Meneldil walked past a shuttered window and sighed. Two days of unceasing rain and no hope for a break in the storm! As steward of Prince Faramir's household, this meant Meneldil would be burdened with all his normal duties, as well as finding entertainment for his lord and lady. In Minas Tirith, it would be a simple matter of dancing or drama, but Ithilien was too rustic yet for such cultured pleasures. Autumn was swiftly fading, and while snow would be uncommon here, the cold, wet weather of winter would soon grow tiresome. He sighed again, this time with more determination than melancholy, and vowed that the White Company's first winter in Ithilien would not be a dull one.
He turned down a passageway to see how the laundresses were coping with the wet when he nearly collided with Éowyn . "My lady!" he exclaimed, bowing low. "I am sorry! I was not expecting you in the servants' wing."
She dismissed his surprise with a wave of her hand. "Have you seen Faramir?"
"Yes, my lady. He is in council with the landed lords. They are planning the rationing this winter and assessing crop success."
She sighed, frustrated. "He could have told me!"
"It was decided before dawn that they would meet today. I am certain it was out of courtesy for your sleep that he did not wake you."
"I need to speak with him. Alone."
"They will likely be several days in council, my lady, but I am bringing refreshment to them in about an hour, and they shall also adjourn for the nooning. I am certain you could speak with your lord at either time."
She nodded and moved to leave. "My lady, if I may have a word?"
"This rain has brought to my attention that we face several months of winter, even here in fair Ithilien. I wonder what forms of entertainment the Rohirrim enjoy during the cold."
A smile played on Éowyn's lips. "The only form of entertainment I seek, master steward, involves me and my newly-wed husband... without interruptions."
Meneldil stifled a laugh, but he could feel himself blushing.
"I am sorry, Meneldil! I have scandalized you!"
"Nay, my lady," he answered, still laughing. "I have been married to my dear Acairis for nigh unto forty years now, but I am not so dotard as to have forgotten the... entertainments of being newly wed. You are more frank than most ladies of Gondor, but I should have expected no less from the Lady Wraith-bane. May the beloved White Lady never diminish!"
Now she blushed as well, and her eyes danced with mirth. "I shall consider what other forms of entertainment might be appropriate for the city and consult with you soon."
"Thank you, my lady."
Meneldil was helping the servants bring salvers of fruit and cakes to the council-room doors when Éowyn arrived, heavily cloaked. He thought it odd, that she would be wrapped so warmly indoors as against the cold when she had grown to womanhood on the northern hills of Rohan. Though the autumn rain was chilling, surely she was more hardy than that! But he merely bowed in acknowledgment and swung open the doors. A lesser-lord, Beruthil, was speaking but stopped abruptly at the sight of the servants. Faramir stood when he caught sight of Éowyn hesitating in the passageway. "Gentlemen, if you will excuse me..."
Meneldil saw that the lords were served and any needs or messages were attended to. But after a quarter of an hour, Faramir had not returned. Concerned, Meneldil returned to the passageway and began walking toward the Prince's chambers. Suddenly Faramir started from an alcove, looking for all the world like a truant school-boy caught at play. He strode swiftly toward his steward. "Are we ready to resume, then?"
"Prince Faramir," Meneldil said, holding out a white handkerchief with all the dignity he could muster. "You have a spot of pink, there on your chin."
"Ah." Faramir took the linen and wiped at his face. "Thank you."
"Of course, my lord." Meneldil could hear the light footfalls of a woman's tread behind him, but he durst not turn around. He followed his Prince back to the council room, ushered the servants out, and closed the door with stiff formality. He managed to remain solemn almost to the kitchens before he roared with laughter.
* * * * * * *
Meneldil stood again before the council-room doors with a much lighter heart than this morning. The laundresses needed more firewood to dry their washings, the cook had burned the pudding, and an errand boy had injured his ankle while running through the muddy streets. None of that could remove from his mind the silly, boyish look on his prince's face that morning.
He had his hand on the door when he heard one of his fellow servants whisper "By the White Tree!"
Meneldil turned and saw the White Lady, white no longer. She was clothed in a rose-red gown, all soft and silken, with a low neckline and barely any sleeve at all.
He bowed low. "I did not know that the nooning would be such a formal affair."
"It is this drab weather. I feel to wear something eye-catching out of sheer defiance."
"Defiance. Is that what you call it in Rohan?"
Her piercing glance yielded to a knowing smile. He knew what she was about, and he found it quite amusing, much to Éowyn's relief. "Will it catch the right pair of eyes, you think?"
"It will catch the eyes of all, my lady."
She cringed at that. "I do not wish to shame him before the lords of the city."
"He will be thinking of no one but you. And that is the point, is it not? But if you prefer it, go to the side door and I shall have him meet you there."
