Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Snowdrops and Bluebells: 4. Chapter Four
Cowardly? Perhaps—but I understood that my nerves were too flayed, my heart too raw after my confession last night to risk encountering Faramir. Shameful enough to fall apart before my friend; I will not do so before a man I hardly know. I would rather he still thought me strong and cold than vulnerable and feminine.
So I mostly kept to my chamber, reading. Once I tired of that, I ate an early supper. I then summoned some of the women who attend me and told them I wanted a bath. They were delighted with the request, even if they made heavy effort of fetching the tub and water. It was a relief, after a half-hour of waiting, to slip into the warmth and fragrance. I scrubbed my skin and hair vigorously, purging the last remnants of Grima’s recalled touch. The women returned, helped me dry off, dress in gown and robe, and resling my arm. I had them drag the table to the window and place a small looking glass on it before I allowed them to commence the lengthy task of brushing my great mass of damp blonde hair. As they labored, I tried to ignore their chattering gossip.
One of the youngest, the unfortunately named Beruthiel, was particularly vocal—she was not wicked, but rather sly, and had her eye on Faramir despite her flaming red hair and weak chin. She exclaimed, “Did you see the Steward walking in the gardens today? He recovers his health nicely, ‘tis said. I was surprised to see him talking for some time with the prince of the Periannath we are caring for—”
I swung round and gave her a sharp look. “The Steward and the halfling spoke at length today?”
Startled, Beruthiel replied, “Why, yes, for several hours, I believe—I think they may still be outside, for the evening is most fair.”
I bit my lip. What did Faramir want of Merry—news of his brother’s end? Or news of the woman he fancied? Uncertain, I could no longer endure the ceaseless twittering swirling round.
“Leave me—I wish to be alone.”
“But we have not brushed all your hair out—do you not want us to finish?”
“I shall finish it—please, leave me. And inform Master Meriadoc that I have had my evening meal, and shall not need any more food.”
“Yes, my lady,” they chorused, curtseying and hurrying out, the older ones frowning in disapproval—whether over my abrupt dismissal or Merry’s nocturnal visits, I could not tell.
I sit here in the fading twilight an hour later, speculating endlessly as to the substance of Merry’s conversation with Faramir. Did the hobbit merely inform Boromir’s brother of his tragic and heroic death? Or did Faramir cross-question my constant companion about me, my history and feelings, my likes and dislikes? Given Merry’s loyalty to me, I am certain he would not deliberately betray my confidence; but I am equally uncertain that the candor and guilelessness underlying his canniness and wit might not permit Faramir to read much into the most innocuous comments he makes. The more I think, the more torn I am, and I brush my hair with increased energy, despite making very little headway with only one good hand and arm.
My internal debate stops with the soft rap on the door. It opens slowly, and Merry steps in, giving me a shy smile and keeping both hands behind his back. “Good evening, Eowyn. I missed you today in the gardens—I expected you to come down. Are you not feeling well?”
“I am fine—I chose quiet, and read before bathing,” I reply, with a touch of frost in my tone. “What did you find to do all day in the gardens, pray tell?”
“Well . . . I picked you some flowers, the very first this spring in fact. I thought they would cheer you—I hope you like them.” He extends one of his arms towards me, and in his hand I see a large mug filled with snowdrops and bluebells. I gasp a little, for the flowers remind me forcibly of home again—the same blooms are carpeting the meadows below Edoras at this very moment, I am sure. I lay my brush down and place them next to the looking glass, leaning forward to catch their fragile scent.
“You do like them, then?” asks Merry anxiously.
“Yes, I like them very much—did you know they grow in Rohan?”
“No, I didn’t—they are common in the Shire, and are thick in the Old Forest near Buckland. My mother likes them, so I always gather a bunch for her when spring first comes. The colors seem to suit you too. When Faramir saw the flowers, he asked whom they were for. I told him, and he laughed. He said, ‘White for the White Lady of Rohan and blue for her eyes! Well done, my small gallant!’”
I pounce, just a little, seizing this chance. “Ah—the report I heard of your day with the Steward is true. What did the two of you discuss?”
“Many things—including the war, and Boromir. That was not easy to talk about, but I felt I owed it to Faramir, to relate what I could. Pippin had already told him most of the story, but not all of it; I filled in the missing pieces.”
“And was that the sum total, or did you speak of other things?” I murmured, looking at the mirror, not at Merry.
He stands next to me and is silent at first—I can see him thinking hard from the corner of my eye. Finally, he answers, “Yes, we did . . . he asked about you, Eowyn, but not in an evil way; he clearly has the greatest respect and admiration for you, and wants to learn about Rohan, for he said that any country that could breed such a splendid warrior as yourself has much to teach Gondor.”
“A prettily turned compliment, to be sure, but I would prefer to hear what you saw fit to tell Faramir of Rohan, and more especially of me.” I stopped brushing my hair and fixed him with a stern look.
