13. The Betrothal
Dirlayn had a rare moment of rest. Her house was tidy, her garden weeded, and in the kitchen a pot of stew was bubbling on the hearth. She leaned back in the chair and stretched out her legs. In a little while, Déoric would arrive. He had been out all day but he had promised to get her some yarn from the market before it closed and then come straight home. As usual, she felt slightly uneasy about his return. She never knew if he would be cheerful and chatty or silent and glum. One thing was for sure, though, the sight of him would make her both rejoice and ache, for as he was growing into full manhood, he looked more and more like Féadred had looked in the days of their courting.
Something came to her mind. She sighed and shook her head, then she walked across the room and opened the lid of the chest. There among her everyday possessions, her wool and her boxes and her sewing basket, lay tucked away in a corner a bundle wrapped in a dark green cloth. She knelt down and stroked it with the back of her hand, hesitated, and lifted it out. With gentle fingers she unwrapped it. A pair of boots came to light. They were rather worn and uncommonly large. Dirlayn lifted them up and hugged them to her chest. They were Féadred's boots.
Féadred. Féadred with his firm hands and easy laughter, with his clear voice and gentle eyes and his big, big feet. Féadred with his many stories, Féadred with the smell of horses that seemed ingrained into his skin. Féadred who had said farewell to her on a windy morning, never to return; who lay in a lonely grave she had never seen.
"Are you weeping, Mama? What is the matter?"
There was Déoric beside her. She hadn't heard him coming. He crouched down awkwardly in front of her, concern on his face.
"Oh, Déoric," she whispered. "You are so like your father."
He reached out and touched the boots, then he lifted his hand and wiped the tears off her face.
"I miss him, too," he said. "All the time. I would give my other leg to have him back."
Gently, she shook her head.
"Don't say such things, Déoric. Nothing will bring him back, so what good is there in wishing? And you miss your leg sorely enough, I dare say."
"I do, but not as much as I miss Father. Losing the leg was bad, but it could have been so much worse. It could have been my right hand. I've been lucky."
She clasped his hand. They sat for a while in silence, the boots on the floor between them. Dirlayn dabbed her eyes with the corner of her apron.
"I am glad you can think of it like that, Déoric. There have been times when I thought you would never have a cheerful thought again."
Déoric cast down his eyes.
"I am sorry, I really am. I have given you so much grief, Mama. You've had so much to worry about, and I must have made it worse with my foul moods. How can I ever make up for it?"
Dirlayn ran a finger along the rim of a boot. She looked across to the table and the three chairs.
"The day I have a grandchild sitting on my knee," she replied with a sudden smile, "I'll consider your penance fulfilled."
"But, Mother – "
"But me no buts, Déoric! You want to make amends, you know what to do. Come here!"
She embraced him tenderly and he wrapped his arms around her shoulders. How tall he was and how strong. Had he not come back, what would she have done? But here he was, her baby, her only child, no longer crying in the night but making his way in the world with the skill of his hand. That reminded her.
"Oh, I almost forgot. A letter arrived for you. It's on the table."
Déoric pulled himself up and seized the scroll.
"From Uncle? I hope he hasn't remembered something important about the binding that he previously forgot!"
He broke the seal on the ribbons and unrolled the parchment. His eyebrows rose in surprise. Dirlayn saw him scanning the letter and as he did so, a vague smile appeared on his face. When he came to the end, he laughed briefly.
"It's not from uncle at all. Listen to this."
I am writing to you to make my apologies for not visiting you as I had half promised when I came past you in Edoras last summer. Our whole party was much taken up with the funeral of Théoden King and the festivities surrounding it, and besides I did not know where your house was. In all honesty, though, I must confess that I simply forgot, and for this I extend my sincere apologies to you, which I hope you will accept.
There was much that needed seeing to when we returned, and the business of reclaiming our home, in more ways than one, tied our minds firmly to the present for some time. Thus I was only reminded of my oversight a few days ago, when I sat with my cousins and we talked about the people we had met on our travels. I had much to say of the people of Rohan, and so you came to my mind and I remembered what I had said when the cart rolled past you in the street.
