4. Of Quills and Necklaces
At the foot of the stair that led up to the Golden Hall a spring emerged from a stone carved like the head of a horse. The water foamed into a wide basin and from there onwards flowed into a narrow stone channel that would lead it all the way through the city and out into the meadows. A blackbird sat on the horse statue, trilling into the morning mist. When Déoric approached it fled in a haphazard manner, half flying, half hopping, until at last it became airborne and swept away to perch on a nearby tree.
Déoric paused at the bottom of the stair. There were sixty-seven steps; he had counted them the previous day. This morning, however, he viewed them with less resentment and even a mild enthusiasm. There was a purpose awaiting him at the top, though what exactly it was he was not sure yet. He took a firmer grip on his crutches and made his way up.
Outside the Golden Hall two guards stood on duty, each holding a long spear. When Déoric said that he was to see Master Léofred, they let him pass without further question. He went in through the passageway and found himself standing in the great hall.
For a while he dared not move. He had not known that such splendour existed within the walls of Edoras. Pale morning light came in through the high windows and illuminated the mighty pillars carved with patterns of many colours. The very floor was covered with swirls of small, coloured stones. Banners and tapestries adorned the hall, and Déoric's eye was drawn to the image of Eorl the Young, mounted on the horse Felaróf, but before he could look closely he saw Léofred approaching from beyond the great fire in the middle of the room. He greeted the kings' advisor respectfully.
"I am glad to see you up early, Déoric," said Léofred. "Now you must meet the king, and then I shall show you the place where you will work."
He led Déoric up to the top of the hall, where Éomer King stood by a window.
"Here is the young man I've chosen as scribe, my lord," said Léofred. "His name is Déoric."
Déoric felt himself blushing, both from awe at being looked upon by the king and from understanding fully what task Léofred was giving him. Éomer gave him a friendly nod and smiled.
"I am glad we have found you, Déoric," he said. "Léofred tells me that there is much that needs to be written down. Do your task well and I shall not forget your efforts."
With some difficulty Déoric bowed and then Léofred ushered him through a door in the back wall. Here, behind the great hall, were the rooms required for many dealings of the court: the armoury, the treasury, the treasurer's archive. Léofred opened the door to a small chamber and gestured for Déoric to step inside.
"This was Hiltibrand's room," said Léofred. "He was scribe to Théoden King. He fell at Helm's Deep."
Déoric looked around the chamber. Along one wall there were shelves with stacks of documents and small wooden boxes for writing materials. Light fell from a large window onto a heavy oak desk. It seemed to have been left in quite a hurry. Worn out quills were lying between odds and ends of parchment; an unfinished inventory bore witness to the scribe's intention to return.
"What do you know of the scribe's craft?" asked Léofred and picked up a half-empty bottle of ink.
"As much as my uncle showed me," replied Déoric. "I can cut quills fairly well and I have some idea of how to concoct ink. But I'm afraid the preparation of parchment is beyond me."
"Speak to Guntram the Tanner about that. I believe he used to prepare all the parchment for Hiltibrand. Stay here now and take a look around. I will be back in an hour or so to set you a task."
In the weeks that followed, Déoric wrote lists. Lists of villages, lists of horses, lists of supplies, lists of people. The refugees who still dwelt in Edoras came to him one by one and he wrote down their names and the names of their home villages, how many cattle they had lost and how many horses and who of their family was still unaccounted for. In between writing tasks he was busy mixing his inks, sorting through the old inventories and conferring with Guntram about the parchment. The tanner told him that Hiltibrand had used a silver stylus as much as an ink quill, and after Déoric discovered the stylus in one of the boxes on the shelves, Guntram showed him how to prepare the parchment for this writing medium. Déoric found it convenient and clean and began to write all but the most official documents with the stylus, saving himself from the nuisance of ink-stained hands.
As time went by, Déoric was able to walk through the great hall with not quite the same feeling of awe. Every morning and evening he had to pass through it, for there was no other entrance to his writing room. With an appreciative eye he took note of the patterns on the mosaic floor, the carvings on the pillars. The shapes and colours pleased him. Most of all, though, his attention was drawn by the ancient banners that hung down from the rafters. On those rare occasions when he felt himself alone in the room, he stopped to study the pictures of his people's past. Thus it happened one day, when he was looking at the image of Eorl the Young mounted on the steed Felaróf, that he found himself thinking: 'This is all wrong. That is not what a horse looks like. The neck shouldn't curve quite so much and there is no sign of the knees. And the line of the jaw is..."
