The Rose in Bloom
"Go!" exclaimed the old healer. "But I hope to see you again before you leave, my lady. You have been a joy and delight these last several months, and I shall miss you as a dear daughter!"
Éowyn ran to the Citadel and all but burst into the throne room. Éomer stood with King Elessar and Queen Arwen at the foot of the dais, talking in close confidence. The Queen laughed at something Éomer said, then noticed Éowyn and Faramir as they approached with a little more dignity. Éowyn curtsied to king and queen, then embraced her brother.
"So good to see you again, sister," he laughed. "Though you be of the house of Eorl for only one week more."
"I shall be a lady of Gondor, but my sires and kin will not change, Éomer King. You cannot rid yourself of me that easily."
"Though Gondor shall willingly claim her," King Elessar answered with a smile.
"Éomer King, you must finish your tale," Arwen interjected, "but after you have taken rest and refreshment. Will you not join us this evening?"
"Of course," Éomer answered, nodding to them both. Éowyn happily accepted the arms of both brother and betrothed and all three of them left the throne room.
"Have you lodging?" Faramir asked.
"The King has graciously offered me the rooms I enjoyed the last time I visited Mundburg."
"But you hated those rooms!" Éowyn exclaimed. "They faced Mindolluin and Rath Dinen. You said they were depressing!"
"That is not the sort of thing you tell a king, little sister. Besides, we leave in the morning for Edoras. I can sleep there one night without a fey mood taking me."
"Come to the Houses of Healing with us! They have some of the most beautiful courtyards of the city."
"I was there once, Éowyn, and that was enough. It is not a place in which I would linger."
"Then come take your ease in my household," Faramir answered. "No healers, a pleasant courtyard due to Éowyn, and a view of the whole of the Pelannor. We should be able to pass a few hours in comfort until we feast with the King this evening."
"So be it," Éomer answered with a smile.
Faramir led them through the streets to a plain stone-faced house. But when they crossed the threshold, Éomer was pleasantly surprised. The house was low and delightfully cool after the heat of the streets. The trappings were simple, though well-made, and many windows opened onto a flowering courtyard. And as promised, the Pelannor opened wide and green before them. The scent of flowers and herbs filled the house. He turned to Éowyn. "You did this?"
"Faramir is too generous. Many of the flowers have been here for years."
"But Éowyn has planted every healing herb Ioreth has ever heard of. Even the Houses of Healing cannot boast such a trove."
Éowyn's smile was radiant. "It does smell lovely, does it not?"
"It does indeed. The shade of that willow is beckoning me, but I suppose it is too much to hope for that I could drink a cup of ale under it."
"I shall see to it," answered Faramir, and he retreated toward the kitchens.
Éowyn led Éomer around her garden, showing him the herbs that most interested or enchanted her. As they walked, he watched her and was far more moved by his sister than he was by the greenery. He had not seen her so full of joy, so alive, since before the death of their mother. She had indeed found healing in this stone city.
They had just settled onto a bench under the willow when they heard a woman's shrill voice exclaim, "Faramir!"
"What in the wide world was that?" Éomer said, rising to his feet. A moment later, Faramir escorted an elderly lady into the courtyard. "Lady Éowyn, Éomer King, may I present Galenriel, the sister of my father."
"You may indeed!" answered Éomer, bowing low. Éowyn, too, curtsied.
"The Lady Éowyn of Rohan, Wraithbane and Lady of the Shield-arm. I have heard so much about you, but Faramir has not yet brought you to meet me. Fie on you, lad! I have tried and tried to catch you or your betrothed these last six months, but you are never to be found, or you say you are too busy on the king's business. I had almost begun to think you were avoiding me! But I simply could not bear to send my dear nephew away without one last visit. I can hardly believe, my lad, that you are to be married. You are so young!"
"I have nearly two score years to my name, my lady."
"But for a man of the line of Numenor, you are barely come to full manhood. Of course, if you were much older, then the difference in age between you and your young bride might have made things a bit uncomfortable. Still, you shall probably outlive her by a good thirty years." She looked on Faramir with a wicked eye. "Perhaps you are not so unwise to marry out of Gondor after all. You could have two shieldmaidens to wife in one long lifetime!" Then laughing, she sank on to the bench. "The years simply fly by now, but I can remember like it was yesterday when you were a baby. I shall never forget to my dying day the time you escaped from your nurses when they were bathing you. You were not yet a year and a half, and you ran stark naked and laughing through the Citadel. The guards should have helped to catch you, I suppose, but they were beside themselves with laughter. Oh, you gave those nurses such a chase! They never did catch you until you burst into the throne room where your father and I were meeting with an ambassador from Umbar. Oh how your father roared! Scared you nigh unto death, he did. You left a puddle on the floor!"
