5. Chapter 5
It was seventeen days after the host of the Rohirrim had departed for their homeland that the first letter arrived. Idrin had stood gazing at the messenger as he handed her the envelope, informing her it came from Aldburg. Her blank expression caused a frown to slowly cloud the man's features, but the healer was quick to thank him, and he took his leave dutifully. Breaking the seal and smoothing out the single page, Idrin's eyes found the rounded letters forming the script in careful Westron and understood.
Éothain's sister, Sethryth, had written to thank her for helping her brother choose those little gifts he had taken back from Gondor. The silver-gilt hairpins were beautiful, she wrote; the crimson stonecrop-heads exquisitely fashioned. Her mother, Déorwynn, also sent greetings, thanking Idrin for the sturdy brooch she had picked out.
The healer penned a prompt reply, sending it with the messenger bound for Rohan the following morning, and thus a frequent correspondence began.
In her letters, Sethryth painted a much more vivid picture of Aldburg than her brother had, describing in detail the green hill east of Edoras on which the fortress-city stood; the design of the houses and the large marketplace within the high palisade; the cultivated fields and green pastures running from the walls to the Great West Road; the wide stream that skirted the hill and flowed towards the White Mountains. She talked also of the many responsibilities that had recently fallen on her parents' shoulders – after Éomer's accession to kingship, the rule of Aldburg had passed to her father, due to Léofred's being Éomer's closest male relative.1
In return Idrin wrote about her childhood home in Forvarad and her brothers, about her life in Minas Tirith and her work in the Houses of Healing. She spoke of the frenzy of activity which had preceded the King Elessar's return to the High City and of her helping her cousin Faramir with whatever tasks she could.
The healer had been reading Sethryth's latest letter, one brimming with joy at her coming autumn wedding to her betrothed, Cénweald, when the summons from the King came. She followed the errand-runner to the White Tower and found Gondor's new sovereign in the great hall, deep in conversation with her cousin. Both looked up as she approached.
"Lady, Faramir tells me you have been a most capable mistress of this household; and indeed, I have seen such with my own eyes." Elessar did not lose time on pleasantries. "I have a boon to ask of you, as I have not yet appointed a housekeeper. High guests are to arrive soon; I would have you oversee the preparations made in the King's House for their sojourn. And pray, air well the Queen's solar."
The mention of guests was unexpected: to that moment, there had been no word of such lofty visitors. Yet, Idrin recalled the watchmen the King had set on the walls that morning and a sense of understanding sank in. She inclined her head. "It shall be done."
Afterwards, as she made her way across the Place of the Fountain, Idrin's gaze fell on the sapling now standing there. It had grown and blossomed swiftly since its planting in late May, a mere month ago;2 it would undoubtedly become a mighty tree. She smiled to herself.
* * *
"Leave the drapes open; let the sun in."
Idrin walked to the middle of the bedchamber and turned in a slow circle, sweeping the room with a critical eye. The floor was spotless in the light; new wall-hangings lessened the bareness of white stone; the carved bedposts and other furniture gleamed with a rich brown hue. Smoothing the bed linens, Idrin's fingers stirred a faint scent of lavender. She hummed quietly to herself and headed to the adjoining bathroom.
Seeing the tub and soft towels in place, she nodded her satisfaction. "All that remains is to bring the bath-soaps." There was a whisper of movement behind her as she spoke. "No strong smells: daffodil, lemongrass, jasmine will do, I believe."3 She turned on her heel and exited the chamber, the maidservant following in her wake to carry out her task.
Walking along the corridor, Idrin came to a halt before a pair of double doors. Inside, two domestics flitted around the room, chattering as they went about their work. Their voices quieted when Idrin joined them.
The healer looked appreciatively over at the open window, warmth and sunlight flooding in. The walls and floor had been scrubbed and washed; soft cushions were placed on the comfortable couches and chairs dotting the room; the fireplace had been cleaned; hangings on the wall added brightness. Idrin went to the window, taking in the view to the Court of the Fountain.
