1. Rose's Courtship
Aunt Vanessë and Uncle Feren Samno recruited Lily and Rose, and their cousin Nehemion, to work with them at House Ornamir after the Siege ended. Both girls liked the work. At first it was interesting and a matter of pride to help bring the long-closed rooms to orderly, immaculate life, and they liked Rhylla, so close to them in age and ready to help. With so many willing hands, caring for Rhylla's wounded brother Rill was no hardship. Even the workload increase of Lady Ornamir and Lady Silma taking in eight wounded Rohirrim was taken in stride. Rose found that she was the first to gain a smile from one of the twins, Egil, the one who had lost an ear. Elof, who had lost an eye, was more serious—but then, knowing that another of their number, Rafi, was like to lose all of his sight from the gash over his eyes would make any man somber.
One day as she straightened from setting a tub on its form in the wash-house at the end of the garden, she was surprised when Egil handed her a filled bucket of water. "Well, that's kind! My thanks, Rider!" she said.
He smiled and went away with a nod.
Soon she knew that every Moon-day, he would silently appear, to help her fill and empty the tubs, and if clouds loomed over the city, to help her harvest the clothes from the primp-hedges before they could be drenched. Gradually, as his Westron improved, he spoke of helping his mother, of the washing-bat she had used instead of the grooved board Rose scrubbed each item against to loosen the dirt, of the clean aroma of fabric dried by winds sweeping across leagues of grass to their farm outside the city of Aldburg, of clipping the hedges of lavender and rosemary his mother had favoured around the drying-ground outside their house. She tried to imagine smaller stone-and-wooden houses, thatched with grasses instead of tiles.
One day he brought a book, a wondrous book of maps, borrowed from Lady Ornamir's library. Opened to one page, he showed her where to find a small circled dot labeled "Minas Tirith." Rose felt her mouth round to an "O" of wonder. She had looked over the city walls on occasion from marketing, but her life had been bounded by those walls, except for the brief fearful time she had journeyed with others in a train of wagons to the mountain refuges, when they had dwelt in caves deep underground before returning. It gave her a strange feeling that only part of her hand could completely cover the area labeled Gondor. How had the world become so huge? It was astonishing, overwhelming; it made her feel infinitely tinier than she had an instant before.
Looking up, she found herself gazing into Egil's blue eyes. They were bottomless blue, the color of October sky, the color of the gown she had always longed to have, and they were intent, questioning.
Somehow, she felt less adrift. "Where's your 'ome?" she asked breathlessly.
Together they bent over the map. He put a finger on the circle, moved it past the Pelennor, farther out to finally rest on a slightly smaller circle labeled "Calmirië."
Later, peeling potatoes, she asked, "Aunt, is there a place called Calmirië?"
"It's in Rohan," said Lady Gilannis, overhearing as she came through with her hands filled with flowers intended for the front hall. One of Lady Silma's notions was that flowers and other pot-plants helped keep a chamber's air purer. "May I have the big striped pitcher? I read about Calmirië in the schoolroom. It means 'green-jewel' because it is on a hill above the river. There is one spiraling street winding up to the top as there is here, because it was laid out by Gondor. After Calenardhon was gifted to Eorl to become Rohan, its name was changed to Aldburg; it was the capitol until Edoras was built. I think Lord Éomer, who's Éomer King now, Lady Éowyn's brother, lived there before the War. It's where Lord Erragol lives. What made you ask, Rose?"
She could feel herself blushing as she said, "'Egil showed it me on a map. 'Tis far from 'ere!"
"But not so far as where the Pherianneth live in the Shire, nor so far as Mt. Doom in Mordor," Lady Gil said.
All three of them shuddered, and Aunt changed the conversation, but Rose thought about it several times.
In such a large household (enlarged by a party of Dwarves come to help Lord Gimli on the Great Gates), Rose should have welcomed the proposal that the laundry be sent out, or another hired to help her, but she did not. Unable, to explain her reluctance, she was relieved one day when Lord Gimli asked her about if he might look at her domain. "'Tisn't mine," she demurred.
"A forge used by one is that one's forge, and his or her tools to be placed as they prefer," rumbled the Dwarf.
Rose was always shy of the High, and surely Lord Gimli, head of the embassy as it now was, member of the Fellowship, friend of the kKng and of Elves and Hobbits, was one of the greatest, but she was so startled that she stared at him. "'Her' tools? Do Dwarf women smith, then, m'lord?"
"Some of our women do, who have the talent and skill, aye," he replied, scanning the clutter of pails, tubs, wooden ladles, packets of starch and bluing, firkins of soap and clothes-pegs, washboards, flatirons, pressing-cloths, and so on. "Tell me how you work here."
"How do you work here?" he repeated. "A process must be understood to be changed. You fill a tub, yes?"
She showed him the cauldron on its tripod, to be swung over a fire to boil the clothes, the fork to lift it out and into another tub for rinsing twice, the big woven baskets to carry it out to the hedges for drying, the lines for larger items like sheets.
That afternoon, two other Dwarves appeared to ask the same questions, making notes on their tablets and muttering to each other in their language, before bowing and going away.
