Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Snowdrops and Bluebells: 7. Chapter Seven
It is equally strange to not see Faramir every day as I have grown accustomed to; he is so busy preparing the city for the return of King Elessar and his armies that he has but little time to spend with me. I find myself missing his company more than I thought possible, which is deeply disconcerting. I know he misses me as well, for he sends me notes regularly to that effect. His short letters are charming, but are no substitute for the physical reality of his presence at my side. I want to see him, and watch his face as it lights up with amusement, or grows intent with concentration while he tells another tale.
Merry remains my steadfast shadow, serving as a messenger between Faramir and myself as we exchange notes. He still hopes to nurture a romance into life, and no amount of cold water on my part has dampened his enthusiasm. Since he refrains from teasing me overmuch, his effort humors rather than exasperates me.
As if my reflections have summoned him, I hear Merry’s light voice calling me. “Hey, Eowyn! Look! Letters from Cormallen for both of us!” I sit up and look around, trying to place him. I finally see him near a clump of apple trees at the foot of the slope. I wave at him, motioning him to join me; he waves back, and I can now see the folded sheets of parchment in his hand. He trots up quickly, smiling widely, and sits down onto the grass beside me as he gives me an elaborately addressed missive.
“And who has sent you letters? I can see from the handwriting that mine is from Eomer.”
Merry rips open his two letters eagerly. “One is from Pip, and the other from Gandalf, of all people!” He scans both as I wait to open my note, since I am now more anxious to hear news of Frodo and Sam than of my brother. Merry looks up after a long pause, his smile even wider than before. “You were right, Eowyn—they’re alive, alive! Frodo has been hurt, and he and Sam suffered quite a lot—but they are alive. Thank the Valar for that. Pip was hurt too, but he makes light of it.”
I wrap my arm across his shoulders and pull him against me. “See, I told you everything would somehow work out.”
“Yes, you did,” says Merry. He leans over and nudges me. “Aren’t you going to read your letter? You must want to hear about Eomer.”
I carefully unfold the sheet, filled with Eomer’s sprawling hand. Impulsively, I decide to share it with Merry and begin reading it aloud.
My beloved sister—
All is well. The Ringbearer’s quest is accomplished, and he and his faithful servant live, much to the relief of everyone, noticeably King Elessar and Gandalf the White. There were deaths in battle, but not as many as I feared would befall us. Masters Gimli and Legolas received not a scratch, and send their affectionate greetings to both you and Master Merry. I know not when I shall return to Minas Tirith. Therefore, I beg you to make speed soon to the fields of Cormallen, so that I may view your recovery with my own eyes and you may take your rightful place at my side with our army. Send word with my messenger as to your arrival.
Your brother, Eomer, of Rohan King
I refold the letter as I finish. Merry says brightly, “How very good to hear Legolas and Gimli are safe, and thinking of us! And Gandalf summons me to Cormallen too; you and I can travel up the Anduin together.”
I find I cannot answer him at first; I stare into the middle distance blankly and edge away while I sort through my jumbled thoughts. Finally, I speak slowly, choosing my words with great caution. “I am not sure we will be traveling partners, for while I long to see Eomer, I do not wish to go to Cormallen yet.”
Merry betrays his befuddlement as he absorbs this. “But why? I don’t understand.” He blinks as he keeps pondering my answer, and then comprehension steals over his features. “Is it Aragorn? Are you worried that you will have to see him with Arwen in his moment of victory?”
I allow myself the luxury of a sigh. “Yes, that is one reason,” I say reluctantly. No need to pretend or hide my heartache with Merry; I confessed my feelings for Aragorn to him some time ago during our night watches. He in turn when pressed by me spoke of Arwen Undomiel and of the deep passion she shares with the Elfstone. As Merry hymned the elf’s rich beauty, so like to that of her grandmother, I saw my secret dreams of somehow winning Aragorn burned to ashes and scattered by the winds. It is a hard and bitter pain to give up one’s first love, but I know now I have no choice; if I do not, a kind of hopeless madness shall be my fate. However, giving up a dream is one thing; replacing it with a new reality is quite another, which is why I have not yielded to settling for Faramir, tempting though that is.
Some inkling of my emotions must be appearing, for Merry begins asking questions that exhibit his disconcerting owlish wisdom. “Is there a second reason, then? Are you also unhappy at the idea of leaving Faramir? You deny you love him, but I can see how much you miss seeing him regularly. Maybe you care about him more than you think. Do you, Eowyn?”
His last question sparks up my temper. “Perhaps, but why do you keep badgering me? You have made your attitude about a romance with Faramir perfectly plain, but my heart is not so crystal clear yet—you know this, and ought to give me peace.” I wince at my snappish tone.
Merry is immediately contrite. “I’m sorry, Eowyn—I didn’t mean to cause you grief. It’s just—well, it’s just that I so want you to be happy, and I believe you would be with Faramir.”
