Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Snowdrops and Bluebells: 5. Chapter Five
The darkness fell from the air three days before now, the day after I first walked with Faramir in the gardens. The sun still shone then, though a chill breeze blew out of the north. I stood upon the high wall, the wind lofting my golden hair and white gown like banners as I awaited Faramir. He called to me, and I stepped down and began to pace the garden paths with him.
This has been our pattern for the past four days. I dress and breakfast early, and then he awakens and joins me, joking he will never be a morning lark like me. We explore the gardens, sometimes sitting on the grass or under one of the rustling trees. There are times when he and I say nothing, merely peer eastward in the faint hope of discerning some far distant sign that all is not yet lost.
We mostly talk, however, and I find myself liking and respecting Faramir more and more as the days pass. There are few subjects where he is not a fluent conversationalist—music, military strategy, gardening, and most especially the history and lore of all Middle-earth. His eyes shine eagerly as he tells the tales of old—the fallen elven kingdoms of the First and Second Ages, the drowning of Numenor and founding of the Realms in Exile, Gondor’s highest glory and its slow decline during the Kin-strife and the Great Plague. I am not surprised when he tells me that Gandalf was his occasional tutor in his younger days; he takes the same joy in learning that Gandalf seems to, and I have no doubt the Grey Pilgrim found Faramir an apt pupil.
At first, while I enjoyed his stories, I was intimidated by his scholarship. I am well read by the standards of my people, but I quickly saw the depth of Faramir’s knowledge and feared he would find me an unlettered peasant of sorts. But he made it plain he thought me intelligent, else he would not unpack his mind’s library for my delectation; he cherishes this lore and will not share it with the unappreciative. He also encouraged me to speak of Rohan’s history and that of my royal kin, since he was unfamiliar with much of it. As I increased his store of tales, I began to feel his equal in mind.
Today, Faramir chose to tell me of his family—his long-dead mother, whom he clearly adored, and the older brother he hero-worshipped. Denethor he barely mentioned, which told me volumes of the strain and distance between father and son. I perceive what an effort Faramir has made to meet expectations for which he is not truly suited, capable though he may be. I begin to feel a strong sense of kinship with him—both of us orphans in our own ways, with only our brothers for company, and neither happy with the roles fate and circumstances thrust upon us.
If Faramir is my ally of the day as we keep fear at bay, then Merry continues as my companion of the night, sharing food, books, and stories while we grow ever closer. I sense that our emotional balance has subtly shifted over the past four evenings, as I call upon my newfound daytime strength to shore up a depressed and worried Merry. His natural sunniness and spirit fades each day as his mind bends more and more on the fate of Frodo and Sam. He is now convinced that the Ringbearer’s quest spells Frodo’s death, no matter what the outcome. I distract him as best I can, teaching him chess and the elven poetry I learn from Faramir, happy at every smile I coax from him.
Tonight was the most difficult yet, as Merry kept wandering to the window in the hope of seeing just one masked star. Now that my arm is healed and the sling gone, I went to the kitchens to arrange supper—a richly flavored venison and vegetable stew, walnut sugar biscuits drenched in mulberries and clotted cream, tea sweetened with honeysuckle syrup. He ate a little more than last night thanks to the richness of the meal, but compared to his usual habits, it was a scanty amount. He crossed over to the window again.
“I cannot see any stars, Eowyn, not even Borgil or Earendil. How will Frodo find his way without stars to steer by?”
“He will, I am sure of it—you must have faith in your cousin’s abilities. Come, let us have a game of chess; you do not want to forget what I have taught you, for your game improves, and soon I shall have you ready to challenge Faramir.”
Merry perked up a touch during our game, playing me to a draw as we toasted ourselves before the fire, sitting on pillows with the board between us. By the end, he began to droop once more, anxiety writ plain upon his pale face.
“I’m so sorry, Eowyn, for not being better company—I think I need to go to bed, and try to sleep.”
“I agree,” I said gently. “Let us go to the kitchens and fix you a nighttime drink, to bring you a sure rest.”
Putting my arm round his shoulders, we went down and found a kindly cook who prepared hot milk and brandy for us both. I took him back to his room, lifted him into the too large bed, and sat down next to it while we drank our draughts. Once we finished, I leaned over Merry and tucked the blankets around him.
“Now sleep, Merry dear,” I told him firmly. “We will breakfast together tomorrow if you want.”
“That would be nice,” he said listlessly. He closed his eyes, and I patted his cheek affectionately.
That was two hours ago, and I lay awake here in my own bed, drowsy but not enough to drift into slumber. I moodily watch the flames in the grate as they throw up eerie shadows on the walls and illuminate my bouquet, wondering if tomorrow will actually come, and whether disaster or victory shall arrive at last. A frightened, tear-laden voice interrupts my musings.
“Eowyn? Are you still awake? Please, may I come in, I must speak to you!” I recognize Merry despite how different he sounds. I bolt upright, his fear passing over to me.
“Yes, I am awake. Come in—what is wrong?”
