12. Mending and Binding
It was the day of rest, but Déoric went up to the hall regardless. He opened the shutters to let in the April sun and settled down at his desk, parchment and stylus ready. By now he could draw with ease and confidence. He had sketched so many figures during the last four months that he could see the pictures on the pages before he even drew the first line. This one, however, would be different.
This one he would have to draw from memory, but that daunted him not. It was a face he knew so well, a face he saw so clearly in his mind's eye that the image would flow through his hand as easily as if the subject had been in front of him. What troubled him, though, were the tears. For a while he wiped them off before they clouded his vision too much, but they kept coming, ever more of them, until he put the stylus aside and leaned back in his chair to let his grief run its course. Thus he cried, not for himself, but for another, a sadness that was tainted by no anger or bitterness, a pure, innocent expression of sorrow.
These tears had been long in the making and therefore took long to drain. Noontime was approaching when at last Déoric picked up his stylus again and began to draw. All afternoon he sat bent over the parchment and barely looked up until he was satisfied with the image he had created. He rolled it up and fastened the scroll with a ribbon. Then he left the hall and made his way to the house he had owed a visit for so long.
The woman who opened the door looked older than her years; her hair had gone grey over the summer. "Déoric," she said and seemed both bewildered and pleased. She stepped aside and gestured for him to come in.
It was a quiet house, small and neat, not unlike Déoric's own home and the woman not unlike his mother in bearing and manner. But your mother's son came back, whispered the voice in his mind. He cast down his eyes and sat on the chair she indicated.
"Sigrun," he said without looking up, "I have come to ask your forgiveness. It has been cowardly of me to shun you and not to offer my condolences. There is nothing to justify my behaviour; it was done for no other reason than a selfish desire not to face my own grief. Please forgive me. You must have been very lonely."
She had not sat down yet, but she did so now and with a sigh she placed her folded hands in her lap.
"I have my daughters," she said. "They visit whenever they can. And Niarl comes quite often. I did not blame you for staying away, because I knew you had your own trouble."
Déoric shook his head.
"My trouble is nothing. Nobody came back unscathed. You don't need to make excuses for me. I should have been here the night when Niarl told you. I meant to, but I quarrelled with him in the tavern and so I never came."
"You have come now," said Sigrun, "and I am gladdened to see you. I have watched you sometimes from afar and for a while I was worried that your spirit was withering away. But when I saw you last, you carried your head high. Niarl told me that you are doing well as a scribe at the Hall."
"Yes, I am well now. I made this for you," said Déoric. He got up and handed her the scroll. She took it and opened it. When she saw what it was, a gasp escaped her lips. She rose and embraced him and then she wept. He held her gently while his own tears began to flow again. Thus they stood for a long while. At last Sigrun's tears were spent and she urged Déoric to return to his seat. "For standing must be hard for you," she said. Then she looked again at the parchment and shook her head in disbelief.
"It is so like him," she whispered, "so very much like him. How can I ever thank you enough?"
"Don't thank me," replied Déoric. "Consider it my penance for neglecting you."
"I will not have you speak of penance!"
"Well, think of it then as the token of my friendship with him. I must go now, my mother will be waiting. I will come to see you again soon."
"You will always be welcome in this house," said Sigrun.
Nobody witnessed the swan approaching. The wide, curved wings flapped slowly and then he sailed, feet and neck stretched out. He seemed too big, too heavy a bird to be carried by the air, and yet he came down in a smooth, slow descent. Just above the surface of the river, he tilted his wings and moved his feet forward, then he skidded along the water trailing two white lines of spray behind. Moments later he folded up his wings and swam into the cluster of reeds as if he had never flown at all.
Guntram and Déoric spent almost an entire week working on the binding. Cutting all sheets of parchment to an even size took them the best part of the first day. It was even more laborious to place five holes along the left hand margin of every page with the help of a wooden template. These holes were for the toggles that would hold the book together. They had decided to use bone toggles, since their pale colour would complement the soft green goat leather they had chosen for the cover. Guntram's son Brecc, a lad of thirteen years, helped them to whittle the toggles and carve decorative patterns into the heads.
"So what's this book for?" asked the boy while he incised fine lines into the bone toggle he was working on. "Most people in the Riddermark cannot read."
"It's for the king, silly lad," said Guntram. "The lords can read, and they're not making this kind of thing for the likes of us."
Déoric shook his head. "No, I think it is for all of us, whether we can read or not. The king said it was something to be proud of. And we should be proud, not just of our past, but also of the fact that we can make such a thing, even though we have not the learning and the skills of Gondor."
"Why would we want to compete with Gondor?" said Guntram. He coated a toggle in chalk powder and inserted it into one of the holes to check its fit.
