Later when she walked home with the ten shiny silver pennies in her pouch, Fana mulled over the events of the afternoon.
On opening the door and seeing him standing there, her heart had drummed so violently because he was come, come at last, and she had barely been able to listen to his words. Could she help, could she come up to the hall? Yes, of course, anything he asked her, she would just tell her mother, she'd be back in a minute.
Out on the street her mind had caught up with her pulse. She had looked at him, but he hadn't looked at her. Was this her Déoric? He had been so slow on his crutches and she had felt embarrassed at having to restrain her steps to stay beside him. Then she had felt guilty for feeling embarrassed and tried in vain to think of something to say that would rekindle the old familiarity between them. Déoric had talked, in a cool, quick voice which she didn't recognize, talked about nothing but the lady's predicament and his conviction that no-one else would be able to retrieve the necklace. With a sinking heart she had agreed to everything, yes, she'd try her best, yes, she was sure she could do it.
She had felt scared in the well, with the walls so close around her and the unfathomable depth below, but she could not let him down. How could she, since he had come to her for help and put his trust her. Still, she had felt as if she was descending into her grave. And then, in that anxious moment of coming up again, her quest fulfilled, ready to be caught in his arms, he had been gone.
Ten shiny silver pennies would be very welcome at home, and Fana did not regret having helped as kind and noble a woman as Lady Éowyn. The tears though, the foolish tears, were flowing unbidden and she knew not how to get the better of them.
He feels the wind on his face, galloping over the plain while the sun rises over the river. All his body is alive and throbbing with joy. When he comes to the ford he slows down to a walk, and with every step the horse takes there is a clank-clanking of the weapons he carries, Easterling axes and Haradrim spears. He doesn't know how he has crossed the river, but the city is in sight now, and he sees people milling about in front of the gates. And there she is, rushing over the meadow to meet him. He cannot see her clearly, but he knows it is her. He dismounts and runs towards her, lifting her off her feet and twirling her around.
A stabbing pain in his left leg woke him up. It was dark. Outside, an early autumn storm danced about and rattled the shutters. He turned over under his blanket and bit his knuckle. After a while, the pain in the invisible leg eased off. He curled up, pulling the blanket to his chin, and tried to rekindle the dream.
It was how he should have come home: radiant, victorious, with the spoils of war strapped to his belt. In the glow of such a return he would have found the courage to ask the stable master for his daughter's hand, humble soldier though he was. Instead he had rumbled through the gates in a cart, with no horse, no sword, no honour. What had he ever done to deserve this? How could he have shown his face to Fana? How could he have borne seeing pity or disgust in her eyes?
Of course, when he had knocked at her door the other day, there had been neither pity nor repulsion in her face. She had blushed and smiled and seemed so eager to do his bidding. And then she had descended into that dreadful hole for no other reason than him asking her. Hope and fear had almost choked him while he had held his breath and prayed that she wouldn't slip, that the rope wouldn't fail. By the time she had called out that she had found the trinket, he had almost made up his mind to throw himself at her mercy and he had been almost, almost sure that she would accept him and all would be well.
But then he had looked at the guards, two strapping men hauling up the rope with strong arms, while he stood aside, his armpits sore and raw from the crutches, unable to help, useless, useless. He hadn't been able to lend as much as a finger to the task of lifting her out of the well. No, he had been mistaken in his fleeting hope that she could still be his. If anything, she would see even more clearly now how worthless he had become. Before she could set eyes on him in all his misery, he had slunk away between the pillars.
In her day chamber on the second level, Éowyn paced from trunk to trunk. Her possessions were scattered about the room in various degrees of disarray, and she noticed with impatience how Acha would pack a velvet cloak into one trunk and Brandwyn would remove it shortly afterwards to place it into another, how Brandwyn bustled backwards and forwards through the door that led into the bedchamber without achieving anything tangible, and how the scribe, seated in a corner of the room though he was, always seemed to be in the way.
"That is twelve fine linen chemises and as many linen nightgowns with lace edging," droned Acha, while Brandwyn reported: "An ivory comb and mirror, three scent phials of coloured glass, a pair of silver scissors ..." Déoric's stylus scraped over the parchment, fighting a losing battle to keep up. "How many pairs of shoes?" he would ask, "How many gold bangles?" Eventually Éowyn could endure it no longer. She sent the women away and dictated the inventory herself, while she slowly and deliberately placed each item in the manner that pleased her.
After a while she fell silent and sat down with a plain white gown in her hands.
"This brings back memories," she said, when she saw Déoric's questioning look.
"I know, Lady Éowyn," replied he. "It is the gown they gave you in the Houses of Healing."
"You remember that?"
"Yes. You would not have taken much note of me, but I could hardly not take note of you. Everyone knew what valiant deed had led to your injuries."
"Oh, I do not know how valiant it was," said she. "Courage is easy to muster when one does not fear death, and I cared little for my life at the time." She looked at the garment wistfully. "The Houses of Healing changed that."
"My life was saved there, too. Do you remember the healer called Merilwen?"
"I do, but only vaguely. It was Ioreth who chiefly tended to me. But I seem to remember that Merilwen had a soft voice. She spoke to you often, did she not?"
"Yes," said Déoric. "I think if she hadn't, I might have hurled myself over the wall and made a mess on the pavement of the lower circle. She was a very remarkable woman. There seemed to be something almost like magic in that place. It is a pity – "
His voice halted and Éowyn looked up from her gown and scrutinized his face.
"What is a pity?"
