3. Taking Shape
Far to the South and East of Rohan, somewhere in the land of Ithilien, wild roses flowered in a garden, and in the garden stood a house, and in the house was a room with a bed, and in that bed lay a very disgruntled young woman. An older woman of maybe not quite fifty hovered by the bedside. Her face showed a mixture of concern and well-worn patience.
"But my lady, you really must keep to your bed," she said in the tone of someone who knows that they are right, but barely expect to be listened to.
"I feel much better now, Merilwen. And the bleeding stopped three days ago."
"My lady, would you not rather be safe than sorry? In another week, I would allow you to get up for a while to see how you fare. The bleeding might start again, and it might not. We'll have to see. But for now, for the sake of your babe, you must lie down."
Éowyn pressed her lips together and turned her head aside.
"I can't bear it," she said quietly while Merilwen arranged the bedclothes. "I need to be up and moving. I need to go outside and feel some fresh air on my face."
Merilwen pulled up a chair to Éowyn's bedside and sat down. With her firm, broad hands she smoothed back her dark hair, which was tied in a bun at the nape of her neck.
"Lady Éowyn," she said in her soft voice. "Have you seen many women bear children? Have you lived closely with those who've had newborns?"
"Not closely, no. I know how it goes, though, Merilwen. I know of the pain, and I will be brave."
"It is not the pain I wish to speak to you about, my lady. The pain only lasts for a day or two. There's more to having a child than just that. This little one inside your belly is taking over your life now and will do even more so after the birth. At least for a while, you will not be able to think of what you need, because the needs of the child will be so great that they will fill your whole world. You will have it easier than most women, for you will have servants to help you, but if you wish to feed the babe yourself as you told me, then you'll have to be there for it any time, day and night. What is more, you will find that you can think of little else than whether your babe is safe and well. I have heard many women say that there had been no greater upheaval in their lives than the arrival of their first child. I believe you would do well to use this time of bed rest for teaching your mind to quell its own desires, because that is a skill you will need later."
Éowyn looked at the healer sheepishly, like someone caught in a thoughtless act.
"Do you think I am being selfish?"
"No, my lady. You are just like any other person without a child, myself included. I'm only telling you what I have seen in others. A newborn child is so helpless and needy that it commands a mother's care without pause. And every mother I ever saw wanted to care for her newborn. Those who are too ill to do so can become quite distressed when they see others take care of their child. Where there's a babe in the house, all other things must wait."
Éowyn considered her hands and rubbed the shapely nails with the tip of a finger.
"Will my life never be the same again?" she whispered.
Merilwen took the young woman's hand and stroked it with her thumb.
"No, my lady, it won't. But I think you will find that you can get used to a life that is different. Do you remember Déoric?"
"How could I forget him?" said Éowyn with a smile. "You speak of him whenever you get a chance."
"That's true," replied Merilwen. "He is close to my heart. I feared for him when he left the Houses, and I have seldom rejoiced so much in anything as I have in his letter. What I wanted to say about him, though, is this: when Déoric lost his leg, he thought that his life would never be the same again, and he was right. He was wrong, however, to think that he could never be happy again. As we have seen, he has found the good life for himself, but it is so different from the life he used to lead that he couldn't have imagined it. I think this is what you will find, too."
"I thought at first a child would simply add to our happiness," said Éowyn. "I see now that it will take away a lot of my freedom. But Merilwen, I am not so unused to caring for someone as you think. I looked after my uncle for many years when he was poorly. I did it out of love for him and because it was my duty, but I often felt like a bird caught in a cage."
"You may feel like that again to begin with. But remember that your child will grow and gain strength and skill every day. Soon it will walk and then talk and little by little grow away from you. One day you may be surprised to see that your child doesn't need you any longer or at least not as much as before, and then you will be free again, though you may find that freedom less alluring than it seemed when you couldn't have it."
"That doesn't sound so bad. But I think you are right. I shall have to learn how to be patient and ask less for myself."
"So, will you promise to stay in your bed then?"
Éowyn sighed. "I promise. But leave the windows open, will you?"
"That I will. Coming to think of it, there's no reason why we shouldn't get a day bed put up for you on the balcony. Would that cheer you up?"
"Oh, yes!" Forgetting her promise in her enthusiasm, Éowyn sat up in bed. Merilwen gently pushed her back into the pillows.
"Lie down, my lady. Have a bit of patience. I will get it arranged straight away. In half an hour, you'll be out in the sunshine."
