And this was the wedding day come at last. Even before Éowyn sat down for breakfast, Acha brought in a large tin bath and began to fill it. Bucket after bucket of water was heated over the fire, and when Éowyn had finished her meal, her bath was ready. She leaned back into the warm, rose-scented water while Acha washed her hair.
"So who will accompany you then, my lady?" asked Acha.
"I do not know," replied Éowyn. "Princess Lothíriel has named the maids of honour for me. Lord Faramir thought that would be best, since I would not have known who to choose without causing offence in one quarter or other."
"You would have liked getting married at home, my lady, with trusted friends around you. It is a shame that Lady Eadlin could not have come with you as your lady in waiting."
"Well, I'm sure she preferred getting married herself, Acha. And I didn't want to drag anyone away from the Mark. I will find new companions here." She sat up. "This water is getting cold, please help me out of the tub."
It took a while to dry Éowyn's long blonde hair. The fire made the room too hot, and Éowyn felt uncomfortably warm even in just her shift. She shuddered at the thought that, had it not been for her presence of mind, she would be looking forward to a day spent in a fur lined gown.
By noon, the crown of braids was finished and Acha stepped over to fetch the green dress from the clotheshorse. Just then, they heard voices from the day chamber.
"Lady Éowyn! Are you decent?"
Acha walked over to the door and opened it a crack. She had to step back quickly so as not be pushed aside when Lady Ivriniel marched in with her two maids in tow.
"You need to get more attendants, girl. It will not do to let people stand knocking at your door because your only maid is in the bedchamber with you."
Éowyn stared. One of the maids held a large item wrapped in brown linen over her arm. A fringe of black lace peeped out at one end.
"You've brought back the dress," Éowyn whispered.
Ivriniel's features softened. She opened the folds of linen to reveal what Éowyn had hoped never to see again.
"Yes, we have saved it. I knew you would be glad. Fortunately I had a good supply of black lace with me. See, we inserted pieces of plain brown brocade and then moved this lace frill to cover the patches. Nobody will notice."
She took the dress off the maid and held it up for Éowyn to inspect. Éowyn shrunk back from the menacing rustle of the ruff.
"Lady Ivriniel," she began, "much as I appreciate your efforts in making this dress available to me, I have decided to wear the gown I brought with me from Rohan. It is not an heirloom, but it is also traditional, in that it sports the colours and the emblem of the Riddermark."
Ivriniel paid no attention to this claim, but held out the gruesome gown and gestured to Éowyn to step in. Éowyn shook her head.
"I will not wear this dress."
"My nephew wishes it," said Ivriniel.
"When did he say so?"
"Just now, before I came here."
She is lying, Éowyn though, Faramir would not order me. But she couldn't be sure. Faramir had been very fond of his mother; that much she knew. Would he be offended if she refused to wear the dress Finduilas had worn? It was so hard to tell. And then she felt the treacherous warmth in her eyes, and her vision blurred. She gritted her teeth. No tears in front of Ivriniel!
It was an awkward moment, with silence stretching from wall to wall and with four pairs of eyes fastened on her.
"He wishes it most particularly," said Ivriniel, "in memory of his mother."
Éowyn's resistance collapsed. She could not believe that Faramir would really insist, given how little interest he had shown in the whole matter, but she felt incapable of accusing the old lady of lying. She hesitated. Then she became aware that the moment for putting up a fight had irrevocably passed. Ivriniel and her maids advanced on her like a pack of wolves and encased her body in the dead-pheasant robe. It took but a few minutes and the deed was done. Almost immediately she began to feel too warm. Several pounds of lace and brocade dragged at her shoulders. Her chin was forced up by the scratchy ruff. It was every bit as bad as she had imagined.
"There now," said Ivriniel. "You're looking lovely. What a beautiful bride. My sister, of course, had dark hair..."
It happened very quickly, but Éowyn saw it: Ivriniel was wiping off a tear with the back of her hand. In a sudden flash of understanding, Éowyn grasped the whole story. It wasn't the lace ruff that caused the tight feeling in her throat when she realized that the old woman had spent decades waiting for a chance to recreate the image of her sister as a bride. The last wild schemes of escape fled from Éowyn's mind.
As she had anticipated, Éowyn was sweating by the time she reached the Merethrond. The Hall of Feasts was packed with wedding guests. It was a throng of faces that meant nothing to her, until she approached the front rows, where the most prominent guests were placed: the royal couple and the Dol Amroth family. Aragorn looked solemn, but Queen Arwen gave her an encouraging smile. Lothíriel was clearly struggling to suppress a grin. Éowyn didn't dare look too closely at Ivriniel, for fear of seeing tears in the old woman's eyes again. She walked past with firm steps.
And there was Faramir. Faramir, for whose sake she had come to this place and was getting married far from home in a horrible dress and without a single confidante apart from her maid. There had been a reason for all this, hadn't there? Oh, but of course: she loved him dearly. That was probably a good enough reason.
Faramir smiled at her with all the warmth that she so treasured in him. She could see how uncomfortable he was in the tight-fitting waistcoat, and, yes, there were lace cuffs and a fur-lined collar. Was this another heirloom of the Steward's family? Suddenly, she had to laugh.
Later, when the feast was over and they were alone in the room that was now theirs, she confessed the whole story to Faramir.
"You did it on purpose?" he cried. "I can't believe it."
"Why not?" she said. "Do you think your aunt is a foe worse than the witch king?"
Faramir looked at her and laughed.
"You are right," he said. "It was a small fight in comparison. And yet, you lost! She made you wear it in the end."
"Indeed." She took his hand and stroked it. "It was a surprise attack at a time when I was sure I had won the battle. I hope I wasn't a bad loser. At least I know now that she had just made it up about you demanding it. It would have grieved me to think so ill of you."
"I would never have thought she could be so devious! All just to force that dress on you."
"Oh, in the end I didn't mind it as much as I thought I would, you know. I think I understand her reasons. And when I saw you waiting there for me, I realized it didn't matter so much, and that the only really important thing is that we are together."
"I am glad to hear that," said Faramir and pulled her into his embrace.
"I'll tell you one thing, though," she said before she succumbed to his kisses. "If we ever have a daughter, I'll make sure that dress is burnt to the very last thread."