He opens the door and stumbles in, a candle in one hand as he stares at me with wide, terrified eyes. He whispers, “Oh, Eowyn, I’ve had such a horrible nightmare—and I think I saw the future in it—I’m so scared, please let me stay a little while—” He appears more pathetically childlike than ever in his nightshirt and mussed brown curls. Pity wrings my heart.
“Of course you can stay!” He shuts the door and weaves over to my bedside, not really seeing where he goes. I reach out and grasp his arm; I find he is shuddering from head to foot. Afraid that fear and cold combined will soon put Merry into physical shock, I slide to the other side of the bed.
“Get into the bed before you freeze to death, it is too cold to stand there!”
He blows out the candle and drops it as he scrambles up onto the mattress; I have to grab his arms to insure he does not fall. I prop him against the pillows and pull the blankets up tightly, rubbing his hands to warm them. I lie back on my side and look down at him, stroking his hair to calm him.
“Now tell me of your dream, Merry. What happened in it, and why you think it a herald of woe?”
Merry sniffles a little and clears his throat. “I dreamed about Frodo and Sam—I saw them at the Mountain of Fire. Frodo was standing at the edge of a great chasm, and he had the Ring—but I thought I heard him say he would not give it up, that he claimed it for his very own! Sam was sprawled on the ground behind him, begging Frodo not to do it—then Frodo began fighting with some invisible force that was trying to take the Ring away from him. Flames leapt up, and Frodo cried out in pain—I heard the most awful laughter start—oh, Eowyn, I think the Dark Lord is about to reclaim the Ring! I knew the Ring was too powerful, it will not allow itself to be destroyed, and poor Frodo and Sam are going to die for nothing!” He chokes down a sob and buries his face into a pillow.
Taken aback by his despair, I gather him into a gentle embrace. “Merry, Merry, you cannot lose hope, not now—not when the end is in sight. It was just a dream, I promise you—from everything you have said of Frodo, I do not believe he will fail.”
“But what if he does?” Merry moans. “What if Sauron regains the Ring, and everyone dies at the Black Gate—Aragorn, Gandalf, Pippin?” He stifles a wail as he says his cousin’s name and muffles his face on my neck. “Who shall lead us then? I guess Faramir will in Gondor, and you will rule Rohan if the worst happens.”
Blood drains from my body as my stomach knots. Never before had I allowed my thoughts to stray to this dreadful possibility. If Eomer falls in battle, I will be the last survivor of the House of Eorl, and must lead the Rohirrim as best I can. If the Dark Lord is victorious, only two choices present themselves: fighting to the death of the last man, woman, and child, or flight to the farthest corners of Middle-earth. I snatch at this as a drowning man does at a rope, and begin to feverishly conjure up a last faint hope, for my own sake as much as Merry’s.
“If all else fails, I shall ride north to Edoras with you, and any other folk who choose to go, and collect all the Eorlingas who still live. We will ride to the Shire then and raise the alarm with all your brave and gallant gentlehobbits, your father and uncle especially. If we can hold the ground and make a refuge there, so be it. If we cannot, then we shall take everyone—men, hobbits, elves, dwarves—with us and find a place we can hold, even if we must go the Ice Bay of Forochel or the most distant reaches of the Grey Mountains to do so. I will not give up, Merry, never, never!” I take a deep breath, stunned at my own vehemence.
“Can Faramir come with us?” Merry asks in a low voice.
I hug him tightly. “Yes, he can come if he wishes it, and any of Gondor too.” I tip Merry’s chin up so he and I are eye to eye. “But the most important thing is this—I swear to you on the graves of all my kin, Meriadoc Brandybuck, that you shall be at my side no matter what occurs. From this moment on, you shall be the little brother of my heart, the same as if Theodwyn daughter of Thengel birthed you. We will confront the darkness together, just as before, and we will survive.”
He did not expect this—I can see it in his eyes. He lets a second of silence pass, and then clutches me as the tears begin. “You are the very best of friends and sisters, Eowyn! I vow to you that I will be brave, and I shall not give in, not ever, for no brother of yours would do that.”
I cradle him in my arms, and decide that decorum is meaningless as I look into the abyss. “Would you like to stay with me tonight?”
He nods, his expression still pained. I rock him as I begin to sing an old lullaby softly, one that my nurse used to quiet me the many nights I wept for my dead mother. Time slows to a stop, and then I hear his even breathing as he sleeps. I lay him down tenderly and kiss the tip of his nose. As I gaze at him, another fantasy steals into my brain; Merry will not be my little brother, but my child, the one I never believed I wanted but now fear I shall never have. A flash of insight strikes me as I ponder this unexpected image. I thought I rode for valor, for glory, for fame everlasting. I see now it was nothing of the kind—it was love that drove me on, love for my kin, my country, my people, for all Middle Earth, and above all else for my dearest friend, who has taught me to open my heart as I never could before. My soul quakes at the truth that stands revealed, but I am sure it shall steel me for the days to come.
Lulled by both this revelation and the flickering firelight, I curl up next to Merry, slip my hand into his, and fall asleep in an instant.
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