Mystified, she said nothing, so everyone in the kitchen was surprised when all seven of the visiting Dweorg descended on the wash-house with tools and pipes the next day. Just before sunset, one appeared at the kitchen door, asking for her.
Rose set aside her mending and followed him. Wide-eyed, she looked around at the interior, newly whitewashed and swept, at several new wash-tubs, all at exactly the right height, with mangles that could be wheeled from one to the other, the tubs equipped with soap-dishes and bungs to drain into pails for easier emptying, a pump in a new sink, a vast built-in copper for boiling, and shelves and a rack for all the rest.
"Is this better?" asked the one called Drav Stiffbeard.
"Oh, masters, 'tis perfect!" she gasped, and swept them the deepest curtsey she could.
They bowed back, shouldered their tools, and left. She thought that they looked satisfied through their thick long beards.
Rose was unaware that she smiled dreamily as she went about her other tasks, her mind intent on the marvel of transformation—until a sentence brought her back to earth with a bump. "What?" she said.
"We'll 'ave to be up early tomorrow, with our Riders leavin' t' take Theóden King 'ome," her uncle repeated.
"Our Riders?" she echoed. "All of 'em?"
"All but Ull and Wil. For Valar's sake, Rose, we've talked of'this for days!" Lily said, poking her in the side. "Where've you been?"
"I know, but—" Words failed her, as they so often did, colliding with a jumble of feelings in her throat and almost strangling her.
"'Tisn't as if you didn't 'elp us set the parlor t' rights when they moved down t' the camp on the Pelannor," her cousin pointed out reasonably. "We all knowed they was a-goin'."
Silently, numbly, she went about her evening chores, lay all night unsleeping beside a snoring Lily, until an hour before dawn, she rose and dressed with fumbling fingers and crept downstairs, down to the kitchen, out the back door through the garden to the wash-house.
Even after moving to the camp, Egol had helped on Sterdays. Now he would never come again. He would be far away, on a farm outside Aldburg with its foreign thatched houses and foreign gold-headed wenches.
Down the circles she ran, edging past the barrier across where the Great Gates would be, running along the road that wended north until she reached the place where a procession was forming, a huge crowd of horses, wagons and cloaked figures in grey, black…and green. "Here!" called a voice with a familiar accent, and she turned to look anxiously—but into only one blue eye. Elof jerked his head sideways, and she saw Egil, holding a horse while Osric One-Arm steadied Radon Onefoot as he swung up into the saddle and handed him his reins and crutch.
"Lead over my twin's horse and speak a little," Elof said, the most she had ever heard him say to her.
Clutching two thin pieces of leather—how could such slight things hold such a huge beast from bolting and trampling?—she took two shaky steps forward, almost dropping the small bundle under her arm.
Egil came, three long strides, and casually looped the reins over his arm, smiling down at her. "I'm glad you got my message," he said. "When you didn't come yesterday afternoon, I thought you preferred I just go."
"No matter. You are here."
Somehow she found her cold hands clasped in his; he loosened one to stoop for the bundle she had dropped. "What's this?"
The fabric unrolled in the morning breeze, a man's shirt, the cuffs and collar embroidered in stars and tiny horseshoes, white and green on blue.
"For you," she whispered, seeing every mistake she'd had to take out, every tiny slub in the fabric she had so carefully dyed, feeling it in the knuckles she had had to scrub almost raw afterwards.
She felt sick when he turned away—would he ride away without another word?—until he turned back and pressed something into her hands. "For you," he said.
It was a washing-bat, the length and width unlike what she knew. Carved on the front were the shapes of a house next to a starred tree, connected by a road under a rose and heart that led to another house with a horse at the door.
"Oh!" she gasped.
He turned it in her hand, showing her the grooved back, that it could be used as a narrow washboard as well. The wood was smooth as the shirt's silk to the touch, not to snag or splinter.
She looked up at him. "You spoke to Lord Gimli 'bout the wash-'ouse!"
"Should I go and leave your work harder?" he asked. "Róse út Cnif, my Rose without Thorns."
"I have some thorns. Lily'd tell you."
"Do you?" Laughter warmed his eyes.
"I'm 'ere. I made a man's shirt—"
"Lord Erragol is going to be the ambassador to Gondor. He says he will need two courtiers ready to ride between Edoras and Minas Tirith. Roden, Osric and Rafi will help with the farm so Elof and I can do that for him. Will you consent to be my betrothed, Rose Thorn, so I can wear it at our wedding, or will you stamp on my heart today?"
"Fold it careful, Egil, an' le' go m' hand. I must go back." She tugged gently.
"You say no?"
"I must get m' work done, so's I c'n begin sewin' my weddin'-gown," she said, a smile blooming. "The sooner you go, the sooner you come back."
He swept her up in a hug, then lifted her high, and she saw they were ringed by beaming Riders, with Éomer King and Lady Éowyn on horseback, nodding their approval before he set her carefully down to the rattle of spears on shields.
Half a candlemark later, the cavalcade departed, the sound of their horns fading, she made her way upward, no longer the shy servant-lass, but a woman whose feet were set on a path of her own choosing as she cradled her gift and dreamed of a wider world.