Through Shadows

Chapter 28

Chapter 28

Sandalwood and Lilies

Very fair was her face, and her long hair was like a river of gold. Slender and tall she was in her white robe girt with silver; but strong she seemed and stern as steel, a daughter of kings.

quoted from: The King of the Golden Hall, The Two Towers, Book III by J.R.R. Tolkien

Minas Tirith, 3rd March, 3019 Third Age

Standing on the footstool, Éowyn carefully tended her pot of heart's ease. Much to her regret, almost all the small tricoloured flowers had faded over the few last days. She could spot tiny green buds where she had nipped the wilted blossoms, but it would take some time for them to develop into flowers. Feeling uneasy, she flexed her shoulders. For hours she had paced her room, trained her hand with the help of the iron bar, hoping to work off some of the strange tension that had seized her, but in vain. How could it be that she felt exhausted and restless at the same time?

To think that the Steward had thought her to be his future king's betrothed! She grimaced, recalling the painful sensation. At least she had done the right thing, had tried to sweep away all her demons, everything that could lead to further misunderstandings between her and... the Steward. She frowned. True, he was the Steward of Gondor, but she could not help the feeling that by calling him her friend, it simply did not figure to think of him using his title. He was so much more than just the Steward, though certainly he also was a good Steward. Reaching for the jug to water the flowers, she shook her head. What was it that had unhinged her so profoundly?

She was forcefully interrupted in her musings, by Tuingail sweeping into the room like a whirlwind of blue and golden-brown, her face lit with happy excitement. "Good afternoon, Lady Éowyn. I have come to abduct and take you to the shops."

Surprised, Éowyn raised her eyebrows. "You? Have you been to Minas Tirith before? Do you know which shops to go to?"

Totally unabashed, the girl laughed. "No and no, my lady. But when the Steward's man brought the news that a certain shop in the soap boilers' lane, he had been sent to investigate about, was open I pestered Lady Sealind to let me come, too. As a guide her handmaid is coming with us." Tuingail grimaced. "Nínim is a dragon, but as she knows the prices, she'll come in very handy to keep the traders from cheating us."

The Steward's man... So Faramir had sent Beregond to find out about it. Éowyn frowned, feeling somehow disturbed, remembering their conversation about fragrances. But then she had also told him how much she had liked the scented soaps Boromir had given her when visiting Théodred...

Tuingail flopped down on the bed, prattling on enthusiastically. "Just imagine, there will be a feast the day after tomorrow at the Steward's palace. It's a pity that there will be no dancing, but I suppose Lady Saelind is right that it would not do with so many good people having died. And anyway there would be too few men. But I will be able to wear my new dress. I'm so happy about it. Just imagine: I'll be wearing a lhaewsmir for the first time."

"A lhaewsmir?"

Tuingail beamed. "All Gondorean ladies wear it at feasts and the like. It's so beautiful!" Seeing Éowyn's frown, she tried to explain. "One could call it a mixture of a hair clip and a diadem. Mine is made of pearls and green tourmaline."

Not the wiser after this description, Éowyn was just about to ask for some further explanation, when biting her lower lip, the girl suddenly shot her an insecure look. "You won't give me away when she tells you tonight, will you? Lady Saelind, I mean. I don't think I was supposed to tell you about the feast."

Éowyn shook her head. "You certainly do talk a bit too much, Tuingail, but you have given nothing away, for the Steward already informed me this morning. And he also said that Lady Saelind will arrange for an appropriate outfit for me."

The girl nodded eagerly. "So she will. Oh, you will look so splendid! And now we are to go and buy perfumes." The girl jumped up and clapped her hand in childish joy. "Lady Saelind said it's the best shop to buy scents and soaps and they have a wonderful range of goods. So please, say you are coming, for Nínim will never take just me down to that shop."

