In The Winter Garden
The year of her forty-first birthday Éowyn decided against her usual summer sojourn amongst the elves that lived in her husband’s princedom. Not that the elves saw themselves as subjects of the Prince of Ithilien, of course…
She was pregnant with her fifth, and last, child and thought her ageing body, disfigured by blue veins, a swelling belly, and stretch marks, would be unsightly to elven eyes and they would not want her in their midst.
Legolas arrived with a plea from Tindómë; she had been relying on Éowyn visiting after midsummer as she usually did, she needed advice, and surely it would be more comfortable to be in the relatively cool woods than the heat of the men’s stone town?
Éowyn did not feel that she could explain her reasoning to Legolas; he must surely find her less than pleasing to look at but would be too polite to say so. Not wanting to let either Legolas or Tindómë down she thought to go for just a few hours, to see the young elleth, as Legolas was quite certain that Tindómë could not leave the woodlands or her husband.
In the end she stayed for a month. As her three youngest children spent time climbing trees, swimming, fishing, and generally enjoying themselves, Éowyn found it was very pleasant to spend time in the sun-warmed water, the weight of the unborn child gently cushioned. Tindómë had convinced her that elves honestly weren’t disgusted if Éowyn joined them in the bathing pools; they really, really, didn’t notice the stretch marks visible when Éowyn stripped down to her shift to bathe. Or, if they did, they saw them as something of interest – but were too polite to be seen to notice.
Anyway, Tindómë said, with her own first pregnancy being at much the same stage, she wanted Éowyn’s support. Other ellyth had told her all they could but she was not-quite-an-elf, she was peredhel, and her body might behave more as a human one than an Elvish one; she didn’t know.
Éowyn had often wondered, since, if the time with the Elves had influenced that last pregnancy. The midwives had expected her to find it more difficult to labour, at that age, and yet Elboron had been the easiest of all to birth and also the easiest settled as an infant.
And now the ten year old Elboron had enthusiastically accepted a post-wedding invitation to visit his relatives in Dol Amroth, along with the younger two of his sisters, rather than stay home whilst Rumil, Tindómë, and Haldirin visited.
When Éowyn had mentioned that Haldirin and his parents would be staying on their way home from the wedding, Elboron had screwed his face up.
“But he’s still a baby! He can’t even ride properly yet. And Uncle Elphir said he would teach me to sail…”
And there was the rub. Elboron and Haldirin, born only weeks apart, were now so very different. Elboron came up to his mother’s shoulder, and wanted to be as independent as possible; Haldirin seemed to Éowyn to be at about the same stage of childhood as a three or four year old.
Tindómë and Rumil themselves looked no older than the bride and groom at the recent wedding; no older than they had looked when the bride and groom had been born. Although, with her mixed Elvish and Numenorean blood slowing down her own maturation, the bride looked scarcely old enough to marry.
Éowyn’s first born, like Tindómë’s, had been named for his father’s dead brother; Boromir. And Boromir had been in love with the Princess Gilraen since he had first seen her in her cradle; he had simply had to wait until she was deemed old enough, by her parents, to wed.
Faramir and their eldest daughter had stayed at court but, by two weeks after the ceremony, Éowyn had wanted to escape the heat of the city and the formality of the court. With her three other children travelling, by river, to Dol Amroth she was happy when Rumil and Tindómë accepted her offer to spend time as her guests before returning to their own home.
She had worried that either Haldirin or his parents would be upset that Elboron had chosen not to return with them as a playmate to the elfling; although it would be difficult to tell if the adults were upset or in any way slighted…
However, one of Faramir’s hounds had recently had a litter, and the pups seemed to be all the playmates the elfling required. He was, Éowyn thought, very like his father – self-contained.
Rumil had been happy to spend time visiting the Princess of Ithilien; her home was much less oppressive, to an elf used to life amongst trees, than Minas Tirith and had good light for working on paintings of the wedding.
Tindómë had been so happy to see the Fellowship members gathered together for the celebrations, along with Lord Celeborn and the twins, but disliked the formality of the Gondorian Court. Maintaining her ‘proper elven dignity’ was not hard – but making sure her rounded ears remained hidden, to prevent questions about her ‘peredhel’ status, was a drag. Sometimes she thought of the toy ‘Spock’ ears, available in California, and wished she’s thought to add a pair to that bag of gifts she had carried back, through the portal, when she had finally returned home.
Éowyn simply accepted her for who she was… well, apart from The Key bit – they’d never told her about that. Éowyn’s household was a better place for Haldirin, too; like his father he was happier with more trees and less stone.
If Éowyn only realised, Tindómë thought, how they had explained to Haldirin the way in which Elboron had outgrown him, she would be shocked.
Legolas had once commented that, for most of his life, he had been more aware of his horses’ mortality than that of humans; this was, more or less, the way that they had put it to Haldirin before leaving Eryn Ithil for the royal wedding.
A squirrel, like Medifindel, might live for five or six years, a dog for fifteen or sixteen, a horse for, maybe, twenty-five years; each remained a baby for only a short portion of that time. And so it was with mortals. But they did take longer to grow than a foal… Haldirin had just nodded, and taken it all in.
