41. To be in Ithilien
A/N: The poem "Oh, to be in Ithilien" is based on the poem "Oh, to be in England" by Robert Browning (1812-1889)
To be in Ithilien
We rode in silence out of Minas Tirith and across the Fields of the Pelennor.
Our escort was a long line of children and women who were still occupied with carrying stones to the grave mounds at the sides of the road. They had been working steadily during those two days I had spent at Minas Tirith. Now there were not many gaps left among the many grave mounds at the sides of the eastern road. To my relief most of the carrion birds had also left the Pelennor; only a few black crows were still around waiting for their chance. The piles of dead enemies and horses at the edge of the broken eastern wall of the Rammas Echor were burned down to heaps of stinking, smoking black ashes.
As we passed the many grave mounds of white stones to our left and to our right, I saw men and women walking slowly across the fields of the Pelennor with large sacks on their back. Every now and again they bent down, picked something up and threw the item in the sack they carried. Bergil, who was riding next to me on a small black horse, followed my gaze.
"They are picking up broken swords and helms and such," he explained. "The fields have to be tilled and broken armour and weaponry will dull the blade of the plough. Look, over there, at the foot of the Mindolluin they are already at work with a plough!"
He pointed at the north-western edge of the Pelennor. He was right. In the bright spring morning a sturdy farm horse was drawing a plough across violated soil of the Pelennor, a peasant woman walking behind it, holding the reins. Most of the men currently in Minas Tirith were wounded, so it was up to the old, the women and the children to bury the dead and begin the repairs.
Perhaps the farmer is still with the host and will return, once the celebrations at Cormallen are over, I thought. But at the back of my mind there was this small voice again asking, who do you think you are kidding?
Quickly I turned my head away from the scene and stared straight ahead.
I was glad when we finally passed the ruined walls of the Rammas Echor and left the Pelennor behind us.
"Today we ride to Osgiliath," Merry called up to me. He was clad in the white and green livery of a squire of Rohan. I have to admit, he looked the part, too, young and strong – and undeniably handsome. Only when you got close enough to notice his hairy feet with their leathery soles, you realized that he wasn't a boy after all, but something different, a halfling, and a hobbit.
"At Osgiliath they have ferries ready to transport all that stuff to Cair Andros," he went on. "We can either go with the ferries or ride north on the banks of the Anduin. The guards don't like for us to ride on our own, but they had to admit that it's quite safe now that the war's over. So it's up to you to decide, my lady."
I glared at him. I rode with Merry and Bergil. The young men, hobbit and human, had appointed themselves my escort. They rode on their smaller mounts on either side of me, Merry in the green and white colours of Rohan, Bergil in the black and white of the guards of the citadel. They had taken to calling me 'my lady' and sat very straight and proud in their saddles. A noble lady and her escort…
The only thing that did not fit the image of two young noble squires riding with their lady was me. Not the horse, of course. Mithril was as gorgeous as ever, the horse of a queen, an image straight from a fairy tale, silver-white, strong and beautiful.
But I only looked the way I always do. Even when I'm at my best I look only pretty, a young woman with a curvy figure and long brown hair, nothing special in any way. But at the moment I looked rather more like a ragamuffin gipsy of a messenger girl and certainly not a noble lady. I had become very thin during the last months. It was an interesting experience to actually feel too thin. And I did. I felt all bony and angular. The green tunic I wore was faded at the edges, the jeans were almost white with wear and their fabric had grown so flimsy at the knees and the thighs that I knew I would not be able to wear them for much longer and be decently attired. Then there were those bandages around my wrists, streaked with dirt after only a few hours' ride, still giving me what I called in my mind the "failed suicide look".
I had also made the mistake of looking in a mirror in the Houses of Healing when I was dressed and ready to go this morning. Well, there was nothing to be done about it. I would have to concentrate on the green of my tunic, which brought out a rather interesting deep green hue in my eyes that I had noticed before. I would simply have to live with that scar. At least it had healed in a neat white line. That orc scar, a nice straight cut delivered by a scimitar. A neat, white line across my right jaw, parts of my throat and hidden under my tunic, right across my left breast. I tried to take some comfort in the fact that my hair had grown a fair bit and with no hair dryers to dry it smoothly, it had developed some sort of natural waves. No real curls, but at least some waves. As I had been able to wash my hair thoroughly the night before, I had let my hair down this morning and the soft spring breeze swept it up from my shoulder now and again.
