40. An Invitation
I sat up and groaned slightly.
Éowyn, Faramir, a jug of red wine and night's talking.
No wonder my head ached and my throat was dry.
The door opened silently. Pale golden hair and dark grey eyes.
"Why are you awake, Éowyn?"
"I don't know. Why are you still in bed? I thought you had a message for Prince Imrahil."
But she smiled and added, "I would think it's because you have spent most of yesterday riding, and I have been doing nothing but lie in bed and sleep for days after… the battle."
I swung my legs around. During the night the bandage had slipped off my right ankle.
I winced as it touched the frame of the bed.
"Does is still hurt?" Éowyn asked.
I shook my head. "It's only a little tender. Mistress Ioreth removed the stitches yesterday." Then I returned the question. "How's your arm? Did Aragorn have a look at it?"
She did not react to that name at all, merely smiled at me and nodded. "He did. He thinks I will eventually get back the full use of my arm. But it takes time."
"And it hurts."
She grimaced and nodded. A few weeks ago you would have had to kill her before she would ever have acknowledged any pain. I did not comment on that. But I grinned impudently at her. "Bet my scars look more interesting."
Éowyn sat down next to me. "That would depend on whom you would want to take an interest in your scars, oh noble warrior lady and messenger of Gandalf the wizard."
I raised my eyebrows in a questioning look. Why did she think someone should be interested in my scars?
"A messenger has come from the Host. You know that a great celebration is prepared on the field of Cormallen for the eighth of April. My brother has sent an invitation to me. The Mistress Ioreth has said that I would probably be strong enough to make it. But now that it's over…" Her clear grey eyes clouded with remembered darkness, grief and pain. "I find that I do not care for songs or glory."
For once I did not feel silly to offer a gesture of warmth and friendship. I put my arm around Éowyn's shoulders and simply held her for a moment. At first she tensed. But then she relaxed and sighed and even laid her head against my shoulder. To see the fields of the Pelennor two weeks after the battle would give me nightmares in the days to come. To have experienced the actual battle would have probably traumatized me for life.
Finally I felt her stir, so I pulled away and smiled at her again. Only a small smile, but I had had an idea how to brighten her mood. "Could it be that you just don't care for your brother's company as much as for the company of a certain good-looking Steward of Gondor?"
Éowyn rounded on me, her eyes flashing, her pale cheeks coloring. I sat there and grinned broadly, almost chuckling. Yes, and yes and yes!
Éowyn tried to give me one of her grim looks, but it faltered halfway, giving way to a soft smile. "You just might be right about that, Lothíriel."
I felt my grin growing broader still. Then I remembered her quip about my scars.
"Now that we have settled that, let's get back to who might be interested in my scars."
It seemed that now it was Éowyn's turn to grin at me. I raised my eyebrows and frowned in earnest.
"You don't aspire to a position as a matchmaker, do you?" I asked my friend.
Éowyn shrugged and smiled sweetly, radiating innocence. "My brother, you know, one Éomer King is in need of a dinner partner. And I happen to know that he was quite worried about a certain young noble lady's health and well-being when he was told that a certain young noble lady had left Edoras accompanying Aragorn to the Paths of the Dead."
I opened my mouth and shut it again.
Then I tried again. "I have seen your brother only two times, Éowyn. And I seem to remember that I told you yesterday where I come from, so you can just drop all that about noble lady. I am just Lothíriel. Nothing less and nothing more."
Éowyn rolled her eyes. "Oh, don't be a grouch, Lothy. I don't want to go, I can't. I need time. And, yes, you are right; I want to spend all the time I can get with Faramir. When things get back to normal, we won't be left alone together for a year!"
I stared at her, the words slowly sinking into my mind. Then I almost squealed. "Does that mean, Éowyn, does that mean what I think it means?"
This time she blushed red as a beet. "Well, not yet in so many words, but he… he stated clearly his intention of…"
"Never letting you out of his sight again!" I continued for her.
She nodded and giggled.
"Are you serious that you will be chaperoned for a year? A real old-fashioned betrothal?"
Éowyn shrugged. "For you that may be old-fashioned or strange, but here… I am the sister of the King of Rohan, or will be, once my uncle is buried and Éomer is crowned. Faramir is the Steward of Gondor, the second in command after Aragorn. It will be a year and a day, I'm afraid, and all the proper procedures."
"Pooh," I sighed. "You know, I do understand that celebrations and songs are hard on you right now, and with Faramir besides, I understand that you won't go. But why make me go in your stead?"
"Simple," Éowyn replied. "I think Éomer likes you. Perhaps because he saved your life?
There has to be a reason for all those 'damsel in distress' stories the harpers like so much to tell… Anyway, he was really upset when he found out that you were gone."
I gaped at her. "Damsel in distress"! And how had that expression made it to Middle-earth? Or the other way round?!
"Don't you like my brother?" There was a hint of steel in her voice.
Éomer. How could I say if I liked him or not?
