Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Snowdrops and Bluebells: 8. Chapter Eight
It was three weeks ago that I said goodbye to Merry here. He stood there and looked up at me with shining eyes as he prepared to ride up the Anduin to Osgliath, where he would take ship to Cair Andros with supplies. I dreaded his departure far more than I could say, and my heart was so full I stood tongue-tied as I held his hands. From Merry’s silence, I guessed he suffered as well; but he finally spoke in a choked voice.
“You’ll take care of yourself, won’t you, Eowyn? I should hate to come back and find you dwindled down to nothing.”
“No fear of that,” I replied, somehow matching his slightly humorous tone. “And so you too can take care, I have one last gift for you.” I beckoned to the page I had brought with me; he stepped forward and handed me the wrapped bundle he carried. I presented it to Merry, trembling a touch with the weight of emotion. “Since you sacrificed your old one in my defense, it seems only fitting that I replace it.”
Merry stripped the cloth off and drew the short sword out with a gasp of surprise. He studied it, and grinned at me. “This is the work of that swordsmith we met at the fair, isn’t it? I recognize his style—this is beautiful.” He quickly belted sword and sheath on, his hand on the hilt as he stood proudly before me.
“Yes, it is.” I knelt down and took his hands again. “I am very glad you like it.”
“I can’t say thank you enough—it’s superb, and I’ll want to show it off, I think!” He embraced me tightly; I hugged him back, not caring the page stood nearby, and felt his heart beating against mine in perfect time. We finally released one another reluctantly, and Merry whispered, “You won’t forget your promise to me while I’m gone, will you?”
“No, I will not,” I whispered back. “And I also promise to send you word if anything is decided between us before you return.”
He nodded, and mounted his pony. As he rode off with the rest of the troops, he turned and waved at me. I kept waving as well until Merry was a blur on the horizon, anxiously wondering how I would manage without him.
Today, I stare at the sunlight on the river and recall that moment. My worries, it has proved, have been correct, for all the confidence I felt after the fair has trickled away. If Faramir was busy before Merry’s departure, he is even more so now, which means I barely see him. My absence from his side has been noted, and I am uncomfortably aware of the fresh gossip boiling up in the hothouse atmosphere of the court ladies’ bowers, speculating that the Steward is bored with the Northerner, or perhaps the shieldmaiden has rejected him? I try not to notice and tell myself the comments do not matter, but the edge of venom I sometimes hear wears me down and makes me feels Faramir might be tired of me, despite knowing better. I have begun to look pale and thin once more, as worry takes its toll.
And the worst part is indeed Merry’s absence; I miss him acutely every day, certain that I would be plagued by nothing if he were at my side again with his optimism and laughter. Even more do I miss the physical affection he poured over me, the casual hugs and kisses that began to unlock the prison I had made of my body. I have rarely permitted anyone but my brother and uncle to touch me lovingly before, and it is hard to deny my newly awakened hunger for someone else’s flesh against my own. I understand now that thinking of Merry in childlike terms allowed me to accept his warmth and sensuality without fear, since no passion pulsed between us. How I wish I could claim Merry’s earthiness for myself, for then I could banish all my shadows, but I cannot find the way without him. If only I had my little family intact once more . . .
Moodily preoccupied, I reach my horse, mount, and head back to the city at a slow gallop, careful not to overwork the older animal I took. I enjoy the feel of the wind whipping through my hair, and imagine it is blowing the cobwebs out of my mind as well. I arrive at the stables refreshed in body, if not in mind, and prepare to groom the bay gelding, only to have a friendly stablehand interrupt and insist on doing the task himself. I yield with good grace and hurry off to the Houses to change clothes before breakfast. I bound up the stairs two at a time, hoping no disapproving eyes see me, and hastily discard my riding gear in favor of my favorite white dress. I wash my face quickly and am brushing my hair when I hear Lothiriel calling me.
“Eowyn? Are you in your room?”
“Yes, but I am coming,” I say, and hurry into the hall, meeting Lothiriel at the stair landing. She looks startled at my abrupt arrival but smiles in greeting.
“That swordsmith you have been patronizing is here with your most recent commission. He awaits you in the lower parlor—I took some breakfast to him there. Do you wish to speak with him now, or shall I tell him to return later?”
“No, no—I am anxious to see this, for it is for me, not anyone else.” I give Lothiriel an abashed grin as I bound down the stairs with her following.
“So he said. The sword is beautiful—I found myself envying you when I saw it.” Her longing tone brings me up short, and I stop and pivot round to face her.
“What ever do you mean, Lothiriel? Surely you do not want to become a warrior too?”
“I suppose fighting just seems so much more straightforward, so much easier, than healing. I know I am very good at what I do, but mending people’s bodies and minds after battle is harder than taking them apart in the first place. That is why I insisted that my father allow me to come with him to Minas Tirith, for I knew how badly my skills would be needed. Ah, here we are—I must go see to some of my patients. I will come keep you company later, if you like.” We reach the door, and she leaves me lost in thought as her words echo in my ears.
As I enter the parlor, the swordsmith leaps up from the table he sits at and gives me a deep bow, ignoring my motions to continue his breakfast. He hands me the sword I had made to replace the one I destroyed in killing the Captain of the Nazgul. I catch my breath sharply when I behold the full elegance of the blade the smith has forged for me. Made of silver and steel, it glitters in the morning sun as I feel its flawless fit; he was careful to measure my reach so that it would be absolutely proportional. Wire scrollwork even more intricate that that on Eomer’s gift surrounds the pearls, sapphires and emeralds embedded in the hilt. I marvel in silence, knowing that the most fulsome praise I could utter will be ridiculously inadequate.
“Do you approve, my lady? I arranged the gems in a special pattern, to harness their energies and bestow extra protection on you when you wield it.” I realize he thinks my wordlessness connotes dissatisfaction, and hasten to correct the impression.
“Do not fear—silence is the true herald of my joy. You have exceeded yourself once more, and I cannot find the words to describe my admiration for your supreme artistry.”
He smiles happily. “Thank you, my lady. This means the additional weapons Lord Faramir asked me to make should please you as much.” He picks up a flat wooden box on the table and flips it open, revealing a matching set of jeweled knives. I gaze at them astonished while the smith explains. “Lord Faramir came to my forge one day and saw the sword I was crafting for you, and asked who it was intended for. When I told him, he insisted on commissioning the knives to go with it, since he knew you had once expressed a desire to learn the elven style of fighting. There are throwing knives with arm sheaths, boot knives, a long knife for close quarter combat, and here—” He lifts out a pair of needle-thin daggers with intricately decorated pommels. “I designed these beauties to serve you both as weapons and ornaments. Tuck these into a bun or braid of your hair, and it will appear to an unwary enemy that you merely wear two hairpins . . . until he tries to attack you. With these, no assassin will touch you, I swear it.” He slips the daggers back in their places and hands the box to me.
I take it from him slowly. “So Lord Faramir had you make them . . . how kind of him,” I croak out, amazed at Faramir’s insight into my innermost wishes. “I must write to him immediately—please excuse me, I beg you, and do not depart until you have finished your breakfast.” The swordsmith bows; I curtsy and whirl around as I rush out the door and up the stairs to return to my chamber. I clutch the sword and box to my chest, suppressing a fresh upsurge of conflicting feelings while I wonder if I can possibly discover the right way to thank Faramir without sounding like a lovesick green girl, which I am most certainly not.
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