He had no chance to finish his observations, for at this moment the king entered the hall from the front. As quickly as he could, Déoric withdrew to his writing chamber.
In another house, higher up in the city than the home of Dirlayn and Déoric, and overlooking the market place, the stable master's eldest daughter was settling her younger sister into bed. Her mother was still chasing after the boys, since she had not yet given up hope of getting them washed. The little girl, however, had been promised that she could take her first ride on a pony the next day, if she was good. Therefore she lay in her bed, determined to be good, but utterly unable to sleep.
"Will you come and watch me, Fana?"
"Of course I will. I will be very proud to see you."
"Bea is a good pony, isn't she?"
"A very good pony, the best you could wish for."
The girl smiled and snuggled deeper under the blanket. Fana stroked the soft golden curls.
"I saw Déoric today. Why does he not come to see you anymore?"
The smile on Fana's face went stale and the cheerful voice in which she replied was a bit too forced, too brittle.
"I don't think he likes me as much as he used to, toots. That happens sometimes. When men go away to foreign lands, they are sometimes not the same when they come back. There is a great city in the south and the women there, so I've heard, are very beautiful. I think Déoric might have met somebody whom he likes better than me."
The little girl considered this.
"But you wouldn't want to marry him now anyway, would you, with him having only one leg?"
"How can you say that!" cried Fana in her real voice. "Shame on the woman who abandons a soldier wounded in battle! No, I would have cared for him and looked after him, and I still would, if he let me. But he avoids me wherever he can. No, he must have fallen in love with someone else."
Though Fana had increasingly spoken to herself, the little girl had listened attentively.
"Are you sad, Fana?"
The older sister was silent for a moment, but the child noticed the head that was turned aside quickly, the hand that was swiftly raised to the eye.
"Yes, I am sad."
"Will you cry?"
"No, toots. I don't think that would help. It is ... "
At this moment, the door opened and the clamour of three young boys filled the room. Their mother followed close behind and sent them to their beds with stern words. Fana helped to tuck them in and kissed each of them good night. Then she sat down on the rug by the bed she shared with her sister and leaned her head against the wood of the bedstead.
Her mother seated herself in an armchair by the shuttered window. She spoke a brief blessing and bade them all a good night. Then she began to sing the lullaby, with a voice faint but clear. The boys, thinking themselves too old for such comforts, continued to whisper to each other for a while, but soon the lull of the song caught them, too, and they lay in their beds quiet and content. Fana closed her eyes and, soothed by her mother's voice, she let the tears flow.
Éowyn walked across the great hall with brisk steps. It was empty at this time of day save for the guards, because Éomer had ridden out with his éored to meet Elfhelm in Aldburg and Léofred was busy in the treasury. Before she came to the passageway that led to her apartments, she felt a tug in the nape of her neck and realized that the clasp of her necklace had caught in her dress. She stopped and reached behind her head to untangle the clasp. It was a movement that gave her trouble, especially in her shield arm. While she fumbled with the necklace, her look fell on the well in the corner of the hall.
This well was little more than a hole in the floor. It had been put there when the hall was first built to provide water at times when the building might serve as a refuge. However, the servants found it useful and drew water there daily whenever they needed it in the hall. It was usually covered with a wooden lid, but some careless person had left the lid lying to one side and though it was in an out-of-the-way corner, the gaping hole in the floor posed a danger.
Éowyn walked over to close the lid, still struggling with the necklace. Her fingers were tingling. Just as she knelt down to pick up the cover, the clasp came undone and with a small tinkling noise the necklace slid over the edge of the well and into the darkness.
After a moment of hesitation, she lifted out the bucket and peered down into the hole. It was too dark to see much, though, so she took a torch from one of the holders on the wall and shone it down. In the flickering light she could see the necklace at a depth of no less than thirty feet dangling from a protruding brick. Much, much further down a tiny glint indicated the surface of the water.
Éowyn stifled a cry of annoyance, when she heard the tock-shuffle-tock-shuffle of the young scribe approaching.
"Lady Éowyn?" he asked. "Is all well with you?"
"Oh – you are Déoric, aren't you? I had a little mishap. My necklace fell into the well. It is caught on a brick or something, but I do not know how to reach it."
"Let me see." He put aside one crutch and awkwardly lowered himself onto the ground to look down the hole. Meanwhile the guards had taken notice and two of them came across the hall to find out the cause of the commotion.
"A fishing rod maybe?" suggested one of them.
Éowyn shook her head. "That might just serve to pull the necklace off its hold and send it all the way down into the water."
"Is it very precious?" asked Déoric.