"Thank you." Éowyn's hands stroked the bedclothes, drawing swirly patterns with her index finger. "Merilwen? Did you know that Mithrandir called Ioreth Wise Woman of Gondor? I think if he had met you, he would have had something similar to say about you."
Later that afternoon, Éowyn awoke from a light slumber and opened her eyes to the blue sky. The sound she had been half-conscious of even in her sleep came from the fields beyond the garden. It was the strange rasping of the cicadas. A gust of wind carried up the scent of wild roses from the bushes beneath the balcony. The child was awake; she felt it moving. With her hand on her belly, she closed her eyes again and tried to imagine a life that was different, yet happy.
Déoric cracked the egg and carefully separated the yolk from the white. He placed the yolk on a piece of cloth and set the bowl with the white aside to be sent to the kitchen, where it would make someone's portion of scrambled egg a little bit paler. The thought made Déoric grin.
When the skin of the yolk had lost its sheen, Déoric gently lifted the cloth and let the yellowish bubble slide to the edge of the fabric. He held it over a ceramic jar and with a small knife cut into the membrane. The content of the yolk drained into the jar. Déoric added a spoonful of water and some drops of linseed oil and stirred the mixture. Then he closed the jar with a stopper and put it aside. This would be the base for his paint; he would blend the egg mixture it with the pigments on the palette.
A smile crept into his face as he lifted the lid of the beech wood case beside him. Inside, more than a dozen tiny boxes were arranged in two neat rows, each labelled in black ink. Master Amarant had explained these pigments in much detail. Some of them were referred to as earths, because they were based on special kinds of clay, others were scraped off corroded metals or extracted from boiled wood shavings. Déoric ran a finger over the boxes: Burnt umber, a rich brown. Vermilion, a beautiful bright red. Sinopia, a colour he found useful for flesh tones. He had recently made his first attempt at painting something human: his own hand. Terre Verte – this one gave him trouble, sticking to the brush rather than flowing. Flake white, very poisonous according to Master Amarant's notes, because it contained lead. Bright yellow Orpiment. Lamp black, made from the soot collected off oil lamps. Woad. Verzino. Verdigris. And there was his favourite, ultramarine, the intense blue of the ground lapis lazuli stone. It was the most precious of his pigments and he used it sparingly, fighting the temptation to try and paint his grassy country under a brilliant blue sky. He wasn't ready for such glory yet. Sometimes, when he was out riding, he closed his eyes to shut out the images that clamoured for his attention.
Even more urgently he wanted to paint people; Fana of course, but also Gléowine, or the king in his handsome garments of olive green and rusty red. Alluring as those images were though, he knew he was but a novice in the art of painting and had to stick to simple things, inanimate objects like vegetables or pieces of crockery. These were dull, but necessary exercises, and he tried as best he could to rein in his impatience. At least the motif he had chosen this time was one much closer to his heart than the ceramic pot he had painted yesterday. He had asked Éomer if he could borrow the item for a day or two and the king had readily agreed. It lay in front of him now, familiar and yet strange, for he hadn't seen it since that day in May when he had handed it over to the Princess of Dol Amroth. It was the book he had made for Éomer King, the book that had changed his life. He touched it gently and then turned to the board on his desk.
The last layer of gesso, which he had applied earlier, was dry. He was ready to paint.
The following day Déoric sat at his desk and tried to catch up with some scribing tasks. Drawing, painting or recording stories seemed more attractive work at any time, but he was, after all, still the king's scribe and as such he needed to attend to the much duller chores of writing inventories. His stylus worked neatly and briskly down the pages. Propped up on the window sill stood the half-finished painting of the Book.
Noon was approaching when Léofred came in and seated himself on the spare chair.
"We need to think, Déoric," he said. "The king wants you to ride out into the Westfold by the beginning of October, and I agree that it would be good if you could have a few weeks of travelling and collecting stories before the winter. But there will still be scribing work that has to be done, and I am too busy to deal with it all. I was wondering if your uncle would be willing to step in, if we offer him a farm hand in exchange."
"I'm sure he would. The thought had occurred to me, too. I shall write to him directly. He and my aunt would soon be visiting us anyway, and it would just mean to come earlier and for longer."
"Good, then hopefully he will agree. But, Déoric, we must face the facts. You are Chronicler of the Mark, you are supposed to record our heritage in word and drawing, and now you are expected to be painting, too. The scribe's duties can no longer be placed on your shoulders. You must train up an apprentice, or maybe your uncle could be persuaded to do so, since he has already produced one very fine scribe. We need to look out for a lad who would be willing to learn the scrivener's craft."
