Two days to go and she still hadn't thought of a solution. About an hour before Ivriniel was due to come with the finished dress, Éowyn emerged from her quarters in her riding habit, and ten minutes later she left the main gate of the city on horseback and trotted down the southbound road. She didn't intend to stay away long, just long enough to buy her some time to think of something, anything. The green, blooming landscape filled her vision, while she tried to turn her mind to a way out of the trap.
Could she escape the stuffed pheasant robe if she spilled red wine over it? But no, that had happened before, according to Ivriniel, and the dress had been restored. Éowyn wondered if whoever had knocked over the table at the wedding of - was it Belecthor and Lothwen? – had done so on purpose to save future generation from the monstrous gown. Much as this thought amused her, it was no solution to her predicament.
She could, of course, downright refuse. Nobody would dare to put the gown on her by force. But it didn't seem right indeed to antagonize Faramir's relations before she had even married him, she conceded that much. And what if Ivriniel was right and wearing a different dress would really cause a scandal at the court? If only Faramir was willing to stand up for her. But each time she tried to raise the matter, he laughed it off and told her not to worry about such trifling matters. She shouldn't fret, he said, for didn't he love her regardless of what clothes she wore? And it was only for a few hours, he said, a small sacrifice for the greater good of all. He simply did not understand that to be married in this dress seemed like a fate worse than death. It was most exasperating indeed.
With these ruminations crawling through her head, she rode on and on. It was only when she reached the summit of a small hill and saw the River Erui in the valley ahead that she realized just how far she had come. The city lay some twenty miles behind her. The sun stood in the West, hovering over the summits of the White Mountains, and she guessed that it was around six o'clock. With her horse now tired, it would take her at least three hours to get back. She turned and steered her mare back northwards.
Éowyn did not delude herself with any hopes that her delay would result in anything other than exciting Ivriniel's anger. It was too late to try on the dress, but she would have to do it the following day. Then again, maybe some inspiration would come to her this evening.
She had underestimated Ivriniel's persistence. When she finally arrived back in the citadel, she found the old lady and her two maids - meek and puny creatures both of them - waiting in her day chamber. Faramir jumped up from his seat.
"See, aunt, here she is. I told you she wouldn't be long. Did you lose a horseshoe, dear?"
He gave Éowyn a stern look that belied his jovial tones.
"Yes," she said, grateful for the ready-made excuse.
"You should not have ridden out in the first place on such a crucial day," said Ivriniel in her most milk-curdling voice. "This is the third time I have come back to see if you had arrived at last."
Faramir kissed Éowyn briefly on the cheek.
"I shall leave you ladies to it then. Good night Éowyn, good night, Aunt Ivriniel," he said and made for the door. Immediately Ivriniel and her maids surrounded Éowyn and began to take off her riding habit. She didn't resist. The attack had been too unexpected.
While the maids busied themselves with slotting Éowyn into the dress like a doll, Ivriniel lit all the candles, for the light was already dim in this north-facing room with the curtains drawn. Then she brought over a big mirror in a silver frame, mounted on casters.
"I asked Queen Arwen for a loan of this mirror so you could see yourself, girl. Well, I dare say we have done splendid work. The gown fits perfectly! Is it not magnificent?"
Éowyn glanced at her reflection. There was no telling by sight whether or not the shapeless mountain of lace and brocade fitted well. By feel, she had to suspect that Ivriniel's idea of a good fit was best described as "tight and uncomfortable." She didn't do Ivriniel the favour of uttering exclamations of delight. After a few minutes of tense expectation, during which Ivriniel tried in various way to elicit a compliment form Éowyn, the prospective bride was eventually dismantled and the dress reverently laid on the round table by one of the maids.
Éowyn slipped into her plain day gown. Ivriniel, apparently resigned to make do without passionate expressions of thanks, patted her on the shoulder.
"So, now you are all set for the big day. Do you have any suitable jewels to wear?"
Éowyn held her breath. She looked at the table where the dress lay spread out and then across the room to the oak cabinet that contained her trinket box. She looked at the dozen or so candles burning in the tall candelabra that stood by the table. She closed her eyes for a second and saw what she needed to do.
"I have a beautiful necklace that Faramir gave me on our betrothal," she said. "I keep it in a box in that cabinet over there. Just wait, I'll show it to you."
It was so easily done: walking past the table and as if by accident brushing the dress to the floor. Turning around in mock surprise, knocking over the candelabra with her elbow and, before any of the other ladies had quite understood what was going on, kneeling down to make sure that there was a nice, gaping hole burnt into the fabric. How fortunate that the starched lace caught the fire so easily. Éowyn grinned. Then she patted out the flames with a cloth.
"Oh dear, how clumsy of me!" Éowyn tried in vain to suppress the excited tremor in her voice, and it was just lucky that the others mistook it for a genuine expression of shock. Ivriniel seized the dress and wailed: "Ruined! The wedding dress of the Steward's family is ruined! Oh, that I have to see the day of such misfortune! Has anything worse ever happened in Gondor?"
Éowyn covered her face with her hands to hide her smirk, which conveniently gave her the appearance of one overcome with shame and horror.
"I am so sorry," she whispered, not trusting her voice to conceal her feelings of triumph. "So very, very sorry. That lovely dress! I had grown so fond of it." She broke off. If she said any more, she wouldn't be able to stop herself from laughing hysterically.
The two maids crowded around Ivriniel and surveyed the damage. There was a hole the size of a fist halfway down the skirt of the dress with three smaller holes around it and another large one a bit further down. Several of the lace fringes were badly singed. Éowyn peeked through her fingers to reassure herself that the dress was incapacitated without doubt.
She had won. It felt like slaying the witch king all over again.
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.