Nearly a week had passed and there had been no news concerning the King's expected guests. Rumours among those working in the Citadel spoke of allies coming from the North – of great Elf-lords, and mighty rulers of Men from distant lands, and stout Dwarf-kings. In view of a previous brief conversation with the Half-elves Elladan and Elrohir, Idrin had come to entertain her own thoughts. Aragorn had been fostered by their father, Elrond, the brethren had said, and Imladris had been his home for many years. Surely the high guests he now expected were his foster-father and those of his household?
"My lady, this is the last one."
The voice drew Idrin from her musings and she turned round. An elderly servant stood in the doorway, two men opening out a heavy roll of cloth before her. "It has been rubbed with bran and vinegar, as you instructed," the woman continued as Idrin went closer. "Should it go to the royal chambers?"
The healer contemplated the deer and white-barked, tall trees along the stream that ran through the green meadow woven in the tapestry. The freshened colours were quite vivid. "No," she said. "It is better suited here. Hang it on the wall opposite the fireplace." The calmness the sunlit scene evoked was perfect for the Queen's solar.
The men picked up the tapestry and carried it to the south wall. Just then, a messenger came, announcing that the King Elessar's guests were drawing near the Pelennor.
* * *
My dear friend,
In your last letter you told me of the wedding of Elessar King and his lady Arwen. It must have been a splendid ceremony indeed! And so many days of rejoicing afterwards! In the Riddermark royal weddings are celebrated for three days, but then, your land has been without King or Queen for many a century.
And Elves... We in the Mark have not had dealings with them for many decades, but tales say they are strange beings, a race who do not concern themselves with the doings of others beyond their own realms. Some can even see into the hearts of Men, stories claim, and bewitch them. Yet, reading your impressions concerning their loftiness of character and wisdom, I confess my thought is intrigued.
But now I stray from the chief reason I am writing this letter. I am with child. The healer confirmed it a few days ago when I sought her out because of my feeling poor. She said that experiencing pregnancy sickness so early is not common but does happen on occasion, especially when the baby is a boy. Cénweald wishes for a son, and I admit I am of a like mind. The healer said that carrying boys is more taxing to the body, but she also said the bouts of sickness will have passed by the time of the wedding, which is a relief.
Cénweald you will most likely meet soon, as he, along with my brother, is one of the Riders who will accompany Éomer King to Mundburg and bear the body of Théoden King back to the Mark. Their company may even arrive before this letter does.
Éothain meant to write to you, but his riding out with the éored to cleanse the Eastfold from the remaining servants of the Dark Lord has prevented him from doing so. He returned only yesterday, and hearing I was to send you a missive, he bade me give you his fondest greetings. This I do, and hope we meet in person soon.
Idrin folded the letter and returned it to the small purse on her belt. When she looked up, she saw Queen Arwen settling in a seat beneath the White Tree, a book in her hands and two heavier tomes beside her. Pleased to have found her, the healer approached the Elven-lady.
"Queen Arwen, the preparations in Merethrond for tonight's feast are nearly completed."
Gondor's female sovereign looked up. "From what I have seen earlier, the cooks appear to have surpassed themselves." There was a spark in her eyes.
"Well, the Great Hall has never seated such and so many high guests before," Idrin said lightly. King Éomer and his party from Rohan had arrived in the early afternoon. Having to prepare a banquet for a company of Kings and Princes, puissant Elf-lords and lofty Elven-ladies, it was no wonder the cooks strove for perfection.
Idrin's eyes were drawn to the books the Queen carried; she recognised the title on the brown, leather-bound volume. One corner of her mouth curved upwards. "It has been many years since I last came across this book." Truly, she had not seen The Stewards of Gondor ever since her schooling days as a girl.