Soon Éowyn found herself walking down to the third circle of the city, Tuingail and the handmaid, a big-boned woman in her forties, at her side, while her two guards followed at a due distance. Town-life had changed remarkably since Éowyn's ride down to the camp. Everywhere the doors to the typical yards stood open, revealing views into paved courtyards adorned with large flowerpots and the occasional tree or decorative shrub here and there.

The lower they went, the less impressive were the buildings and the busier the traffic, and when they finally reached the third circle one of the guards had to walk ahead of them to clear the way through the throng. Realising who she was, people stopped and bowed politely to her, but as soon as she had passed the hubbub of gossip rose. Tuingail was bouncing at her side like a filly on her first venture onto the plains at her dam's side and Éowyn wondered when Nínim would show the first signs of being a dragon. The girl certainly was sweet, but her endless prattle and exclamations slowly were chafing Éowyn's nerves. She was relieved when after half an hour's walk they reached the soap boilers' lane. Not many shops were opened, but Nínim steered them unerringly to one of the larger buildings. In front of it stalls had been put up at both sides of the door, and Éowyn noticed a wide range of candles, wedges of soap, bunches of dried herbs and flowers and small, glazed earthenware jars and flasks of the kind Tórdes had given her.

Tuingail made to rush over and have a look at the displayed goods, but Nínim resolutely caught her arm and ushered her towards the door. "That's just the usual stuff everyone can get for a copper. In you go if you want the real quality."

The guard ahead opened the door, and stepping inside, held it open for them to enter, while the second guard took up his post outside. For a moment Éowyn beheld two shop-assistants gaping at the guard in his shining mail with a mixture of fear and admiration, but then the shop owner, a small mousy man with a balding head, bustled into the room, bowing repeatedly.

"The ladies wish to have a look at your choice of products and purchase some scents." Nínim did not bother to sound friendly or even polite, facing the shop owner with open disdain. The man nodded hastily.

"Certainly, mistress Nínim. My ladies, do you have anything special on your mind? Any scent you prefer? We stock all the most sophisticated perfumes and ingredients, scented lotions, oils and ointments, soaps and perfumed candles."

The shop was quite large, thrice as wide as deep, with a row of white columns dividing it into three square departments of almost the same size. All the walls were covered with shelves from floor to ceiling, all of them laden with baskets and boxes full of soaps, small labelled pots and jars of many different shapes and colours, glazed earthenware bottles, and bundles of multi-coloured candles. Spanning the background of the middle department was a huge shop counter, displaying arrangements of tiny boxes and parcels, while the shelve behind it held a large number of big brown glass vessels and tiny flacons of many colours, artfully decorated with ornaments of molten glass and beaten gold.

Intrigued by familiar-looking bars of soap, Éowyn walked up to one of the shelves, finding she had not erred: There was the special soap Boromir had brought her, yellowish wedges that smelled slightly of honey, the fine sand they contained not showing to the eye but tactile to the touching finger.

"Forgive me, my lady, but that is a soap for men. A very fine one, no doubt, very sought after by the lords of the town, but nothing for a delicate lady's skin. If you would like to have a look over here, my lady." Bowing all the time, the shop owner had scuttled up to her, and now motioned over to the other side of the shop. For a split second she felt tempted to stuff the wedge of soap she was holding into his awkwardly smiling mouth, but immediately her attention and the shop owner's was caught by Tuingail, who with an exclamation of joy hastened over to the shelves the shop owner had motioned to.

Grimacing, Nínim shook her head, but the shop owner hurried over to the girl, leaving the assistants to deal with Éowyn and Lady Saelind's handmaid. Seeing the soap in Éowyn's hand, Nínim nodded with a smile. "It's a good soap. Nothing better than that and a bucket full of hot water after a sweaty day. Don't heed what that wimp says. Soap for men!" Nínim rolled her eyes and then laughed. "Though there certainly are some who come to buy this soap here, because that will be the only thing that is male about them."

Smiling, Éowyn put the bar of soap on the counter. "I have used this soap before and always found it very nice and useful. I will certainly get more of it when it's time to travel back to the Mark, but at the moment this wedge should do."