"Not compete, but … how shall I put it … they have things we should strive for, I suppose. Just think of the new infirmary. Even more, though, I look at it as a kind of sign. The world will be more peaceful now than our people have ever known it. Many will be freed from the service of the sword and be able to put their hands and minds to things of beauty and wisdom. This book will mark the beginning of a new age in our history."
"Well, it looks like one person is proud of it already," said Guntram with a smile. Déoric shrugged and picked up Himlebed's letter again to check the details of how to fit the toggles.
"I'd like to be able to read," said Brecc.
"I'll teach you," replied Déoric, "if your father doesn't mind."
Guntram frowned. "You've got a trade to learn, lad," he said. Then he looked at Déoric. "Mind you, it's a skill that might come in useful sometimes. As long as you do all your work, I'll give you leave to learn the letters."
"We can start tonight," said Déoric. "I have my wax tablet in my bag. Though maybe you would rather come to my house for your lessons?" He considered that he didn't want to endure the odour of the tanner's workshop for longer than necessary. Guntram agreed and late that afternoon Déoric sat at Dirlayn's table with Brecc and explained how the letters and the sounds fitted together. The lad was confused at the start, but he soon began to understand and before he left for home he proudly scratched his name into Déoric's wax tablet.
The next evening Déoric arrived at the hall with the book in his bag, his shoulder sore where the strap cut into his flesh with the sheer weight of the tome. The great room was filled with voices. Fine folk were gathered at a long table for some kind of feast. Déoric saw Erkenbrand of the Westfold and the king in high spirits, raising their drinking horns. He sneaked past the banqueting nobles behind the pillars. In his scribe's room he took out the book and placed it on the desk next to the Gondorian tome. Both were an equal size, about three hands wide and four high, but he noted to his satisfaction that the new book was almost twice as thick. Though there was no matching the craftsmanship of the Gondorian binding, with its gold letters and the embossed patterns along the spine, the cover of the new book looked durable and handsome enough. The bone strips that held the binding in place were not entirely even, but Déoric had done his best to carve them with what resembled a motif of simbelmynë. All along the top strip sat the raised pattern of the toggles with their tiny wedges. He ran his hands over the book and felt the soft leather and the smooth, cold heads of the studs that they had used to tack the cover to a thin wooden board. With a tender movement he brushed off the last trace of the fine ash with which they had sanded the holes for the toggle heads. The book smelled strongly of the leather and the dye and when he opened it gently it creaked and rustled. And then there was the frontispiece. The Gondorian book had no illustrations at all, but the new book welcomed the reader with this fine picture and continued to delight the eye all the way through with the images of the kings that Déoric had made. He leafed through it, page after page of letters and pictures his hand had created. When he came to the end, he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He knew there was no way he could make this moment last, but he meant to savour it fully before it slipped away. No matter what would happen to his life, he would always have the memory of having made such a beautiful thing.
That gave him an idea. He picked up a quill and reached for his ink bottle. At the bottom of the last page he wrote in his even letters:
Déoric, son of Féadred, made this
After a moment's thought he added:
By the desire of Éomer King.
He sat for another while, watching the ink dry while the light in the room faded. Then he pulled a cloth over both books and went home. In the morning he would present his handiwork to the king.
It was still early and Déoric had only just settled by his desk when the king came into his room, followed by Léofred. Éomer seemed in high spirits again and flung himself into a chair as casually as if he were a common soldier.
"Let's see your wondrous book then, Déoric," he demanded. Léofred handed him the tome and the king began to leaf through it with the older man looking over his shoulder. After a mere five minutes, he closed the book and placed it back on the desk.
"You have not disappointed me, Déoric," he said." It is very good. We can talk about it some more another day. For the moment I have other matters to attend to. You will rest from your labours now. I don't want to see you up here for a week."
Without another word he rose and left. Déoric sat at his desk and stared at the book.
"What are you waiting for, Déoric?" said Léofred. "You've been given a holiday. Away with you and enjoy yourself!"
A holiday! He had been working so much for so long that he hardly knew what to do with a holiday. A week wasn't long enough to visit Himlebed and Aedilhild. He could help Dirlayn in the house and garden, of course. Visit Gléowine, visit Sigrun. Spend more time teaching Brecc his letters. The king's guard was in Edoras, so he could see Niarl. He had begun to go to the tavern with his friend again like he used to. They spoke about battles and horses and even about drawing, but never about Fana. If their friendship was less cordial than it used to be, neither of them admitted it.
Fana! He'd heard talk in the neighbourhood that she was laid up in bed with a nasty cold and he briefly wondered if he should visit her. It would be the decent thing to do, he knew. But he wasn't sure if he would still be welcome in that house. Well, there would be enough other things to do. He picked up his crutches and left the scribe's room.
