Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Snowdrops and Bluebells: 2. Chapter Two
I find myself grinning at Merry, all efforts to be severe gone. “So I heard from Lothiriel! You need to be more careful, you know. . .” We both hear voices farther down the corridor, and Merry’s eyes widen in panic.
“Quick! Come in my room!” I seize him with my good hand and pull him up on his feet and into my chamber, ignoring the flash of pain shooting up my injured arm, and kick the door shut with my heel. Merry opens his mouth to speak, but I put a finger to my lips and motion for him to be silent.
“Where is that little mischief? Have you seen him, Lady Lothiriel? I swear, we need to tie Master Meriadoc to his bed or he will never get well!” Merry and I trade an amused glance; Ioreth’s querulous whine is well known to us both. “Perhaps he’s in the kitchens, oh dear. . .” A faint voice, undoubtedly Lothiriel’s, makes a soothing reply; then both voices trail off into the distance.
“Thank you, Eowyn—that was sporting of you.” Merry smiles gratefully up at me.
“You’re very welcome, but it is I who should be thanking you—Lothiriel told me how much effort you made to fetch the mushrooms for me. I am very touched—it is an act of great courtesy and grace on your part, and proves you are a true and noble knight of the Riddermark.”
Merry’s whole face lights up at my words, and he crosses over to the table. “Oh, good! You did get them by now! This recipe is from the Shire—I remembered it, and explained it to the cook. This is the very best way to eat them, trust me—and I know lots of mushrooms recipes, since we hobbits love nothing as much as a fine mess of mushrooms.”
I nod. “So I have heard as well. I think therefore if this is a Shire recipe, that it is only right that you share the dish—along with the rest of my supper. Please, do sit, and talk to me; I am restless and glad of your company.” I gesture to the other chair.
He scrambles onto the chair immediately, ready to dig into still another meal. I shake my head in wonder. How hobbits can eat as much as they do on a regular basis without becoming irredeemably roly-poly is a mystery no man has yet to puzzle out. I settle down beside him, lifting my slung arm, and begin to reach for the mushrooms again. A small hand stops me.
“Wait, Eowyn, let me do it—I am a squire of Rohan, after all, so it’s only right that I serve you—and that way you won’t bother your arm, I know it still must hurt . . .”
Merry stands up on the chair, picks up dishes, and spoons the food onto my plate, careful not to spill a single drop. I want to smile at his grave manners—he is so like the oldest knights in Theoden’s service—but I do not dare, for fear of offending him and hurting his dignity. I realize how important it now is to me that Merry be treated well—he has shown a level of valor the past few days that would credit men twice his size. Without his help on the Pelennor Fields, I would be dead, lying beside my uncle in the burial halls of Gondor. I duck my head, fighting off tears again—why do I keep wanting to weep? I never showed this sort of womanly weakness before. It must be some herb or drug the healers are giving me.
Merry finishes by topping off my mug of cider and pouring some for himself. He sits down again and looks over at me expectantly.
“Go right ahead—eat, eat. If I need further help, I shall tell you. And thank you for what you have done.”
My faithful little squire drops any pretense of manners at my words, and starts eating with a positively depraved gusto. As he tackles his share, he does manage to slow down enough between bites to give me a running critique on the food’s quality.
“Hmm, this cherry duck is wonderful, almost as good as the one I had the night before we rode from Edoras—these apple pancakes are delicious, you must try one—and the mushrooms and peas are very fine, if not quite up to Sam’s usual, but they are better than Pippin’s for a certainty—”
I break into Merry’s words with a laugh. “Wait, wait! You speak such a torrent of words I can barely follow. Is Pippin your cousin, the one who found you in the city after the battle and brought you here?”
“That’s Pip all right—my first cousin, and my very best friend in the world. His father and my mother are brother and sister, so we have grown up together. I got to hold him soon after he was born—I was eight years old, and scared to death, because I didn’t have any brothers or sisters and hadn’t held such a tiny baby before. Everyone says Pip looked more like an elf than a hobbit when he was little—and claims he acts like an elf still, because it must take magic for him to get into all the mischief that he does.” Merry smiles wryly. “Of course, I tend to help him a lot with that. He really is my baby brother in all but name, now.”
“Does Pippin have any more kin?’
