Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Snowdrops and Bluebells: 12. Epilogue
My ladies gather round and lift the white dress over my head, careful to not tug my hair overmuch as they pull it free. Aegyth steps behind me to lace up the back. Once she finishes, my old nurse points me in the direction of the polished bronze mirror on the wall. She dusts powder over my face with a rabbit’s foot to mask the last faint traces of the tears I have shed today while we laid Theoden to rest. He slumbers now underneath freshly planted simbelmyne blossoms, his memory forever green to those of us who loved him best. I can hear the sounds from the funeral feast in the nearby hall. Once I proffered the great cup to Eomer, and listened to the minstrel naming all the kings of Rohan, I slipped into my own chamber to change out of my mourning weeds. I am to be trothplighted to Faramir today, and do not wish to appear like a stormcrow.
Aegyth dabbles a touch of salve on my lips and cheeks with a brush and steps back to inspect her handiwork, while I mentally thank the apothecary who sold me the cosmetic, for it will hide my grieving. “You look absolutely beautiful, a queen among brides,” she says. “And what a glorious dress this is—I cannot believe the fineness of this silk.” She touches a sleeve in wonder, admiring the delicately stitched garlands of snowdrops and bluebells that decorate the cuffs and neckline.
“Yes, it is superb,” I say, remembering the day three months ago Legolas arrived at my chamber in the Houses of Healing with a dressmaker in tow. He was apologetic about bothering me as I prepared to leave for Edoras, but insisted on having my measurements taken. When I pressed him for a full explanation, he gave me an enigmatic smile and said, “I wish to honour both you and Faramir by providing a necessity for whatever future betrothal or wedding ceremonies may occur. It will be one less thing you need to concern yourself with, since you have other cares.”
I had to be content with that small scrap when I departed with Eomer. Imagine my amazement, then, when I returned to Minas Tirith some three weeks ago and discovered the magnificent gown that awaited me there. Crafted of white silk so transparent I suspected it came from Mirkwood, it was a thing as fine as any in Queen Arwen’s wardrobe. I have always scorned praise of my appearance, but when I first put my unexpected present on, I finally began to believe I was truly beautiful. And when I looked closely at the flowers that danced on the gown in a riot of cream, blue, and green, I recognized what they were and wept openly, perceiving Merry’s hand in the gift as well as the elf’s.
Edulfa, the youngest of my women, reverently picks up the pair of embroidered gloves from the table, and helps me pull them on. The buttery-soft leather caresses my arms, reminding me of the spring day I bought them. The flowers on them match the gown perfectly. Aegyth waves everyone back and motions for me to turn around. I do so slowly, and await her verdict as I face her again.
She sighs in pure satisfaction. “You are truly a queen of flowers, too, the most flawless of lilies and the most golden of roses. I do hope those of Gondor know what a grand prize they have gained in you, especially Lord Faramir.”
“Believe me, Aegyth, he knows,” I say. “Never fear he does not.”
Aegyth blinks, her eyes bright, and then she glances round the chamber. “Come, ladies, let us tidy up here!” she says sharply. All the others begin gathering up discarded clothes, but she takes my hands and steps close.
“And shall the Lord Faramir be coming to you tonight, or shall he wait for the ceremony in Gondor? Have you told him of his rights under our laws?” she murmurs.
“Eomer told me he would speak to Faramir yesterday. I assume he did so, but I have not talked much to Faramir today, what with the funeral and all, so I do not know what he intends,” I whisper back. A wave of heat rolls through me at the thought of Faramir finally sharing my bed tonight. I can only hope that he prefers our customs to his own . . . Aegyth, seemingly reading my mind, lays a hand on my cheek, reminding me of Merry.
“Not afraid anymore, my child?” she whispers tenderly. “No questions at all?”
“No, not a one,” I say steadily. “And I shall never be afraid again.”
“Good.” She kisses me with the gentleness of my own mother. “Theoden would be so very proud of you today.”
Before I can response, a loud rap erupts from the door, making us all jump in surprise. Edulfa hastens over and opens it, saying in dismay, “You are not to see Lady Eowyn before the trothplighting! What do you want?”
A gruff voice answers, “Both I and Master Meriadoc have other gifts to give the lady for the ceremony, so let us pass!” I laugh in delight at the sound.
“Gimli, Merry! Come in!”
Gimli clumps in, holding a large velvet pouch, and Merry follows, his arms firmly behind him and partially covered by his short cloak. Gimli stops directly in front of me, looking up with a warm smile. I note the fancy braids in his beard, and the curled-up ends of his mustache; he has taken especial pains with his appearance today, and I cannot help but be both touched and amused.
He says, “I made this to go with the gown Legolas provided. While I am stonemason, not jeweler, I learned enough from my father to craft this. May it suit you, my lady.” He shakes the bag, and my eyes widen when I see what falls into his hand.
It is a strand of the finest pearls I have ever beheld, shimmering with a creamy ivory glow. At one end of the strand dangles a teardrop-shaped sapphire, its facets burning with blue and black flames. I say in wonder, “This is a marvel! Where did you obtain the gems?”
“Aragorn gave we of the Fellowship free run of the old treasure room in the White Tower. I found a chest of these pearls there—Faramir thinks they are from Dol Amroth, part of his mother’s dowry. And there too I found the unhewn stone from which I cut this sapphire pendant.” He holds the necklace up, my ladies exclaiming over its beauty. “It was marked with the ancient runes of Moria, so it was mined there and given to one of the kings, long ago. Do you like it?”
“Like is too mild a word, my dear Gimli—I am awestricken to the point of speechlessness.” I bend over. “You must put it on me. Aegyth, please hold my hair up.”
