1. From the Ashes
I have observed them while I gather up soiled bandages. They are a warm and open people, laughing as easily as weeping, even here in the Houses, where death is too prominent.
Sometimes I hear them singing quietly, and wonder what the words mean.
The accent is thick, yet the words roll in a most pleasing manner.
I turn from my basket and forget to breathe. Here is the one I have watched most, with his deep blue eyes and dark gold hair, looking as if he has just torn across the plains a-horseback.
"Can you tell me where to find the Lady Eowyn? I have messages to deliver."
He smiles his thanks as I direct him toward the proper hallway, and I discover that I have both found and lost my heart.
She is neither healer nor herbalist; she is the girl who collects soiled bandages and brings new.
But once I saw her help hold down a man - one of my fellow Riders- whose leg had to be amputated, and, though her face went white and the queasiness was clearly written on her face, she did not loosen her hold.
She always has time for a kind word or warm smile for bored men who are not yet healed enough to leave the Houses.
Yesterday I asked her for directions to Lady Eowyn's room. Her cheeks flushed pink when my gaze met her shining grey eyes, and my heart leapt, for I had not dared hope.
I must find out if she is spoken for.
He is frequently in the Houses, delivering messages to his Lady, visiting other Riders who are still abed.
I have seen him speaking quietly with those nearest death; though I do not understand his language, his tone is soothing and comforting. And when the most severely wounded finally succumb, I have seen him weep as if the other man was a brother of his flesh.
"He has asked after you," one of the youngest Healers tells me, and I cannot repress the smile that comes to my face. She grins knowingly. "Then I was right to tell him you are not bespoken?"
He has asked after me.
"You are Mereneth?" When I ask this simple question, she lights up as if I were Éorl himself.
Oh, she is lovely, with dark tendrils of hair wisping about her face and a smile that reaches the furthest depths of her eyes. She would melt a heart stouter than mine.
"I am," she says with the slightest colour creeping into her cheeks. "How may I help you, Rider?"
"I am told that you are in charge of the linens?" I say, regretting the banality of the request, but having found no other reason to approach her. "Might my companion have another blanket? He is so cold, and I would not have his last moments be uncomfortable."
I do not know what I have said, but she reaches out - unconsciously, I am sure - and places her hand lightly on my forearm. It is warm, even through my tunic.
"Of course," she replies softly. "You need only ask, and I will do what I can."
I am indeed utterly lost.
He tells me his name is Renward. He is no lord nor lord's son; he is a Rider of the Eastmark.
The gardens are popular with men who are not entirely invalid but have not been released from the care of the Houses, and it is here I find him one day in the company of one of his companions, a man whose leg had to be amputated.
Renward rises immediately, half-bowing as if I were the Queen of Gondor.
I see his friend grinning in approval, and somehow I am certain that they were just speaking of me.
Renward extends his hand, almost carefully. "Will you walk awhile?" he asks, blue eyes serious.
I take his hand. "I would," I say, trying to ignore the warmth of his fingers against mine, "but that I cannot leave my work at present." I cannot prevent myself from speaking further, though I may seem forward. "But I shall be free after the evening meal."
Oh, how his eyes catch and hold me.
"I shall return then," he promises, and lightly brushes his thumb over my palm before releasing me.
When she is not in the Houses, Mereneth lets her dark hair free of its bonds, and I am often seized with the desire to plunge my hands into her soft curls.
We walk often, though never below the fourth circle, for I am given to understand that it would be improper for her to be seen in lower levels in the company of a man who is not a husband or relative.
Mereneth tells me nearly all of her male kin were killed in the War; she tells me that she lives now with her sister's family.
Soon I must ask her mother for formal permission to court her. There is no talk, other than the gentle, approving joking of the men in my éored; these are strange times, and many niceties of such behaviour have been pushed aside.
But my mind is decided; indeed, has been decided for many days. I have not known Mereneth long, but if she is willing to leave Mundberg, then I shall take her to wife.
If the warm glow in her eyes when she looks at me is any indication, I shall not be refused.
Many days, as I am finishing my work, Renward arrives at the Houses, and I am subject to the teasing talk of the other workers in the Houses.
I do not care; I know they are wishing that a fine, handsome man of Rohan would pay court to them, for more than one has said so.
We walk often, and I show him the City of my birth. He tells me of the Eastemnet, and of his life in Rohan; he tells me of wide open plains and fields of grass that never end, and he is so passionate that I long to see such a land.