But you can see that all in all my appearance was not really up to creating an image of a noble lady escorted by two pretty young squires…
Oh, well. What did it matter? There was no one around to really look at me, or, horror of horrors, take a picture. As we slowly rode towards Osgiliath, I observed the shadows of our horses and their riders on the ground to our left. The shadows were – at least where I was concerned – better than the real thing. They looked pretty beautiful in fact, the horses and the silhouettes of Merry and Bergil with their helms and their swords jutting out at their hips, and Mithril's great shadow and my hair blowing in the wind.
Osgiliath was a shock.
I should have expected it, of course.
Osgiliath had been overrun by the enemy. There was not as much as two stones left standing of the entire city. Everything was in a rubble of broken, smoke-blackened stones and burned beams of wood.
As on the fields of the Pelennor, here, too, were grave mounds of white stones at the sides of the road, where the fallen fighters of the West had been buried. At a fair distance from the city, there was a circle of ashes on the ground, from where the wind carried the stink of death and flesh burned to charcoal up to us.
However, as the city had been left to the enemy, there were not as many white mounds as there were on the Pelennor. Only when the ring had been destroyed, Osgiliath had been retaken by the armies of the West. With their leader destroyed, the heart had left the enemies still barricaded in Osgiliath, and the city could be reclaimed with almost no casualties on the side of the allied troops.
The quays of Osgiliath had already been restored, and now three large ferries were waiting in the blue floods of the Anduin to be loaded with goods to be shipped up to Cair Andros and the field of Cormallen.
We stayed in army tents for the night, waiting for the loading of the ferries to be completed.
In the morning we rose with the dawn and had a sparse breakfast with a strong kettle of tírithel and some grey bread. Then we had to decide whether to go accompany the supplies on the ferries, or cross the Anduin and ride to Cormallen on our own. The guards wanted us to go with the ferry. I did not like ferries. I would have preferred to ride.
"Well, my lady," Bergil asked. "What shall we do? Shall we go with the ferries or try the bridge?"
The bridge in question was a make-shift, swimming bridge of beams that were haphazardly tied together and kept afloat with many empty barrels fastened to their sides. The stone bridge of Osgiliath had been destroyed in the battle. I pursed my lips. The Anduin was too deep, and its currents were far too strong to be swum across. I did not like the look of the bridge. It was swaying this way and that, sometimes dipping into the water. Would it even hold Mithril's weight?
I sighed. I don't like ferries. "Let's try to get the horses on the ferry."
But this was easier said than done.
Mithril did not like the ferry. It took us more than an hour of soothing and many kind words in Sindarin and Westron to persuade her to walk up the plank and onto the ferry.
Once on the ferry, she kept snorting and tossing her head and stepping closer and closer to me, so that she almost threw me into the water trying to seek shelter in my arms.
It took a long time to calm her down.
But finally the lines were loosened. Sails were unfurled, caught the wind and we were off. The Anduin is broad enough for regular ships up to Cair Andros but sailing it is difficult. Its currents are strong, and the wind can turn suddenly. But we were lucky. The wind was strong that spring and blew steadily from the south-west, driving the ferries smoothly against the currents and up the river towards Cair Andros.
Nevertheless it was not a comfortable voyage as Mithril could not be left alone, at least during the first day on the river. The swaying motion of the ship frightened her, so I had to stay with her all the time and soothe her.
I did not blame her. I did not much like the ferry either. But around midnight that first day of the river, I was so hoarse that I could barely croak from whispering Sindarin encouragements to the horse. I finally fell asleep curled around Mithril's legs. I am really lucky that the voyage ran smoothly, or I would have been trampled to death by my own horse's hooves. But I was lucky. Nothing happened that night. I slept soundly and – Eru be praised! – did not dream.