Éowyn was suddenly struck with a coughing fit, while Faramir bravely bore this assault, a slight smile frozen on his face and his gaze fixed on some point in the distance.
Éomer bowed to Galenriel again. "Noble lady," he said, "I am afraid I must excuse myself." Then turning to Faramir. "I must see to that matter we discussed a moment ago. I shan't be long."
'Coward!' thought Éowyn.
Faramir found two wicker chairs and brought them into the shade of the tree for him and Éowyn. "You were the prettiest little lad, though!" Galenriel continued unabated. "I hope the fruit of your union may be so blessed as to favor their father. I should have brought the portrait of him as a babe for you to see, dear lady, but alas! It is to large to carry from place to place. You must promise to come see me ere you journey into that desolate country of Ithilien. Why the King would banish you there I can only imagine!"
"My lady, the land of our inheritance was in Ithilien. The King has merely restored to me what is mine by right. And Ithilien is as fair as the Elf countries, and soon shall be an Elf-country if Lord Legolas has his desire. I have not been banished!"
"See what a noble husband you shall have! Treasure him, Éowyn dear! But we ladies need not keep up such pretenses. We both know that the King is jealous of Faramir's influence in the City and will not rest easy until his rival is banished into the unpeopled wilderness across the river."
Éowyn stared at Galenriel in disbelief. "Rival?"
"Oh, how delightfully blind is love! Treasure her, Faramir my lad! Even the King cannot rival you in her eyes. But where was I? Oh yes! The portrait. Promise you shall visit me, and I shall show you how utterly adorable he was! He had ringlets that were the envy of every mother in the City. They danced as he trotted along, though Boromir was fond of pulling on them. Oh, how you squealed like a little piglet when he did! I think that is the only reason Fair Finduilas finally cut them off, to keep you from squealing so." Galenriel fell into laughter again. "Of course, that was not until after your breeching day."
"Where are my manners!" suddenly Faramir exclaimed. "Can I offer you some refreshment, my lady?"
"Oh, don't interrupt me, my lad!" Galenriel laughingly scolded. "How can a woman love a man she knows nothing about? You ought to thank me for thus enlightening her."
Éowyn wished she could take him in her arms and whisper that she would love him no matter what horrors Galenriel might reveal about him, but she could only imagine his aunt's reaction to such an intimate display.
"'Tis our custom to first put a lad in breeches on his second birthday, but poor little Faramir was none to fond of the change. After more than a month, his mother finally yielded to the importuning of his nurses and put him back in diapers for another year. So it was after his second breeching day that Finduilas finally cut his locks."
Faramir, lord and warrior, gave no sign at this, but Éowyn could feel his patience waning.
"But now that you mention it, you have been a rather poor host, dear lad. Run along and see if you have some cool white wine."
"I can go," Éowyn quickly offered, fighting down her anger at Galenriel speaking to Faramir as an errand boy.
"No, no, Lady Éowyn. I would speak alone with you for a moment. Woman to woman." She added in a loud whisper, "Besides it is good for him to learn how to treat you like a lady."
"Of course," Faramir answered, avoiding his troth's gaze. "I shall return shortly."
"Shall we walk, my dear?" Galenriel asked. She leaned heavily on Éowyn's shield-arm in what passed for a stroll. "Your courtyards smell like Eldamar! I feel as though I could live forever here!"
"It contains the long wisdom of Gondor's healing arts."
"I am gratified to see you have learned to love Gondor so. I will not hide from you I had misgivings when I heard my nephew would be wedding one who is not of the line of Numenor. There is the matter of your lesser vigor, but mostly I fretted over your lack of knowledge. There is so much you have to learn!"
It took all of Éowyn's strength to refrain from answering.
"There is one matter in particular that concerns me. I know not the customs you have among the Rohirrim," Galenriel continued, "so if you will forgive me being so bold, be certain your maids do not wash the marriage linens."
Éowyn was puzzled. "Surely the tablecloths are not so sacred as that!"
Galenriel chuckled, patting Éowyn's arm. "No, my dear, no! The bed linens."
