Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Snowdrops and Bluebells: 3. Chapter Three
Like most men skilled in leechcraft, he was a timorous soul, afraid even of his own shadow. He refused to make any choice, and sent me to the Steward of the City, Captain Faramir, son of the immolated Denethor. I did not have far to search for him, since Faramir is my fellow patient in the Houses. Ioreth has told me privately that he has suffered much from both a Ringwraith’s poison dart and his own father’s attempt to burn him to death.
I had no idea what kind of man I went to confront. I think I expected a slightly younger version of his father—arrogant, severe, and proud, much like the unlamented memory of Denethor. Instead, I beheld the long-lost younger brother of Lord Aragorn, full of quiet wisdom and calm strength, the aura of Numenor draped about him like a shimmering veil. The main difference lay in the lurking sadness deep in Faramir’s eyes, so unlike the fiery confidence in Aragorn’s.
His resemblance to my unattainable prince, as well as his handsomeness and youth, unnerved me; I was hardly at my best during our meeting. In the beginning I was strong, a true granddaughter of Morwen Steelsheen; but by the end I softened, undone in part by his kindness, for he assured me he would command the Warden to permit me the freedom of the Houses’ gardens, so I might look eastward. If this alone had been the substance of our encounter, I should have left him with simple gratitude.
But Faramir spoke other words, both unexpected and frightening to me. “I say to you that you are beautiful . . .neither flower nor lady have I seen now in Gondor so lovely, and so sorrowful . . .it would ease my heart, if while the Sun yet shines, I could see you still.” His words pierced my flesh like daggers, and I fled like a hind that sees the hunter’s arrow, after warning him to look for no healing or comfort from a shieldmaiden such as I.
I should be pleased, I know, that Faramir wishes my company; I have heard the whispers of the women, as they wantonly plot to snare the Steward, for he is a great prize for any lady in the city, second only to Aragorn. He is easy to look upon, and is well spoken—so why should I tremble?
“Grima,” I hiss out, the name coming unwillingly to my lips. Grima Wormtongue, he of the constant, unending pursuit, who dogged my every step and haunted my nightmares since I was sixteen, a girl just beginning to blossom—it is his doing that I now fear a man’s open admiration, casing my heart in ice for protection. Whenever a man tells me I am beautiful, I see Grima in my mind, pale and oily, his clawed hands reaching to touch a lock of my hair. “Long have I desired you, Eowyn—do not scorn my devotion! I may seem ill-favored . . .but how I would pleasure you, if only you gave me the chance, White Lady!” The open lust on his face sickened me—he would stare at my breasts and lick his lips when he cornered me in an empty chamber, plying me with sugared speech in the hope of finally seducing me; he even tried when we stood next to Theoden’s sickbed. The worst moment came last month, when Eomer was away on a raid; Grima ordered a feast to be held where the wine flowed too freely and Theoden’s false dotage was appallingly evident. Emboldened, Grima followed me as I went to my bedchamber, grabbing and pinning me to the wall. His kiss was revolting, making me choke, and I felt his hand groping lewdly between my legs as he sought to arouse me. Blind with rage, I brought my knee up hard; he released me with a cry. I smile evilly at the memory; he was still limping when Gandalf Greyhame and the others arrived a few days later.
I reflect bitterly on my toxic education in the ways of desire; it has poisoned my veins and made me cold. It seems, to my jaundiced mind, that Faramir is little different from Grima in his way; he finds me fair, so he dangles a bit of freedom before me as bait, to gain my company, perhaps more. Maybe my love for Aragorn feeds upon remoteness; since he will never return it, it is safe, for I shall not have to face any consequences, and can rejoice I feel something at last. With Faramir there will be no safety—he can reach out and take what he wants, if I am not careful. I shiver and wrap my arms around myself, battling my demons, fighting down panic that my longed-for liberty comes at far too dear a cost.
The setting sun has gilded the walls gold when I hear the buoyant voice in the corridor.
“Eowyn, it’s me, Merry. I brought a fine supper for the two of us—can I come in?”
“Yes—let me open the door for you.” I run my hands through my hair and lift my chin, determined to put on a show of calmness.
He staggers as he bustles in, the tray is so loaded with food and drink; but I daresay he will polish most of the meal off. I try to drain the rage from my body while Merry happily rattles away, telling me what I might enjoy.
“I brought as much as I could carry—you can keep some for a midnight snack if you cannot eat everything. There’s roasted chestnut soup, river trout poached in cider with sliced apples, carrots in red wine, little custard tarts—and wine and cider both, I wasn’t sure which you wanted tonight—” He catches sight of my tense face and stops dead. “What’s the matter, Eowyn? Has someone angered you? Or are you sad again?”
“Not angry, nor sad . . . but disturbed,” I say slowly. “I had a conversation today that traveled in a direction I did not look for, and I am not sure what to think of it.”