Our acquaintance, I know, was but short, and still you stand quite vividly in my mind. To see someone so young so grievously injured - and one of the proud riders of Rohan, too! - saddened me indeed. Would that you have found some consolation and that kind people have eased your pain both of the body and the mind. I hope that you will be spared the fate of one of my cousins, who was dreadfully wounded during the war and who, we now begin to fear, will never truly recover. But you are young and never had to carry his burden, so there seems a fair prospect that you will return to life and happiness.
Éomer, your king, has urged me to visit the Mark again, and I will gladly grant his wish at such a time when it seems feasible to travel south again. So when I come to Edoras the next time, I shall be sure to seek you out and I hope to find you in good spirits. Until then I remain with the best of wishes,
PS: Strider, that is King Elessar, told us that the people of Rohan are not in the habit of writing letters, but I trust you will find somebody in your city, who will be able to read this to you."
"Well, fancy that," said Dirlayn. "You are more accomplished than this Halfling gives you credit for, thanks to your Uncle Himlebed."
"Thanks to my uncle indeed," said Déoric. "None of my good fortune would have come about if it hadn't been for him."
He sat down. Dirlayn went to the kitchen and came back with bowls of stew.
"There is something I wish to tell you, Déoric," she said while she cut off thick slices of bread. "I spoke to Lithôniel this afternoon and she says they can still use more hands. I am going to train as a healer."
"Yes, why not? It's not only young girls that are training. There's not much to do here, keeping the house for two, and selling the herbs was never something I meant to do in the long run. But, Déoric, just think if I should ever be able to do for someone's son what Merilwen did for you!"
Déoric chewed thoughtfully and then swallowed.
"Mama," he said, "I am proud of you."
When Déoric returned to his workplace after a week, he found the new book still lying on his desk. King Elessar's book was gone. His shoulders sagged and he slumped down on his chair. The crutches clattered to the floor. That the king had not claimed the book filled him with a hollow sense of disappointment, like a child who wakes at Yuletide and finds that it is raining and that Mother has forgotten to bake honey cakes. He pulled the tome towards him, meaning to look at it again to cheer his mind, but before he opened it he pushed it away. How could he find pleasure in it, if it was thus rejected by the king? Yet he soon had to pick up his spirits again, for Léofred appeared with a long list of tasks for him.
"Now that you've finished the book," the king's advisor said, "you have to tackle the backlog."
It turned out that the lull in ordinary scribing tasks had been nowhere near as great as Léofred had made out, but that he had held back from Déoric as many of these as was feasible to allow him to work on the book. Déoric, overwhelmed when he saw the extent of the older man's kindness, thanked him profusely, but Léofred made a dismissive gesture with his hand.
"It was the least I could do, Déoric," he said. "Now make sure that you get going on these inventories."
So Déoric set to work and spent the morning with writing tasks that seemed tame and tedious but also strangely restful. He wondered if this was to be his lot from now on. Gléowine had advised him to finish the book and see what would come of it, but it seemed that nothing had come of it at all. He would spend his life scribing indifferent lists and accounts, grateful that he was able to earn a living, but nothing else. Well, he asked himself, what else had he been expecting?
When noontime came he took a break and looked out of the open window. A light drizzle fell, bringing out all the scents of the spring. Déoric inhaled. An unfamiliar noise drew his eyes upwards. Low in the sky a long, long line of great birds was flying. Geese, he thought, but the shape of their bodies, the stately, measured flaps of their wings and most of all the strange, warbling sounds indicated otherwise. They were mostly black, the crests of their heads and the tips of their wings flicked with white. He had never seen the likes before. Other people walking past looked up, too, shaded their eyes and murmured in bewilderment. An older woman dropped the bucket she was carrying and cried: "Cranes! The cranes are coming back!"
Déoric leaned out of the window as far as he could to see more. Cranes! He had only ever heard of them in stories, told with reverend whispers by the elders at the fireside. Creatures of grace and beauty, of wisdom and of good fortune, these birds endured no evil and had left the Riddermark when the shadow had lengthened in the East and the treachery of Saruman had poisoned the lands of the Eorlingas. Where they had gone and whence they had come from now was beyond Déoric to imagine, but here they were, trailing over Edoras, trilling out the promise of life in abundance. All too soon they were out of sight, disappearing towards the White Mountains to settle, perhaps, in the plains of Gondor. Déoric returned to his desk.
