native tongue was the least sign of respect he could make.
He was careful to spend the same amount of time at each stall – stroking and petting and soothing – while delicate whiskers tickled his palm as each apple was devoured. He didn't recognize many of the horses, but that was alright. He remembered a time when the stable had been full, when the Great Hall had teemed with people and life and noise. Long ago, before the War had sucked all of the joy from living and every ounce of compassion from his father's face.
"No," he said, quietly, the sound barely cutting through the stillness. Today was not a day for his father.
He stopped in front of one of the Rohirrim's horses, smiled when large brown eyes gazed at him with disdain for a moment before the horse delicately started to nibble on his apple.
"Oh, but you're a regal creature, aren't you?" Faramir murmured, stroking a well-groomed mane. "Your master must love you very much."
"He would tell you that it is the other way around, and he is my master."
Faramir turned at the amused voice. His quick glance swept over a worn cloak, scuffed boots and a proud bearing at odds with the almost dimpled smile. His bow was respectful. "Eomer King. It is an honor."
"You must be Faramir," Eomer said, pulling his cloak around him as he stepped beside Faramir and spoke a few words to his horse in his native language. "You've the look of your brother."
Faramir returned the young king's measured, direct gaze with one of his own. "You knew my brother?"
"He trained with us for a summer."
"He was ever away," Faramir agreed, casting a speculative glance in Eomer's direction. "Did you learn much from his tutelage?"
"He – " Eomer flicked a tongue across dry lips " – he was an excellent teacher."
Faramir smiled. He had all the answer he needed. "Yes, he was. Today is his birthday."
"I'm sorry." Eomer took a step back as he ran a well-callused hand through tangled, blond hair. "I should leave you to your remembrance."
"No, don't." Faramir turned, flashing what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "As it happens, I would enjoy the company. You knew him, as I did, and – "
"I hardly think I knew him as you – "
"As I said, you knew him, just as I did," Faramir repeated, searching clear hazel eyes. And had the satisfaction of seeing them go wide with shock. "It would please me if you would share your memories."
After a moment of stillness, Eomer nodded once. "I would be honored.'
"It's comforting, is it not?" Eomer asked, walking with Faramir to the next stall. "That one life could ripple and affect so many. Perhaps, in that way, we are indeed as immortal as the Elves."
"Perhaps." Faramir handed Eomer the apple. "Perhaps our memories and the joy of them is all we really need to make us Men."
"Wise words, my friend." A delicate smile flickered across Eomer's lips. "Almost Elvish."
Faramir returned the smile with one of his own. "High praise, indeed. You sound as if you know them well."
"Only one. And he is enough." Eomer smiled again. "He also knew your brother."
"It would seem my brother was much beloved," Faramir replied, favoring Eomer with a small wink.
"So it would seem."
The Lady Eowyn had told him that he and Eomer would get on. He had done well to heed her words, for this unexpected kinship with the young King was a rare gift. Faramir thought somewhere, his brother must surely be proud that he was remembered by so many.
What better celebration of life was there, in the end?