14. A Summer's Day in Ithilien
Restored to light and beauty, the land of Ithilien basked in the summer sun. The mountains to the East hid an empty wasteland, but no longer a shadowy terror. Dark they were still and forbidding, yet Ithilien looked ever westwards, over fields and forests down to that placid snake of a river and beyond to the great city at the foot of the White Mountains. All the houses had their windows to the West, the wooden cabins as well as that single fair mansion of light grey stone.
In the morning Éowyn had sent for Merilwen the Healer, half suspecting that she wasn't ill at all and that all this fatigue and discomfort had a much more pleasant cause. When the older woman had arrived at noon time, she had examined Éowyn with care and circumspection and had confirmed the lady's belief. Éowyn, in her delight, had invited the healer to stay for a while and take refreshments with her, and now the two women were seated near the window with their cups of spiced milk. Even as they spoke with each other, their eyes were drawn by the lure of the summery landscape. Seagulls had come up the river and sailed lazily over the lush meadows, their forlorn cries speaking of the ocean which could every so often be smelled in this land, but never seen.
"Are you happy in Ithilien?" asked Éowyn.
"Oh yes, I am," said the healer. "Lord Faramir is wise and kind in all he does. And there is such openness and cordiality among the people here that I always feel I am with friends."
"I hear you have no family." Éowyn dunked a ginger biscuit into her cup and, encouraged by her example, Merilwen did the same.
"No, I haven't, that is true. Though there is one for whom I feel almost like a mother, or at least how I imagine a mother would feel. He is one of your countrymen, in fact, I believe you might know him. His name is Déoric."
"Déoric? Oh yes, the scribe. I remember him. He spoke highly of you. He seemed very sad when I last saw him, and I gave my brother a little hint as to what could be done for him. I wonder how he fares now."
"Much better than one might have expected, Lady Éowyn. I had a letter from him, it arrived but last week."
"Would you care to tell me what he writes?"
"I can read you the whole letter if you wish," said Merilwen, "for I carry it with me."
"Let us hear it then," said Éowyn.
Merilwen pulled a scroll out of her pouch and opened the ribbon that held it together. In her slow, soft voice she began to read:
You might be interested to know that a new infirmary has been built in Edoras. The king ordered it, but he claims it was because of something I said! We have one of your friends here, Lithôniel, to teach the art of healing, and my own mother is among those who are training to be healers. Lithôniel has told me that you live in Ithilien now, where the Lady Éowyn also dwells, and I am glad about that, because if she should ever get ill, you'll be there to look after her.
Perhaps you remember saying to me one night, when I told you I wanted to die, that the world was not just made of warriors. That in times of peace, such as we were hoping for, there would be as much honour in playing the fiddle or wielding the hoe as in brandishing the sword. It won't surprise you, if I tell you now that I didn't believe you then.
However, it might gladden you to know that I have come to see the wisdom of your words. Not that I don't miss my leg any more - there isn't a day when I don't wish I still had it, and the sad truth remains that I shall never ride out with the Eorlingas like my father did. But I believe now that it is better to live without it than to be buried with it. My life, vastly different though it is from what I ever expected it to be, suits me and pleases me, and when I tell you about it, you will see how true your words have become indeed.
Not long after the return of Éomer King I was made a scribe at his court by his advisor, Léofred, a man whose kindness and decency I cannot praise enough. I must have been doing my work well, since before long the king asked me to copy a precious book he had brought from Gondor about the history of our lands. I set out to make nothing but a faithful copy, but by and by I gained permission to include such songs and tales as are known among my people and added pictures by my own hand. I found, in fact, that I have the making of an artist, and I put my hand to good use in drawing heroes and horses in a fashion both shapely and true to nature. The king was pleased with my endeavour and gave me the title Chronicler of the Mark. I have now as honoured a place in Edoras as I could ever have hoped to gain with the deeds of my sword. And though I have been right foolish about some things and have upset the people I love best, they have all insisted on forgiving me and continue to love me in spite of my best efforts. It was an old man who made me see my folly, and I am not ashamed to admit that without his shrewdness I might still be not much happier than I was a year ago. But fortunately he took it upon himself to show me my foolishness and he, like you, has become one upon whom I look as a saviour.
The king says I will need to learn to ride again. He wants me to go out into the Riddermark to record the stories and draw the people, and he says it is not becoming for the Chronicler of the Mark to be driven about in a cart. So he is having a special saddle made that is supposed to keep me mounted. I find it hard to believe that it will be possible, but we shall see when it comes to the test. I believe there has never been a rider in the Mark with quite so much of his leg missing, but then I think I am the first of the Eorlingas ever to have survived such an injury. The world is changing, as my friend Gléowine the minstrel keeps reminding me, and many things we firmly believed may turn out to be no longer true.
We feel very much how the world has already been changed by the advent of peace. The roads are free and safe to pass, I have been told, and if ever you should feel a wish to travel, I urge you to make your way to the Riddermark and visit us in Edoras. I would dearly like to see you again, and my mother would be keen to meet you. Soon there will be a third living in our house, for the best girl in the world has agreed to marry me and we shall be wed on Midsummer's Eve. But we'll all be happy to squash together to make room for you, and I promise to show you the Golden Hall and all the best horses in Rohan, for I am now in the king's favour and can afford such audacity.
