25. Getting Together
He knew she would be coming to him and then he'd have to own his folly. Or perhaps the king had already told her, in which case she would probably come to scold him. Either way, her good opinion of him would be lost, if not forever, then at least for quite some time. Such gloomy musings were Déoric's response to the news that the party from Dol Amroth had arrived at Meduseld the previous afternoon. Restlessly, he pottered about the scribe's room, unable to set his mind to any fruitful task. Brecc looked up from his knot patterns a couple of times, but said nothing.
She came late in the morning, when the noon hour was already approaching, and she didn't come alone. The king was with her, and Léofred, and her father, the formidable Prince of Dol Amroth. There was barely space to stand for this crowd, and the men remained by the door while she stepped forward, a small wooden casket held at hip height.
"My lady Princess." Déoric cast down his eyes.
"Good morning, Master Déoric. I trust I find you well. We have come to see how your art has progressed. I thought you might have used up the pigments by now," she said and placed the casket on the desk, "so I have brought you another box. In future, though, you shall order your artist's supplies directly from Minas Tirith. The king has agreed to this arrangement."
Déoric clenched his fist. So, it was as easy as that? Just send to Mundburg for more? He had never wondered about where the pigments had been bought, but now he came to think of it, it seemed only logical that such commodities could be found in the shops and markets of the big city. Why, then, had Éomer not ordered new paints? Of course, it was not the king's duty to cover up Déoric's mistakes…
"Well then, Master Déoric, show me some of your work."
He had known this was going to happen. That didn't make it any easier.
"I do beg your forgiveness, my lady. I have nothing to show you but a few clumsy sketches. The paints were lost, through my own fault, when I travelled in the Westfold last autumn. The king had advised me against taking them with me, but I ignored his counsel. They fell into a river and were spoilt. I am very sorry."
He heard her sigh as she sat down.
"Well, that is a great disappointment, Master Déoric. I had put much trust in you and your talents."
"I am honoured by your trust and mortified that I have disappointed you, my lady. I will do what I can to give you a grand portrait in silverpoint."
"A poor substitute! What use is a picture of my glorious dress in black and white or even in shades of grey?"
"I am sorry, my lady. I will - "
"May I make a suggestion?" said Léofred. "There are two things that you will want to see in your wedding picture: The looks on your faces and the rich garments you will be wearing. The former are fleeting, but they don't require colour. The latter will keep. Let Déoric make a silverpoint sketch on your wedding day. That'll require all the sitting you'll be willing to do on that occasion anyway. Then, in a year or two or whenever he has mastered the skill, sit for him again in your wedding garments, and he will use the earlier sketch to complete as fine a painting as you can ever wish for."
This was a solution that had not occurred to Déoric, but that was typical for the way Léofred was thinking. Would the princess agree to it?
"It will be a long time to wait for our wedding picture," she said.
"I believe it will be worth the trial of your patience. What do you think, Déoric?"
"I will do my very best. And I promise, my lady, to draw or paint whatever else you desire. I'm yours to command."
"There, my dear, you have one loyal subject already. After such a vow of devotion, I think you may forgive him."
"Éomer is right," added Prince Imrahil. "The young man is willing to serve you, and I wouldn't stop him if I were you."
"Very well. Master Déoric, I forgive you. Beware, though, I shall remember your promise."
Déoric glanced at her. The princess smiled like someone who had got exactly what she wanted. But then, so had he. The new box of pigments was his and, what was more, it need never be empty. He felt the advantage was all on his side.
How April had passed so quickly remained a mystery to Déoric, but there was no denying that May had arrived and with it the long expected wedding day. Edoras had never looked so splendid. Most trees wore their coat of early green, while many others still bore pink or white blossoms. Pansies, bluebells, peonies and lily-of-the-valley abounded even in the smallest patches of garden. Whoever could afford it had painted or whitewashed fences and walls, doors and shutters, and those who couldn't at least made sure their houses stood scrubbed clean. Women had been up since before the break of dawn to string garlands of flowers and blooming branches along the streets and tie green and white ribbons to the gateposts on the left, blue and silver ribbons to those on the right. Thus the banners of the Mark and of Dol Amroth, which flapped in a lazy breeze in front of the Golden Hall, were echoed all over the city.