There was nothing else she wanted to buy, but she had a look around, the shop assistant following her with his eyes, ready to jump should she demand anything. She had to admit that she found more than one item she would have liked to take with her to Edoras, and if only to give it away as a present, but the scents in the air were making her feeling dizzy. She wondered how anyone could work in this shop without getting a severe headache within minutes.

Having finished her round of the shop, she noticed that the guard, a young man, was staring fascinated at the goods displayed before him and then reached for a tiny vial of bright red glass adorned with painted white and golden flowers. Éowyn shook her head. "You had better not buy that, Céorl. You won't get it back to the Mark in your saddlebag in one piece."

The guard blushed. "Yeah, I probably wouldn't, and that's a pity. She would have liked it – my wife, I mean."

Wondering if he realized at all what such a vial might cost, she smiled at him encouragingly. "Take her some soap. Boromir used to bring me scented soap when he visited the Mark and I really liked it."

The man hesitated. "I would not know what scent to chose, Hleafdige. Though the Gondoreans we had a mug with last night were all bragging about taking their sweethearts some rose oil."

Éowyn suppressed a sigh. Gilded glass and rose oil! The man obviously had expensive taste without knowing it.

"No, master Cellinor! No matter how much profit you would make out of it, that simply is not comely for a young girl." Nínim's resolute voice caused both, Éowyn and the guard, to swivel around. From the sound of the voice Éowyn had expected the handmaid to stand with her arms akimbo, tapping her foot, but the woman was just leaning casually against one of the slender columns.

"But it's ambergris and roses, Nínim, the latest craze!" Her cheeks flushed, Tuingail pouted.

"I don't care. It might be the bee's knees, but it does not befit a young girl of a noble house to smell like an over-the-hill courtesan."

To Éowyn's surprise the shop owner did not make an attempt to protest, but stowed the flacon away which he had been showing Tuingail, bowing respectively to Nínim. "There certainly are other scents you would like, my lady. Let me show you some lighter ones."

"Not necessarily lighter, master Cellinor, but less cloying and with less animality. White daffodil perhaps or lily of the valley." Despite her casual stance the handmaid's voice was adamant.

"But I do like the smell of roses," Tuingail's whined.

Nínim just shrugged. "Lave your face with rose water. That holds enough odour and also is good for the skin. And it is cheap."

An idea sprang up in Éowyn's mind. "Rosewater?" she asked.

Nínim nodded. "It's widely used for beauty care. People add it to their bathwater or rinse their hair with it. And it is also used for flavouring sweetmeats."

One of the assistants went to one of the shelves and handed Éowyn an earthenware bottle, the cork of which he had removed. Éowyn sniffed, and smiling passed the bottle to the guard. "Have a smell, Céorl. I bet this will please your wife."

He followed her order, and his face broke into a big grin. "Yeah, that's it!" Handing the bottle back to the assistant, he asked the price, and then watched the assistant secure the stopper with a coating of sealing wax.

Reaching below the counter, the shop owner put a small parcel carefully wrapped in oiled paper beside the bottle. "This is lemon-oil soap of the best quality. Take it, my good man, as a small sign of my gratitude for the Rohirrim's valour."

The Rider reached for the soap, but before he could say anything, Nínim snorted. "Make it two bars, master Cellinor. There is another guard outside."

Smiling a bit peeved, the shop owner added a second bar, and then went back to Tuingail, who was already waiting for him impatiently. The guard shoved his bargains into his belt pouch and then turned to Nínim with a grin. "It's a pity, you live in Mundburg, mistress Nínim. I would very much like to have you at my side when I'll attend the spring fair at Aldburg to sell my yearlings."

The handmaid guffawed, heedless of the piqued shop owner. "Who knows, Rider. With the ties between Rohan and Gondor being that strong, my lady might travel one day to that place, though I doubt I will be in time for the spring fair."

