7. Inky Visions
Déoric had been busy all morning making a copy of the armoury's inventory. It was now early afternoon, he had eaten his piece of bread and his apple and tidied away the parchments into the designated boxes. This was the moment, and he savoured it, when he could turn his attention to the book.
With some justification he had reasoned that it would make sense to know the whole content of it before he embarked on making the copy, and so for the last two afternoons he had been absorbed in the history of Rohan's kings. He had read about Eorl the Young, who came down from the North to aid the Steward of Gondor at the battle on the Field of Celebrant. He had read about Helm Hammerhand and his feud with Freca and how Helm died standing with unbent knees on the Dike of Helm's Deep. He had read about the Yule feasts of Brytta, when every man, woman and child in Edoras was bidden to the Hall of Meduseld to partake in the banquet and the merrymaking of the king. He had read and read until the past of his people stood before him like a rich, colourful picture that he wished he could free from his mind's eye and show to the world.
Now he was keen to start on the actual work of copying. He took his knife and carefully cut a new quill. With his wooden ruler and a piece of chalk he marked out the margins of his parchment. Then he placed the book on the stand and opened it at the beginning. The first passage was dedicated to the descent of Eorl the Young. Déoric glanced over the text.
"Léod was the name of Eorl's father. He was a tamer of wild horses; for there were many at the time in the land. He captured a white foal, and it grew quickly to a strong horse, and fair, and proud. No man could tame it. When Léod dared to mount it, it bore him away, and at last threw him, and Léod's head struck on a rock, and so he died*..."
Suddenly Déoric's hand started to move all by itself. He blinked away the tears, which came with the memory of his own white stallion, Thunderhoof. The horse had screamed in agony as he lay on the battlefield with broken limbs. In spite of his own terrible pain, Déoric had pulled himself up and cut the animal's throat to end his suffering. There had been blood on his hands, blood on his clothes, blood everywhere. The horse had twitched one last time and then become still. He hated the memory of that moment. He knew that it had been the right thing to do, but that didn't stop him from feeling like a murderer. Thunderhoof had been his friend. They had ridden out together unnumbered times, and he had been able to read the animal's every move and noise. Killing him was like cutting off another limb of his body and he missed him almost as much as his own leg. He could see him in his mind's eye now, how he would canter across the field to come and greet him. He grieved for him as much as he grieved for his fallen friend.
Eventually his mind became conscious of what his hand had been doing. He had drawn a horse. It was a great rearing steed with its head held high and the front hooves pawing the air. And it looked right. There were the circles and ovals and curves just like he had seen them the other day. Even though there was no colour and no fine detail, the horse looked ready to jump out of the page. Guiltily Déoric looked at the precious parchment, designated to be filled with the names and deeds of the Eorlingas. Léofred had better not see him put his resources to such frivolous use. He shoved it under the pile as soon as it was dry, prepared another page and began to carefully write the first sentence of the text in front of him.
In the second week of November Dirlayn's older sister Aedilhild came to Edoras with her husband Himlebed for their annual visit. It was the time of year when there was little to do on the farms and they felt they could leave the care of the animals to their trusted farmhands for a few weeks.
They were a childless couple, for they had married late, and so their only nephew was all the more precious to them. Déoric loved them both dearly; his aunt, who resembled her sister in many ways, and the haggard, dark-haired uncle. Upon his marriage Himlebed had exchanged the quill for the plough, because he had grown weary, he said, of the chambers of stone and yearned for a life under open skies. His love for his first calling had never quite left him, though. During those long, happy summers that the child Déoric had spent on their farm near Aldburg, he had not only taught the boy his letters, but implanted in the budding mind a lasting love for the written word. Déoric still kept like a treasure the wax tablet and stylus which Himlebed had given him at Yuletide when he was eight years old.
It was early evening and a purple dusk lay over the city when they arrived. "Oh, my dear boy," cried Aedilhild as soon as she was through the door and smothered Déoric in her embrace. Himlebed gravely shook hands with him, and Déoric noticed with embarrassment that there were tears in his aunt's eyes. He felt uneasy to have them see him so reduced for the first time, and yet he was impatient to tell his uncle about his proud new task. Dirlayn bustled about, stoking the fire, bringing water for washing, urging the guests to sit, to take off their shoes, to partake in the meal of bread and butter and eggs she had laid out on the table. Déoric barely waited for them to be seated before he burst out with his tale. Soon he was engrossed in conversation with his uncle, while the two women talked softly at the other end of the table.
"How many pages?" asked Himlebed.
"Hm, that is not very much. Still, it will take you a few months if you want to do it decently. You will hardly finish as much as a page every day."
"I do about half a page a day. I have other duties to fulfil, too."
"Do you write on parchment or on vellum?" the uncle asked.
"On parchment. Éomer King has granted me to order as much as I need from the tanner. But Léofred, the king's advisor, keeps an eye on me so I don't waste it."
"That is as it should be," replied Himlebed and spread butter on another piece of bread. "Someone needs to make sure that a young whippersnapper like you doesn't spend his time doodling in the margins. I remember when I was an apprentice, my master used to say, save a sheep, don't waste parchment."