He takes me aback by returning the look and sticking his chin out stubbornly. “I didn’t give up all your secrets, Eowyn—I wouldn’t do that! I just told Faramir enough to make him understand how you have been hurt, more than once. I thought if he knows, he is less likely to cause you more grief; you will not get well if you keep becoming upset. I named no names, nor spelled out the details. If I did wrong, I am very, very sorry—but I really was trying to protect you further, Eowyn, truly. Don’t be angry. Are we still friends?” He runs out of breath, stops, and gazes at me in mute appeal, his hazel eyes pleading.
I want to be angry, badly; it would be a relief to vent all my remaining feelings and let them fly loose. But I remember how good and loyal a friend this small creature has been to me, particularly last night, and it would be churlish to use him as a whipping boy—he has tried so hard to hearten me, the flowers being the latest example. I take a deep breath, willing myself to acceptance as I caress the velvety petals with my fingertip. “Very well—I shall take your word that is all you said. I concur to your judgment for now, and yes, we are still friends.”
Merry visibly relaxes. “Good. I must say that Faramir was as noble a man as I thought he was. His brother was my friend, but there is even more to admire about Faramir—he is very wise and learned.” I digest this without comment, but reflect that Merry’s judgments of character are usually accurate. If Merry entertains such an opinion of Faramir, there must be more to the man than I allowed myself to see.
We lapse into a companionable quiet; I begin brushing my hair again, but still accomplish nothing. In the mirror, I see Merry watching with a quizzical expression. After a few minutes, he clears his throat. “Umm . . . Eowyn, I am no lady’s maid, but wouldn’t you like help with that? I can manage it.”
I lift an eyebrow, but hand him the brush. “Well then, let us see how you do—you are kind to offer.”
He stands behind me, gently pulling my hair to its full length, and begins to work. His calloused brown hands prove to be deft; I wonder for a fleeting moment if he has done this service before for his mother, or for some rosy, plump hobbit maid who eagerly awaits him in the Shire? I flush a bit; I know Merry is a grown man by the measure of his people, but he appears so childlike to me, I cannot imagine him as a romantic lover, try as I might. I say nothing, and let my eyelids droop as the soft brushstrokes continue.
Merry breaks the quiet. “You do have beautiful hair, Eowyn—it is like the Lady Galadriel’s, spun gold touched by silver moonlight.”
“Thank you—I am highly flattered you compare me to the legendary Lady of the Golden Wood. Is this why you said last night I was the most beautiful human woman you have seen? I take it elven beauty is beyond the human variety?” I keep my tone teasing.
“Well, yes—I meant exactly what I said, and do not seek to belittle you, but the beauty of the Lady Galadriel exceeds all else I have seen. She is truly a star that walks the earth.” He is both embarrassed and exalted.
“I take no offence, Master Holdwine, for to be compared favorably to the Lady is more than I looked for. But you provoke my curiosity afresh, for if you have seen her, you have wandered the paths of Lothlorien, where few venture. Will you not tell me the whole of your adventures, with and without your fellowship? You have shared bits and pieces, but we had not the time before for all—unless, of course, you are too tired.”
“No, I’m not, and am glad to. The road was hard and long, though, and so is the story.” He smoothes a few last strands of hair, slides the brush onto the table, and pulls up the extra chair. “It all began last September, when Frodo prepared to flee the Shire with the Ring, on Gandalf’s advice . . .”
His storytelling is as vivid as before, but terser. I keep my eyes wide open this time, absorbing every nuance, growing more and more amazed as the full scope of Merry’s experiences over the past months becomes evident. Both Legolas and Gimli had alluded to some of their journeys, but they had given me mere fragments; this was the whole narrative, deep and vast. He has gained more knowledge of the wonders and terrors of Middle-Earth than I ever dreamed. The blackest of Ringwraiths and the highest of High Elves, Moria’s buried horrors and Lothlorien’s ageless loveliness, vicious orcs and talking trees, comrades’ deaths and Isengard’s destruction—Merry has seen and suffered all with an unfailing bravery that humbles me. I thought myself brave when I rode to battle with the Rohirrim, but little enough I had compared to this hobbit. I decide the greatest marvels in Middle-Earth are the huge hearts hobbits contain within their small bodies, full of courage, light, and feeling.
“. . . and after Saruman and Isengard were thrown down, and Gandalf took Pippin with him to Minas Tirith, I came to Edoras; the rest you know, since we were together.” He climbs down and leans against me, stifling a yawn.
“Indeed we were. Thank you so very much for this—you have proved a great spinner of tales again. Now let me take you back to your room, for you are worn out.” He nods sleepily; I guide him by the shoulders through my door and the long hallway to his room. I open it up, and kneel down in front of Merry. “I am in awe of your valor, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and count myself fortunate to call you friend.” I hug him and kiss his forehead, letting my lips graze the orc-inflicted scar above his right eye. “Bless you, and may you sleep sweetly.”
He smiles, half-asleep, and kisses my cheek. “G’night, Eowyn—you too.”
I flit back, my robe billowing behind me as I contemplate all I have learned from Merry. Sleep shall not come soon tonight—I am sure of that.
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