1. Strange Awakenings
…this afternoon, in the cool and bright and silent room where there were other memories, decidedly other, drifting from the walls like smoke- earlier than that, in fact, at a time where all my memories, the sweet and the evil- for there was never so many of both- are preserved in such perfection, against the woolly confusion of the memories of before and since, as they stand above those of other times as a horse in a field of sheep. Memories I had in this very room, and if you find them unseemly or distasteful, then I cannot apologise, for there is naught that I can do to take such things from the face of this world, and we would not endure long without them.
I had been shown to this bed before- alone, that night, for it had been that long ago- yet not so long that the reason that I had been was not that another room was connected to it. For it was when I had come down with the wedding procession, when the white tree had blossomed and all the stars had come out so brightly that there had been no need for candles that night.
And I can proudly say that I the joy of being reunited with my husband elect was joyous enough to make the brilliant night and the radiance of the peoples of Lothlorien and Rivendell shine upon only joy for my own part; no other thought came to me, even through the wedding day; why I did wear as many white flowers as any maid there, and smiled as much, and sang as loudly and danced as long; together we were, and the sun shone, and the city was made so very fair, and all that was cruel and fearful would come not near as we or our children to the crack of memory would dwell there; no, I did not show any more mirth than I was mistress of.
And the fairest dusk came upon us at last, and at long last the Citadel became quiet, and in twos and threes the persons there said their goodnights, and parted; and Faramir and I lingered on the steps, to see what we could of the delicate silver dusk that was falling. I had danced until the last, and it was coming onto me gradually that I had drunk quite well, and I held onto his arm more and more tightly. We did not say much, and what did pass between us was so inconsequential as to be foolish to waste time relating; other than to say, it could have been a hundred times more unimportant and a thousand times more little and it would still have been more pleasure than the most glorious narrative given under any other circumstance. Yes, I was very happy; but how young was that yet! for my infant happiness was so little it was inclined to go to bed early! Maybe it was the blurring of my firmer thoughts, or the lateness of the hour and the length of the day that were causing my spirits to die down; I leaned upon Faramir’s side, and I could feel him kissing me upon the head; then I heard from far above me a peal of laugher- and that was just how it sounded, like a silver bell echoing on the stones- a sound I had never heard the like before or since that day- and a clear voice I heard say:
“Did I not tell you! Dear scruffy little virago; that she might truly love at last, why soon she shall know how it is to be a woman, and it will not grieve her; she will learn how vain her scornfulness has been- let her wait and see!”
I do not know, in fact, that that was the queen- I am not sure if I thought it to be then, though the laughter of that elf-maid I did recognise; but it was upon that second that the warm glow that had been coursing through me turned to shivering cold, and suddenly the peace that had been upon me turned to utter weariness of my body and my spirits, and I felt I would have wept had I not felt too spent for crying. Indeed, it may have been said so incidentally that Faramir did not hear, for he did not seem to note it- but suddenly his arms were awkwardly arranged about me, when I was too overheated to be held by a warm other, and what had seemed like sweetness now seemed nothing other than confinement and stickiness, and the air that had seemed pleasant was now muggy and bore biting insects, and the wreath upon my head was wilted and falling apart and sat very ill and awkward, and my bad arm ached again, and the sunset was stinging my eyes.