I had only seen him twice and only for a short time. I was beginning to regret the jokes I had made in this conversation so far. But suddenly I remembered deep dark eyes, and voice like…
"You like him, too." Éowyn announced, satisfaction in her voice. "You will go and accept the invitation for me. And after all, it's only because of you turning messenger and riding all over Gondor that you have no invitation of your own. So that's settled then."
I don't know much about the strategies of war. But I do know when I've lost the battle. I raised my hands in mock defeat. "Okay, it's settled. Everything to add a flourish to your betrothal."
Oh, how she blushed at that word!
Would I ever be in love like that again?
Experience told that I would be some day, but just now, even though the pain over Boromir's death had faded to a dull ache, I could not really imagine to ever feeling like that again.
Don't be stupid, Lothíriel. One day you will. It's only a question of time. And now you have the time.
"Well, if there's nothing else you can torture me with, how about you show me where I can wash up and get ready to leave? After all," I growled, "I'm supposed to be a messenger!"
"I will show you to the baths; they are quite nice," Éowyn told me. "And you know, you could wait until the day after tomorrow when the supply train leaves for Cormallen. Merry will ride with them, too. I think he would be happy to have a friend from the fellowship along for the ride."
"Bath," I said in a plaintive voice. "Bath and breakfast. All other evil suggestions only after that. Please!"
My hair still damp from a quick but warm bath – there was always lots of warm water in the Houses of Healing as a matter of course – I entered the kitchen accompanied by Éowyn just in time for what a hobbit would call "elevenses" and what other people might call a "brunch".
Anyway, the first thing I noticed in the kitchen was the obligatory large, square wooden kitchen table laid out for four. The next thing I noticed was that someone was already seated at the table casting a greedy glance at some sizzling sausages. Well, not someone. It was Merry. And what a merry Merry!
I gaped at the hobbit. He had grown quite a bit since I had seen him the last time. Standing, his head was higher than my elbows now and his extremely curly dark hair added at least another inch. This ent-draught had to contain some serious mischief of hormones…
But Merry had obviously suffered no ill side-effects. He looked strong, tall, and, yes, handsome. Handsome – you know the way some boys around twenty suddenly don't look like boys anymore, but like real men? That kind of change. A part of it was the war, of course; there was a new depth in Merry's eyes, a hint of seriousness and grave thoughts that had not been there before. But it was more; it was the way he looked and the way he carried himself –at that point my musings were interrupted by a force of nature crashing into me and hugging me, drawing down my head and smacking loud kisses on each cheek.
"Lothíriel! Lothy! They told me you were here! You made it! We were so worried when we could not find you, when we managed to escape the orcs! But Gandalf told us that you would be alright, and then we came to Edoras and you were gone, and Éomer, the third marshal, no, now he's king, he was so upset, and then we were worried, too, and then Éowyn was so worried for Aragorn, and what with the battle and no one knew where you were and…"
He stopped to draw breath. I used that chance because I knew it might be the only one I would get. I hugged Merry back and said, "It's good to see you again, Merry. Are you well? I heard that you were injured, too."
Merry grinned at me and moved his arm for me this way and that. "I'm as good as new. Aragorn did it. He is going to be king of Gondor, did you know that? And he has healing hands!"
"I know," I said, smiling. Merry followed my gaze to my bandaged wrists.
"Oh," he said. "Are you well, Lothy? You were really badly hurt, weren't you?"
I sat down next to the hobbit, and Éowyn sat down on my left, leaving the last chair empty. I suppressed a grin. "I am very well, Merry," I reassured the hobbit. "Aragorn and Éomer saved my life. Just as you, I'm as good as new. Mistress Ioreth pulled out the stitches yesterday. But she told me to keep the scars bandaged and lathered in salve for a few weeks yet. She thinks the scars won't show as much later if I do that."
Merry gulped at that. I could see fading marks around the hobbit's wrists, too, but they were nothing compared to my scars. Apparently the orcs had treated the hobbits like the treasure they were. I guess I could count myself lucky that those horrible creatures had not raped and devoured me right at Amon Hen. I definitely preferred any amount of scar tissue to being dead and digested by orcs.
A maid-servant interrupted my thoughts with a steaming mug of tírithel. Another set a large plate of scrambled eggs in the center of the table. There was even a small bowl of the first strawberries brought in from the southern coast. As I was helping myself to scrambled eggs and sausages, Faramir entered the kitchen.
His eyes lit up as his gaze met Éowyn's. He positively glowed with happiness at seeing her. And she sighed softly and blushed prettily.
"Mistress Ioreth has decided that I am almost fit for duty again," Faramir told us. "In two or three days I will be able to act as the steward again."
"That's good to hear, my lord," Éowyn told him, her eyes shining.
"The healers will release you from their care soon, my lady. Don't worry! And for me that will be too soon and I will miss you sorely when you are gone while my duties keep me here," Faramir replied in a deep, warm voice.
That's what you think… But I did not say anything and valiantly suppressed a grin. This was Éowyn's game to play. And play it she would… now I did grin, but only into my cup of tírithel. Who could blame her when betrothal was handled in Rohan and Gondor as in a bad historical romance novel on earth? I certainly didn't. A year and a day with always a chaperone in attendance! Where was the romance in that?
