7. Red and White
Her husband's concern and the healers' wisdom, however, could not be gainsaid, and so here she rested, surrounded by soft cushions, soft-voiced attendants, and peace.
Each afternoon, her sons were allowed a brief visit, and having had the necessity of quietude fiercely impressed upon them they were rarely as boisterous as two young boys might have been expected to be. Their visits were precious to her, paid for in the coin of sudden exhaustion.
Meril opened the door. "Are you ready, my lady?"
"Of course. Please tell Haleth to bring them in."
Shepherded in by their nurse, Boromir and Faramir huddled together, looking conspiratorial. She caught a glimpse of leaves half-hidden behind their backs and smiled. Another motley bouquet for her, full of straggling vetch and cornflowers from the Pelennor, no doubt.
Faramir thrust it forth, and the little speech of thanks she had readied caught in Finduilas' throat. Behind her she heard Meril's stricken gasp.
"Mother, what's wrong?" Boromir cried, pushing past his younger brother. "Your face is white!"
"Naught, naught, my lads – 'twas just a cough. Now come, and let me thank you properly for your lovely gift."
Reassured, the boys pressed close and presented her with their trailing burden so that their mother could admire the wild roses and frothy queen's lace. Meril made to speak, but her protest was cut off with a shake of Finduilas' head.
As soon as her sons left, Finduilas fell back on to the pillows as carefully hoarded strength drained from her. Meril gingerly picked up the bunch of flowers on the bed using only her fingertips, as though it were a mass of poisonous weeds.
"Don't throw those away, Meril," she warned. "Tomorrow Faramir and Boromir will want to see that I liked them well enough to keep."
"If you insist, my lady - but I’ll not have the things in here! They can stay in the outer room."
"Meril, don't be so harsh. They had no idea what those flowers meant; they are Minas Tirith boys, after all, not of Dol Amroth. And you and I both know no simple posy can kill – or save – me now."
Meril's eyes fell, for the friend and companion who had travelled north with her many years ago still refused to see what Finduilas perceived all too clearly: that she would never rise from this sickbed again.
And still the doggerel rhyme she had learned as a girl, warning against giving red and white blossoms together, rang in her ears.
Red, for blood shed;
white for a death night.
* * * * * * *
Author's Note: I had never heard of this particular belief before, but doing some online research I found a taboo against bunching white and red flowers together cited as one of the most widespread flower superstitions. Apparently, not so long ago, hospital staff would never allow a vase of red and white flowers to be brought onto a ward in case the death of a patient followed.
The lame rhyme is my own invention. ;-)
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