In the morning I was woken by soft horse breath blowing warmly on my neck.
This second day of our voyage Mithril was much calmer. She seemed to think that if she had survived one night on this swaying horror, she would survive the rest of the voyage, too.
Boy, was I grateful!
The voyage was pleasant from then on. I sat with Bergil and Merry at the bow of the ferry and watched the shores of Ithilien float by.
Ithilien is a beautiful land, a green land of hills and dells and meadows. As Sauron had gained control of it only in the last months, he had not been able to destroy its beauty. Now with spring in full sway, it was truly fair. I saw soft green hills grown with cherry trees and apple trees clad bridal white with an abundance of blossoms. There were also many sweet smelling almond-trees adding their pink colour to the white, and alders added their own heady perfume to the soft airs of spring. Light copses of wood grew here and there in small dells and hollows, beech trees and ashes and alders, their young leaves unfolding in a soft green-gold fuzz. I realized that apart from occasional holly trees, there were no needle trees in this land at all, and the leaved trees were all of a kind known even on earth for their power to guard against black magic. I realized that Ithilien was nothing so much as a living shelter against the darkness that had lain hidden behind the dark slopes of the Ephel Dúath in the east.
I inhaled the golden air of spring, tasting its sweetness, the warm breeze stroking my cheeks and I sighed in contentment. A memory of an English spring poem by Browning stirred in my mind, and changing some lines to adapt it to Ithilien, I smiled at the passing willows and the cherry, apple and almond trees covered in clouds of white and pink blossoms and recited the lines that I remembered:
"Oh, to be in Ithilien
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in Ithilien
Sees, some morning unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
To be in Ithil – now!"
Merry and Bergil clapped their hands.
"That's pretty," Bergil said. "And I don't know it at all. Who is the poet?"
I blushed and cleared my throat. "It's an adaptation from a poem of my home. I just felt it suits Ithilien very well."
Bergil smiled. "Yes, it does. I really hope they will rebuild Osgiliath. I'd like to be stationed there. It's nicer with the river and the woods than Minas Tirith, where you have all the houses and the mountain's shadow around you."
He was right, I thought. Though I, for my part, decided that I would really like to see Edoras in spring and the vast plains of Rohan all covered with fresh green growth. But Minas Tirith was beautiful, too, and would be even more beautiful, once the destruction of war had been cleared away and the houses and gardens would be rebuilt.
We reached Cair Andros and the field of Cormallen in the evening of the fifth of April.
The sun was setting in bright colours of red and gold and orange, the twilight not black but blue, deep indigo and Prussian blue settling on the floods of the Anduin and growing under the trees of Ithilien's woods.
Cair Andros is an island in the Anduin, shaped like a ship and fortified against the enemy in the east. It is a great castle built of grey stones set in the rushing blue currents of the Anduin.
It is awesome, and its towers rise high in the sky. From its highest tower you have the most awesome view of Anórien, Ithilien and Minas Tirith at the southern horizon.
But when we arrived, we did not moor at the quays of that island-fortress. We turned to the eastern banks of the Anduin. Just north of where the river Andros joins the Anduin there are quays built into the banks of the Anduin. In past days the boats carrying supplies for Henneth Annûn anchored here. Now we moored there, bringing supplies and provisions for the celebration of our victory against Sauron.
As soon as the plank touched the stone of the quays, Mithril freed her reins from my grasp, took a mighty leap and jumped ashore, neighing and snorting and dancing nervously. I ran after her and managed to regain hold of her reins. Whispering soothing Sindarin endearments to her, I allowed her to get rid off her anxiety before pulling slightly on her reins, drawing her close to me. I softly blew on her muzzle and stroked her beautiful head. Gradually calming down she snorted at me, mingling her warm, humid horse-breath with my own breathing. Soothing Mithril in that way had become quite natural for me by now. In fact I felt just as soothed by this procedure as the horse was.
Suddenly I felt the tiny hairs at the back of my neck prickle. I felt as if there was someone standing behind me, watching me. I turned around, and felt my heart speed up. There was someone behind me. Éomer was standing in the shadow of a large elm tree above the quays, no doubt drawn to the river by the voice of the Meara and her antics.
