"Come out, come out, wherever you are!"
A small group of mostly blonde-haired children collectively held their breath as the seeker, a sturdy girl of eight, began combing the hiding places before her with keen eyes. She had a peculiar colour of hair; it was very fair of hue, but tinged throughout with red, a rose pink colour, and wavy. She tread quietly through the tall grasses, toward the bushes and nearby trees, parting the low foliage with her lightly freckled hands.
With a dissatisfied grunt, she gave up and began walking deeper into the forest. A lone child darted up from the ground behind her, running to the safety of the fence-post. “Garúlf!” the seeker shouted, her voice full of frustration. She slammed her balled up fists into her legs, then crouched down to find the others.
Éowyn and Fréalas stood bemused, seeing the mice in their hiding places far more clearly than did the seeker in this particular round of Boar and Mouse.
“She is so determined!” said Fréalas, as she turned and gazed fondly at Éowyn. Fréalas' long deep red hair now sported several stray silvery strands, all of her waves currently pulled back into a manageable plait. She held Éowyn’s third child in her arms, patting him softly on the back as he gazed unfocused into the woods, his heavy head resting securely on her shoulder. As though hoping to greet this other new soul in the world, Fréalas’ own unborn child turned slightly within her, a comforting yet also bewildering sensation of her, and yet not her.
Éowyn smiled as she said, “And I wonder where she inherited that, hmmmm?”
Éowyn seemed to emanate unfettered joy in a way that Fréalas had not seen in many a year. There was a brief time when she was such a youngling and in love with Frithlíc, she thought, yet this is different, since she is now married to the Prince of Ithilien and has her own children. And yet, somehow, he is still with us! Despite the dulled ache of thinking of her many years dead brother, Fréalas could see a part of him in Éowyn’s headstrong daughter, although Meriadwine was most certainly the child of the princess of Rohan and Faramir alone. I suppose it is one of those mysteries that we are not meant to understand.
Fréalas winked at Éowyn and retorted, “I could never begin to guess, oh shieldmaiden of Rohan.” At that, her friend blanched slightly, and Fréalas immediately regretted her choice of words. “Oh Éowyn, you know I did not mean it, now that you are a healer… it is just that it is so hard to disregard so many years of history.” She stroked the dark brown hairs on the back of the head of Boromir, rubbing her nose in his hair, inhaling the wonderful, unique scent of baby that cannot be emulated by soap or perfume.
At that moment, a sandy-haired child ran up to them, one who wasn’t actively involved in the game of hide and go seek. “Auntie Fréa! Auntie Fréa!” Elboron tugged at her dress, his six year old hands trying to turn her attention from his younger brother to his own needs. “You promised you would tell me the story of how you found the history stone…You did! Will I find a stone of history, too, if I play?”
“I suspect not, but one can never be sure!” Fréalas gently returned the youngest heir of Faramir back to his mother, then took Elboron by the hand so that they could walk to a bench not far away. “It has been awhile since I told that tale, and now that I am back in this place, it is fitting that I should tell you.”
Fréalas was still hale, but several months along in her pregnancy and did not mind being able to sit on the carved wooden bench that Tóswífan had made for her. After an intimate wedding six years ago, she and Tóswífan went to live near the Mering Stream. As they exchanged vows, the joy on the faces of those assembled only further served to bolster the affections of the couple.
“You have taken your time in marrying, my Fréa, but these have been extraordinary times,” her father said, smiling despite some lingering pain from injuries he sustained on the Pelennor Fields. At this Éowyn and Faramir looked knowingly at each other, the royal couple having made the trip despite Fréalas’ insistence that they didn’t need to.
'After all that we have been through,' Éowyn wrote in reply to the parchment Fréalas sent telling her friend of her plans to marry, 'you have the nerve to inform me that I need not be at your own wedding? That is absurd. Kindly expect Faramir, baby Merry and myself to arrive several days beforehand. Besides, while Éomer may be the King of Rohan, he is still my brother, and I fear that Lothíriel is far too soft on him. I suspect that regular vigilance on my part will be an added boon to Rohan and her people. For I do remember my oath, Glédfléon.'
