Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Snowdrops and Bluebells: 6. Chapter Six
The eagle’s joyous song of ultimate victory keeps ringing in my head as I stand here in the Great Hall of the Houses of Healing. I cannot believe, cannot absorb that a day that began this morning on the verge of utter annihilation is transmuted to one of unrestrained celebration in all of Minas Tirith—nay, in all of Gondor. Everything contrives to appear unchanged while being altered completely—for now we know that our one forlorn hope, beyond reason and expectation, has come to fruition.
The Ringbearer has fulfilled his Quest. Frodo Baggins—one of the Little Folk, bravest of all heroes and hobbits—somehow succeeded in flinging the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom. The Dark Lord Sauron is destroyed, his Tower broken and shattered in the dank dust of Mordor. We are all free forevermore.
Lost in reflection, I am not aware of Faramir’s presence at my side until his hand grazes my arm; startled, I jump slightly.
“Lady Eowyn, will you not have another glass of wine? Yours is empty and must not stay that way, since our festival is just begun.” His warm, wide smile both heats and chills me. “May I ask what plunges you into such deep thought?”
Caught off guard, I answer honestly. “I recall our conversation this morning, my Lord Steward. It is difficult to believe so much has changed.”
“Indeed.” His eyes meet mine as he comprehends and shares the memory . . .
I awoke early, dressed hastily and warmly, and hurried out to seek Faramir; I left Merry sleeping soundly in my bed, his eyes red-rimmed. Surprisingly, Faramir already stood upon the walls as I entered the gardens. I hastened to meet him, shivering in the bite of the north wind, turned icy cold. As I grew close, I saw a lady’s mantle draped across his arms. Made of velvet, colored the deep blue of a sweet summer night, and embroidered at hem and throat with glistening silver stars, it was altogether a magnificent garment. When I reached him, he speedily wrapped me in it with indefinite grace.
“It is a splendid gift, my Lord . . .I thank you,” I said, blushing a trifle as I caressed the soft fabric.
“You are very welcome,” he replied with a sad smile. “This belonged to Finduilas my mother, and I wish for you to wear it. It will both shelter you and set off your beauty.”
Unable to reply to his gallantry, I remained silent and turned my face to the northeast, once more struggling to glimpse some sign.
“What do you look for, Eowyn?” asked Faramir gently.
Without thinking, I answered promptly. “Does not the Black Gate lie yonder? And must he not now come hence? It is seven days since he rode away.” The words no sooner escaped my mouth than I regretted them. Why should I continue to long for Aragorn? I knew he would never love me the way I wish, and it was doubly foolish now, when a man stood next to me who wanted my love and was worthy of it. I shot a sideways glance at Faramir, wondering if he thought I referred to my brother, not Aragorn.
Faramir did not try to clarify matters immediately; he began speaking to me of his joy in my company, his pain at the shadow hanging over us, and how afraid of losing what he had found in the past few days. Only half aware of his words at first, I realized by the end he divined my feelings for Aragorn. I fought down an irrational twinge of guilt—after all, did I owe Faramir anything other than friendship? It was not as through I was his betrothed. I replied in solemn tones, begging him for silence, and telling him of the black pit I felt opening beneath me once more. “I wait for some stroke of doom,” I told him finally, trying to explain.
“Yes, we wait for the stroke of doom,” he agreed, and fell quiet.
The wind died, birdsong ceased, and time stopped; I could not even hear my breathing or feel my heart beat. Terror pressed thick upon me, and I felt trapped, but I could not cry out. I became dimly aware of Faramir’s touch; without thinking, we had reached for each other’s hands and now clung to one another, the only solid thing we had. The darkness fountained up again from the distant mountains, lightnings flashed, and the earth itself trembled in fear; we felt the wall we stood upon quiver. The land seemed to sigh all around us then, and as it did, my heart began to beat, but my brain still refused to function. I heard Faramir speaking of Numenor, and I knew I replied, but our words felt faint and far off even as he assured me that the darkness would not endure.
What jolted me back to full awareness was the feel of his lips on my brow when he leaned forward and kissed me. I gasped softly at the sweetness and warmth; for a fugitive moment, I wanted to lift my head and feel that sensation on my own lips, explore his mouth with mine. My desire vanished as the sun came out, birds began to sing, and the voices from the City joined in. We looked at each other in disbelief, the wind tangling his raven hair with my golden tresses.
“Can it be?” Faramir breathed. “Have we truly won?”
The great eagle appeared at that very moment, singing his psalm of triumph. As his last note lingered in the crisp air, Faramir gave a whoop of pure joy and swung me up and around, leaving me laughing and breathless.
“Come with me, Eowyn! Let us find the Warden and command him to make the Houses festive with wine and song! There is no time to waste—come, we have the greatest of victories to celebrate!” He seized my hand and pulled me along the wall at a run, as I struggle both to keep his pace and stop laughing wildly.