"It was a present from Lord Faramir on our betrothal," she said. "It is precious enough to me that I would climb down to get it, if I felt I could trust my arms. Alas, it was their very feebleness that caused the calamity in the first place."
"You would struggle to go down there anyway, Lady Éowyn," said one of the guards. "The well is just so narrow. It's scarcely wider than the bucket. I wonder how it was ever built."
The opening was indeed less than two feet wide and it was not conceivable how any grown person could descend into the shaft. The Lady of Rohan, though slender, was tall and broad shouldered, and while she might have fitted into the opening, once inside she would have barely been able to move. The men were too strongly built.
"Only a child could go down there," said the other guard.
"I cannot ask a child to do such a thing," said Éowyn firmly.
"I know who can do it."
All three looked round at Déoric. His cheeks were flaring.
"I know a woman who is small and nimble and a good climber. She … she would be down there in no time and bring back your necklace, Lady Éowyn. Do you wish me to fetch her?"
"I would be glad if your friend could help," said Éowyn. "But tell us where she dwells and one of the guards can go and summon her."
"With your leave, Lady Éowyn, I shall go myself. It is not far from here."
Without waiting to gain the permission he had so courteously sought, he turned and left. Éowyn sat down on a bench near the well and flexed her fingers in vexation. It was insufferable not to be able to rely on one's limbs. The guards launched into a conversation about lost trinkets, from which they moved on to stories about people and animals falling into wells, cellars and crevices. After a good while they had exhausted this topic and an awkward silence descended. Éowyn was beginning to feel impatient and exasperated that the scribe had disregarded her instruction, when Déoric returned. A small, freckled figure walked beside him, and Éowyn doubted for a moment that this was a grown-up woman, but then she realized that it was the stable master's daughter, who was bound to be seventeen at the least.
The young woman curtseyed. "Lady Éowyn. You wish to see me."
"What is your name?" asked Éowyn kindly.
"I am Fana, Lady Éowyn," replied the girl.
"Déoric believes you would be willing to climb down into this well to retrieve my necklace."
"Yes, Lady Éowyn. He has told me what needs to be done. Can I see this well?"
Éowyn stepped aside and gestured to the hole in the floor. With a furtive glance at the young scribe Fana crouched down by the side of the well and peered into the darkness. One of the guards held the torch for her.
"I can see it," she said. "I think I can get there, but I want to be tied to a rope."
"Of course. Egfrid!" Éowyn indicated to one of the guards to fetch a rope. Meanwhile Fana had got onto her stomach and was leaning into the well, exploring the walls with her hands.
"You will have to be very careful not to knock it down when you get there," said Éowyn, and then she felt foolish for having said such an obvious thing.
Before long Egfrid came back with a strong rope, which he fixed around Fana's waist and tied securely to the nearest pillar. Déoric watched him with vigilant eyes. Fana sat on the edge of the well with her feet dangling down into darkness. She felt around till she found a foothold and carefully lowered herself into the hole. Éowyn was on her hands and knees and watched the girl's descent, while Egfrid gave out the rope hand after hand.
Fana pressed her back against the side of the well and crept downwards inch by inch. When she had descended some fifteen feet, she stopped.
"I am stuck," she called. "My dress has caught on something. Get me back up a bit."
Egfrid pulled the rope up and they heard the sound of tearing fabric. Éowyn's head almost collided with Déoric's as they both leaned over the opening to look down. Suddenly Éowyn was assailed by images of the girl plunging down to the bottom of the well. She scolded herself for having allowed this endeavour for the sake of a trinket. No necklace was worth a human life.
"That's fine." Fana's voice resounded in the stony shaft. "I can go on now."
For a few more anxious minutes, they watched the fair head descending further and further.
"Hold on tight to the rope," called Fana. "I'm going to let go of the walls now, because I need to hold on to my dress, or else I might brush against the necklace. Have you got me?"
"I've got you," replied Egfrid. The rope tightened when Fana's full weight fell on it.
"Now lower me down, but slowly," came Fana's voice again. "A bit more. I can see it. Bit more. Bit more. Almost there. Wait. Wait!" One breathless pause. "I've got it. I've got it! Pull me out!"
Now Éowyn had to move away from the opening, for both guards had to work together to lift the girl back up. It wasn't long before her little blonde head appeared at the top of the well. She flung out her arms and clambered onto the floor. From her tightly clenched fist dangled the end of the necklace.
"Here it is, Lady Éowyn."
Éowyn embraced the girl with a sigh of relief.
"Thank goodness nothing happened to you! Thank you, thank you so much! And thank you, too – " She turned around to speak to Déoric, but he was gone.