"You comfort me, Meneldil," she answered, standing straighter. "Do not let me delay you. I am sure the lords are hungry."
'One of them shall be!' he thought.
Stilling the laughter that threatened to bubble up within him, Meneldil solemnly opened the door. Faramir stood, as did the other lords, but his face fell ever so slightly when the White Lady was not there. Meneldil quickly went to his Prince's side and whispered "Your Lady awaits you in the side hall."
Faramir clapped him on the shoulder and addressed the council. "My lords, I have pressing duties that cannot wait. I shall rejoin you in an hour."
'Forty years of marriage,' Meneldil mused as Faramir strode through the doorway, 'yet I remember well that blissful time. I would have brought Acairis some sweet or another on a day such as this. Perhaps after the dinner-hour, I can send a lad down to market...'
Meneldil's men had not finished pouring the wine when an errand boy sprinted into the room. "King's man!" he panted. "A messenger from the King is here!"
"Now?" Meneldil demanded, feeling for Prince Faramir and the White Lady.
"Yes. He is in the audience room now."
"I shall find the Prince."
Meneldil's heart was heavy with dismay as he walked toward the Prince's chambers. He rapped on the anteroom door, but there was no answer, so he entered the apartment. He let the door close loudly, and he heard Prince Faramir call, "Who enters?"
"It is I, Meneldil."
"Meneldil, is the house afire?" Éowyn called.
"Nay, my lady."
"Has the Enemy returned?"
"Nay, my lady."
"Is someone about to die?"
He hesitated, then answered with more hope than conviction, "Nay, my lady."
"Then be gone!"
"Yes, my lady, but a messenger from the King has come."
Faramir laughed and said, "Hold, Meneldil! I shall join you in a moment." He quickly stepped through the doorway. "Do you know aught of the message?"
"Nay. The messenger awaits you in the audience room."
Faramir nodded and Meneldil was surprised to hear him chuckling. "Prince Faramir?"
"It is nothing, save that it is unwise to annoy Lady Éowyn overmuch." He chuckled again. "She is kind and gentle and wise, but even she has her limits."
"I shall remember it, my lord."
The King's messenger was still mud-stained and wet from the rain, but Meneldil's heart stirred to see silver and sable on an errand rider. Such a small change, from white livery to black, and yet heralding such hope as had not been known for many lives of men. Faramir gravely accepted a scroll from the messenger and broke the seal. He quickly read it over, then looked up. "You know of the contents?"
"No, but I could guess. The word has spread quickly."
"I am in council today. I shall send our answer on the morrow. In the meanwhile, take your ease." Then he gave the scroll to Meneldil and said "See to it that this is first matter after the nooning."
Meneldil nodded his head and read silently as Faramir left. "By decree of the King, the Yule shall be celebrated with feasting and music and dance, as is tradition. But to increase our joy and entertainments," Meneldil fought a smile at that word, "Minas Tirith shall also host a trial of arms and courage at that time. Therefore let each princedom and fiefdom send forth their mightiest knights, men-at-arms, and bowmen, proved by a contest of arms in their own realms, to the Yule celebrations."
Meneldil returned to the council room and was pleased to see that all was in order, despite his absence. Lord Beruthil noted the broken royal seal and nudged his neighbor. "What word, man?"
Since the council would be discussing it in a matter of minutes, Meneldil answered, "A tournament, for Yuletide."
That set them all talking. When a bell tolled the hour, Meneldil motioned his men to begin clearing the meal, but still Prince Faramir did not return. The lords were still discussing the tournament and did not seem to notice. Meneldil gave his prince another quarter-hour, then slipped from the room with a sigh.
Again, his knock on the anteroom door brought no answer, and so he knocked at the bedchamber.
Thwack! Meneldil jumped as metal met the wood of the door mere inches from his face. Heart pounding, he numbly heard Faramir laugh, "Éowyn! I just put a sharp edge on that!"
'Wraith-bane!' Meneldil thought over and over as he hurried back to the council-room. 'He warned me, she has her limits. Wraith-bane! You provoked the Lady Wraith-bane!'
Another quarter-hour passed before Meneldil heard whistling coming from the passageway to the Prince's chambers. Faramir rounded the corner and grinned at his steward.
"My lord, about the Lady Éowyn..."
"Need I remove myself from the city for a while?"
Faramir laughed. "Nay. She is... serene now. You have naught to fear from her."
Meneldil hadn't realized he had been holding his breath. He let it go in a shaky laugh.
"Are we ready to resume, then?"
Meneldil couldn't resist. "We only await your pleasure, my lord."
Faramir laughed and shook his head. "Yes. Well, back to work."
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.