Éomer had changed since I had seen him the last time. Grief and pain had added a certain harshness to his features. His hair curled down to his shoulders, a mixture of dun and gold, his eyes were dark and deep. He had grown a beard that was not very tidily kept and shimmered in a slightly darker hue than the rest of his hair.
He was staring at me with amazement in his eyes.
I whispered to Mithril to behave and bowed deeply. "Your royal highness."
To my surprise and intense embarrassment, Éomer bowed to me in return. "My Lady Lothíriel. How wonderful to see you!"
His voice had changed, too. It was a little husky, not quite as liquid as it had been. But perhaps even more beautiful, like velvet rubbing across your bare skin.
I swallowed hard. "It's good to see you, too, my lord. Your highness."
"Where is my sister, pray, where is Éowyn? I hoped she was well enough to come for the celebrations?" he asked, his voice filled with worry.
"Don't worry, my lord, your highness. Éowyn is well. I carry a message from her to you. She is fine, but she does not feel up to songs and rejoicing yet."
I held out her message to her brother. It was only a small piece of parchment, sealed in red with the horse head of Rohan clearly visible.
Éomer broke the seal and quickly scanned the letter. When he raised his head his eyes suddenly glittered with unshed tears.
"Did you know?" he asked, his voice filled with joy.
I smiled back at him. "Yes, your highness, I did. Your sister is my friend. But it is not the place of a friend to give such news to the brother."
He smiled at me, and that smile took away the lines in his face, the hard experiences of war, showing him for a moment as the young man that he was. "But what happy news this is! It comforts my heart greatly! And I am happy to see you and see you well!"
I blushed and bowed my head. "Thank you, your highness," I mumbled.
"Don't call me that, please, as a friend of my sister you should call me by my name, just as she does. And those strange titles make any conversation uncomfortable," he said, reaching out for my hands to take Mithril's reins from me.
When his fingers touched my hands, I felt a tingling sensation spread through my body. He hesitated for an instance, dark eyes searching for mine. I quickly looked away, exhaling the breath I had been holding in a soft sigh.
"May I help you with Mithril? I know where Shadowfax is quartered, she should feel glad of her sire's company, methinks," his voice was dark and soft as the deepening twilight around us.
"Gladly, sire," I answered.
"Éomer," he insisted.
I felt heat rise in my cheeks. Not enough that I knew real nobility in Middle-earth that should be addressed with the most extraordinary titles. Now all of them seemed to insist on me addressing them with their personal names. How should I ever get used to Gondorian or Rohirric etiquette that way?
"Try it. Please, my lady. It's easy. Say it for me. Say my name!" Éomer repeated.
Why was it so important to him to hear his name?
I looked into his eyes. His eyes were a really dark brown. A rich dark brown like the darkest chocolate, or a shadowy pool under tall green trees. There was a hint of pleading in his eyes, a sense of loss. Suddenly I understood. He had ridden to war as the heir to the throne. Now the war was won, and he was king. His old life was over, just as the war was. But he – his sense of himself – was still lost somewhere in the turmoil of these dark days.
"Éomer," I said. And again. "Éomer."
Something like relief spread across Éomer's face. A hint of a smile crept back to his lips. I felt an answering smile light my own face.
"And would you say my name, too?" I asked and regretted it instantly. What did I think I was playing at?
Éomer looked at me for a long moment, his eyes dark and calm.
"Lothíriel," he said softly and his husky voice felt like a subtle caress running down my back.
The field of Cormallen is a triangular piece of land between the banks of the Anduin to the west and the south and the small stream of the river Andros flowing down from the hidden pool of Henneth Annûn. It is also called "Field of Gold" because it is surrounded by culumalda trees. Culumalda are the golden beeches of Ithilien. In spring the fuzz on their leaves is pale golden, and their blossoms are yellow. In summer the undersides of the leaves are silver-golden and the upper sides are green, veined in gold. But in the autumn the leaves turn to a deep golden hue. They fall to the ground as all leaves of all trees do outside of Lórien, but neither rain nor snow will turn them brown. The field of Cormallen thus stays golden until May when the new grass reaches higher than the leaves left on the ground from the previous year.