Late in the afternoon Léofred came and summoned Déoric to the great hall.
"The king wants to see you. Take the book with you."
In the hall servants were setting up tables as for a feast, but at the top of the room it was quiet. Two figures sat on the dais with Éomer King, talking softly. Déoric's eye was first drawn to the man, who was tall and of dignified bearing. He remembered having seen him in Théoden's funeral procession, a prince of an ancient and noble line. Between this regal man and the king sat a woman, not much older than Déoric. She had the dark hair and fair skin of the Gondorians and her deep-set eyes were grey like the sky at dawn. Her rich garments of dark green silk edged with golden ribbons left no doubt that she was a lady of the highest rank. She graced him with a smile so amiable that he felt himself blush.
The king nodded at Déoric and addressed his visitors: "My scribe, Déoric, has been very diligent over the winter and produced a fine piece of work that I would like to show to you. Déoric, give the Prince of Dol Amroth and the Princess Lothíriel the book."
Déoric hesitated in confusion, aware that is was not possible to hand the book to two people at once. Since the king did nothing to solve this predicament, he took heart and gave the book to the lady, who received it with slender white fingers.
"I know you have finer tomes in Gondor, but I beg you to consider that this is the first book ever written in the Riddermark," Déoric said, hoping that the force of his heartbeat wasn't too visible at his neck.
Princess Lothíriel smiled again and carefully opened the book. She pondered long on the frontispiece and then turned page after page, stopping whenever she came upon one of the drawings. Her father craned his neck to see.
"It is delightful," she said at last. "I am sure both my father and King Elessar would be glad to have such a book in their libraries. Is that not so, father?"
"It is as fine a book as ever I saw," replied the Prince.
Éomer was evidently pleased, for he smiled broadly.
"In that case I hope you will also think it fit for a lady and accept it as my gift."
Déoric struggled to prevent himself from crying out. He had made the book for Rohan, how could the king give it away to a Gondorian princess? All that work, just for the book to be carried away down south and be placed among other tomes of greater dignity! He felt like bursting into tears, but he thought of Léofred's reproach. Whatever was thrown at him, he would take it like a man.
The princess looked from the book to the scribe and then to the king.
"It is a handsome gift indeed, "she said softly, "and I thank you, my lord king. I accept it with pleasure. But it seems to me that it is bound to the spirit of this land, and therefore I would like it to dwell here and wait for my return. When I come to make my home in Rohan, I shall bring my own books to keep it company, but it shall always have a place of honour as the first book in the library of Meduseld."
This speech confused Déoric as much as it relieved him, and it was only when he saw the king kissing the lady's hand with reverence and recognized the smile and the look these two were exchanging that he understood. Before he could betray his surprise, the lady fixed her grey eyes on him again.
"You write a very fair hand, Déoric. Your king should take lessons from you, for his writing is careless and hard to decipher. Not that his letters haven't given me a great deal of pleasure, but they have also caused me some headaches." She beamed at the king and Déoric could hardly believe his eyes when he saw Éomer blushing.
"Déoric was not trained in the craft of the scribe," said the king quickly and rose, "and even less in the secrets of the artist. Everything he has accomplished is entirely the work of his own effort and genius."
"Oh, no," protested Déoric. "Master Gléowine taught me his stories and my uncle helped me with the inks, and Guntram did the binding and without your – "
"And he is modest, too," interrupted the king and put a hand on Déoric's shoulder. "It is men like these that Rohan is proud of. Déoric, this shall not be the last book by your hand. You shall collect all the tales of our land you can find. Go about the city and speak to the people, and then go out into the countryside and do the same there. If I am not mistaken you will already know a fair number of stories from your father. Make us a book of tales and adorn it with your drawings. And you shall record all events of importance that happen in our days from now on in words and in pictures. Henceforth you shall be known as Déoric, the Chronicler of the Mark."
Half a minute passed in silence. Prince Imrahil shifted in his seat. Princess Lothíriel glanced at the king.
"Did you hear me, Déoric?" asked Éomer.