"Now look, Nínim, this certainly is a fragrance even you will agree with." A happy smile on her face, Tuingail came over to them, holding out a small stripe of paper to Nínim.

"White Blossoms, mistress Nínim. Mainly daffodil, as you requested," the shop owner hurried to explain, visibly relieved when Nínim, after a quick sniff at the paper, nodded.

"And now I need a fitting vial for the perfume." Beaming, Tuingail turned to the counter, where the shop assistant was already arranging a number of flacons for closer inspection, while with a fake smile and more bows the shop owner addressed Éowyn again.

"And you, my lady? Have you found anything to your liking?"

"Nothing apart from the soap you advised me not to buy." She found it difficult not to laugh, seeing the horrified expression of the shop owner.

"But Lady Éowyn!" It was Tuingail, who exclaimed, her sweet face nearly as aghast as master Cellinor's. "You need a perfume! There will be a feast and Lady Saelind..." Realising her inappropriate behaviour, the girl blushed furiously, clutching the tiny green flacon she had chosen to her chest.

For a moment an awkward silence filled the shop, but then Nínim motioned Éowyn over to a corner, speaking to her in a hushed voice. "My lady, don't get her wrong. She's a feather-brain, gushing over the first feast she's going to attend, but she's right as far as the importance of perfume goes. And as much as Lady Saelind enjoyed you slating her sister-in-law, that feast will be an official thing. Politics, you see? And you will be the representative of Rohan. Word has gone round that Gondor's king to come is close friends with your brother, nay, even calls him his brother, which has led to quite a few rumours." The handmaid grimaced. "My lady, all eyes will be on you, and I'm afraid that it will not be much easier for you than the killing of that terrible wraith. So you had better put on the necessary armour, and believe me, perfume can be an important weapon, at least when you are fighting a bunch of conceited Gondorean nobles."

Éowyn frowned. Was it that Faramir had tried to tell her this morning? But why had he not spoken more plainly then? She nodded to Nínim and went back to the counter, where the shop owner stood, nervously fumbling the cuffs of his sleeves. "Well then, master Cellinor, I want a perfume that contains bergamot, sandalwood and lilies."

The shop owner gaped. "But my lady, bergamot is so out of fashion this year, and sandalwood..."

Nínim audibly cleared her voice, and the shop owner swallowed whatever he had wanted to add, performing one more of his servile bows. "Certainly, my lady. As you wish, my lady. Would you please follow me?" He opened a door to a dim corridor, and while Nínim and Tuingail stayed behind, Éowyn and the guard followed Cellinor through the hallway into a small sunlit yard.

Breathing deep, Éowyn relished the fresh air. She would have liked to have a few more moments in the open after all the fragrances in the shop, but Cellinor ushered them across the yard, to where a door stood wide open. Inviting them to enter, he bowed again. "Meet my daughter Miriel, my lady. She is the master perfumer of Minas Tirith, though I even dare say there is no better one in the entire realm." Torn between submission and fatherly pride, he motioned to the woman sitting in the far corner of the room behind a huge desk.

It took Éowyn a moment to adjust her eyes to the dimness of the room after the bright sunlight of the yard, but when she finally could see Miriel clearly, she blinked with surprise. The woman was small, almost minute, and stepping closer to the desk, Éowyn noticed that the seat of her chair was much higher than usual to give her access to the desktop and that her feet were supported by a stool. Cellinor nervously scuttled to his daughter's side. "Miriel, my Dear, the Lady Éowyn here wishes to purchase a fragrance especially made for her." Bowing to Éowyn, he added: "Allow me to leave you to my daughter's care." Éowyn could not help the impression that he was quite in a hurry to leave. Also the old man who had been busy putting some containers made of brown and dark green glass on one of the shelves that also covered the walls of the room left as soon as he had finished his task.

