Capturing a White Queen
1. Capturing a White Queen
Foreword: Faramir and Merry discuss marriages, their own and others’, and the women they love while playing chess together on a summer’s day. I refer to rooks as “towers” and bishops as “wizards” in this.
I unlock the cabinet carefully, for it holds all of my most precious possessions. There are the finest books from my library, with calfskin bindings and elegant calligraphy. A small chest of my mother’s jewelry perches on another shelf; I have long cherished these mementos of her, and look forward to gifting Eowyn with them when she returns from Edoras.
And there are my chess sets, ranging from the simple pieces and board I first learned with to the elaborately carved and inlaid set my uncle gave me as a birthday present five years ago. I draw it out of the cabinet, letting my fingers caress the squares of dark cherry and pale beech and marveling afresh at the level of quality Imrahil’s craftsmen achieved. I remember the last time I used it was the game I played with Boromir before he departed for Imladris. I beat him easily; he never had the patience to truly master chess. He laughed and told me, “I leave this game to you, little brother. Better to be skillful at swordplay than pushing pieces round a board!”
I sigh at the memory. I suppose I shall always miss Boromir, despite how complex things became between us as the years passed. But that was less his fault than our father’s . . .
I shall not think of Denethor now, I tell myself, not on such a lovely day. I exit my room, hurry down the stairs, and walk out into the main garden of the Steward’s house. Merry sits cross-legged on a bench while he waits for me, one brace sliding off a shoulder as his shirt comes out. Like him, I wear nothing but a white shirt with my breeches, for the heat of the day is little relieved by the light breeze. I look over at Pippin, sprawled on a blanket underneath a large tree with a much-depleted picnic hamper next to him.
“Where are Frodo and Sam?” I call to him.
“They went to the kitchen to fetch more food,” he says. He lazily blows smoke rings from the pipe he puffs on and grins at me.
“More food?” I ask askance. “How much can a hobbit eat? Has anyone determined the answer to that question?”
Merry snorts good-humoredly. “More than any man, for a certainty.”
I join him on the bench, tucking my legs up. “Ah, but that lack is not such a bad thing when one is in the field fighting.” I unfold the board and lift out the pieces. They are exquisitely carved, with intricate openwork crowns around the tops of the kings and queens. Some are stained a rich red while the others are made of a wood so blond as to be white. Merry whistles softly as I arrange the pieces on the board in the middle.
“What a beautiful set! Where ever did you get this? My mother has some nice ones, but nothing like this one.”
“Your mother plays?” I say in surprise. “Forgive me, but I cannot picture a hobbit matron in charge of a great hall finding the time to indulge in the game.”
“She’s always played since she was small. My Uncle Paladin, Pippin’s father, is mad about chess, and she was the only one of his sisters who was willing to play with him regularly. You’re quite right about time—Mother isn’t able to play like she used to, what with all she has to do at Brandy Hall, but she is still very good.” A nostalgic look flits across his face, his hazel eyes misty with longing. “I guess that’s why I didn’t play well until you and Eowyn started working with me. Mother taught me when I was little, but I never could beat her or Uncle Paladin, and I let myself get intimidated.”
“You miss your family, don’t you?” I say gently.
“Yes, all the time, even though Pip is here with me and I’ve made wonderful new friends like you and Eowyn. I hope the two of you can visit the Shire some day and meet my parents.”
“I hope so too.” I finish setting the pieces up. “Red or white, Master Meriadoc?”
He thinks for a moment. “White.” I motion for him to begin. He pushes a pawn two squares forward and looks at me. “Did your mother teach you to play?” he asks softly.
I place one of my pawns next to his. “Yes, she did. In fact she was just like your mother, she played all the time with my uncle when she was a girl. And Imrahil still beats me handily when we have a match.”
Merry studies the board. “It’s very hard, losing your mother when you are young. Frodo did too, you know—both his mother and father died before I was born, and my parents became his guardians. But even after growing up with Frodo, I can’t pretend to know what it’s like.” He moves a knight into position, preparing to attack one of my wizards. I raise an eyebrow at his aggressiveness.