Probably in escaping those chaperones, I mused. Giving Éowyn a sideways glance, I snorted softly into my cup. Whoever got the job to watch her, had to be pitied…
How did this Shakespeare quote run? All's fair in love and war?
Something like that.
Oh, my. They better get a wizard to watch those two.
Merry managed to eat as much as Faramir, Éowyn and I lumped together and still tell me every detail about what had happened to him since we had seen each other the last time.
"I would really like to meet Treebeard," I said when Merry had finished his story. I still can barely believe that the ents are for real.
"Why shouldn't you! On our way back to the Shire we will pass Isengard and that's where he lived for now, guarding that wizard," Merry replied. Then he hesitated and asked with a hint of apprehension in his voice: "Or won't you come back with us to the Shire?"
I looked up at that, somewhat startled. "Ahem," I cleared my throat. "Actually, I haven't thought about where I am going to stay now that the war's over. I have really no idea."
Merry brightened up at that. "You can come and stay with me," Merry offered. "We have some rooms for big people in Buckland."
Éowyn snorted, then started giggling, obviously imagining me in a hobbit hole.
Faramir softly touched her hand, instantly calming her. Their mutual attraction flashed between them like invisible fire. Merry watched them with his head cocked slightly and a wistful expression on his face. I quickly hid my face in my cup again. I recalled a joke my step-father had always used when I was younger, on watching young lovers in the streets as they kissed and made up: oh, how lovely love has to be, when I'm grown I'll buy me a pound of love, just for me.
Then Faramir tore his eyes away from the object of his love and desire and smiled at me. "I hope you will stay here, Lothíriel. The least I can do is offering you a home, after all you have done for my brother."
I stared at him, at a loss for words, heat rising to my cheeks.
"Thank you, my lord," I said finally, my voice trembling a little.
"Faramir," he told me in firm voice.
"Faramir." I was too stunned to answer politely. Living in Minas Tirith! It would be nice to live here. And it was a big city. I would be able to make a living here. Somehow. And Éowyn would be here, too, or rather in Ithilien, but that was not really far. To live in Gondor!
Suddenly I felt a huge smile spreading on my face. "I think I'd like that very much, Faramir. Thank you. Thank you, from the depth of my heart."
"Oh, well," Merry said, a little disappointed. "But you could still visit Treebeard. Now that the war is over, it would not really be dangerous to travel there, wouldn't it?"
That wasn't such a bad idea, actually, I mused. And I would have to pass Edoras on my way, and perhaps meet Éomer…
Now where had that thought come from?
I managed to ignore Éowyn and her match-making-machinations this day and the next.
Mistress Ioreth pronounced Éowyn fit enough to leave the Houses of Healing together with Faramir but to take it easy for one or two days. Faramir took care of that. He showed us the beauty of Minas Tirith.
Although the city was badly damaged by the war, it really was beautiful. And no one knew it better than Faramir, the Steward of Gondor. He also took care that we did not see much of the battle fields, for which I was most grateful. We spent most of our time in the southern part of the city. Walking among the white palaces of the fifth circle of Minas Tirith in the southern part of the town, looking between the white peak of the Mindolluin and the summits of the Emyn Arnen to the green fields on the banks of the Anduin, you could almost forget that there had been a war at all.
The weather was fine those days; we wandered around Minas Tirith under a golden sun and a deep blue sky: with the peace spring had come to Gondor with blooming cherry trees and fragrant pink blossoms on almond-trees, and larks singing their heart out between a few fluffy white clouds.
When we were ready to leave Minas Tirith on the third of April, there was no need to wear a cloak anymore, the weather had turned so warm . I was mounted on Mithril who was eager to run after two days in the stable. Merry was on his pony Stybba who had somehow survived the battle unscathed.
We were not alone on our way, either. We rode with four heavily laden carriages with food and other supplies for the celebration that was to be held on the field of Cormallen in five days.
The heavy loads accounted for slow progress. We would need two days and a half to reach Cormallen, and the servants and cooks traveling with us were deep in nervous conversation, planning how they should get a feast prepared within two days in field kitchens.
Apart from servants and cooks, a company of fifteen heavily armed guards rode with the train, and Bergil, the young page that had led me up to the Houses of Healing, was with us, too.
But Éowyn remained in Minas Tirith, just as she had planned. She walked about with a happy smile wreathed on her face and a dreamy expression in her eyes, and now and again she blushed softly for no apparent reason. Faramir was a little better at keeping up an unconcerned, neutral appearance but only a little; he was smiling rather a lot, and his dark grey-blue eyes were sparkling like stars whenever he looked at Éowyn (and he looked at her a lot). Now and again he turned to Éowyn and reached out for her hand, helping her down some stairs or drawing up a chair, swift, small touches, hints of caresses concealed in politeness. Perhaps there was the reason for her blushing…
Both Faramir and Éowyn came to the Great Gates to see us off. A great happiness seemed to shine around them. I looked at Éowyn and raised my eyebrows inquiringly.
She did not say anything, only smiled a big, happy smile and nodded.
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