The doors to the Golden Hall were flanked this morning not only by guards in festive attire, but by two man-high figures made of white flowers, a horse to the left and a swan to the right. As noon drew near, the people of Edoras began to crowd into every open space at the foot of the stair, while the steps themselves were kept clear by a line of guards. Soon noble folk could be seen emerging from the Hall and talking up places on either side of the flower sculptures. Here was the Lady Éowyn with her husband, there were Prince Imrahil and Lord Erkenbrand and their families, and other honoured guests. Déoric, who had come early and stood with Fana and Blythe at the front of the crowd, saw the Halflings at Lady Éowyn's side; now and then she exchanged a smile with Meriadoc. Of course, Déoric remembered, these two had been comrades in battle. A dwarf whom he thought he recognised as the obliging Gimli stood beside a pale Elf in green clothing. The general murmur stopped when two tall dark-haired figures stepped out of the doorway. King Elessar and Queen Arwen had arrived only the previous night, and few had seen them. Now all eyes were drawn towards this pair. A cluster of clouds hid the sun, but the Queen appeared bright and shimmering nonetheless in her gown of green and silver. As for the king, Déoric hardly recognised him. When he had seen Elessar before, in the Houses of Healing in Mundburg, the man had looked grim and weary and decidedly scruffy – no wonder, given the circumstances. His harrowed features then bore no resemblance to the serenity of his countenance as he stood in front of the people of Edoras. He seemed tranquil and hauntingly beautiful, or perhaps it was just a reflection of the lady by his side.
Cheers arose from the crowd when Éomer King appeared and stood beside the horse figure. Flanked by two lady attendants, Princess Lothíriel followed and made her way to the flowered swan. Prince Imrahil took his daughter's hand and presented her to the King of Rohan. As vows were spoken and swords exchanged, many people nodded with approval that the traditions of the Mark were thus respected. By Gondorian custom, though, King Elessar wound a band of white silk around the joined hands of the bride and groom, and this ritual was watched with curiosity, for it had not been seen in the Mark since Thengel had wedded Morwen of Lossarnach.
Man and wife now, Éomer and his new queen stepped forward to receive the salutations of their people. Just at that moment, the clouds tore open and revealed the midday sun. The light fell on the emeralds that adorned Queen Lothíriel's hair and neck and made them glow like wet, translucent leaves. Had they been wrought by some Elvish craftsman? Déoric remembered a day on his first journey, when he had seen trees shimmer like jewels and had wondered when he would be able to paint such a scene. With his new box of paints stashed away safely in the scribe's room and with this woman as his patroness, he felt confident that the time would come when he would paint this and so much more, even the magnificence of the image before his eyes here and now. He pressed Fana's hand. For a few seconds, a fine drizzle fell, sparkling in the sunshine as if it was raining diamonds. Then both sun and rain disappeared and wispy white clouds spread over the little window of blue sky.
With the ceremony over, most people turned to secure a seat on the numerous benches put up on all the open spaces around the Golden Hall, since this was a day of merrymaking for all. A steady stream of people, though, shuffled into the Hall, for many had been bidden to join the feast there, Déoric and Fana among them. Blythe, curled against Fana's shoulder, peered around with wide eyes. They couldn't see any of their friends in the throng, neither Dirlayn nor Léofred or any of Fana's family, and so they sat down at the first best table they could find.
"Déoric! I seem to have lost all my folk, can I sit with you?" Gruffyd took a seat without waiting for an answer. At Éomer's invitation, the Dunlendish party had stayed for the wedding. "Is this your wife? Good day, pretty lady, I'm a fierce warrior from Dunland. What a sweet babe!"
He continued to chatter with an eagerness that made Déoric smile. By and by, others came to their table, and in the end their little group consisted of Merilwen, Gléowine and his daughter, and the other two lads from Dunland. Déoric wondered for a moment how they would all get along and what they would talk about, but he need not have worried, for the wedding rites they had just witnessed and the feast that was being served provided ample fuel for conversation to begin with, and soon the disparate party was quite at ease and rather merry. Gléowine even went so far as to say a few words in praise of the king's new minstrel and his performance at the ceremony.
When the dishes were cleared away, people started to get up and mingle. A maid came up to their tables, asking if Master Déoric was ready to do the portrait now? Déoric left Fana talking childcare with Merilwen and edged along the aisles, dodging servants with piled up platters in the effort to fight his way through the bustle. Before he had got very far, he noticed Gimli and the pale Elf standing not five yards away and went over to greet them.