Arwen glanced down at the three tomes. "The Citadel's library has a wonderful collection indeed. I found these while looking to learn more of Gondor and its history." She gazed at Idrin. "I did not know the Steward Denethor claimed Elven descent."
"So is written in the records, and not many remember it. Uncle Denethor's mother – my grandmother Almiel – was descended from Gilmith, the daughter of the Silvan Elf Mithrellas whom the Man Imrazôr took to wife,"4 said Idrin.
"Is there naught else to their tale? This" – the Elven Queen placed a long finger on the book she held – "tells no more of it."
"It is said that Mithrellas was a companion of Nimrodel of Lórien," Idrin began.
* * *
The lights in the Citadel gave the warm night something of the brilliance of day. The seventh circle seldom appeared so alive, filled with voices and laughter as people in their finery flocked about the sapling of the White Tree or sauntered through the greenswards and garden which now grew where paved stone had been.
A night-bird trilled from among the thick leaves of a young tree, and Idrin revelled in the clear sound as she made her way towards the Great Hall of Feasts. Truly, these presents of trees and birds and flowers that the Elven-king Thranduil had gifted to Elessar gave a new, joyous breath to the Citadel.5
"My lady Idrin, good evening."
The familiar voice, speaking the Common Tongue in accent like to the speech of the Men of the North, drew her attention.
Éothain stood near her, a spark in his eye.
She offered a gentle smile. "How was your journey?"
"Quiet," answered Éothain. He then turned to the man at his side. "This is Cénweald, my sister's betrothed."
"Sethryth has written she is with child," said Idrin fondly. "Will you give her this?" She presented Cénweald with a small package. "These should not stay in a box forever." Hanging together from fine metal twines, the tiny bells chimed softly as they were lifted from their case, glinting amber in the light. "They are called vaiwenyelli in the High-elven tongue – wind-bells. It is an old tradition in my father's family, begun in Númenor, to make such a gift to a wedded couple expecting a child. They are given as a blessing and hung near the cradle – their sound calms the babe and lulls it to sleep."
"Thank you." Cénweald held the box close to his heart. "But Sethryth and I have yet to wed," he remarked.
Idrin shook her head. "That matters little. Every child is precious, be it conceived in wedlock or outside it." As the words faded into silence, she perceived Éothain's gaze on her and turned to him.
The Rider was quick to voice his thoughts. "I was given the impression that people in Gondor do not look favourably on those instances when an unwed couple is expecting a child."
Idrin looked at him speculatively. "It is true there are some old nobles who think it ungracious and even disgraceful," she said; "but when a child is known to be conceived in love, it is not deemed thus."
Her words were followed by the sound of a high bell, the sign that the feast was to begin. Considering her reply as they reached their destination, Éothain saw the omission in it. He opened his mouth to speak, but the hum of voices and throng of people engulfing them as they stepped into the Great Hall of Feasts drove the question from his mind.
* * *
The sombre notes of the lone lute and the slow voice of the Rohirric bard singing of King Théoden faded away. Gradually, the silence that had fallen was broken once more, and as a more lively melody began, dancers took their place in the cleared space. Rising from his seat at the table nearest the dais, Éothain offered his hand to Idrin.
As they fell into the familiar pattern of steps, away from the many eyes and ears at table, the Rider recalled part of the healer's words to Cénweald. "Those wind-bells, when where they made?"
The sudden enquiry made Idrin start in his arms. She took a quick breath, willing her body to relax. "Two years ago. My father had them made for me when my betrothal to Thaldor was announced." She saw the questioning expression on Éothain's face but as the Rider simply gazed at her and did not speak, she went on: "He was eager to see me become a mother, I suppose." She exhaled heavily. "Time went against all of us. But those wind-bells ought not to be left unused simply because events forbade it once."