It is now the height of the afternoon, and the impromptu party Faramir hastily staged is still in full swing, with food, drink, and music abundant. Our moment of reminiscing done, Faramir tips the bottle he is holding and fills my cup. “Drink up,” he says, grinning. “Or do you want something milder, more befitting a lady of delicacy and rank?”
I deliberately drain most of the draft down, and return the grin with a mocking edge. “No fragile lady I, as you know. This wine is splendid, and I shall have my cup filled again, if you please.”
As Faramir obligingly pours another measure, he glances over towards one of the side doors. “Is that Merry leaving already? How strange—I thought he would be leading our revels, for this is the best of all possible news for him,” he exclaims.
I look over just in time to see the hobbit threading his way through the crowd and slipping out the door with his shoulders slumped down, though whether in grief or tiredness I could not determine. I frown in vexation as I realize what ails my little heart-brother. “Oh dear—I suspect he still fears that Frodo and Sam paid for this victory with their lives. I cannot believe the eagle’s song would have been so joy-filled if it were so, but he may be right to worry, I suppose.”
“No, Eowyn, you are correct—I am sure that both Frodo and Sam live, for the tidings of their deaths would have flown to us on wings if they had so suffered. Come with me now! Let us gather food and drink and go to Merry’s room to cheer and comfort our friend. Today is the day that all others in Middle-Earth should serve and honor the halflings, after what they have won!”
He pivots round to a table and grabs a platter of roasted meats, along with a small bottle of wine. I scoop up a pile of petite deep-fried fruit pies into a napkin, recalling how much Merry likes them with their half-moon shape, and tuck a loaf of bread under my arm. I then seize a pitcher of hot spiced milk, fragrant with orange and lemon peel, and set off in Faramir’s wake. His long strides force me to scramble to catch up with him, as he takes the steps to the upper floor two at a time.
Our speed is such that we reach Merry’s door as he shuts it behind him. Faramir knocks briskly, and motions for me to speak. “Merry? Faramir and I are here with food—we wish to talk with you. May we come in?”
“Yes, Eowyn, of course!” The hobbit throws the door back open and looks up at us, nonplussed. “Is something wrong?’
“Nothing is wrong, my good Master Merry,” said Faramir, with a smile and a wink as he breezes into Merry’s room. “Lady Eowyn and I observed you leaving our festivities early, and we agreed to bring the feast to you, for we do not want you to be alone.”
I deposit my burdens on the table and cross to Merry, kneeling before him and taking his hands in mine. “I know what troubles you, Merry,” I say earnestly. Please do not worry so—I am sure, absolutely sure, that Frodo and Sam did not die, but still live.”
He stares at me, hope and despair mingled in his round face. “Are you quite certain, Eowyn? You are not saying this merely to buck me up, are you?”
“No, never that, my darling Merry. Both Lord Faramir and I are convinced they are safe and well, by some miracle. Now come and keep the two of us company.” I turn and discover Faramir has been busy spreading a blanket and tossing down pillows in front of the fireplace, making a cozy picnic spot for all of us. I lead Merry over and sit on a cushion, carefully arranging my skirts. My two knights, both the tall and the short, bring the food and drink; Merry sits close to me while Faramir stretches out in front of the fire like a lazy cat. The Steward uncorks the bottle and pours each of us a glass; as I taste it, I can smell the infused herbs in the honey-gold wine, thyme in particular.
Merry asks in surprise, “Is this miruvor, Faramir?”
Faramir chuckles softly. “No, Merry, but you are close to the mark. It is a rare wine from the coast designed to mimic the legendary cordial of Imladris. We call it Nolwe wine, after the healer who contrived the recipe a century ago; it is said to both heal and strengthen. Boromir always told me it works like a truth-telling potion, and that people say all sorts of interesting things when they drink enough!”
“And what truths might you be fishing for, my Lord?” I keep my voice artificially demure as I peer at Faramir over the rim of my glass.
He laughs and refuses to take the bait. “I seek no hidden secrets, but only thoughtful speculations—namely, what the two of you intend to do in the near future, now that the Shadow has been dissolved and light returns to the world. Have either of you made any plans as yet? Eowyn?”
I stir uncomfortably, seared by the intensity of his focus. “I am not quite certain, Lord Faramir—I have not devoted much reflection to that. What ideas I have mulled over were in anticipation of the worst occurring, not the best.”
“You should have heard her last night, Faramir!” Merry pipes up before I can stop him. “She promised me that we would not give up, but ride north to gather the Rohirrim and Shirefolk and find a final refuge against the Dark Lord somewhere to the farthest marches. Wouldn’t she be a great warrior and the bravest of queens?”