"Ah, Master Déoric. We meet again." The dwarf bowed and Déoric returned the gesture as best he could. "May I present my friend Legolas, son of King Thranduil of the Woodland Realm? Legolas, this is Déoric, the Chronicler of the Mark. Éomer is training him up to be an artist."
"Indeed? Good day, Master Déoric." The Elf inclined his head by just a fraction. His eyes barely glanced at Déoric before they drifted off as if to look at something way beyond the walls of the Hall.
"Why, Legolas, do you know Déoric as well?" said a voice at waist height.
"Gimli seems to know him, which should be recommendation enough," replied the Elf. Then, as if suddenly jolted out of a reverie, he turned to Déoric again. "Forgive me. My mind seems to have wandered… You have chosen a wonderful craft, Master Déoric."
There was the vaguest hint of a smile, and then the Elf's features regained their former pensive air.
"It's the sea longing," whispered Gimli. "It's uncommonly severe today."
"Well, I have only known Déoric for a few days," said Peregrin, "and I can tell you that he is a very good man. Anyone with a wife who makes such good buckwheat pancakes must be a good man."
"Pippin," said Meriadoc in a gently scolding voice, "make sure Déoric does not misunderstand your jokes."
"Oh, don't worry, I quite agree. That Fana was willing to marry me must be the best thing that can be said about me."
"Nonsense! Your drawings aren't half bad, either." Peregrin punched him playfully in the arm.
"They'd better not be. I have to go and see the king and queen now to draw a sketch for their wedding painting."
"Ah, so we shouldn't hold you up then. Come, Merry, I say we go and find Aragorn and give a toast to the members of the Fellowship, both present and absent. What a shame that Gandalf couldn't make it. Good-bye, Déoric, I'll come round to see you tomorrow and we can talk some more about pigments. For now, ties of old friendship call."
The four nodded at him and turned away. Déoric was not sorry to see them go; the blank expression of the Elf had made him feel uneasy. Sea longing? What was that supposed to be? He wondered if Prince Legolas had found the sight of his stump disconcerting. Elves were immortal and seemed to possess perfect bodies; were they also immune to loss of limb? In any case, he much preferred to speak to the Halflings on their own.
Déoric approached the dais and waited until he caught Éomer's eye. The king gestured for him to come nearer.
"My lord, my lady." He bowed his head. "Felicitations on this happy day. I can do the drawing now, if you are ready."
"We are indeed," said the queen. "Please excuse us, Lord Elfhelm. We are about to put Master Déoric's genius to the test."
Éomer waved to a servant to move up a chair for Déoric. By the time the king and queen had settled themselves on their own seats, Déoric had brought out his drawing board, parchments and stylus. He looked at the couple from under half-closed eyelids to determine the basic shapes and then began to draw in faint strokes the outlines of the figures. At first he felt awkward to be watched by such a large and illustrious audience, but soon his mind made them fade into the background and he worked with confidence and purpose. In fact, he was so immersed that he hardly noticed when Queen Lothíriel began to fidget.
"Master Déoric," she whispered. "Shall you be much longer? Some of the guests are getting restless."
He looked around. True enough, here and there people showed signs of impatience. The feast was over and the dancing was supposed to follow, but until the king and queen rose from their seats and gave the sign for the music to begin, everybody would have to wait. He inspected the result of his efforts so far.
"Another little while, my lady. I shall make haste."
"Please do, Déoric," said the king. Then he turned to his bride. "Are you not glad that Déoric lost his paints? Imagine he was trying to do a full painting here and now!"
"You are right, that would not do," she replied. "You may ascribe to my love of the Arts this folly of ever having thought of sitting for a painting on this day."
Déoric tried to hide his grin as he added a few last details to his drawing. He would have to ask them for another sitting within the next few days, but he could let them go for now. Catching the sitters' expression was the crucial thing, while the finer points of light and texture could wait till a later time.
"I'm done, my lord."
"Very well, Déoric." Éomer rose and lifted his right hand. "Let the dancing commence."
Déoric carefully rolled up the parchments and gave them to a maid to place in the scribe's room. He picked up his crutches from the floor and watched how servants dismantled the tables to make space for the dancing. On the far side of the dais, the musicians were tuning their instruments.
Déoric found Fana near the spot where he had left her, and Blythe sitting on Merilwen's lap.
"I hope you'll excuse me from dancing today," he said. "My arm hurts a bit."