My mother and sister cannot help but notice the change in me - I am afraid I am not good at hiding my emotions - and fortunately, they are approving.
We are sitting in the gardens of the Houses, speaking of nothing, when Renward turns a suddenly aching gaze on me. I do not know what he sees in my eyes, but he leans toward me, and kisses me as I have so wanted him to do.
Oh, it is a dangerous kiss, for it awakens sensations in my body that I did not know I could feel. Willingly, I open my mouth beneath his and his arms go around my waist, drawing me against his strong chest.
Too soon he pulls back, although it is likely a wise action.
"Shall I speak to your mother?" he asks, as if he does not already know the answer.
"This very night," I say, and I stand, holding my hand out to him.
I am nervous as a green boy when I speak to Mereneth's mother, but my fears are unfounded.
She gives her consent readily, and I can see that Mereneth's family is pleased.
I do not wait once her mother agrees; I turn to my leofost and formally ask her for her hand.
She surprises me by throwing herself into my arms, and covering my face in kisses, which she cannot know is utter torture even while it is sheerest joy.
We will have to wed before returning to Rohan; it would be most improper for her to travel such a distance in my company, and I do not want to be parted from her for any longer than is necessary.
I seek out the Lord Éomer, for while he is to be King, he is now still my Marshal, and I must obtain his permission as well.
He seems tired and a bit harried, but a great beaming smile breaks across his face when I ask my question.
"Of course," he says, clapping my shoulder. "I am glad to find that happiness has come of this war. Marry this Gondorian, Renward, and love her well."
There is no fear that I will not.
There are still many Rohirrim in the Houses who are not well enough to travel, and Renward has asked to remain behind when Theoden King's funeral procession leaves for Rohan.
I tell him that I will not be angry if he goes, for I am sure it is important to him, but he merely looks at me as if I had taken fever and says, "My companions need me more than does the King."
I look at him and say, "As do I."
And he takes me in his arms and kisses me soundly, setting my blood a-boil.
We are not wed until the 21st of September, and though it has barely been six months since I first laid eyes on his fair face, it seems as if an eternity has passed. I can barely remember not knowing Renward.
My sister -- for my mother was too timid-- explained the wedding night to me, but she did not tell me of how it feels to have a man exploring your body with greatest care. She did not tell me how a hungry mouth on yours can wake trembling fire in your veins, nor how the heat of a man's body against yours can make you ache for him with all your being, even knowing that there will be pain. And she did not tell me that the pain is swifter than fleeting, quickly overwhelmed by nothing but sheer desire to feel him moving inside you, the need to hold to him and keep him close until you are gasping for release. She did not tell me how it sends a burst of pure heat through your limbs to hear a man calling your name in passion.
She did not tell me how comforting and safe it feels to fall asleep in your husband's arms, knowing that he will protect you from whatever may come.
I stay behind when the funeral procession departs for Edoras; there are still many Rohirrim in the houses, and I would not abandon them.
Of course, I also do not want to leave Mereneth, and when she tells me that she will not be angry if I go, I cannot help kissing her sweet understanding face.
We are wed September 21st, and it is as if I have waited an eternity for her. I am glad I did not meet her until after the Shadow had passed, for now I do not have to worry for the safety of my wife and children. Certainly there will still be skirmishes, but since Mordor has been overthrown, my heart does not fear for the future as it once did.
I am careful, though my need for her is strong, for I do not want to cause her more pain than necessary. I let my hands and mouth wander every inch of her smooth skin, reveling in the taste of her, in her soft exclamations, in the trembling of her warm body beneath mine. She nearly undoes me by gasping my name into my ear as I enter her slowly; nearly pushes me beyond endurance when she arches into me and pulls me closer.
It is slow, and achingly needful, and I would that we could continue for days.
And when we are finished, my wife falls asleep in my arms, and I am content beyond anything I have ever known.
Sometimes Renward asks me, "Do you miss your family?"
I always tell him the same thing. "My family is here, leofost."
Then he smiles that smile which first stole my heart, places his hand on my swollen belly, and kisses my waiting mouth.
I might miss my mother and sister, but I would not be in Minas Tirith for all the gold in the land.
When I ask Mereneth, "Do you miss your family?", she always smiles and says, "My family is here, leofost," in her terrible accent.
Then I cannot help touching her round stomach, and feeling the child within, as I kiss her tempting mouth.
I would have stayed in Minas Tirith for her, if she had asked it.
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.