"Welcome, Lady Éowyn." A voice as brittle and scratchy as broken glass, but surprisingly loud for such a tiny person. Scrutinising her out of dark, beady eyes, the perfumer waved Éowyn over to an upholstered chair near her desk. "Take a seat, my lady, and tell me what you want the perfume for. Though if you don't mind I would advise you to send out your guard first. This is a talk about perfume, and that certainly is something intimate that should stay between the two of us."

Éowyn fought not to laugh out loud. Gondoreans and their fuss about perfumes! But she truly felt intrigued by the small woman, and so she turned to her guard, telling him in the language of the Mark to wait in the yard.

When she turned back to Miriel, she found the woman watching her intently. "A very interesting language. Well, and now tell me about your purpose." Her tiny face had the shape of a triangle and looked rather bony, except for the pertly upturned nose, which sat in the pale, drab features like a foreign body. Her head was covered by thin, lank hair, the same mousy colours as her father's, and the only thing that seemed alive were her small, dark eyes, giving Éowyn the impression of a ferret, curiously peeking out of its hole.

"Purpose?" Éowyn was not sure what the woman was talking about.

"Well, when do you plan to wear this perfume? Are you going to meet friends, attending an official meeting, or do you want to please and encourage your husband?" Seeing Éowyn's dumbfounded look, she laughed. "My lady, see a scent like a dress. You wouldn't wear the same for every occasion, would you?"

Slowly Éowyn shook her head. She was glad that Faramir had told her about Gondoreans' attitude towards perfumes, but she did not feel like acceding to this custom. "I'm sorry, mistress Miriel, but I don't want anything the like. A dress, you say? I'm not sure, for I feel that a scent is... somehow closer to the skin."

The tiny face lit up. "Ah, you are certainly right, my lady. For even when we have taken off our garments, a scent will still linger on our skin. Let me see." Motioning to Éowyn to come closer, the perfumer pushed up Éowyn's sleeve, and carefully sniffed the crook of her arm. Surprised at the woman's strange behaviour, Éowyn pulled back her arm, put Miriel only shrugged.

"Every fragrance you apply has to harmonize with your natural body odour. I know that most of the rich and noble don't care and rather go for the extravagant and expensive, but if you really want a perfume that underlines your character, you have to consider that."

Stubbornly, Éowyn shook her head. "I already told your father: I want a perfume consisting of bergamot, sandalwood and lilies."

Miriel bit her lower lip, and staring at Éowyn, sucked in the air noisily. "Bergamot... yes, certainly. And sandalwood as a body... could work." Grabbing the quill from its stand, she wrote some notes on a piece of paper in front of her, before addressing Éowyn again. "You have had a perfumer in Rohan make this for you?"

"No, a friend told me that he thinks it would mirror my personality." Éowyn suddenly felt strangely insecure under the small woman's gaze.

"And you believe him?" The beady eyes had become dark, sparkling slits.

Éowyn nodded. "I certainly do. He might be wrong, because he is no perfumer, but I know that what he says is honestly meant."

Miriel nodded. "Just stand up, my lady, and walk to the door. And then come back towards me the way you would approach him."

"What?" Éowyn rose, her face in an angry frown.

But the perfumer only nodded eagerly. "And now walk, my lady."

For a moment Éowyn thought to simply refuse the silly demand, but then she turned and stomped towards the door, determined to leave the room.

"Yes, certainly bergamot. Turn, my lady, and come back, please." The strange, brittle voice sounded excited, and Éowyn stopped amazed. With a deep frown she turned and saw Miriel smiling at her from behind her desk. Was that woman really trying to find out if certain scents would suit her? As if she was reading Éowyn's thoughts, Miriel's smile deepened. "Do you understand now why I sent out the men? You obviously walked to the shop and were not carried in a litter, for your skin has a very fine layer of warm and fresh sweat that makes you smell alive. And you certainly have the strength sandalwood demands. Well, and now let's seek for the lilies. Can you give me a smile, my lady?"

"A smile?"

The small woman tilted her head. "Yes, for I think you must be truly beautiful if you smile. Mhm..." Her gaze wandered over the containers in the shelves. "Lilies. Yes, white lilies. That should do."