This was the field that was being prepared for the celebrations.
There were the large tents and rich pavilions where the king of Gondor and the leaders of the Host of the West resided, Aragorn, Éomer, Gandalf, Prince Imrahil, the sons of Elrond and Haldir, the captain of the Galadhrim archers, the most noble among them.
The remains of the Host of the West were camped a few yards north of Cormallen on a wide green meadow above the Anduin. Of the seven thousand warriors that had set out for the Morannon only three thousand had survived. Later I learned that of the fifteen thousand fighters that had joined in the Host of the West at Minas Tirith only six thousand and eight hundred returned home. During the actual battles every second fighter was killed, and many more died later from their wounds.
But of this I knew nothing as Éomer led me to the field of Cormallen that evening. I only saw brightly lit tents on the meadow above the Anduin and many colourful banners streaming above the tents in the wind. I saw the shapes of men and elves sitting around the camp fires in the growing twilight. Songs filled the air. Some were hymns sung in the pure, clear voices of elves; others held the darker harmonies of human songs.
The war was won, and hope was in the air with the sweet, sweet fragrance of spring.
As we neared the pavilions and tents of the leaders of the West, Mithril neighed suddenly. It sounded as if she called out to a friend. A moment later another horse neighed in answer from not very far away. It was Shadowfax, of course, who had been grazing among the culumalda behind Gandalf's tent.
Now he came running towards us and eagerly greeted his daughter and fellow Meara.
I smiled at the sight. "They seem to have a lot to talk about," I commented.
"And why shouldn't they?" Éomer said. "So much has happened since they saw each other the last time." Somehow I had the feeling that he was talking not only about the horses.
"Come, I will help you with Mithril." Éomer told me, and quickly unsaddled the mare.
Working together we had her brushed and her hooves cleaned in a matter of twenty minutes.
It never occurred to me to wonder why a king might do such work by himself, alone in the twilight with a young woman. I did mention that I am a little stupid sometimes, didn't I?
When we had finished, we watched as Mithril eagerly turned towards her sire, and soon the two horses were standing head against tail, keeping flies away and rubbing each other's side in the comfortable caresses of horses that like each other and have a lot to talk about.
"May I escort you to the pavilion of the king now? I think there are some people waiting for you there, my lady Lothíriel," Éomer held out his arm to me.
"Oh yes." I felt my cheeks grow hot with embarrassment. For a time I had completely forgotten about the message I carried. "And I have a message for the Prince Imrahil from his wife. He is alright, isn't he? He is alive?"
"Yes, he is, alive and well, a great hero of the war. Your message will be safely delivered in a few minutes. Now, come, my lady Lothíriel. You have to be hungry and weary after a long day on the river."
Éomer led me to the largest tent at the back of the field of Cormallen. A large banner set with stars flowed above it in the soft breeze. In the antechamber of the tent there was a table laid out with porcelain bowls and ewers with hot and cold water and perfumed soaps.
I washed away the dust and sweat of voyage and horse-cleaning with sighs of pleasure.
Éomer also washed his hands and face (without sighing). When I was finished with my ablutions, I discovered that Éomer was waiting for me. His hair, now dark and damp, curled around his cheeks and jaws. I drew a shaky breath.
There was something about Éomer that was definitely disconcerting.
A servant in the black and white livery of Minas Tirith slipped through the heavy blue drapes that separated the antechamber from the main room of the tent and bowed respectfully to us. "My lady, your highness, the King awaits you."
Excitement swept through me and made me tremble all over.
It did not help that Éomer chose that moment to take my hand in order to lead me into the main room of the tent. "Come, my lady Lothíriel. There's no reason to be nervous. After all you have travelled long weeks in the company of the King."
Drawn aside by servants, the heavy blue curtains parted before us to admit us to the tent of the king.
It was the fifth of April and I had arrived at the Field of Cormallen.
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.