1. Chapter 1
The excitement of the previous day caused by the King Elessar's coronation hadn't yet completely subsided. And, as with any radical change in the line of succession, there were those who were sceptical of the new ruler, deeming him a stranger to them and to the affairs of Gondor. But the majority of the population welcomed the heir of Isildur, especially those of the elderly who had eventually recognised him as the much-loved Captain Thorongil from years past.
In the days following her own return to the White City, Idrin had manoeuvred working at the Houses of Healing and managing domestic affairs. She divided her time between her duties as a healer, helping the housekeeper with the cleaning-up of her family's townhouse on the fifth level and assisting Faramir with supervising the preparations done within the seventh circle, as well as the finding of foodstuffs for the returning armies. The last tasks were the most tedious, but she tackled them almost joyfully: it had been a long time since she had assumed such responsibilities. Preparations were made for receiving the new sovereign and housing the high-ranking individuals who would be staying in the Citadel; the King's House was opened and every corner of it was thoroughly cleaned; each wagonload of necessary provisions arrived from the war-unaffected regions was checked before meat, fish and grain were distributed to kitchens and storage-rooms.
Presently, as she did her part in putting the books of the Citadel's library back on their shelves, the bubbling emotion that had suddenly made its appearance the day before settled in her stomach again. She had spent more than half her life in the seventh circle, helping her aunt run the household: giving instructions to cooks and manservants and maids, overseeing preparations for feasts and arranging housing for visiting dignitaries. After her aunt had passed, those responsibilities had fallen on her, and she had managed as best she could with the most precious help of the housekeeper to the Steward's House, while continuing her work as a healer. She had been, in essence, the lady of the house; now, with the King's coming, Idrin couldn't help feeling she was being displaced somehow.
She had known things would be different once the King sat his throne, and she had had weeks to reconcile herself with the fact, but it wasn't until the coronation that reality fully sank in. Her position would not be the same again and that realisation stung. She had become so used to her status over the years that she now felt a wave of indignation course through her at the change. Keen as she had been to see the King returned as old tales promised, she had not been ready for the alteration to her standing in the Citadel, and the sting on her pride surprised her. The emotion bordered on ire, and she knew she was being immature, selfish even.
"Do be careful, Merilwen. Those scrolls are hundreds of years old," she snapped at the young maid working a few feet from her. The curly-haired girl met her eyes for the briefest of moments and then dropped her gaze, her handling of the parchments becoming more slow and mindful. Idrin exhaled and made to look down at the stack of volumes on the table in front of her.
The Citadel's library had been the last place to be cleaned, and rather belatedly so: the more immediate matters of catering and arranging for housing had driven that need from Idrin's mind. It was only two days past that it struck her that the small library would also have to be cleaned. Due to infrequent use and – she was loath to admit – relative neglect, the books had to be taken off the shelves and dusted, the shelves themselves, lamps and candle sconces had to be polished, the floors washed. Late in realising that those housed on the seventh level might want to explore said library, Idrin nearly panicked at the thought of having to do so much in so little time. Refurbishing would take more than one day, everything had to look perfect, and she knew that could not be completed before the King's entering the City. She misliked that fact, frustrated at herself for not having remembered the library sooner, but time couldn't be rewound.
Thankfully, no-one had disturbed the belated undertaking: the shelves were dusted; every wooden surface was treated with linseed oil; the bronze candle holders and lamps shone after their cleaning with vinegar; the floor was scrubbed.
Placing the old books, maps and heaps of scrolls back on their shelves was time-consuming: great care had to be taken for the task because many of them had become dry and stiff with age and might yield dust after mishandling. It was nearly mid-afternoon now, and not many shelves were left to be filled.
The quiet chatter of the domestics around her toned down into silence and Idrin turned towards the doors at the sound of footsteps. The last vestiges of exasperation on her face melted away, but the fading glint in her eyes lingered.
Her mood wasn't lost on Éothain: a guarded expression flitted across his features, but he shook it off and went on to voice what he had been previously thinking. "This is a beautiful library."
"Wait until you see the City Library on the fourth level," said Idrin, her voice softer. Then she looked at him curiously, as if suddenly recalling something, her own expression one of slight puzzlement.
The Rider understood the reason behind her hesitation to speak what was on her mind and offered a humourless twitch of his lips. "The only notable collection of books in the Riddermark is held in Meduseld: Morwen Queen brought many tomes and scrolls with her from her homeland, because she could not abide to live in a place without any. But we have lived without books for hundreds of years; knowledge and lore and wisdom can still be passed on to the younger generations in song and tale alone."
He had not raised his voice or sounded affronted, yet Idrin flushed and dropped her eyes. "I am sorry," she said slowly. She had known the Rohirrim wrote no books, and thus believed that a place such as a library would be completely foreign to them, books and scrolls an unfamiliar sight to most. She hadn't considered the possibility of Thengel's Gondorian queen trying to introduce them to the written word.
Éothain saw her discomfort, the eyes not quite meeting his. "It is true that only those of rank can read and write, but that is of no consequence," he said. "No doubt, that we are able to exist without these must sound very strange to others." He attempted a grin.
"It does, to me at least," the young woman ventured. "It is difficult to imagine life without books, but I guess one must experience a certain way of life before drawing conclusions." For her the written word was the only means with the aid of which history could be accurately preserved, past achievements recorded correctly, knowledge stored securely. It seemed that was not so for the people of Rohan, and she realised that to preserve a whole peoples' history and tradition without the slightest use of quill and parchment was a great achievement indeed.
Her hand found the leather binding of the tome nearest to her and long fingers brushed the cover absent-mindedly.
The movement alerted Éothain to the fact that his coming into the small library had interrupted work. He was aware of the sounds the domestics around them made as they silently went back to filling empty shelves with books and scrolls and stray leaves of parchment, but he was also aware of the minute, curious glances occasionally thrown their way. "Can I help?" He nodded towards the neat piles of books on the table.
Idrin was drawn from her thoughts by his addressing her. "Oh, yes, all help will be appreciated." She moved to show him where certain manuscripts should be placed, as many and more titles on the inventory lists fastened to the sides of the great bookcases were written in Sindarin. They worked in silence for some time.
"I thought I would find you at the Houses of Healing. I had gone there to visit my countrymen."
The Rohir's voice made Idrin look up from her work. "I was at the Houses for most of the morning. I left after the fifth hour to come here and help with the books," she explained.
Éothain set a handful of scrolls onto a shelf. "You have not had much rest these past days." It was as much a statement as it was a question.
Idrin looked at him over her shoulder. "There were many preparations to be done; Faramir asked for my help," she replied. She looked down at the last volumes in front of her and then at the bookcase. The tomes had to be placed on the topmost shelf along with their mates. Her gaze lingered, afterwards shifting to the ladder propped against the wood. A moment later she turned to Éothain; he was watching her. "Could you put these on the top shelf?" She gestured at the books. "I do not like unprotected heights."
If her words had caught him by surprise, Éothain did not show it. He reached for the first book. "Of course."
He did not question her on her fear, even though it did seem peculiar at first: he knew most people either feared heights with a passion, be they protected by some form of barrier or not, or were completely unaffected by them. He had never before heard of a person whose anxiety of heights depended on the presence of a solid protection between oneself and the void.
He watched Idrin glance at the titles on the covers as she handed each book to him, leafing through some and occasionally pausing on a passage. Her absorption was mesmerising. The question came to his lips and he couldn't help asking it. "What is it about them that touches you so?"
She looked up at him, understanding what he referred to. "They make the world more magical," came the simple answer, a glimmer in her eyes.
Éothain smiled at the rapt expression on her face.
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.