Probably as well, though, that Éowyn’s Sindarin had never got beyond a fairly simple grasp, or she might have been upset to hear the elfling saying that Elboron was growing very fast – would he still be alive the next time they came to visit?
The manor house in which Éowyn and Faramir lived had been rebuilt from the ruins of one which had stood in Ithilien many years before. It was a mixture of comfortable family home and stately splendour.
Around it were a series of gardens. Legolas, in particular, had spent time trying to work out what the original grounds must have looked like; finally falling with glee on an ancient estate book, full of accounts and diagrams, found by Anarion, the head librarian in the Citadel, which confirmed much of what he had already deduced.
Apart from kitchen gardens there was a medicinal garden, a walled rose garden, a knot garden, and one or two other enclosed areas full of drifts of flowers. Between these were courtyards and open areas of grass designed simply for sitting; or as places for playing games when the weather was fine. There was a series of tree-lined walks, for the ladies of the household to take their exercise in both wintry weather and high summer, and finally, hidden away but near the house, there was a small walled area known as the Winter Garden.
This was off a larger paved courtyard that had brightly coloured summer flowers growing around the walls. A wrought iron gate in one of those walls gave a glimpse of the smaller walled space; its high walls, ivy-clad, sheltering a few trees that had survived the privations of the dark time.
Within the Winter Garden there was a pond with a central fountain, carved stone seats nestled against the walls, and beds of pansies and wallflowers grew again, just as they had when it had first been designed for the ladies of the house to take the air in the winter; sheltered from the elements, cheered by colour.
Éowyn had been as grateful for the Winter Garden as those earlier owners once she and Legolas had pored over the old manuscript and restored it to something like its original form. But it was currently high summer and the flowers in the Winter Garden were setting seed and resting peacefully.
The summer flower-lined courtyard saw little traffic, except feet, and here the stable boys had brought the bitch and her pups to amuse Haldirin. He had thrown his ball, a few times, but the pups were still too young to chase it. Instead he would lie on his belly, chin on hands, simply watching the pups for an hour or more at a time.
Sometimes he would cuddle a pup or two – their mother had raised enough litters with Éowyn’s own children around to tolerate such behaviour from this other youngling. But on other occasions Haldirin would stroke all the sleepy pups, and then venture over to the wrought iron gate, open it carefully, and stand, as if entranced, in the middle of the quiet Winter Garden.
Tindómë and Éowyn often sat in the courtyard; the sounds of snuffling puppies, and bees humming through the flowers, a gentle background to their conversation, but not so loud that they would not hear if Haldirin needed them.
Sometimes they strolled along the shaded walks, and Tindómë seemed quite happy to leave the elfling to play alone in the Winter Garden if he didn’t want to walk with them. She reassured Éowyn that, should he have any problem whilst out of her sight, either she or Rumil would know about it anyway.
On the odd occasions that Éowyn and his mother joined the elfling in the Winter Garden he would play with his ball a little, and then wander out to the outer courtyard again – he really seemed to prefer his own company; like his calm, almost monosyllabic, father, Éowyn thought again.
It was a hot summer. Even hotter than usual it seemed to the mistress of the house. There again, the waves of nauseating heat that flooded across her at times were more internal than external.
She and Faramir had been careful to ensure that Elboron was their last child; but the signs were now quite clear that this was a decision that could no longer be changed. Although Éowyn had never enjoyed her monthly courses, or the flashes of uncontrollable temper that could precede them, knowing that she might, soon, never experience either again was unsettling.
She feared she would stop being a, still somewhat desirable, woman and become an old crone. She feared it most because, although twelve years her senior, her husband was ageing more slowly; she did not want Faramir to start thinking of her as an old woman, although he seemed to be oblivious to the younger women who looked at him yet with desire.
She had begun to worry about her friendship with Tindómë. Would Faramir begin to compare her unfavourably with the peredhel elleth? Did he look at Aragorn and envy him Arwen?
Eventually she voiced some of her fears to Faramir and was reassured that he welcomed the signs of her loss of fertility – he looked forward to being able to make love again spontaneously with no fear of possible consequences. Thus reassured, she was enjoying the time with Tindómë, but she couldn’t help wishing that it was Faramir, and not her, that had the nauseating waves of heat – at least some of the time!
Tindómë understood, and sympathised, when she realised that Éowyn was having hot flashes. It reminded her, again, of the differences between them – and the eventual sorrow their friendship would bring her.
After they had been Éowyn’s guests for a little over a week, and their hostess had excused herself during dinner, Tindómë explained, privately, to Rumil about mortal women’s loss of fertility in middle-age, and the overwhelming rushes of heat that often accompanied this bodily change.
Not as privately as she had thought, though. Haldirin, apparently oblivious as he concentrated on paper and pencil, looked up and spoke.
“Nana, if Lady Éowyn is very hot she should come into the Winter Garden where the ice and snow are.”
End of Chapter One.