Déoric snorted. "He really said that?"
"Yes. He was a man with an odd sense of humour. Nevertheless, you will do well to keep in mind that writing surfaces don't grow on trees. When can I see your work?"
"Tomorrow, if you wish. I am sure Léofred will not mind if I bring you up to the hall. After all, you are a master of the craft."
Himlebed laughed. "Hardly anymore, after all these years. But I would very much like to have a glimpse at what you are doing, and who knows, there might be a thing or two I could advise you on."
"That is just what I was hoping for," said Déoric.
And so the next morning Déoric introduced his uncle to the king's advisor. Léofred welcomed the man and urged him to take a good look at Déoric's work and suggest any improvements he could think of.
"For Déoric works with diligence and care, but he lacks experience, and there is none left now in Edoras who knows the craft of the scribe."
Himlebed agreed to this willingly and took a seat at the desk in the scribe's room. For nearly an hour he pored over the six pages Déoric had already completed, while the young man watched him anxiously.
"You have done well so far, my lad," the uncle said eventually. "That's a fair, even stroke, and the letters are pleasantly shaped."
"I thought carefully about their design before I started writing, uncle," replied Déoric and showed him the wax tablet with his letters. Himlebed nodded his approval. Then he turned his attentions to the quills lying on the desk. These, too, seemed to pass muster. At last he opened the inkbottle and sniffed it. Then he dipped a finger into it and placed a tiny drop of ink on the tip of his tongue.
"What did you put into this?" he asked.
"Vitriol, gum, vinegar and water," said Déoric.
"No. I didn't know about galls."
Himlebed furrowed his brow. He looked with regret at the parchments spread out in front of him.
"It will fade," he said quietly. "Not for a decade or two, so you do not need to worry about your accounts and inventories. But it is no use for writing a book. A book is something you want to last. This ink, I'm afraid, may look strong and black, but in the end it will fade. I've seen it, my lad, in the libraries of Minas Tirith. It is a sad thing to open an ancient tome and find nothing but the withered ghosts of words."
Déoric was silent. He bit his knuckle so hard that he made himself wince with pain.
"I can start again," he said after a while. "It is only six pages. If I explain to Léofred, I am sure he will not think it a waste."
"How long did this take you?" asked Himlebed kindly.
"Almost two weeks. But I was very slow at the start and I am beginning to get faster. If you show me how to make a better ink, I can easily start again."
Himlebed smiled and put an arm round his nephew's shoulders.
"I will show you," he said. "This must be a nasty surprise for you. I am glad you are taking it like a man."
The three weeks the visitors spent in Edoras were filled with much talk and laughter and many hours usefully employed by uncle and nephew in the pursuit of the scribe's craft. Déoric had not expected that he could ever feel quite so happy again, but Himlebed's competent instructions and his calm, warm-hearted manner instilled a new confidence in the young man, and the desire to excel, which he had felt on first embarking on his task, was now paired with a growing belief that he would indeed succeed. By the time Aedilhild and Himlebed left, Déoric had regained a portion of his former cheer and Dirlayn slept easier at night than she had for months.
It was the middle of December now and wind and rain reigned over Edoras. The little scribe's room had no fireplace, and though Déoric kept the window shuttered and worked by the light of a flickering rush lamp, it was draughty and bitterly cold. He wore several layers of woollen clothes and fingerless gloves that Dirlayn had knitted for him, but still his hands became so cold and stiff that it was difficult to work. Twice a day a servant would bring him a stone that had been heated in the kitchen fire and which, wrapped up in a blanket, served to keep his foot warm. There was nothing anyone could do about the other foot, which felt cold at times and hot at others, itchy or downright painful. Déoric ignored it as best he could. He was getting used to it, but it still puzzled him how a leg that wasn't there any more could continue to give him so much trouble.
He had taken up the habit of briefly opening the shutters around noontime and putting the leftover crumbs from his crust of bread onto the stony windowsill. More often than not a few robins would already be waiting and would flutter up excitedly to pick at the morsels. One day Déoric was watching with a smile the antics of the little birds, when he was surprised by the sudden appearance of the king in his chilly domain. Éomer sauntered in without ceremony and greeted the scribe in an affable manner. The robins fled in a whirr of tiny wings. Quickly, as if caught in some act of felony, Déoric closed the shutters and turned to his king.
"My lord, I am very glad to see you returned safely. Was your campaign successful?" he said before he realized that it was not his place to speak like this to the king. He lowered his head.
"Very much so," replied Éomer unconcerned. "Those Easterlings gave us very little trouble, which is why we have returned much earlier than expected. We arrived but this morning."
"If I may ask, my lord – did you lose any men?" He bit his knuckle and looked anxiously at the king.
"Sadly, yes, four of our riders did not return. There will be weeping in some houses in Edoras today, I am grieved to say. But," he quickly continued when he saw Déoric's look, "there is not a scratch on your friend Niarl, as far as I know. He is a bold young man and courageous, but he has good sense, too, and he knows when to keep his head down."