"Yes, my lord," replied Déoric in a whisper. "I… forgive me, I do not know what to say. I am … honoured beyond measure and I thank you ... most ardently – "
"Yes, yes, I can imagine," interrupted the king. "Now, Déoric, we are starting a fresh page in the history of the Mark today, for we celebrate my betrothal to this most amiable of ladies. There will be merrymaking in the streets of Edoras tonight, and I am sure you will want to join your friends later, but for the first part of the evening I wish that you shall share the table with us. You have an hour to go home and dress yourself for a feast. And tomorrow my lady and I shall sit for you and you shall draw a fitting picture to mark our betrothal."
Déoric bowed his head.
"I was delighted with your first drawing of the king," said Princess Lothíriel in her soft lilting voice. "It gave me a good idea of his handsome features, though you forgot to show the twinkle in his eyes. I hope you will catch it this time."
If he hadn't been lost for words already, he would have been speechless then.
Later, when he sat at the table in the great hall just a few yards away from Éomer and his lady, in his best tunic and with neat hair that Dirlayn had braided in a great flutter, he was too nervous to look up from his plate, let alone to take part in the conversation. He shared the table with the king! If only his father could have seen him. He glanced to the left and right at those who sat at the king's table with the ease of the high-born and he wondered what strange fate had thus elevated him beyond all merit and expectation.
Well, not beyond all merit, maybe. The book was indeed a thing to be proud of, and he had made it so with the skill of his eyes and hands. It was true that none other in the Mark would have been able to accomplish this. That it would earn him such honour, though, he would never have thought. Master Gléowine had been right.
When the banquet was over, the noble guests stood aside in quiet conversation while the servants cleared the room for the dancing. Anxious not to outstay his welcome, Déoric took his leave from the king. Éomer smiled broadly. He held the Princess Lothíriel's hand and looked radiant and formidable.
"I thank you for your company tonight, Déoric. Make sure to be here in the morning with your sketching board. Good night to you, Chronicler of the Mark!"
"Good night, Déoric," added the princess. "Until tomorrow. I am looking forward to seeing you draw."
A warm glow filled Déoric when he came outside to join the merrymaking. Chronicler of the Mark! It is men like these that Rohan is proud of. He could barely believe that the king had said such a thing about him. Who would have thought a year ago that he would rise to such distinction? Master Gléowine was going to be ever so pleased. And the princess, too, had approved. How lovely she was! No wonder the king was beaming with joy.
It was beginning to grow dark and torches and bonfires had been lit in the streets. Here and there in the trees lanterns twinkled to match the early stars in the sky. Every soul in Edoras seemed to be out tonight. Makeshift benches and trestle tables had been set up in every available flat space, an oxen was turned on a spit over a fire and near the steps to the hall a group of musicians were tuning their instruments. Déoric found a space on a bench and sat down. He couldn't see Dirlayn in the crowd, but he figured if he but stayed in one place she would come past eventually.
"Hullo, Déoric!" said a cheerful voice. He looked round. It was the child Fryn. He had met her from time to time after that first encounter in the meadows, and always spoken a few words with her. She had usually been quiet and solemn and he was surprised to hear her sound so joyful today.
"Just think, Déoric, my father has come home after all this time!"
"Has he? How is that possible?"
"He'd been hit on the head and he'd passed out and they kept him in that big infirmary in Mundburg and he just slept lots for weeks and weeks and weeks and when he stopped sleeping so much he didn't know who he was and he was just like a newborn babe, but one day, he said, he just knew he had to go home to his little girl and so he did."
She drew breath at last. Déoric put a hand on her shoulder.
"I'm so glad to hear that," he said. She smiled, with a happiness that almost pained him.
"I must go back to him," she said.
"Well, on you go then."
But she hesitated and shuffled her feet.
"Déoric? Can I still keep that picture you gave me?"
"Of course you can!"
She skipped away. His gaze followed her as she disappeared in the throng. The musicians had begun to play a spirited tune and already the first couples were whirling around in a lively dance. He rubbed his forehead. Then he saw Fana standing in front of him. She wore a green dress and the braids of her hair were shaped into a crown on her head, wound with a wreath of simbelmynë. Her face lay half in shadow, with the shine of the fires on her other cheek, but he could see that she smiled.
"Dance with me," she said.
He frowned. The warm glow ebbed away. "Don't mock me."
"I am not mocking you. Come and dance with me."
"Why would you want to dance with a one-legged man? If you're not mocking me, then you feel sorry for me. I don't want your pity."