"I mean no disrespect, Lady Éowyn, but I think it is a pity that there is no place here in Edoras that can compare to the Houses of Healing."
She smiled at his deference.
"You speak truth, Déoric. The old infirmary seems a sorry affair if one has felt the benefits of the Houses of Healing. I deem the sick and injured of the Mark deserve to be tended with the same skill as those of Gondor, and yet it is not so. Even if we had a building lofty and fair instead of that damp, dark cabin, I am afraid our healers do not possess the same wisdom."
She rose from her seat and placed the gown into one of the trunks.
"The Houses of Healing have been our salvation in more ways than one it would appear. We should show our gratitude that we have been returned to life and joy," she said. "Is that not so, Déoric?"
The young scribe cast down his eyes.
"Life and joy for you, Lady Éowyn, I believe. And life for me, at least, which is a blessing if for no other reason than that it saved my mother the grief of losing me."
Éowyn picked up another gown and began to fold it.
"Joy will come to you again in time, Déoric, though you may not believe it just yet. Now let us finish this inventory before it gets dark. Your mother must be waiting for you."
The following week Déoric was ordered into the great hall to take dictation from the king for a trade contract with the people of Tharbad. Léofred had been thoughtful enough to arrange seating for Déoric, and the young scribe leaned on the little makeshift desk while Éomer spelled out the details of the contract. The envoy from Tharbad, five men in fur clothing, looked on in quiet watchfulness.
When the contract was finished and both parties had signed, Déoric stowed away his scribe's supplies in a leather bag and waited to be dismissed by the king. Éomer, however, signalled him to come up to his gilded seat. Déoric pulled the strap of the bag over his shoulder, seized his crutches and made his way across.
"I wish to talk with you, Déoric," said the king. "My sister spoke to me before she left on a matter that I believe will interest you. She has convinced me that Edoras needs a better provision for the sick and injured than the current infirmary. We will not be able to accomplish anything as spacious and fair as the Houses of Healing in Mundburg, at least not for many years to come. But better accommodation shall be found. There are a number of disused storehouses by the old granary which I will have converted for this purpose. What say you?"
Déoric hesitated. Why Éomer would want to consult him on this matter he could not understand. He wondered if the king would consider him insolent if he pointed out, in front of all these people, too, the flaw of this plan. Eventually he said: "I would be pleased to see such a house in our city, my lord. The people of Edoras will thank you for it. However, with all due respect, it was the wisdom and skill of the healers more than anything else that made the Houses of Healing so wondrous."
"I see that my sister and you agree on this matter. Your qualms are indeed warranted. The Lady Éowyn, when she comes to Gondor, will seek out the Warden of the Houses of Healing and will ask for one or two of the healers to come to Edoras and teach the secrets of their art to such of our folk as are willing."
"That is a very wise plan, my lord."
The king leaned back on his seat and laughed.
"I dare say it is. It was brewed up by a sharper mind than mine. Lucky is the king who has wise men and women to advise him."
Since there was no possible reply that Déoric could make to this, he simply bowed his head. He couldn't think why the king still didn't dismiss him.
"Tell me, Déoric, son of Féadred, do you like being a scribe?"
Caught out by this question, Déoric looked up and fumbled with his braid. He saw Léofred and the emissaries from Tharbad and the guards watching him. The king looked at him with calm and attentive eyes.
"I am very grateful for the position you have given me, my lord."
"But you would rather ride out with the Eorlingas, is that not true?
"Yes, my lord," he whispered. He cast down his eyes.
"There is nothing I can do to replace what you have lost, Déoric, much as I would like to. But I wonder if you would not enjoy a very different kind of challenge. Take a look at this."
Éomer rose from his seat and walked over to in the corner of the room, where he opened a richly carved chest and pulled out a rectangular object, which he handed to Déoric. It was a book, bound in pale brown leather. Embossed in gold letters it bore on the front the title The Kings of Rohan. The young man ran a finger down the spine of the book and along the edges of the cover. Awe and excitement mingled in his chest, for he had never touched a book before. He opened it gingerly and read:
'Eorl the Young was lord of the Men of Eothéod. That land lay near the sources of Anduin, between the furthest ranges of the Misty Mountains*..."
"It is a story of our people from the ancient times?" he said.
"Yes," replied the king. "Up until the days of Thengel, but not beyond. It comes from the archives of Minas Tirith. King Elessar has granted me a loan of it, and I brought it to Rohan to make a copy. It put me to shame that Gondor should keep a written account of our history, while we have nothing but songs and tales. I meant to copy it myself, but sitting with quill and parchment is not a pursuit I savour. Would you be willing to take on this task, Déoric?"
Déoric's eyes were still fixed on the book. He lifted his hand and bit into the knuckle of the second finger. Then he blushed, embarrassed that he should have displayed this childish habit in front of the king and the other people assembled.
"I would be honoured, my lord," he said at last.
"Good," said the king. "I shall give to you this charge then: To fashion a faithful copy of this book in the best writing you are capable of. Give us something we can be proud of."
"I will need a supply of good parchment, my lord," said Déoric.
"Order as much as you need from the tanner. Léofred, you have heard that I have given Déoric permission to do so."
When Déoric looked at him, the kings' advisor winked.
Dusk was settling on the city when Déoric made his way home that evening. His progress seemed insufferably slow to him, for he was eager to tell his mother about the events of the day. Far overhead a flock of wild geese was travelling southwards, the long lines of bodies trailing gently behind the leader.
*ROTK, Appendix A
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.