1. Speaking of Love....
"And when the sun rose in the clear morning above the mountains in the East, upon which shadows lay no more, then all the bells rang, and all the banners broke and flowed in the wind; and upon the White Tower of the citadel the standard of the Stewards, bright argent like snow in the sun, bearing no charge nor device, was raised over Gondor for the last time" ("The Steward and the King," RotK, 272).
They say she is somewhat scattered, poor dear, but that is only because they do not know (quite) what to listen for; I knew that Ioreth was glad that day, and her constant chatter–wending its way like the ant through the nautilus shell, following a trail of honey invisible to one waiting for the ant to emerge–was proof of it. I could see it in the way her hands flitted here and there, touching everything, brushing everything, only to return to me, to my arm, my hand, my hair, my face. Better than sunshine, though I was glad to feel the heat of it on my skin that day, when the king was crowned. It had been so dark for so long, it seemed.
And of course, I admired my Ioreth–admired her, that in the midst of her joy, she could weave our 'story' seamlessly into her profusion of words. "Oh, Cousin, and you must remember–or did I tell you? Never mind, 'tis not important. You were going to tell me how it was at home, in Imloth Melui, whether it was terrible or how was it? But the Halfling, my dear, the one who went to Mordor? Yes, he is related to the one who marched with the host, and also to the one who remained. Merry, his name is, and he does merit it and–oh, no, no, Merry is Meriadoc, in truth, and he was the King of Rohan's esquire. Not the one who went to Mordor, no. But did I tell you...?" And so on, putting the elements of our 'lives' into her speech while the day lasted, while I clung to her arm, and squeezed her hand and stayed fast at her side, shy thing that I am known to be. And where others could not see, she squeezed back, and we knew that all was right, as it had not been since we were parted.
For Ioreth was always the brave one. If I ever had any courage, I spent it the day she and I fled home with naught but our clothes, some stolen coins, and the hope of coming to the next village. 'Twas Ioreth who, once upon the road, stayed upon it, and would not turn aside, all the while cajoling the wretch that I was: "What is the next village? Another patch of dirt and some chickens? Is this not better? Look at the world, Cemwen. Can you not see Minas Tirith yet?" Ten days of 'yet' until I saw it, and but for the war, I would never have left it again; nor, once gone from it, would I ever have made that agonizing journey measured by 'not yet' a second time in my life, but that Ioreth was in Minas Tirith. She would be the death of me, I told her when we parted. "The death of me, do you hear? Come with me, I beg!" And Ioreth had smiled and shaken her head, embraced me, and then sent me away, since she had been due to go and see that the silly young acolytes had not forgotten to organize the medicines as instructed.
The death of me. When we were young and homeless, I cursed Ioreth and wept for the ruin of my life, as I was certain that that was what lay before me; only by night was there peace, when it was enough to have her arms around me. There are those who would ask: How did you endure? Why did she not abandon you? What bound her to you? I can say only that she, too, knew how to listen, even so young as we were. And doubtless that is why, when she marched to the Houses of Healing and presented herself as an acolyte, she was not daunted by the severe and skeptical looks, but heard only the worry of men and women who feared to entrust another's life to the hands of a gawky, nameless, seeming-brash (fearless) girl who appeared between one day and the next in my borrowed spare dress (which I had managed to take with me in spite of the haste with which we departed). I, on the other hand, did as I had always been taught: I found the chandler and offered my hands. For long, they pushed a cart and collected coins for wares, but eventually, I was able to practice my trade, and so I have kept myself and her, and between the two of us, we have lived comfortably now for many years. Right under the noses of all the respectable citizens of the city, and indeed, should they discover what exists before them, she shall truly be the death of me. And I of her. But men are blind, happily, and they know 'our' tale....