“I have learned to manage over the years, but you are right that it is not an easy thing to convey, the pain of losing one’s mother. You are very lucky that your mother lives and can greet your bride when you bring her home.” I foil his move by shifting my wizard diagonally to the square beside my pawn.
“I am lucky, especially since Mother already likes Estella a lot.” He shoves out another pawn. “Would your mother have liked Eowyn, do you think?”
“I think so, despite being nothing alike.” I capture the second pawn by moving out a knight.
“Nothing at all?” asks Merry. He slides a tower over the openings left by his knight and wizard, leaving it in the back row but facing my knight.
“No. Finduilas was gentle, mild, and soft-spoken, and she was often homesick. She did not thrive away from the sea. Eowyn will prosper anywhere she finds herself, because of her strength and courage.” I move my knight back out of harm’s way.
He smiles. “She is strong—I don’t know what any of us would do without her. I’m glad she’s my friend and sword-sister now, but you must be even gladder to have won her heart at last.” Another pawn slides out, freeing up his queen.
“Glad beyond imagining, Merry. And I thank you once more for your help! Without your example and encouragement, I doubt she would have agreed to marry me.” I lift out the second knight.
“When and where is the wedding to be?”
“I am not sure yet,” I admit. “We more than likely will have two ceremonies, one in Edoras and another here in Minas Tirith, for our wedding customs are very different. Gondor requires a highly formal bridal, but in Rohan, once we pledge our troth to one another before witnesses, we will be deemed husband and wife.”
“That’s how we do it in the Shire.”
“Then shall you marry your Stella as soon as you arrive home?”
“I don’t know—it depends on what she wants and what else has happened.” His expression darkens a touch. “Maybe she’s found someone else while I’ve been gone and is married already.”
“I doubt that sincerely—you are too fine a gentlehobbit for any lass to toss aside lightly.” We continue to play in silence for a while, and then I speak again. “Sam has a sweetheart waiting for him too, doesn’t he?”
“Yes he does. Her name is Rose Cotton, and she’s very pretty—even a man would think so, I’m sure.”
“And Frodo? Eowyn told me he loved someone once—I think she said it was Pippin’s sister? Pearl, her name is?”
Merry nods. “That’s right, and Pearl is even prettier than Rosie—the prettiest hobbit in all the Shire, according to most of my folk. But she’s a widow, and widows hardly ever remarry among us.” He looks over at Frodo and Sam where they sit on the blanket, quietly talking while eating the cheese and pickles they finally brought from the kitchens. “And the Ring wrecked things before between Frodo and Pearl, and I think it will even now that it’s destroyed,” he says in a low voice.
“A tragedy, for if anyone deserves love and comfort, it is Frodo.” I capture the tower he has exposed while attacking my queen, and motion over to the sleeping Pippin. “And what of Peregrin? Does he have plans?”
Merry grins. “Well, like I told Eowyn, Pippin’s a confirmed rake and playboy with many a girl in his stable. He’s a long way from settling down—remember, he’s not yet of age. He’ll be a hopeless flirt for a while, so you’ll need to keep an eye on him still when he’s around Eowyn.” He carelessly moves his queen forward to try and check me, leaving it vulnerable to my queen and giving me an opening to check him in turn.
“No one poaches from me, remember?” I chuckle and pounce gracefully, claiming his queen with mine. “Check, my dear Merry.”
He studies the board again briefly, and looks over at me, his eyes twinkling. “Actually, Faramir, I do believe it’s mate.” His smile is wry. “You’re very good at capturing queens, aren’t you?”
I hold his captured piece up as the breeze stirs my hair, and think of the woman I love, her long golden tresses and full ruby lips and pale skin, a slim and supple body and a spirit as strong as steel. I laugh heartily, waking Pippin and drawing the stares of both Frodo and Sam.
“Indeed I am, my friend, indeed I am.” My hand closes around the little queen. “Especially the white ones.”
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.