The smile faded from Fana's face. She sat down beside him and took his hand into hers. He flinched at her touch, but he bore it. It was so long since he had touched her, he had almost forgotten what gentle hands she had.
"Look at me."
He glanced at her briefly, but then looked away, down on the ground, down to the single foot beside her two pretty slippers. That scent of camomile. The softness of her fingers.
"Déoric, dearest, why will you not look at me? I haven't come to dance with a one-legged man, I have come to dance with you. I do not care how many legs you have, can't you understand that?"
Déoric drew breath sharply. He bit into the knuckle of his free hand. Then he seized one of his braids and twisted it between his fingers. All the while he felt her hand firm and warm in his. "Will you not want to be dancing with Niarl?"
"With Niarl?" She turned her head and, following her glance, Déoric spied his friend on a bench with a tankard in his hand, talking to a group of young men. Niarl made a gesture with his hand and the others burst out laughing. Fana shook her head. "Why would I want to dance with him rather than with my own dear Déoric? Besides, I'm sure he's going to dance with Aedre in a minute." She nodded her head in the direction of a young woman who had just appeared. The other young men made space for her on the bench and she sat down next to Niarl, who laughed and put his arm around her. Déoric recognized her as one of Lithôniel's apprentices.
Fana stroked the back of Déoric's hand with her finger.
"You are my own dear Déoric, aren't you?" she asked in a quiet voice. Déoric held his breath. The music, the voices, the fire-lit night, everything blurred into a distant background and he felt as if the whole world consisted of nothing but his hand in Fana's.
"If you will have me," he whispered. He stared at her finger that traced the veins on the back of his hand and lingered on the ink stains on his fingertips. "But Niarl … I thought ...Aren't you ..." He floundered for words. "I saw you walking together. He carried your milk pails on his horse. He touched your face."
Fana gave a sigh and a soft chuckle.
"Oh, Déoric! Is that what it was all about? You should have said something. What have you been thinking? Can a woman not walk and talk with a friend without people thinking the wrong thing? Hasn't Niarl been my friend for as long as I can remember? Had you heard us talking that day you would have known that it was you we were speaking of. I lamented that you had abandoned me, and Niarl wiped a tear from my face that I had cried about you. And believe me, that wasn't the only one. You've made me shed many a tear during this last year. Whatever made you think I would stop loving you? Look at me, Déoric, son of Féadred!"
So at last he looked at her, and though the night was lit only by the fires and torches of the feast, he saw in her eyes a great tenderness, a glow so warm and bright that he knew it would light up his life for all the days to come. And with a sudden pang of understanding he knew that it had been there all the time and that it had been only his own fear and anguish that had stopped him from seeing it. He pressed her hand.
"I won't be able to climb mountains with you anymore, Fana."
"Does it matter? Tell me stories instead. I've heard you were good at that."
"What will your father say?" he whispered.
"My father will give you a clout round the ears for having made me so miserable," she said, "and that'll only serve you right!" And there it was, that mischievous smile of hers that he had missed so much. He reached out with his free hand and gently caressed her cheek.
"Oh, Fana, I've been such a fool! Do you think you can ever forgive me? I should have known you better."
"Yes, you should have," said she and leaned her cheek against his hand.
"I know, I know. I don't understand what made me so blind. Somehow it was so important to feel sorry for myself. How foolish of me. I am so sorry I made you cry. Dearest." He stroked her cheek with his thumb, revelling in the smoothness of her skin. "Dearest, sweetest Fana. Let me try to make you smile now. I will dance with you, Fana, but I will need both my hands."
He took his crutches and rose and they made their way over to the dancers. Slowly, awkwardly, he joined into the movements, while Fana skipped about him, light on her feet, her eyes shining. It was more than he could comprehend. He had been a fool beyond measure, he had disowned her and abandoned her and caused her at least as much grief as he had caused himself, and yet she had never stopped loving him. She was his own dear Fana, always had been, always would be, and that was that. And then, as if a chain that had bound him had suddenly been broken, he began to laugh. Quietly at first, but by and by his voice began to rise and he threw back his head and roared into the night, so that the other dancers stopped and looked at him, while he hopped about on his crutches and laughed and laughed and laughed, Déoric, son of Féadred, who had come home at last.
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.