"That's quite alright," replied Fana. "I'm happy just to talk and watch."
She snuggled up to him as soon as he sat down and he put his arm round her shoulder.
"Are you going to join the dancing, Merilwen?"
"Good grief, no. I get out of breath far too easily these days. Besides, I like to hold this little one here."
So, they stayed where they were, watching as the sets formed and moved about in their circles and rows and figures of eight. When Déoric saw his mother and Léofred whirling past, he was astonished to see how young they looked, and how happy. Soon his eyes got tired of trying to follow the movement of this dancer or that, and it all dissolved into a chaos of colour as the festive garments shone in the light. He sighed, deeply contented that he had all the pigments he could wish for to paint this and anything, anything he liked.
"She has gone to sleep," said Merilwen.
"Oh." Fana stroked over Blythe's head. "I haven't brought her basket, how silly of me. Pass her here, your arms must be getting tired."
"Oh, no, no, she's fine where she is. And if you wish, you can leave her with me for a while. I promise not to run away with her, much as I might feel tempted."
"Thank you, I wouldn't mind getting a bit of fresh air," said Fana and fanned her neck with the top of her dress. "We' won't be long." She pulled Déoric up by his hand and they went out, past the flower statues and down the big stair. It was later than Déoric had thought, and the sun stood very low. The merrymaking continued out here, too, and since there was no other seat to be found, they sat down on a wall by an inn. People danced to the tunes of pipes and fiddles. A couple of men walked about placing lanterns on fences and low branches. They would soon be lit and mirror the stars over Edoras. Déoric drew in the evening air. The scent of lily-of-the-valley floated down from a bunch of the flowers that grew in a window box.
"It's strange to think it was only a year ago," said Fana. He knew what she meant. This was the wall they'd been sitting on the night they had finally reconciled. "So much has happened since."
"Yes, indeed. So much that I wouldn't know where to start recounting it all."
"And which was the best thing, you think?"
"Getting Blythe, of course." He took her hand. "Not that wedding you wasn't a great event in my life, but Blythe… I can't get over how she is so entirely new to the world. Every time I look at her, I am amazed."
"I know what you mean. Oh! What was that?"
Fana rubbed her temple where something had just hit her. They looked around and saw small dark, shapes gliding about with a faint hum. Déoric reached up and caught one in his hand. He opened his palm and revealed a large beetle. It was as thick as his finger, with brown wings and a line of white zigzag shapes running along its sides and fanned antennae that looked almost like antlers. Prickly little legs tickled his skin.
"Goodness, what is it with bugs this year?" cried Fana. "First the ladybirds and now the cockchafers! We'll have to pick them out of the garden in the morning, or they'll just eat everything. Dirlayn would be really upset if we lost her vegetables."
"Get your brothers to help. They'd love that kind of job."
"Ha! Most likely they'll want to keep them as pets! Or even worse, bake them into a pie."
"They're probably very nourishing."
"Don't make a face like that. There are starving children in Dunland, you know, who'd be glad for a bowl of cockchafer soup."
"Déoric! I wouldn't have thought it possible that you could ever make a joke about starving Dunlendings."
"Oh, well. I suppose it doesn't seem like such a desperate cause anymore. If Éomer's plans succeed, then the cockchafers of Dunland will not end in the pot but as pets under the beds of unruly boys."
"You're being silly."
She wrapped her arms round his neck and pressed her head against his chest. He inhaled. As ever, she smelled of the camomile infusion she used for rinsing her hair.
"Do you think the peace will last?"
"Who knows?" he said. "As far as Dunland is concerned, I am hopeful, but they're not the only adversaries. The king says he will soon lead another campaign in the East with King Elessar. You heard Merilwen, though. They have peace with Harad now, and maybe peace will come at last with the Easterlings. And even if not, I don't think we'll have war on our doorsteps again. Not in our lifetime, and not for generations to come."
"Well, you've done your part to bring that about. It might have seemed foolish at the time to risk a breach with the king, but you were right to stand up for the Dunlendings. I'm so proud of you."
"I didn't think much of the consequences at the time. I just couldn't keep quiet about it. Fortunately it all turned out for the best." He leaned back and stared up at the sky. "There, I can see the first star."
Fana turned her head and looked in the direction he was pointing.
"What do you think stars are made of?"
"Joy," said Fana. "Pure, brilliant joy."