My nurse does so as Gimli reaches around and carefully fastens the clasp. I kiss his forehead before I stand again, making him blush rosy red. He grins, his teeth gleaming in his red beard.
“Now you are ready.” He turns as a heretofore silent Merry coughs. “Well, not quite ready,” he adds. “One more gift left to give, and from the friend who loves you best.”
“Yes, which is why I wish to speak to Merry privately,” I say. “If you would all be so kind?”
Gimli bows deeply as my ladies leave in a swirl of skirts. I wait until I hear the door latch, and then I speak, looking at Merry with a heart as full as it was that day at the river.
“Well,” I say softly.
“Well,” he echoes. “And are you nervous, or happy? You certainly look happy, and beautiful too—more beautiful than even the Lady Galadriel, today, which is how it should be.”
I chuckle. “Blatant flattery, my dearest Merry. You still have a glib tongue, for she stands in the Golden Hall even as we speak, and I doubt I can survive the comparison.”
“No, no—you aren’t seeing yourself, then,” he insists.
Anxious to change the subject, I nod at his concealed hands. “What do you have there? Am I allowed to see?”
“Yessss. . . ” To my surprise, he is a bit bashful, like he was the night he fell down in the hall. “Please don’t laugh at this—it may seem silly to you, but these are the one thing you need to be a true Shire bride—our lasses carry only these when we wed.” He slowly lifts the hidden object towards me; as I see what he has, I cover my mouth with my hands, fighting off my emotion. He asks shyly, “You don’t think they’re silly, then, Eowyn?”
I shake my head. “Did you truly imagine I would? They are perfection itself—oh, Merry . . .”
I cradle the small silver horn he gives me, recognizing it as part of the hoard of Scatha the Worm; he must have borrowed it from Eomer over the past two days. But the miracle, the sublime thing I never expected, is the nosegay of fresh snowdrops and bluebells tumbling from the horn’s opening, a cascade of blue and white petals mingled with crisp green leaves. I stroke a bloom in disbelief.
“But how is this possible? It is high summer, and these are springtime flowers. What magic could you conjure to keep them fresh for so long?”
He beams, well pleased at the success of his plans. “Real magic of the best kind, namely Gandalf’s! I picked these on the way to Cormallen, when we stopped at a copse of oaks—they were nearly the last ones of the season. As soon as I arrived, I went looking for Gandalf, to have him bespell them, for I was sure you would need them some day. At first he thought I was being my usual frivolous self, and kept brushing me away, but when I explained why I wanted him to do it, he finally said yes and cast a preserving spell on them. This means you can keep them forever, if you like, and give them to your daughter at her wedding.” He hesitates. “That is, if you have a daughter . . .”
I laugh even as my throat tightens up. “Oh yes I will, and fine sons too—and one of them shall bear your name . . .” I kneel down, laying the flower-filled horn on the floor, and reach out for him. As I hug him to me, I feel his small hands entangled in my hair as he ardently returns my embrace. I rock us back and forth, my voice choked with the weight of unshed tears. “Merry, Merry, what ever did I do before you came? My other heart indeed, and Theoden’s squire still in your care for me. He would bow down before you if he were here at this moment.”
“He is here, I’m sure of it,” Merry says, his face against my shoulder. “He’s looking down at us right now, full of happiness because you are happy.” He draws away and kisses me sweetly. “And I’m happy too.”
Moved beyond bearing, I stand up wordlessly. Merry leans down, picks up the horn, and offers it to me once more. I tuck it into the crook of an elbow and take a deep breath.
“Are you ready now?” he asks inquiringly.
“Yes, I am.” I extend my left arm, and he firmly takes my hand, his glove against mine. “Lead me on!”
We walk down the passageway at a stately pace, the sounds of the feast growing ever louder as we approach. We pass through the pillars at one side of the Golden Hall, and I struggle to take in everything as I advance upon the head table before the throne.
King Elessar and Queen Arwen stand up as I enter the hall, their beauty ideally matched; I feel no regret as I look upon them. There are Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel with Master Elrond, possessing a grace that is blinding to mere mortals’ eyes. Legolas and Gimli smile, obviously enjoying how splendidly their gifts suit me. Here too is Gandalf, radiating good cheer, with a wide-eyed Sam and a pale Frodo—ill but two nights ago—flanking him. I give the Ringbearer a mute blessing as I pass him.
And here is my brother, now King of Rohan, full of majesty, but still Eomer, still my big brother. He glows too, but not solely because of me; he steals a glance at Lothiriel, standing demurely between her father and cousin. I begin to hope that my beloved brother shall soon speak to Prince Imarahil, and achieve the same happiness I have found. Beside him, Faramir climbs to his feet to meet me, as does a bouncy, sunny Pippin as his squire, his pointed face bubbling with eagerness, as much as if he had engineered this trothplighting himself. He grins at me, and I spare him a smile, but then my eyes are drawn irresistibly to the one figure in the crowd that matters the very most.
Faramir gazes at me in open wonder, love and passion and respect all spilling from his expression. As I glimpse my reflection in his grey eyes, I know my own beauty completely and at long last, and in him I see a power and glory that fills me with a tenderness and desire I believed I would never feel.
Merry, his arm stretched out, leads me to Faramir. He places my hand in my beloved’s grasp, and for a moment we are linked together, our fingers touching. I realize that this is the magical circle that will sustain me for the rest of my days, that the love and friendship I have gained over the past few months will nurture and protect me and mine no matter what happens. My soul leaves my body, borne aloft on wings of joy, as one clear thought surges into my mind.
In my end is my beginning, always and forever, and I will never be alone again.
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