Déoric rubbed his ear in a nervous gesture that did nothing to improve his composure in the presence of the king. He said nothing more and waited to hear what had brought Éomer to him.
"Léofred tells me that you have been working very diligently on the book and that you brought your uncle to help you. I should like to see what you have accomplished so far. Is this it?" The king seized the pile of parchments that was lying uppermost on the desk and began to look through them. Déoric crossed his arms and hid his hands in his armpits in an attempt to warm them up.
"There are eleven pages completed, my lord. I had a lot of other work to do recently, which Léofred deemed more important, and I had to discard the first six pages I had written, because my uncle told me that the ink would fade. I am very sorry about that, but I had little experience with concocting ink. My uncle has now shown me how to make a mixture that will last."
"Fair enough. Nobody expected you to achieve perfection with the first stroke. It is as well that your uncle spotted the mistake before you had progressed further."
"Yes, my lord, that was lucky."
"And what's this?" asked Éomer and held up a piece of parchment. It was the picture of the horse which Déoric had drawn a few weeks ago. He had forgotten that is was still among the pile. He swallowed.
"It's just a drawing I made, when I read about Eorl and Felaróf. I wasn't thinking. I'm sorry, my lord, it will not happen again." He cast down his eyes.
"Do you like to draw?" he heard the king ask. There was no anger in his voice. Déoric looked up.
"I used to draw a lot with chalk on my slate, when I was a boy. When I grew older, it seemed a childish thing to do and I stopped. I don't know what came over me, my lord."
Éomer walked up to the window, opened the shutters and studied the picture in silence.
"Why have you never told me that you can do this?" he demanded after a while.
"My lord. I haven't thought of it in many years. Drawing is not a skill that has any use..."
"Ah, that is a soldier talking," interrupted the king. "But the war is over now, at least for many of us and certainly for you. In times of peace we may find uses for skills we have never regarded before. Can you capture a likeness, too?"
"I don't know, my lord. I've never really tried in earnest."
"Draw me," said Éomer and flopped down on the other chair.
Déoric didn't dare refuse his king's command. He bit his knuckle and looked around on the desk. The horse had been drawn with a quill, because that was what had been in his hand at the time, but now ink seemed a daunting choice, and he hunted around for his stylus. When he had found it, he drew a piece of parchment towards him and glanced at the king.
Éomer had his blue eyes fixed on Déoric in an attentive stare. His expression was not unkind, but solemn. It took Déoric some courage to look his king directly in the face as he tried to catch the features. There was the forehead, square and bold, and the keen eyes under strong brows. The nose and chin, too, spoke of firmness and determination, but there was a softer trait around the mouth. Déoric knew that the king was capable of compassion and tenderness, not the least because he had seen him taking leave of his sister. His hand began to move.
Half an hour went by, during which neither of the men spoke a word and Éomer barely moved a muscle. A cold wind blew in through the window, but Déoric didn't dare ask for permission to close the shutters. Instead he fixed his eyes on the shapes he saw before him and translated them, slowly and methodically, onto the parchment. At times he had to lean heavily on the desk to stop his hand from shivering, and his teeth chattered. He wondered how the king could be so unaffected by the cold. At last he put aside the stylus.
"It's not very good, but it's the best I could do," he said.
"Let me see."
Éomer stood up and seized the parchment from the desk. He held it up to the light and scrutinized it with a furrowed brow. Then he laughed.
"Do I really look as stern as that? Or are you so in awe of your king? No, you don't have to answer that. I shall keep this, if you don't mind."
He rolled up the piece of parchment, put it behind his belt and closed the shutters.
"Very well, Déoric. It would seem that you have the making of an artist, if you could but practise your talent. As your king, I desire that you should do so. Do you know what a frontispiece is?"
"No, my lord."
"It is a beautifully illuminated title page to a book. Make one. I have seen such pages in the library in Minas Tirith, in vibrant colours and embellished with gold leaf. You cannot attempt anything of the kind, but this silverpoint fashion will do very well. And for each of the kings I wish you to make a drawing that depicts them in a suitable style."
"My lord, I fear that is beyond me," cried Déoric.
"No false modesty," said the king with a smile and tapped the drawing of the horse. "You have the talent; now work on your skill."
With brisk steps he went towards the door, but then he turned round again.
"Can I have some of your ink?"
"My lord?" said Déoric, bewildered.
"Ink, Déoric, for writing. I had a bottle left of Hiltibrand's, but it is finished. I have been ... writing a lot of letters lately."
To Déoric's astonishment, the king suddenly looked embarrassed and a lot younger.
"Of course, my lord." He rose and went over to the shelves, where he stored a supply of ink. "Will you need parchments, too?"
"I am well provided with parchments, thank you, Déoric," said Éomer and took the bottle out of the scribe's hand. Then he made his way out and left Déoric in a state of confusion. Flattered and excited as the young man felt by the king's new commission, he thought that there was no way he could creditably fulfil the task. The sketch of the king, though showing a reasonable likeness, was nowhere near good enough to be included in a scheme such as this. As for the other picture, that dazzling image of the rearing horse, it had come to him almost like a dream and he had no notion of how he could ever repeat that achievement.
*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.