As he mulled over Idrin's words and what she had left unspoken, Éothain realised he had never had such a conversation with a woman before, excepting those rare occasions with his mother and sister. This had been quite effortless and earnest; he liked it. He drew a long breath. "Seven years ago a strong fever claimed the life of the woman I loved. It was many months before the pain began to lessen. Fleothe's death made me understand that time is fleeting and precious."
The music had stopped and a spell of quiet followed. Idrin stood before Éothain in a pensive mood. Yet, when the first notes of a brisk Gondorian tune were struck up, the Rohir offered his hand to her once again, a placid expression on his face.
End of Part III
To come: Colours of Dawn Part IV – Packing Clouds Away
1 '[E]orl . . . chose for his dwelling a green hill before the feet of the White Mountains . . .' (The Return of the King, Appendix A, The House of Eorl); '[In Aldburg in the Folde] Eorl had is house; it passed after Brego son of Eorl had removed to Edoras into the hands of Eofor, third son of Brego, from whom Éomund, father of Éomer, claimed descent.' (Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Chapter V, Appendix (i))
Given the hereditary nature of rulership and his descent from Eofor, it can be deduced that Éomund – and Éomer after him – was the Lord of Aldburg. Following Éomer's accession to the throne, the rule of Aldburg would pass to his closest male relative, who, in my expansion on familial connections, is Éothain's father, Léofred.
2 After the sapling on the new White Tree was planted in the Citadel, the text states that 'when the month of June entered in it was laden with blossom'. Aragorn takes this as a sign: '"The sign has been given . . . and the day is not far off." And he set watchmen upon the walls.' Arwen arrives at Minas Tirith on the eve of Midsummer. (The Return of the King, Book 6, Chapter V: The Steward and the King)
Contradicting the narrative, the Tale of Years states that Aragorn found the sapling on the 25th of June. If this date is correct and 'when the month of June entered in' an error meant to read 'when the month of June exited/July entered in', then Arwen arrives at the City almost before the watchmen are set on the walls, which is implausible.
This discrepancy is not the only one to be found in Professor Tolkien's works – there are other such slips, remnants of earlier ideas which escaped his attention while revising. As noted by Christopher Tolkien, another example is the birth-date of Tar-Elendil's daughter Silmariën, a date which was corrected in reprints of The Lord of the Rings following the 50th Anniversary Edition: '. . . Silmarien was the eldest child of Tar-Elendil; and her birth-date is several times given as Second Age 521, while that of her brother Tar-Meneldur is fixed at 543. In the Tale of Years . . . however Silmarien's birth is given in the annal entry 548; a date that goes back to the first drafts of that text. I think it very likely that this should have been revised but escaped notice.' (Unfinished Tales, Part 2, Chapter III, Notes)
Given Tolkien's paying enormous attention to detail, the discrepancy concerning the date of the finding of the sapling of the White Tree leads me to believe that 'June 25' was one such slip, meant to read 'May 25', a date which is by all accounts more likely.
3 Considering the achievements of the peoples of Arda (Elves and Númenóreans in particular), it's not improbable that they possessed the knowledge of making perfumed soaps, much like the people of the twelfth century developing hard soaps 'scented with aromatic herbs' (Morris Bishop, The Middle Ages).
4 '[T]he Elven-lady Mithrellas . . . was one of the companions of Nimrodel, among many of the Elves that fled to [Belfalas] about the year 1980 of the Third Age, when evil arose in Moria; and Nimrodel and her maidens strayed in the wooded hills, and were lost . . . Imrazôr harboured Mithrellas, and took her to wife. But when she had borne him a son, Galador, and a daughter, Gilmith, she slipped away by night and he saw her no more.' (Unfinished Tales, Part 2, Chapter IV, Amroth and Nimrodel)
Tolkien gives us no information concerning the mother of Denethor II; her genealogy is my taking creative licence.
5 '"They need more gardens," said Legolas . . . If Aragorn comes into his own, the people of the Wood shall bring him birds that sing and trees that do not die.' (The Return of the King, Book 5, Chapter IX: The Last Debate)
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