“Why are you sure that happiness requires a pairing? Can it not be found alone?” I demand sharply.
He stands up and cups his hands around my face, startling me with the unexpected intimacy of the gesture. “Only if you have an empty heart, and you do not—your love for me, sister, is proof of that.” He pauses. “Do you remember what I told you about Frodo and Pearl—how their love has come to nothing, because of the Ring?”
“Yes, I remember,” I say huskily.
“That’s not the ending I want for you, and I’m afraid it will be if you are not careful.” His thumbs gently stroke my cheekbones, calming me even as my eyes fill. “Promise me that if you stay in Minas Tirith, you’ll give Faramir a chance to completely earn your love—that you won’t lock your heart in a cage and throw away the key. It may be too late for Frodo, but it isn’t for you.”
Overwhelmed by the depth of feeling between us, I turn my head and place a soft kiss in his small palm. “I promise, little brother.”
We remain suspended like this for a while, unwilling to end our souls’ communion. Strains of music reach us from below, breaking the stillness. Merry lowers his hands and turns towards the city. He smiles, lightening matters. “Is there a fair? I wonder if it’s as good as the ones in the Shire. Shall we go, and compare?” He tugs at my hand, boyish once more. “Come on, Eowyn—it’ll be fun, especially the food.”
“Thinking of your stomach again, are you?” I laugh, and climb to my feet. “I suppose if you are hungry, we have to go, or else you will collapse. That would be too awful for words, wouldn’t it?”
Merry grins and begins racing down the steps at the side of each terrace; I follow him more slowly, but not by much. We reach the gate at the bottom of the final flight, and pull it open together. On the other side, we discover Faramir, poised to venture upwards. He beams when he sees us.
“I am indeed lucky—I was coming to fetch the two of you, and here you both are. Where are you going?”
I assume a tranquil expression; Merry, bless him, does not reveal by even a flicker of an eyelash our intense exchange. He merely says, “We’re off to the fair. Can you come with us, Faramir?”
“By some miracle, I can—which is why I was looking for you both. Do you mind more company, my lady?’
“Not at all, my lord,” I say, while wondering how difficult the next hours will become.
My thoughts prove groundless; I laugh far more often than I brood, for Merry’s unquenchable bounce frequently draws Faramir’s dry wit to the surface. They enjoy scoring off one another, engaging in a kind of stylized verbal duel for my amusement like jesters of my own private court.
I enjoy the fair considerably. I thought our fairs in Edoras were fine, but they pale in comparison with the lavish array of goods and foods on sale here. Merry eagerly samples the wares of each food stand, but Faramir and I concentrate on the merchants’ booths. I admire colorful jewelry and fabrics, lush flowers and uncommon animals. Faramir brought separate purses of money for both Merry and I, so I can spend what I wish. After mulling over the possibilities, I buy a pair of new bracelets and intricately embroidered gloves, good for either a formal feast or a hunting party. I even succumb to a buried feminine urge and purchase some rare perfumes and paints from a smiling apothecary, but only when Merry distracts Faramir by demanding he taste a fritter.
Faramir in turn buys a large pile of books from an old man who greets him cheerfully; I stifle a smile as they talk animatedly, for Faramir is clearly a customer of long standing as the bookseller agrees to deliver them to him later in the day. He has an unerring eye for the finest quality, subjecting everything, even the tiniest trinket, to a careful appraisal before he purchases it. When he sees a brooch shaped like a running horse, he insists on giving it to me as a token of his regard for Rohan, despite my demurrals. The goldsmith pins it on my dress with a friendly grin; I realize he sees Faramir and I as a couple, out with our son as we walk away with Merry between us. Instead of being offended, the man’s assumption warms me. It seems to confirm how much we three have truly become a family.
I stop at a toymaker’s next, attracted by the large display of elegantly crafted dolls. They are nothing like the simple poppets my nurse made for me; their petite faces are perfectly shaped, and their little dresses rival any of my ladies’. I brush my fingertips over the lace and velvet of one, marveling at the craftsmanship. Faramir notes my interest and steps to my side.
“They are beautifully done, are they not? Really not for a child at all, but rather a thing of beauty for a lady’s chamber.”
“Yes, you are right. I am surprised at my interest, for I never played with dolls much as a little girl, but seen in that light, I understand my fascination now.”
“Let me get one for you.” I know better than to protest. Without prompting, he picks up my favorite—a dainty matron in blue and cream silk, her gown encrusted with tiny pearls and gold lace, feathers in her upswept hair. The toymaker’s pretty wife is boxing my gift when a voice suddenly pipes up.
“How much is that one?”
The toymaker, a gentle young man, cranes his head to view the figure on the other side of the table. His eyes widen as he beholds Merry. “You are a halfling?”
“Yes, I am,” says Merry proudly.