Éowyn stared at her in frank amazement. Was it the custom of Gondor to lie in unwashed linen on the wedding night? If so, she was grateful the nuptials would be in Edoras.
"I see I was right to speak with you. I was afraid you would not know, coming from the wild North. Certainly your ignorant servants could not be expected to understand. A woman of culture and honor always keeps her marriage linen. The mark of the virgin blood is one of her prized possessions, a proof of her virtue as important as is the proofs of nobility to a man."
Éowyn was aghast. What a barbaric custom! "Who sees this linen, then?"
"Why, in the nobler households it is hung from the bedroom window for all to see. What lord would not want to proclaim to the world the virtue of his lady? Of course, the weaker-willed or the impoverished who have but one set of linens do not observe the custom. But after a week, we women take the linen down and retire it with reverence to a cedar trunk, to be kept and cherished."
"I see," answered Éowyn gravely. "I thank you for the forewarning. It would break my heart to disgrace the Lord Faramir."
"Well said, my dear! Spoken like a woman of Gondor!"
Faramir returned with three goblets of wine, thankfully before Éowyn could say something she knew she would regret. Éowyn escorted Galenriel back to the shaded bench under the willow tree. The old lady sighed with delight as she sipped at the wine.
"Will you be at the King's feast tonight?" Faramir asked to fill the silence.
"Oh of course! And I spoke with Ellonel and she and her daughter Emrahiel will also be attending."
Faramir stiffened, and Éowyn wondered at him. "I am happy for her, then."
"She is not yet married, although they say Berethil is enamored of her." Then to Éowyn she added. "You have not had time to meet all the courtiers, of course, but Emrahiel and Faramir... they have a history, one might say."
"Oh?" Éowyn looked again on Faramir, and her gaze was no longer kind.
"She was only twenty and found the harvest poppet," Faramir explained.
"Oh, he makes it sound so simple," Galenriel said conspiratorially.
"A straw doll," Faramir explained, an irritated edge to his voice. Éowyn was surprised to see him aroused to anger, though he hid it well. Galenriel's barbs must have hit home this time. "At harvest, there are great celebrations, and the aldermen make and hide a poppet and whoever finds it is king or queen at the Harvest Ball."
"Who would be Queen without a King, or King without a Queen?" Galenriel happily added.
"And Emrahiel found it?" Éowyn guessed.
"Yes. And choose me to be her king."
Éowyn considered for a moment. "That sounds innocent enough."
"Oh, the game is innocent," Galenriel laughed. "But Emrahiel..." She sipped her wine again.
Faramir glared openly at his aunt now. "Yes, she was enamored of me. Yes, she wore a scandalously low-cut dress. Yes, she kissed me before all and sundry. Yes, she requested we dance the rounds normally reserved for wedding celebrations..."
Éowyn laughed aloud and kissed him on the cheek. At his look of surprise, she said, "Kind, courteous, patient Faramir! I doubt not that you bore it all with dignity."
"And left a very disappointed Emrahiel on her father's doorstep that night," he earnestly answered.
"Well, there are two sides to that tale," Galenriel lightly answered, and Faramir started to his feet.
"Do you accuse me of speaking an untruth?"
"Nay, lad, nay." Galenriel's gaze moved suddenly and Faramir turned to see Éomer dash behind a pillar. "But I can see I have overstayed my welcome. You must have many preparations yet to make, and here I am chattering the day away. Well, I have imposed on your time long enough!"
"Shall I have the horses harnessed?"
"Do not trouble yourself, my lad. I have a sedan chair waiting. I wish I could go to Rohan with you, but I am afraid I am too old and frail. Promise you will come visit your lonely old auntie when you return?"
"I promise," Faramir answered with a grave bow.
"Good!" she exclaimed. Then leaning on Faramir's arm, she walked stiffly to the door. After a moment, Faramir returned and barred the door behind him with a sigh of relief.
Éomer sauntered in from the Great Hall with a mug of ale in each hand. "Is she gone, then?" he asked, proffering a mug to Faramir.
"Yes, oh fearless one!" Éowyn smirked.
Faramir took the mug but handed it to Éowyn. "You have earned this more than I have." Then turning again to Éomer, he said "Once again your sister has proved more valiant than us both. She engaged my aunt in hand-to-hand conversation and withstood every weapon the old hag used to try to turn her heart away from me. "
Éomer chuckled and they again retired to the courtyard.
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.