I found strength to murmur: “My dear lord, I would I was abed,” He started- I heard his heart double-take- I suppose he must have thought that this ungentle Shieldmaiden, for all her dignity, was even coarser than he had first realised (which of course she was, though I had not yet shown him that)- and he said: “That time will come; devotion is patient, my lady,” I was too low to be abashed at the time; all I said was: “I would still to my bed; I shall fall upon the ground if I must wait another half-hour.” So then he laughed- at himself or myself I am not sure, for all laughter just then had left me, and told me I had partaken very freely; and lead me away, and I was put to bed by some woman of the Citadel, and drifted off listening idly to the tiny, incidental sounds from the next room, that had filled me the previous night with so much warmth and peace, of Faramir undressing and arranging his things to bed down for the night…
I awoke in the night suddenly; I thought I heard a sudden sound, like a crying out, as if a woman had heard of some sudden anguish; and for a few frenzied moments I had forgotten where I was and when it was- indeed, for a few moments I thought myself back in Edoras, during the war and with my uncle ill and Wormtounge near…which faded, comfortably, with only one pang for it. And then I lay there in the darkness, for the wine that had earlier made me as limp as a doll now had turned in my veins, not so sour as to make me feel badly unwell, but to make me irrevocably wakeful and restless. It was quite dark, and the stars, though still lit, were not so bright as to illuminate the room. Still my mood was quite black, and it came to me to detest lying in the dark if I were not sleeping. I had brought in a candle last night, but, it being summer, there was no fire from which to light it, and no other light burned in the room.
I took the candlestick, and slipped out; I saw a faint light coming from a passage below, and so set out for it; down the stair, it was not until I heard the sound that I realised that I was in front of the door of the royal chamber of Gondor.
I felt the blood surge to my face, and when another sound came, my stomach quite turned. The Mark, after all, was not nearly as coy over such matters as the city- in understanding if not in action. On the other hand, something in me felt again nothing less than fury and defiance; I would not turn back in shame without the light that I had come for! So I went for it, trying so very hard to block out the sound- I began to hum a battle song, then stopped, for being heard hearing would be even more dreadful a violation to both the monarch and lady and me than the hearing alone. The sounds came and went- a sound like a stifled sobbing it was; that was the only noise that came… in fact… no, I was… no… it was sobbing, not anything else- why that was even a drawn-out sniff in the middle of it…
(What dark had lain upon my eyes? and how
On waking are the hours now lost to me?
The dull dark air curdles the skin, but he
Sleeps on content, and well, and peaceful now.
I tremble! Fear I so to lie in the slough
Of lost grace, and lost immortality?
Alas! She waits, so far across the sea,
My mother! And knows not ‘tis in vain now!
On our brief farewell; how then could I know
Reunion dead, fate did reveal!
(What is it remains, and still pains me so?
Naught; so why still a hot wound feel?)
Hark! Little unshod footsteps; who comes in?
The kitten risks its life! ‘Tis Éowyn!)
If I were a cat, I would be cursed nine times over; for I saw, the door had come off its fastening, or else had not been shut properly. Of course to go and push it in would be wrong, in quite every sense- insulting, peculiar, indelicate, unmaidenly, foolish, and not a little faithless. But the sobbing sound, now gave a pregnant pause, and came back redoubled. Such was the incongruity that I had pushed the door before I knew it, so that did leave me standing in the room- quite how much more singularly inappropriately could I have positioned myself!
The bed, to my earnest relief, was curtained, and the drapes drawn. The place was furnished, as was the city custom, in black and grey and white, though here there was at least not the starkness of the halls- nor their acoustic, thank goodness- for there were woven rugs and some kind of tapestry on the wall, that may have shown ships or maybe something else- and the hangings on the bed, my light revealed to be deepest blue-purple.
The little noise came- softer now, but there was no doubt of what it was.
There was the tiniest space at one point, on a corner of the bed, between curtain and post.
Well, what could I say? I had already been so ridiculous as to come in; and perhaps I could take it as a mercy, but I took it as thwarting now; why, surely I had better check what all this was about?
Well, in for silver, in for gold! thought I, why, the servants shall soon see in any case, and, forgive me, but I looked.
At once I knew it was foolish to have done so; a line of light from my candle cast a long gold line upon the counterpane, and would no doubt have framed me clear, and distinct, as, other than Éomer’s, the only other goldy heads in this dusky city were far higher up on the shoulders of elves.