She scribbled some more notes on the paper and then pulled a string close to her chair. Somewhere a bell rung and a moment later the old man came in again. Miriel simply shoved the paper into his hand, and while the man carried different containers to the desk, she arranged a number of small glasses and then began to mix various liquids with the help of tiny spoons and pipets. After a while she motioned Éowyn to come closer, handing her one of the small stripes of paper Éowyn had seen her father use in the shop. "Just wave it under your nose, and tell me if you like it."

The paper smelt fresh and yet in an intriguing way sweet. A strong, aromatic freshness that Éowyn found highly stimulating, but mixed with it was the warm, exotic scent of the sandalwood, and like a cloud, a fine layer above all, wavered the fragrance of lilies.

"Well?" Her head tilted to one side, the perfumer watched her expectantly.

Éowyn simply nodded, and Miriel again grabbed her arm, applying a drop of the mixture on her wrist. "Wait a moment. Let it dry and then let me smell it."

The old man stood waiting in the background, and when Miriel nodded after sniffing Éowyn's wrist, he started to clear away the items she had used and then opened the door to let Éowyn's guard enter again. Miriel closed the jar she had mixed the perfume in carefully and handed it to Éowyn. "Tell them in the shop to transfer it into a vial of your choice. The scent will differ slightly, depending on the temperature of your skin and the time that has passed since you applied it."

All of a sudden her beady eyes flitted over to the guard, her tiny nose twitching and then a broad grin lit her mousy face. Motioning to Éowyn, the minute perfumer unceremoniously grabbed her sleeve to make her bend down and then whispered in her ear: "Watch it, my lady. Whoever the friend is who advised you, he must know you very well. This perfume will perfectly harmonise with your natural odour. But with just as much as a trace of fresh sweat and a tiny whiff of horse it will work like a cudgel on any man's brains."

ooo

They had just stepped back into the main street on their way back to the upper circles, when from below the sound of hooves could be heard. Expecting a group of Elfhelm's Riders, Éowyn stopped and turned, but instead of the green cloth of the Mark a flash of dark blue and silver met her eyes, as five riders on splendid greys rode towards them.

"Swan Knights of Dol Amroth!" Tuingail gushed at her side, only to add in an excited squeal: "Oh and look, Nínim! The Princess Geliris!"

Sitting her large palfrey with the ease and grace that spoke of a practised rider, the princess was talking to one of the knights accompanying her, and then laughed. A soft laugh, low-pitched and warm, reminding Éowyn of liquid honey. The riders were now almost level with them and Tuingail made to rush over to them, but Nínim brusquely stopped her. "Don't spook the horses with your brainless behaviour."

Hearing her, the princess looked in their direction and raised her hand in a greeting, much to Tuingail's delight. Only then she seemed to behold Éowyn, but immediately she reined her horse in and dismounted, not waiting for any of her companions to dismount and assist her. Éowyn grinned, seeing the casualness with which the princess threw the reigns to one of the knights, before approaching them with energetic steps. Nínim and Tuingail dropped into a curtsey, but before Éowyn could make up her mind how to greet her, the Lady Geliris reached out to her, taking her hand with a smile. "You certainly must be the Lady Éowyn of Rohan. I'm truly delighted to meet you."

Surprised by the princess' artless cordiality, Éowyn squeezed her hand. "Well-met, Princess Geliris. The pleasure is entirely on my side."

The lady shot her a wry glance and chuckled. "Gondor certainly can count herself lucky to have allies like the Rohirrim."

"Do you know she smote the King of the Nazgul?"

Still smiling, the lady turned to the excited Tuingail. "I do, my dear, and it certainly was a praiseworthy dead of great valour." Turning back to Éowyn, she added: "I was informed about your valiant exploit by my husband, as he wrote me before he left for the Black Gate. He also informed me that one of my sons was seriously wounded in the battle on the Pelennor. With the corsairs being conquered and most of their ships destroyed or taken I deemed it safe enough to sail as soon as I got my husband's letter." She hesitated a second and then asked: "Being in the Houses of Healing yourself, do you perchance know anything about Amrothos' state of health?"