I scowl, not particularly thrilled that Faramir has learned of my fantasies from the previous evening, and convinced that he will revert to being a normal male and despise the image of me as a fighter. But, to my surprise, his face radiates admiration and affection.
“Yes indeed, Merry, Eowyn would make a very great queen.” He sips more wine and looks at me. “Would that Gondor’s women had your courage, my Lady—this kingdom’s nobility should have lasted then, instead of decaying into decadence. I almost regret you will not see the opportunity to lead your people and reach the peak of your abilities; that would have been a glorious thing. I can only hope you find an equally satisfying outlet for your energies now that peace is upon us.”
Most of his words please me with their sincerity, yet his last statement nettles me; it seems to imply I should retreat to my bower and become a mere lady again. I toss my head and let the wine flow down my throat before replying. “Of course I shall! I will ride back to Edoras with my brother the king, and ask Eomer to make me a Marshal of the Mark. Woman I may be, but I am a child of the House of Eorl and have earned my spurs in battle. The borders of Rohan shall still need guarding, for evil things remain here even with Sauron’s fall. Eomer must govern from the Golden Hall and can no longer perform such duties for our people, so I will as his only sibling. Perhaps I will recruit other shieldmaidens to form a troop to patrol regularly, since we lost many men on the fields of the Pelennor.” I look sharply at Faramir, daring him to disapprove.
He does not, but turns to Merry with a smile. “Shall you ride north with Lady Eowyn as her squire and help her guard the Mark? Her sense of duty is admirable, and deserves the support of her friends.”
Merry shakes his head and clasps my hand. “She certainly does, but I fear I cannot do that—I have my own duties to my kin, so I will be going home to the Shire with Pippin, Sam, and Frodo when they return to Minas Tirith. I don’t think the war has reached that far, but there will be work to do to make the land more fertile and beautiful. I want to gather some of the herbs and flowers I have seen here and in Rohan and take them with me, to transplant to Buckland and Tookland and have gardens that are both lovely and useful and make the Shire the envy of all Middle Earth. I shall marry of course, and my wife and I shall cultivate our garden and children together as we teach them to love all the good things in life.”
Curiosity overcomes politeness, and I ask, “Do you have a lass awaiting your homecoming, or do you plan a courtship later?’
“I have my eye on someone, Eowyn, but I am a gentlehobbit after all, and it would be caddish to name her, wouldn’t it?” Merry’s hazel eyes dance with a mischievous sparkle that belies his prim words.
I glance over at Faramir, who has been absorbed in Merry’s recitation, and decide to get a little of my own back. “You have been remarkably quiet during all this, Lord Faramir. Have you no plans for the future? Perhaps you shall retreat to a chamber in the White Tower of your grandsire and write the history of the War of the Ring. You most certainly possess the skills to do so, though I marvel at the idea of you being completely silent for the duration of the exercise.”
His eyebrow quirks up as my shaft hits home; he speaks slowly, feeling his way carefully. “No, silence is not my first choice, but I am struck by how much my own dreams match Merry’s. What I do shall be dependent on King Elessar’s will, but if he allows me, I want to go back to Ithilien and restore it to its former glory as Gondor’s great garden. As hard as war is, sometime it is harder to mend matters when peace comes, so it will be a challenge. I hope to have help, for I spoke to Legolas briefly before he marched, and he told me the elves of Mirkwood might be interested in my efforts; he pledged to lead them if they wish to join me.”
“And shall you build a house in the middle of your garden, and write your history there?” I sound casual, but the slight trembling in my hand as I lift my glass betrays my sudden inner turmoil.
“Yes, I shall, and if I am lucky, my lady wife and my children will share my hearth and savor the Moon-land’s dryad beauty with me.” Once more, he and I lock eyes, and I feel a wave of heat wash through my body while the wine bubbles in my veins. I lick my lips without thinking, and Faramir’s eyes widen at the gesture. The heat settles in my loins, and I fight off the impulse to squirm, all too aware that Merry’s attention is totally given over to our exchange.
“My Lord!” Ioreth’s voice breaks the tension as she stands on the threshold and looks at Faramir anxiously. “I apologize for intruding, but the Warden must consult with you at once, he says.”
Faramir rolls to his feet with a muttered oath. “Tell him I will be by directly!” Ioreth vanishes, and Faramir turns to Merry and I. “I leave you unwillingly, but my responsibilities call.” He stoops and takes my hand, kissing it swiftly. “Please continue to enjoy yourselves—I shall have more food brought up, if you wish to stay here.”
“That would be most kind—thank you,” I murmur, unable to meet his gaze.
He bows elegantly to Merry, smiling. “I would enjoin you to look after the Lady Eowyn, but there is no need in light of your proven devotion to her. I will speak to both of you later.” Faramir strides out, his head held proudly; I watch him depart with mixed feelings. This confusion he generates is becoming wearying.