Thank goodness, then, thank goodness, the king slept, and continued to do so. But the other head upon the pillow did turn, and regard me. And indeed, this was from whence the weeping had come.
And our eyes met, and in her look was- well, I do not think there are words… there was but a sensation that came to me that had once before, when I was very small; yes, very small, for I was sat upon the front of a man’s saddle in Edoras; and I could not have been more than seven for that man was my father- if you wish to picture it there could be no better model than Éomer- I used to like being kissed by him because his beard tickled me- and one day he had taken me, his little rennet, his pretty filly, upon the front of his saddle, and how proud I was! But what happened then was that at that time there was a village out nearer the hills that had many days ago been razed and all but a few there left dead- their people, their horses, their very chickens had not been spared. So few had come away! And it was now that they came to Edoras, empty-handed- and as we passed, I did look down, to see a girl of my own age or very near, who wore a torn brown stuff dress and mantle, and had angry bruises about her face, looking upon me- without reverence, for she had naught left to suffer- nor in bitterness nor envy, for in her face was enough understanding that I could no more help what I was than she- in that extraordinary way that children do when all their power is focused into their eyes.
And strangely, I not only felt no indignation, but in fact neither any compassion- for I was not really a gentle child- in my embroidered gown and cap, upon my father’s fine horse, I felt naught but shame- all pity being empty, all kindness a shallow gesture for my own comfort.
And it was that look that had appeared before me now, all these years later, in the eye of quite the highest female in the land, laid as she was there upon the disarrayed and messy bed; the same sorrow, and hollowness of eye, and absence of shame, at the gold-rimmed onlooker, that did not draw rank. And of course even then it did amuse me that I should make the connection, that she who had deposed me so should appear to me now no less of a wretch.
But then she turned, and did close her eyes, and leaned close to he who she named ‘Estel’; and suddenly abandoned, I grew cold again, and slipped out to my own bed, where I watched the candle until I heard a soft tread, and felt another weight on the counterpane beside me, and a hand take mine.
“Draw back the curtain, so that the light shall wake us and we are not discovered,” I heard Faramir say. So I rose and did so, and lay back thus, and with but the sheet chastely between us, I settled upon his shoulder, and he folded his arms about me, and there was a soft fragrance of his own upon his hair, and I could feel the rise and fall of his breathing, and the beat of his heart, and a blessed peace of faith and understanding came upon me, and he held me thus till morning.
Then at first light he did slip away from my pillow with many kisses, and suddenly desolate, for I was not at all unconscious of the infinite superiority of the love between us to the infatuation I had cradled alone, I walked again, to a balcony where I might look upon the sun in the east, for there I would feel the ghost of his presence at my side.
And so I was almost hence when I heard an odd, irregular footstep, and when I turned I saw a tall, narrow figure in a long white garment, that walked with a crumpled gait that was between a man inebriated and a bird with a broken wing; lopsided, irregular, indirect, swaying, bent, stumbling; and, despite the bright, cool, pale blue-white light of dawn, carried in its hand a lighted candle. It had dark hair to the middle, that was tangled and stuck out at all angles- and as it moved, it made little gasps and winces every time its feet mistook the floor, which was often. As it approached, my only thought was first, what sort of thing comes here? Then, much pity upon this poor madwoman, I’m sure, but how in the world did she get in here? Why she must have come near to the chamber of the king and… the queen…
And upon that moment, she spoke:
“Oh, help me! Who goes there? Come nearer, I pray thee; Ah, Lady Shieldmaiden, help me! I am hurt, I am ill! Ah, me, too late I now repent, my pride and impious vanity! It comes, it comes- far off the lightening scorch me! Ah! I feel my life consuming: I burn, I freeze, I faint; for pity I implore! O help… for pity… o help… for pity I implore! I faint; for pity I implore! O help, o help; I can no more!” It was upon this that she fell into my arms; which I bore without too much struggle, for tower above me though she did, she weighed surprisingly little, and I had not yet grown either soft nor frail. Nevertheless, I was at a loss; her complaint seemed to be none other than madness- for which reason I reached out to take the candle from her, as she held it with no stick, and did not seem mindful that, as she held it, it was never far from the hair of either of us.