Swallowing the sharp remark she felt on her tongue, concerning the state of Amrothos' brains and morals, Éowyn shrugged. "I have never met him, my lady, because he refused any visitors, except his cousin, the Lord Faramir. But I learned that he left the Houses some days ago and now abides in your town house, though the healers were not too pleased with his decision."

Geliris sighed. "He is a hothead, and being confined to his chambers certainly does not sit well with him. I only hope he has not worsened his injury. But I will see him soon. Were you on your way back to the Houses, my lady?"

Éowyn nodded. "We went for some purchases Lady Saelind thought necessary."

Again the lady chuckled. "Oh, Lady Saelind. How is she? Though I doubt that anything can ruffle her feathers."

"She is fine, my lady," Nínim informed her, and Tuingail chimed in: "We went to buy perfumes, my lady. You just came in time for there will be a feast the day after tomorrow at the Steward's palace."

"At the Steward's palace?" The princess' face grew grave. "Has Faramir recovered enough to bear up with that?"

Éowyn shrugged. "He has recovered remarkably, though I do not doubt he would be in an even better state if they did not press him so much with the demands and duties of his position."

Geliris sighed. "He has suffered great loss, apart from his own injuries and illness, but he certainly is a man who would always put duty first. Let us walk together, so I might hear about the goings on in the city in general and my son and nephew in particular."

Nínim audibly cleared her throat. "Well, my lady, as we are accompanied by the Lady Éowyn's guards, it might be a good idea to send your knights ahead and give Hwinril a warning of your coming." With a side-glance at Tuingail she added drily: "And probably your son, too."

The princess eyebrows shot up, and then she grimaced. "I think you are perfectly right, Nínim." She ordered her knights ahead and then turned to Éowyn with a droll shrug. "I know that some mothers have them. I just wonder why it has to be me. But now tell me about what has happened. And yes, Tuingail," here she turned to the girl with a broad smile, "you may tell me about the planned feast to your heart's delight, but please, let me hear about what has befallen the city and my family first."

So this was the Lady Geliris, Prince Imrahil's wife, princess of Dol Amroth. Listening only with half an ear to the news Nínim reported to the lady, Éowyn took her chance to have a close look at her. As Faramir had said she was shorter than the other Gondorean ladies Éowyn had come to know and no way as slender as Saelind or the Hurin sisters. Yet she was far from being plump or inflexible. Clad in a split riding dress the colours of Dol Amroth, Geliris strode with easy grace, and Éowyn could not but admire her. Riding boots simply were not the best footwear for long walks, but the princess of Dol Amroth literally took things in her stride with natural elegance. The phrase womanly came to her mind and she suppressed a smile imagining what most probably Elfhelm, a keen though silent admirer of womanhood, would say, or rather think if he saw her.

Recalling what Faramir had told her, Éowyn tried to work out how old the lady was. To imagine she had been little older than Tuingail who now walked prattling at her side when she had preferred to sail single-handedly into an unknown future rather than marry a man she did not want! And the Steward's admiration of his aunt's daring and spirited action had been more than clear. A smile crept onto Éowyn's face, as she remembered his witty remarks and mirthful eyes, sparkling like spring sun caught on rippling water. He certainly loved his aunt, and probably for more than just her traits of a pirate heritage.

Her hair was gathered in a bun at the nape of her neck, held by a silver caul. But it was rather the colour of that hair than the expensive material and exquisite work of the caul that caught Éowyn's eye. Like that of most Gondoreans, Geliris' hair was dark, but different from the common dark brown and black it had the colour and sheen of ripe horse-chestnuts, and so had her eyes. Vividly, the scene Faramir had described to her played out before Éowyn's eye: A small fishing boat, out on the endless vastness of the sea, and the princes' eager eye falling on that hair, gleaming in the sunshine. Yes, a man who honoured courage must have been swept away by the combination of valour and unusual beauty. And unusual the Lady Geliris certainly was.