“With Faramir, the Steward of Gondor,” I inform Merry with reluctance.
“What did he say that upset you so? If he is anything like his brother, he must have been polite and kind—Boromir always was to me.”
“You know Faramir’s brother?” This little hobbit never ceases to surprise me. “How did this come about?”
Merry’s face clouds with pain. “Boromir was a member of the Fellowship—I first met him in the house of Elrond in Rivendell. He was very valiant, a true warrior. He was a good friend to both Pippin and I during our journey. He taught us swordplay and helped us whenever he could—if Pip and I are fighters now at all, it is because of Boromir. When we all attacked by orcs near the Falls of Rauros, he defended Pippin and I against them.” His voice quivers. “He died—I saw him fall.”
Before I can probe further, he asks, “So what did Faramir say exactly? Did he insult you somehow?”
“No, nothing at all like that, Merry. He told me I was beautiful, and that he desired my company when I walk in the gardens. You no doubt think me very foolish, but I am never comfortable with praise of my supposed beauty.” I grimace a little.
Merry looks at me with bewilderment. “I don’t understand—why are you so bothered? You are beautiful—far more beautiful that any other human woman I have ever seen. He only told you the truth, after all—so why do you not believe him?”
“I thank you for the compliment, Master Meriadoc, for you are my friend—but in my experience with most men, such fair speech bodes ill for me—no sooner said but that I must protect myself at once.” I slump down onto the broad casement, not looking at him.
Merry walks over and locks gazes with me. “Who has hurt you so, Eowyn? Tell me—if there is anything I can do to help you, I will,” he whispers.
“I do not think anyone can help me now, even you,” I say wearily.
“But I would like to try—just tell me a little, if you are able—”
I pause, uncertain as to the wisdom of burdening Merry with such a sordid and discomforting story, but also tempted to relieve the dark pain that has infected me for so long. When I see how full of warmth and affection he is, I make my decision.
“Very well, then—I shall tell you. But I warn you, this will not be a pleasant or edifying tale, for which I am sorry; but it is mine own.” I take a deep breath and begin, my voice low and emotionless as I recall the early days of Grima’s chase, when I found him ridiculous, and how as the years passed he ceased to be so and became sinister, putting me in real fear. My voice, steady at first, begins to shake as I relate the most recent events; by the end, the rage I feel marbles my speech as my hands clench in my lap.
Merry’s expression has grown fiercer and fiercer during my recitation—I did not guess a sweet-tempered hobbit could be so angry. When I fall silent, he cries, “What an unspeakably slimy worm—he is well named indeed! He didn’t force you, did he, Eowyn? If he did, I swear to you that I will hunt him down and stab him through the heart, no matter where I must look! Did he do that, Eowyn, truly?”
I shake my head, suddenly feeling tired in every bone. “No, Merry, Grima was bold, but not that bold—I was the King of Rohan’s niece still, no matter how in favor he was, and he knew what would happen to him if he went too far. The one time he overreached, I repelled him successfully, so he did not get his desire.”
Merry pats my hand gently. “Good. How I wish you had spoken of this to someone, and put an end to Grima’s pursuit—but I already know King Theoden would not have believed you while Grima befuddled his mind.”
“You have the right of it—and had I spoken to Eomer or Theodred, they would have cut Grima down where he stood, and paid with their own lives. I would not, could not, reclaim my peace of mind with my brother’s blood. So I remained silent—I was a shieldmaiden, after all, so endurance was a virtue.”
“I think you have been very, very brave, Eowyn, and I only wish I had been at your side then, to protect and comfort you.” Merry reaches up and hugs me, his small arms barely able to reach around me. His touch slices through the wall around my heart; my face twists up as the tears I have held in start pouring down my cheeks. I am horrified, and try to pull away, but Merry tightens his grip, straining up on his furry toes to embrace me more deeply. I give in completely, resting my head on his shoulder as I weep out all the hurt, shame and anger I have carried for so long. I am dimly aware of the soothing noises he makes, his hands softly rubbing my back.
After an endless time, I slowly lift my head, my whole body drained and limp. Merry fumbles in his sleeve and pulls out a handkerchief; he carefully dries my tears and gives me a small smile. “Feel better now? My mother always says it’s good to let feelings out before they poison you.”
I return the smile weakly. “You may tell Mistress Brandybuck on your return that I took her good advice, but am still unsure as to the result.”
“Come, you need to eat something—not eating will make you ill again—” He takes my hand and leads me to table as through I was a child. We finish our meal in silence, an unlikely occurrence with a hobbit, but true. I make myself eat to spare Merry any additional worry. When done, I lean over the back of my chair and stare blankly at the night-filled window. I hear the clatter of dishes as he gathers them up.
“Good night, Eowyn.”
“Good night. You will come again tomorrow night?”
“Yes. Sleep well, I beg you.”
He slips quietly away, leaving me wandering in a dark wood of my own imaginings.
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