“What do you bear this for, my lady Queen?” I said. “It is not even a dull day,”
She sobbed, and clutched at my wrapper.
“My eyes become dim!” she wept, “my sight becomes short and hazy, and I cannot remember my way! Alas, I feel my mind slipping from me! Will you not pity me? I am in such pain! I have taken such hurt, and I barely can walk!”
“What? My lady, what has been done to you?”
At this she bent over with weeping again, and the candle, as I knew it soon would, dripped a long thread of wax, down its length, and dribbling down over her white fingers.
At this, the queen issued forth a scream that set the stone passage ringing; the candle fell from her hand, and, fortunately, the fall blew it out. She continued to shriek: “My hand is burning! My hand is burning! O help me!”; I heard doors open down the passage, and upon a sudden, I did pity her; I noted her face so discoloured and smirched with tears and sweat, and her hair so bedraggled, and her white nightgown being dirty and bloodstained; and I felt her to be already mortified enough before me alone, without all who lay nearby seeing; for which reason I took her to my own chamber, and pushed her down to sit upon the bed, where she stinted wailing from sheer exhaustion, and so I nursed her upon my shoulder a while. She said to me:
“They name you Éowyn, do they not? is that you? Ah me! Dear Éowyn; my mind is failing; my memory is leaving me, and I cannot think clear! What is becoming of me!”
I soothed her as best I could, but the longer I embraced her, the more fervently I wished for relief for her company, for on her hair, on her skin, I gradually perceived a scent not her own, that upon her skin curdled my blood. Its effect was taking hold of me, and I stood upon a thin threshold; either it was to revolt me utterly, or draw me to feel most binding tenderness for her.
At length, Faramir came, and went, and returned to me with a woman who he said would help her; and in came a local woman with a face like an old apple, a little bent, and covered rather shabbily in black.
“Now then, Madam, how goes’t with you now?” she said- and I would have said that she spoke it rudely were it not for her manner which, coupled with her great age, made ceremony quite redundant with her. Faramir had chosen her perfectly; for she was known in the Citadel by no other name now than Nana Tibalt; she had arrived over forty years ago as a wet nurse to Boromir and later to himself, and had never left- yet, now widowed and ancient, her power was greater than ever; with no protest, the Queen Arwen, exalted by elves and men, yielded, and was covered over in a shawl, and told her ills we but very little and naught that amounted to weeping, and not to be silly, and that she was a good girl: and she was. A bath was found and drawn, and from behind the screen still I heard the good Nana’s voice:
“We shall have you bathéd, Madam, and wash your head, and then you shall feel a good deal more like yourself,”
“Oh. Is this how you wash clothes?”
“No, Madam, this is how I’m going to wash you. Come, then, in you go!” Then: “I suppose you think that that is terribly clever, do you not?”
“What? You told me…”
“Come- try again- stand! Right, off with this now!”
“But- but… Let me go!…” &c; I am sure I do not need to tell the diversion of how it went on, through the removal of clothing, and the washing of one who considered herself bruised and was tender to every touch, not to mention the washing of her face and, worse, her hair, nor her hair being combed afterwards; at last she was reunited with me- who she had taken to be a friend, and so begged an embrace- whereupon her ‘Estel’ had come to find what she had been screaming for, so together we coddled our bedraggled, disgruntled, sweet-smelling companion, and he was so good as to soothe her, conversing softly with her in her own tongue, and help us to dress her, whereupon, before the water was mopped from the floor, she fell fast asleep upon my bed. Nana Tibalt said that she would wake when she was hungry, and bid the king he may remain if he did not wake her until she stirred of her own accord. And he did not.
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.