Merry pulls a clay pipe and pouch of pipeweed from his waistcoat pocket, lights the pipe with a coal from the fire, and lays down where Faramir had been; he pulls a pillow under his head while crossing his legs. So ensconced, he cannot suppress a huge grin as he lazily blows smoke rings into the air.
“Faramir likes you, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, he does, but you do not need to read more into it—he likes everyone and treats them the same,” I say stiffly.
“Uh-huh.” Merry is clearly skeptical. “I don’t think so—he REALLY likes you, just as you like him. Has he kissed you yet?”
“Merry!” I laugh despite my shock; the wine makes me more amused than annoyed at his artless brazenness. “You are an unrepentant saucebox, aren’t you, asking me such a question!”
“I know what I was seeing just now—come on, do tell. Has he?”
“If I do, you have to give up the name of your would-be bride. Is that a fair trade?”
He thinks for a moment, his mouth twitching with laughter. “I guess so, but you go first.”
“Very well.” I cough a little. “Yes, he has, but just once. It was this morning while we stood upon the walls. He kissed my brow.”
Merry scoffs, “On your forehead? That hardly counts. Faramir must be out of practice.”
“Oh, and you are a great expert on the art of love? What exactly were you doing with this girl you like before you left? Could it be that a baby Brandybuck is waiting for father to come home?” The wine has loosened my tongue disgracefully.
Merry takes no offence, and grins disarmingly. “I’m more careful than that, Eowyn—I may play kissing games with Stella in the quieter corners of Brandy Hall on a rainy day, but I don’t let it go too far.”
“So Stella is her name? Is she pretty enough to deserve it?’
“I think so, anyway.” His cheeks redden. “She’s Estella Bolger, the sister of my friend Fatty—Fredegar, that is. Dark brown hair, deep blue eyes like Lothiriel’s, and a wonderful sense of humor—I suppose she’ll need that, if we make a match! She’s my distant cousin, but everyone is to some degree, so that is no problem. She may not be the prettiest hobbit in the Shire, but after having fun with various and assorted girls, she suits me the very best.”
“I am surprised at you,” I murmur. “I would have thought the future Master of Buckland would want the very prettiest hobbit as his wife.”
“Unfortunately, the two great beauties of the Shire are already spoken for. That would be Rosie Cotton and none other than Pearl, Pippin’s oldest sister. Rosie is Sam’s girl for certain—he absolutely adores her, bashful as he is, though he must bestir himself in private since he has beaten off several poaching attempts.”
“And Pearl being your first cousin is a little too close for marriage, yes?’
“That’s true, but she has always been totally infatuated with Frodo. I always expected they’d be married by now, especially after that birthday party years ago at Great Smials when Pippin and I found them in the library going at it as if their lives depended on it! Frodo was furious when we interrupted, but it was a lucky thing we did—Mother and Aunt Eglantine arrived minutes later looking for all of us. Frodo became seriously pale when they appeared—he didn’t fancy a sudden wedding at all!”
“What has happened—a lover’s quarrel?”
Merry frowns. “No, Frodo seemed to lose interest after he came of age and inherited the Ring—in fact, he hardly looked at a girl once he had it. I wonder sometimes if the Ring didn’t chew up a large piece of his heart. Poor Pearl—she never stopped loving him, and kept waiting and waiting, but she finally gave up and married our cousin Ferdibrand Took twelve years ago. He died of a fever a while ago, so she’s a widow, still very lovely but not very happy. Maybe now that Frodo is rid of the Ring, he’ll marry her when we get back home, and he and I will have a double wedding.” He laughs. “With the way things are between you and Faramir, you two can come to the Shire soon and then it will be a triple wedding!”
I lean over and tousle his curly hair as he bites into a pie, the berry juice trickling down his chin. “Keep dreaming, little brother! I hardly think that is a likely event, in spite of your eager matchmaking. If you want another wedding, you will have better luck pairing up your harum-scarum cousin with some unsuspecting innocent.”
“Pippin’s too much of a playboy to settle down—he’d rather keep a stable of fillies, you would not believe what he does when the mood is on him—”
I throw up my hands with a laugh. “Spare me—picturing Peregrin Took as a ladies’ man is enough to fill me with horror! Now be good, and tell me more about your sweetheart, saucy one.”
“Eowyn, you do know that there’s nothing to fear in marriage, don’t you?”
“Yes, I know that, I am just uncertain when I might decide to marry. Go on, talk, and entertain me again.”
“I’ll teach you to smoke a pipe—it’s a art well worth acquiring.” Amidst much laughter, he proceeds to do so, and the topic of Faramir’s feelings for me fades away, for which I am grateful. I drink nothing but the spiced milk from here on out, determined to avoid any further slips of the tongue. But Merry’s words on marriage continue to plague me, and slowly take root despite my desire to banish them.
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