Now Fréalas sat on the wooden bench, Elboron sitting attentively at her side. “Has your mother shown you the stone?” she asked, absentmindedly running her hand over her swollen belly.
“Oh yes,” he answered, nodding vigorously. “I like to hold it. It’s smooth.”
Fréalas smiled, thinking of how often she had run her fingers over its surface, the secrets of the carvings revealed to her not long after she found it. She had run home after meeting the mysterious man in the woods, holding the rock outstretched in her right hand, her bow in her left, the arrows long forgotten.
“Well,” she began, looking at Elboron, “after showing it to my mother, who did not know what it was, I went to the house of an elder who used to live here when I was a young girl.”
Éowyn’s son sat still, gazing in rapt attention. "Stæfwis was her name, and though I did not want to give it to anyone after I found it, she said she needed to look at it closely.”
Elboron waited expectantly, his grey eyes locked on the grey-green eyes of the storyteller.
“So I handed it to her, then sat on the floor while she turned it over in her hands. I had cleaned it up, of course, but the full meaning of the markings were a mystery to me, and I was afraid that as much as she was holding it, she would make the carvings disappear!”
The little boy’s mouth fell open, so Fréalas hurriedly continued, “After a little while, she handed it back and asked me, ‘Do you know anything about Gondor, the land to the south?’ I said yes, because I had met a few people from there while visiting Edoras, but I was not very fond of them because they would stare at my hair, and I thought that they were rude. ‘What do you know about this stone?’ she asked, and I told her that I found it while playing Boar and Mouse, and that while I was practicing with my bow many weeks later a man wearing dirty clothes but with kind eyes had appeared in the woods and told me that it said “R ND R” in the carvings, which meant ‘steward.’”
Elboron continued to stare, his mouth still open, since nothing like this had ever happened to him!
“'Do you know what a steward is?’ she asked me, and I shook my head. ‘It is one who looks after something,’ she replied, then she asked whether I would like some strawberries. I accepted, of course.”
At this, Elboron nodded, then wiped under his nose with the back of his hand.
"'Long ago,’ she continued, ‘Gondor was in very grave difficulty, and they asked for help from our ancestors. The Steward of Gondor- there was not a king, there had not been a king for hundreds of years, and this brave line of people took care of the land until a king would return- sent several messengers to the Riddermark. Each messenger had a rock like this so that when one of the Mark found him, they would know that they had come from Gondor. But,’ and then she shook her head sadly, ‘only one of them survived. The others were slain by orcs. You found one that must have been dropped by one of the messengers who was killed, many, many years ago.’ Then she handed the stone back to me."
"Well,” Fréalas continued, smiling as she saw that Elboron was entranced by the story, “I must admit that I was disappointed. ‘No magic?’ I asked Stæfwis, and she laughed, which made me angry. I thought for sure that it would do something magical! ‘No magic,' she replied, 'but it is very ancient indeed, which almost makes it magical.’ Then she handed it back to me, and after taking a handful of strawberries, I thanked her and left.’”
Elboron looked disappointed, and scratched his sandy hair. “Not magic?” he echoed.
“No,” Fréalas replied seriously, then took his small hands in hers. “But very, very, very old. And little did I know back then that the little blonde girl who visited us in the summers would marry the last Steward, and that she would become the Princess of Ithilien,” she leaned in to rub their freckled noses together, eyes shut, “and that she would have you." Leaning back, Fréalas continued, "and that is magic indeed.”
Elboron grinned, then with a mischievous look, asked, “Do you want to play tag?” Without waiting for an answer, he hit her lightly on the leg, hurled himself from the bench and ran off. “You’re it!” he yelled back over his shoulder.
Fréalas ruefully shook her head, but pushed herself up, belly first, and began to lope towards him as he ran toward Éowyn. I should not be doing this! she thought, then put an arm down to cradle her swollen middle and began to run, a smile on her face. “Ready or not,” she cried out, “here I come!”
Stæfwis= lettered, learned
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.