A great adventure to leave home, Ioreth called it in those days, when first we arrived in Minas Tirith, and spun the tales that would last us a lifetime. Spun them, and laughed in private over her 'little white lie,' never mind that her sisters whom she loved were as good as dead to her back in Imloth Melui, and that we were poor. A great adventure she made it, especially at night, when we lay abed, and sometimes we would make up stories of our departure. Of an Orc raid on the isolated steadings of our families in Imloth Melui. A raid that had left only we two alive. The horror of it! The fearsome clatter of weapons, the screams and burning, the valor of the hapless defenders–Ioreth was fond of telling others that that was why I could not bear the sight of blood, and easily grew faint if I passed the Houses of Healing. She could grow teary-eyed reciting the tale of her dead husband, never mind that she had never had one. A great pity, folk said gravely in those days, that two lovely young women should know such things, and how brave we were, to come so far and to begin again with only each other. Endearing, they called our devoted attachment to each other. They still call it endearing–touching, a fine example of womanly love. Oh aye, 'touching' and 'womanly'... they know not the half of it.
'Crone' they call us both now, 'old wives,' but my Ioreth is above all else a woman, and I do not feel those forty winters between twenty years old and the present. Not when we lie pressed close; not when I feel her hands on me, and mine on her. Then there is naught but shape and softness. Naught but that particular warmth that floods one, makes you weak even while lending strength–touch by touch, until I cannot tell where I end, for there is only Ioreth, and the sound of our laughter. And who can tell in the darkness whether her tresses are grey or black? Not I, and it matters not to me. The chandler lass who never quite lost the sound of the country for all that time has polished her speech, the frightened thing that could not bear the thought of the road or of the Houses of Healing stands fast in this. It does not matter. Age, weariness, aching joints, family–none of it matters. Ioreth and I... well, to put it plainly and roundabout: bad seamstress that I am, I would have stayed in Minas Tirith, and scrubbed the laundry of the dead that it might be used for the living; I would have stayed and scrubbed 'til my hands cracked and the scent of urine, horse, blood, filth, vomit, sweat, steel, death–all the effusions of the wounded and dying caught up in their sheets–made me sick. I would have stayed and lit my candles for the lot of us in secret, behind shuttered windows so as not to incur the wrath of the Steward, if only Ioreth had wanted me to. One can be brave sometimes, when that one other needs your bravery.
But for once, my Ioreth had had enough. To stay behind, knowing her hands would be needed against the darkness was choice enough to make. If she had to remain, then she could not see me trapped here with her, as well. "You would be the death of me!" Did I not say that I could be brave for her? And so I went, another beggar on the road to Lamedon, like all the others: the nearly-orphaned young lads and lasses, the soon-to-be widowed, the children who were about to be fatherless, the aged who were soon to be childless, the men for whom the army could find no use–more than one might think; I suppose the Lords of the City thought it good to provide us with husbands with whom to rebuild the race, should all be destroyed in our wake.
But I have never been one for lofty aspirations, and I could not have had a part in such a task even at need. 'Tis enough for me to rebuild my life, which is also Ioreth's; not for me to save my people with my very body, for I am not the White Lady of Rohan. One so golden as she should indeed give birth to many things, epics not the least. But Ioreth and I, we are made of lesser stuff, though Ioreth is the better part of us. Of me. Us. It was a good day today, when King Elessar was crowned. My Ioreth smiled, and she did weep a little, and I think that she might be somewhat taken with him, our new king. But as that ant I was telling you about–you remember the ant?–her thoughts and speech are like it: for all that it wanders, following honey, it never leaves its path, and that shell is all its world. And so I have no fear that her smile for me is not genuine, as she lets down her hair (grey, not silver, nothing so fine for us, but there is nothing wrong with grey after all), as she takes my face in her hands, as we blow out the candle I hold between us.... I have never married, but I know what it is to be a wife in all things. Yes, it was a good day today. But the night was better.
******* Author's Note: Ioreth does indeed have a cousin from Imloth Melui. All else is my interpretation.
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.