Mirrors weren't things that Éomer consulted on a regular basis, but currently he peered into a looking glass very earnestly. He had bathed this very morning, had his beard trimmed by a page boy and had dressed with more care than he was used to employ. His nails were clean and neat and his hair was shining. He was passably handsome, he decided, but still it was evident from the scar on his brow and the calluses on his hands that he was first and foremost a warrior. He tried to smooth his eyebrows with a finger.
On a small table by his bedside lay a pile of letters. He picked up the topmost and skimmed over it again.
"… cannot begin to tell you how keen I am to see your beautiful country with my own eyes at last. Your latest description of the great plain with its fresh green grass has made me yearn for a ride in such a wide and open country. The springtime in Rohan must be a wonderful thing.
I laughed very much at your account of the incident with the pigs in the market. What a commotion! The poor man seemed to have been greatly inconvenienced, though, and I was glad to read that you took the trouble to set things right for him. It was a sign of consideration well worthy of you!
Only a few weeks remain now until we shall meet each other eye to eye. I sincerely hope that you will not be disappointed in me. As I said before, my claims to beauty are not as great as I might wish, but with respect to manner, bearing and education I believe I can satisfy the usual standards. However, these seem idle considerations, when the real question will be how well our hearts and minds are suited to each other's. I think we need not fear. Given the warmth and vivacity of our correspondence, I have every confidence that we will find much pleasure in each other's company.
My father tells me that we will travel …"
A knock on the door interrupted him. It was Léofred.
"My lord? They have passed the gates and will be here in a few minutes. Are you ready?"
"As ready as I will ever be, Léofred," replied the king and placed the letter back on the pile. "How do I look?"
The advisor eyed him critically. Éomer wore black breeches and a rusty red tunic embroidered with a motif of deer and oak leaves, a gift from Queen Arwen. He was tall, taller even than most of the Eorlingas, and he carried himself well. His face was, as usual, keen, open and sincere. Léofred nodded.
The two men descended the stairs and passed through the great hall. Éomer took his seat on the dais and peered around. He tried to see the room with the eyes of a stranger. There wasn't much in Edoras that could measure up to the grandeur of Gondor, but the Hall of Meduseld should pass for good enough even in the eyes of a Princess of Dol Amroth. Surely the pillars were splendid and the hangings rich? If only Déoric hadn't shown him the faults in the tapestries. He would have to hope that she wouldn't look at them too closely.
With a firm hand he smoothed down his tunic and rubbed his beard. He wasn't sure what to expect. There couldn't be anything wrong with this kind of arrangement, could there? It was how kings and princes had married since times untold; it was the way things were done. Having seen Éowyn and Faramir together though, he found that he desired a similar union of souls. And after all the death and destruction he had witnessed, he was craving something gentle and soft, the touch of someone unsullied by the stench of the war. But no high-born lady had yet crossed his path and caught his eye for more than a few fleeting moments. Princess Lothíriel, however, was the noblest woman alive in Middle-earth, save for the ladies of the Firstborn, and she had sent him letter after letter displaying such affability paired with good sense that he was inclined to believe there could be no fitter bride for him. Still, he could not help worrying that it might turn out to be a mistake. Sweet words on parchment could be designed to deceive. Now that she had come to Rohan, could he honourably reject her if he should find her less than amiable?
Movement and voices by the door told him that it was too late to consider such matters now. The guests had arrived. He saw the Prince of Dol Amroth making his way up the hall with the figure of a woman by his side, while their retinue was led to a side chamber by the servants.
He rose from his seat and stepped down from the dais to meet Imrahil and his daughter. She wore a blue travelling cloak and was not as tall as he had imagined her. Her head was cast down. As they approached the king, Imrahil quickened his pace and enfolded Éomer in a brotherly embrace. Then he stepped aside and took his daughter by the hand.
"Lothíriel, I want you to meet my good friend Éomer, the King of Rohan."
Éomer bowed. He took the lady's hand from her father's and raised it to his lips. It was soft and smooth and smelled of lily-of-the-valley.
"Welcome to Rohan, my Lady Lothíriel."
Slowly, she looked up at him. Her cheeks were high in colour, whether from the fresh air outside or from the anxiety of this meeting he could not tell. She wasn't beautiful in the way the minstrels sang, no skin like alabaster, no lips like rose petals. She was just a woman, young, well-groomed and seemingly nervous. But there was a sweetness and warmth about her that touched his soul the moment their eyes met. And then she smiled and that smile bore witness to all that her letters had promised. His heart leapt.