“Oh yes, he has lots—the Tooks are a big family. He’s got three older sisters, all pretty and high-tempered, and his parents—my Uncle Paladin and Aunt Eglantine. Pip will inherit Uncle Paladin’s title of Thain of the Shire some day, just as I will become Master of Buckland.”
“Hobbits have titles, in the Shire? I did not know,” I say in surprise.
“Oh, they’re nothing like what you have in Rohan—nothing so grand as that,” he replies hastily. “The only two titles are Thain and Master, and sometimes I wonder if they really matter, especially now that I have seen real nobles.”
I am secretly impressed, despite Merry’s self-depreciating dismissal. I vaguely knew that my friend and his kin were people of importance in their native land, but I had no idea their rank was of the very highest, with none above them. Anxious to learn more, I decide to prompt Merry further.
“Sam—you mention someone named Sam. Who is he?”
“Samwise Gamgee, my cousin Frodo Baggins’ gardener, and the most loyal friend anyone could wish to find. The one thing that gives me hope that Frodo comes back whole from—from his journey is the fact that Sam went with him.” Merry pauses, a shadow passing over his face. I swallow in fear. No one speaks too openly of the Ringbearer’s quest, for fear of somehow cursing him. I skitter away from danger with a safer question.
“So Sam is the best cook, better than your cousin?”
Merry nods emphatically. “He’s one of the best cooks in the Shire, by far, and can grow good vegetables too, which gives him an advantage. Most hobbits are taught cooking even before their letters. Of course, Frodo, Pippin, and I learned to read early on, since our families all have lots of books. Frodo’s quite a scholar, just like old Bilbo—he reads Elvish—and they both taught Sam his letters. But I must be boring you, Eowyn, this is petty gossip compared to what is going on—”
I drink more cider and smile at him. “My dear Merry, what I need at this moment is to hear something, anything, but more talk of the war we are enmeshed in. Tell me everything about your Shire, what food you cook, who lives in what village, everything.”
“All right, I will.” Merry draws a deep breath, and launches himself into a ever-rolling stream of stories, the tales of his forebearers and all their kin and neighbors unto the fortieth generation. As he talks, he seems to weave a subtle spell about me, carrying me away from the White City to a far simpler and bucolic land. Strange, is it not, to feel so nostalgic for a country I have never seen? Such is the power of Merry’s lovingly sketched word pictures—I close my eyes and see it all, the hobbit holes with round doors in the sides of emerald green hills, the gardens full of blooming flowers, the trees that grow so high, the Brandywine River flowing past his home, Brandy Hall, reflections of its red and yellow windows twinkling on the water at night as the stars dance above and the willows dip their branches low. His voice is a clear cool brook, washing my soul clean of evil memories and recalling me to an innocence I thought lost forever.
“Eowyn? Are you asleep? I think I’ve told you everything I possibly could. Is there anything else you want to know?”
I open my eyes slowly, spell broken at last. “No, Merry, I am not asleep—you are a good storyteller. I seem to know every square inch of the Shire now, without ever setting foot there. Once more, I thank you, for you have lifted much pain and grief from my heart.” I lean forward and slip my hand into his smaller one, giving it a quick squeeze. He blushes a little, and opens his mouth to speak again.
Just then a rap sounds at the door; it opens a crack. Lothiriel’s head appears, and her eyes widen when she sees Merry.
“Master Merry! We have been looking everywhere for you! Ioreth is frantic, why did you not tell anyone where you were going?”
“It is my fault entirely, Lothiriel—I summoned him to keep me company when you could not. Please convey my apologies to Ioreth, and tell her Merry shall be by directly,” I say quickly, before the flustered hobbit can say anything.
Merry slips off his chair and scurries to the half-open door as Lothiriel leaves; his hand is on the knob when he turns back to me.
“Eowyn? Eowyn, would I be troubling you if I came to visit again, tomorrow night? This has been such a good night in your company, and I would like to spend more time with you.” He is hesitant, almost nervous.
“Of course you may, Merry—my door will always be open to you. I wish to enjoy time with you as well,” I tell him gently.
His face lights up again with that wide boyish smile. “I will be back then—and with more food, I promise you!”
He hurries out to the sound of my soft laughter.
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