“Whom do you buy it for? Surely you are too youthful to already be a father.”
“It’s for my sweetheart, Stella. She loves dolls, and has none that are as fine as yours, sir. Please, how much do you want for it?”
The man places Merry’s selection in a wooden box and proffers it with a bow as his wife curtsies as well. “I charge you not one coin, Master Halfling, for the valor of you and your kinfolk is well known to me. Accept this gift with my humble thanks, and may you have a sweet daughter who shall one day cherish this.”
Merry, gratified, takes the box and bows back. “Thank you, my good master, and I shall tell Stella of your blessing.”
The sun drops in the afternoon sky as we continue to indulge ourselves with eating, drinking, and buying. We play games of chance, winning a little and losing more; we watch jugglers and acrobats, and have our fortunes told, chuckling at the results. The minstrels we stop to listen to recognize the Steward, and egg him on to join them in song. He finally consents, and proves to possess a lovely voice, honeyed and true with real feeling for the words. I applaud heartily with the crowd when the song ends, and smile at Faramir as he strolls back to me.
“If worse comes to worse, you could earn a living as a songster.”
He grins. “So I have been told before! But the worst did not come, so Steward I stay.”
Merry steps forward to the lutanist and offers to sing. The crowd claps along as he begins, clearly enjoying the simple Shire tune, and the musicians weave an improvised melody as he continues. The applause is loud and there are calls for another song, then for still another. The shadows lengthen across the stones when the audience finally releases Merry and we start to return to the Houses. We are halfway home when I spot the booth tucked into a corner, obscured by the neighboring buildings. I gasp in excitement when I see what it contains.
“What is it, Eowyn?” asks Faramir.
“Look! A swordsmith—I did not think any were here!” I dash over and gaze at the smith’s work. I can see at once his skill at the forge; these are weapons of surpassing strength and splendor, which a warrior could wield with confidence. One in particular catches my eye; it has a large ruby embedded in the hilt, surrounded by swirling wirework. A prayer in tengwar is engraved on the blade, asking the Valar for protection. I pick it up and my blood hums as I feel its precise balance and heft. Faramir and Merry stand back to give me room as I test it, glorying in its perfection as I make several passes and hear it whisper through the air. It seems to be an extension of my arm, obeying my slightest command. I know immediately I have found the perfect gift for my brother’s crowning.
The swordsmith beams as I turn back to him. His swarthy skin and dangling earrings proclaim him to be originally of the far South. “My very finest sword, my lady. You have a keen eye and a good arm—never have I seen any woman with such artful skill at swordplay. With the way you handle it, I might have made it for you.”
Faramir takes the sword then, and his eyes gleam as he perceives its flawlessness. “It is unquestionably a prize, more akin to elven craft than anything else. Forgive me, though, but it appears a trifle too long for you.”
I shake my head. “I do not want it for myself, I want it for Eomer. I shall gift him with it at his crowning when I pledge my service to him.”
“Are you the White Lady of Rohan, she who cut down a Nazgul in battle?” asks the smith in surprise upon hearing me.
“Yes,” I answer simply.
“Then take it, White Lady. You helped free Gondor from the Shadow. May my blade aid you in your labors while defending your land, for you are a great captain and deserve anything I can give you.”
“No!” I exclaim vigorously. I fumble with my purse and pull out ten large gold coins, pressing them into his hand. “I am flattered, but I cannot let you do this. Such workmanship must be honored.”
He inclines his head. “Very well. Will you allow me to keep it for an hour so that I may engrave the names of you and your brother upon it? It will then become a fitting heirloom for the kings of Rohan.”
“Of course—you are most kind. I shall return here when you are done.”
“No need, my lady. I shall deliver it to you at the Houses of Healing with mine own hands, with my best sheath and belt accompanying it.”
Faramir speaks up. “Bring your other swords with you, and come seek me out. I wish to examine them in privacy, and we shall also speak of a place for you in my household or that of the King. Such high ability should not be subjected to a wandering and uncertain life on the road.”
The smith’s bow deepens. “As you command, my Lord Steward. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.” He takes my precious find and bends over it with his tools; we turn away and proceed up the street.
“What a magnificent present, Eowyn! Eomer will be amazed,” Merry says gleefully.
“He will indeed,” says Faramir. “And because of your sharp eyes, Eowyn, I have found a superior swordsmith, far better than any other in the city. I thank you.”
“You are most welcome—even if you did bag him for Gondor before I could stake Rohan’s claim.” I turn up my nose, but my smile gives me away.
Faramir laughs loudly, looping his arm around my shoulders in a sideways hug. “As ever, your wit is as quick as your sword. Come, Merry, let us hurry home before our lady scores another hit!”
His infectious grin and comic expression are hard to resist; I join his merriment. As I stand there with him, Merry’s face smiling up at both of us, no fears or hesitations can make me regret my promise on this golden day.
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