Both my mother and Fana, my betrothed, bid me to send you their heartfelt greetings and thanks for all the kindness I received from you and without which I would not be sitting here writing this letter. As for myself, I will forever think of you with gratitude and, far away as you might be, count you among my friends. May all your days be filled with joy.
Déoric, son of Féadred, Chronicler of the Mark
PS: I have included a picture of Fana, so you can see what a sweet girl she is. I managed to get her smile just right.
"Well, Merilwen," said Éowyn while she looked at the drawing on the parchment that Merilwen had handed her, "it seems you do have a family after all. And when the time comes that I shall visit my homeland once again, you shall come with me and see Déoric and his Fana and that wondrous book he has made. What say you?"
"I can only say," replied Merilwen, "that the Lady Éowyn is as generous and kind as she is beautiful."
At this, Éowyn laughed.
"You know," she said, "I have won renown through deeds of bravery in battle, and that was as I wished it to be. But now, in this peaceful summer, I believe I might try to make myself a name with deeds of kindness."
Later that day when Faramir came home from the business of the day, he sat with Éowyn on the balcony overlooking the garden. This garden was yet young, for it had only been planted the previous summer, but some jasmine bushes stood there which had already been on the site, and the bees were buzzing about the flowers that had grown from the bulbs Queen Arwen had given to Éowyn. A gentle breeze carried up the scent of wild roses from further down the hill. Faramir told his wife what he had accomplished that day in riding from village to village with the marshal of his guard, and Éowyn smiled and laughed and talked much more than was her usual wont. She couldn't keep to her seat, either, but walked, almost skipped about, breathing deeply the summer air and every now and then beaming at her husband. Faramir couldn't help but notice it.
"You seem uncommonly cheerful today, Éowyn," he remarked. "Is there a particular reason for this?"
Éowyn laughed again. She leapt up and sat on the parapet with her feet dangling.
"I heard something today that gave me great pleasure."
"Will you care to share with me what it was?"
She smiled and turned her head to look at a blue butterfly that had fluttered into their garden.
"Do you remember when we were in the Houses of Healing that there was a very young man, whose leg had been severed by an Easterling's axe? Déoric was his name."
"Oh, yes. I saw him again in the streets of Edoras when we arrived there. I was grieved for him. To be thus crippled at so young an age must be deeply distressing."
"I felt for him, too, as did many others who were in the Houses of Healing at that time. But I've heard glad tidings about him. Merilwen the Healer has received a letter from him."
Then she told him all that she had learned from that letter. "And so," she ended her tale, "he is now wed to the very same girl who climbed into that dreadful well to retrieve my necklace. And I am the more pleased, because it was I who suggested to Éomer that Déoric should be asked to copy that book. It has been the making of him, as you can see."
Faramir leaned his chin on his hand and looked at his wife quizzically.
"I am pleased to hear this, Éowyn, but I must confess that I am amazed this message has given you such a glow. I did not know that you cared so deeply about this young man. Somehow I cannot help thinking it's not enough to account for the exceedingly high spirits in which I find you. Is there something else, another surprise like your brother's sudden betrothal to my cousin?"
"That was hardly sudden," said Éowyn, "I told you they had been writing to each other all through the autumn and winter. My brother can write very charmingly, when he puts his mind to it, and I am sure he is more capable than most men to woo a woman by letter. But you are right, there is another thing. You haven't asked me how I came to speak to Merilwen."
She walked over to where he was sitting and whispered something in his ear and then Faramir's spirits rose even higher than her own.
Back in her wooden cabin, Merilwen swept the floor and thought about the day. She had been pleased about the news that she had given to Lady Éowyn, and just as pleased about the interest that noble woman had showed in the fate of Déoric. The world was healing indeed. There was nothing better she could wish for.
That reminded her of something. From a chest in the corner of the room she took a dark green cloth embroidered with tiny white flowers and looked at them with her calm grey eyes. She knew their name now and their story, for the Lady Éowyn had told her: Simbelmynë, evermind. For an instant, Merilwen wondered why Déoric's mother would have chosen to embellish the cloth with the images of a flower growing on graves. Then she understood it and she smiled. She folded up the cloth and stowed it in the chest, where it would wait until such a time when she would have need for it again in the colder seasons.
Outside, she sat down on the bench by her front door and looked at her garden. When she had first made it, she had set out neat rows in neat square beds with neat paths between them. But the abundance of the land had taken over. Now the wild yellow poppies mingled with the carrots, and harebells with her healing herbs. Sage and coriander scented the air. In the far corner the fruit on the olive tree were beginning to ripen.
A miniscule movement drew her eyes towards the rough low wall she had erected around her garden. There on one of the stones a tiny creature was basking in the summer sunshine. It was a lizard, barely longer than a man's hand. When she looked closer, she saw that it appeared to have shed its tail at some point in the past, for it had grown back somewhat short and a different colour from the rest of its skin. Sunlight glinted on the glossy scales that formed the speckled patterns of the tiny body. The creature peered at her with jet-black eyes.
"Quite so," said Merilwen.
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.