Déoric twisted a braid around his paint-stained finger.
"I think I know someone suitable," he said. "Guntram's son, Brecc. I've been teaching him to read and he is learning very well. I believe he will make a good scribe."
"You never cease to amaze me, Déoric. There are so many sides to you. Scholar, artists, teacher – oh, and lover, of course." He winked. "It is very endearing that your wife accompanies you to work almost every morning."
The bashful part of Déoric wanted to pick up a sheet of parchment to hide his face behind, but he shoved this impulse aside and looked Léofred straight in the eyes.
"Indeed," he said. "And you know what, Master Léofred, come spring I shall also be a father."
A broad grin spread on Léofred's face. He stepped round the desk and gave Déoric a hearty hug. "Congratulations, my boy. This is wonderful news. Not that I'm surprised, mind you. Your Fana has been flourishing ever since you wed her. I don't think I've ever seen a happier young woman or, for that matter, a more devoted husband."
Bashfulness did get the better of Déoric for an instant and succeeded in colouring his cheeks, but he checked it manfully and beamed at the king's advisor.
"I am very happy, Master Léofred. Nothing better could have ever happened to me than marrying Fana. And that is saying a great deal, if you consider my good fortune during this last year. All I hope now is that I can make it up to her for all the sorrow I caused her with my foolish behaviour. It puts me to shame just to think of it."
Léofred shook his head.
"Don't blame yourself, Déoric. You needed time to come to terms with what had happened to you. Of course you could have acted more wisely, but it's asking a bit much to demand wisdom from a man of barely twenty. It's a thing that takes long years to gain, like all virtues. But enough of such solemn talk." The smile returned to his face. "Are you hoping for a son or a daughter?"
Déoric shrugged. With his silver stylus, he doodled leaf shapes on a scrap of parchment.
"I don't know," he said. A twisted stem appeared, linking the leaves into a rampant vine. Long, drooping flowers sprouted from the tips of the branches. "I find it hard to imagine that there will be a real child. At this time, it is just something the women talk about. And when I say something, they giggle and look at me and say I don't understand. I find it embarrassing to see my mother giggling."
Léofred laughed. "Now, that's something that I find hard to imagine. She seemed a very solemn and dignified woman to me."
Seed pods grew out of the flowers, then the stylus scattered the seeds and tiny plants sprung up all over the parchment.
"She's had some hard times," said Déoric quietly. "I remember her being always cheerful when my father was still around, but since he died she has never really stopped being sad. And then there was all the trouble with me. It's only since Fana has moved into the house that I see something of her old self again. And now she's all thrilled with the idea of being a grandmother. Don't you think that's a bit strange? I mean, you'd think it would make her feel old and melancholy, wouldn't you?"
With the sheet now entirely covered in rambling plants, Déoric began to shade in leaves and petals.
"I really couldn't say, Déoric," replied Léofred. "I never had a wife or child, let alone a grandchild. It's an unknown world for me."
Déoric looked up.
"Are you lonely?" he asked, tentatively.
Léofred made an evasive gesture with both hands.
"There's no sad story, you know. I simply never met a woman I wanted to wed, so I suppose I don't know what I'm missing. And I have friends. I consider you a friend, Déoric."
"I'm honoured that you should think so, Master Léofred. I can't think of anything I've done to be worthy of your friendship, but you have certainly been a friend to me. If it wasn't for you…" Déoric looked around and indicated the desk, the piles of parchments, the whole scribe's room. His voice faltered. Léofred patted him on the shoulder.
"Come, now, Déoric, you're not often lost for words. There's no need for meekness. It's been a pleasure to give you a hand up and I have greatly enjoyed helping to bring out your talents. However, I believe we are now on more equal footing, and we should behave accordingly. So I suggest that henceforth you simply call me Léofred. Or would you prefer it if I addressed you as Master Déoric?"
"You know, I might just ask you to do that," he said with a grin. "It would help me to feel even more self-important than I already do, what with getting letters from a princess and everything."
"Ha, now you're pushing it! Right, I have things to do, and you'd better get going and write that letter."
Déoric looked blank.
"The letter to your uncle, remember?" said Léofred. "That was what I came to talk to you about in the first place."
"Oh, yes, of course. We seem to have rambled on quite a bit."
"Indeed," replied Léofred. "A bit like that." He tapped the parchment Déoric had been doodling on. The young man looked at it as if he saw it for the first time. He laughed.
"I wish painting came to me as easily as that."
"Maybe one day it will," said Léofred.
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.