Instead of the striking paleness Gondorean noble ladies obviously cultivated to emphasize their Numenorean blood, Geliris skin had a golden hue, her cheekbones and nose even sporting slight sunburn. Those cheekbones certainly were Numenorean and her nose also had a slightly aquiline line, but all in all it seemed fleshier, fuller, as did most of her features, especially her lips. Éowyn could only too well understand how fascinated a man like Imrahil must have been by that and how tempted to put the promise of softness the lady's mouth held to the test. She bit the inside of her cheek to keep herself from grinning. Given what Faramir had hinted at, his uncle had not resisted for too long. Well, certainly not all Gondorean nobles were prissy. And had not their union been blessed with four children, three of them sons, formidable warriors if Éomer's judgement was to be trusted?

So there were those who were passionate in Gondor too, and that no way did make them less honourable men. The Eorlingas would have celebrated a lord who had married for obvious passion and love. And had not Boromir risked his reputation and most probably his stewardship for the love of Théodred? It was a pity that the two of them had been bound by duty to their countries, they would have deserved more than just those few stolen weeks each summer. Éowyn swallowed, clenching her hand. And now they were gone, riding Béma's plains together, and Éomer and Faramir would rule in their stead.

She heaved a breath. There was no doubt about her brother's devotion to the Mark, nor about his passion, but would he be a good king? Faramir on the contrary was likewise devoted and would surely be an able ruler, even if it only were in the king's stead... But did he know passion? She did not doubt his emotions, which often had flashed through the mask of his composure during their conversation, but passion? He had talked about that young lady he had loved so long ago, but in such an austere way. And yet his consideration of that woman's feelings had sounded so true, so caring.

"Oh, how splendid!" The princess warm, laughing voice jolted her out of her musings. Turning towards her, she looked into Geliris' smiling face. "I am sure it really does him good to have someone to break his fast with every morning. At least that will keep him from forgetting to eat at all with all those duties pounding him."

Profoundly embarrassed, Éowyn felt the heat of a blush rising. How could she have been lost in thought and not noticed that the women had been discussing her and the Steward? Schooling her voice to casualness, she said: "I am not sure, my lady, if that breakfast is not one of those duties, for I am convinced the Lord Faramir has taken it upon himself to make sure that I eat."

Before Geliris could answer, Tuingail exclaimed, breathless with excitement: "Duty! How can you judge such a sweet behaviour so dismissively! I think it is so romantic. Oh, I wish that one day a man will act as affectionately towards me!"

Seeing the hint of merriment in the lady's eyes, Éowyn shrugged. She certainly would not discuss the Steward with anyone, let alone with his aunt. And as for Tuingail's immature fancies she could not care less.

But said aunt was obviously differently inclined, for tilting her head smilingly, she squinted one of her dark eyes, reminding Éowyn of the tame raven Ceadda's mother had kept, a beautiful and most clever bird. "Well, Lady Éowyn, I at least would not count that amongst his most tedious duties, though I dare say our dear Tuingail exaggerates a bit. But tell me, what do you think of him?"

Éowyn raised her chin in challenge. No matter that probably the lady wanted to ease their relationship by a little light-hearted gossip, the Steward certainly deserved better than being the topic of that. "What I think of the Lord Faramir, my lady? That he is a skilled warrior and a competent leader, but above all that he is a good and caring man and that from the bottom of my heart I wish him all the very best for he more than deserves it."

Annotations:

lhaewsmir: Sindarin: lhaews - hair; mir - jewel

Hleafdige: (Rohirric/Old English) lady; literally: loaf (bread) giver

caul: (crispinette/ crispin) A kind of hairnet medieval women wore. It was made of very expensive materials for the nobles, often gold or silver thread, whereas commoners would use less prestigious materials.


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