Miriel: Princess of Rohan - 1. A QUIET EVENING
Miriel: Princess of Rohan arose as the answer to several questions I had about different events that took place in both the books and the movies, beginning at Helm's Deep and finishing out a year after The Return of the King officially ends.
A QUIET EVENING
"Miriel, set the table. Supper is almost ready."
Obediently the girl called Miriel headed for the kitchen, glancing back with a little smile at her mother. The fire cast a warm orange glow over her mother's bright face and slim figure as she knelt by the hearth, clad in a simple gray dress that was neatly patched and mended many times over with an assortment of cloth squares in many colors. Her mother wore a clean white apron to protect her dress while she stirred a great pot of stew. A hearty aroma filled the simple and rather plain room, which was furnished only by a bare wooden table and a few hard chairs.
Miriel knew without asking what kind of stew brewed in the pot. It was the same stew their family had been eating for supper as long as Miriel could remember. It was delicious, and Miriel never tired of it; which was good since there was never a change in their diet. It had a little meat and some vegetables, but it was mostly a thick brown gravy that was, as far as Miriel could tell, her mother's special recipe. None of the other villagers made their stew like Miriel's mother did, and that made Miriel sure that her mother was special.
Miriel opened the cupboard and pulled out five sets of plates, cups, forks, spoons and knives, and then somehow Miriel managed to delicately balance a little board containing a few hard biscuits and a bit of cheese upon the unsteady tower of dishes. Carefully she carried them out to the square table and quickly set the places for herself and her mother, her father and her two older brothers. All three of the family men were out working in the fields and would be returning shortly, just in time for supper.
When she finished setting the table, Miriel straightened and glanced around the little room as if for the first time, seeing it with new eyes. They led a simple, comfortable, uneventful, happy life - filled with a lot of hard work, to be sure, and the normal concerns about making ends meet, and no sign of changing at any point in the future; but it was a happy life just the same. Miriel went to the fireplace and knelt at her mother's side. She sat back on her heels and cleared her throat to ask a question.
"Mother, I want to know something about love," Miriel said quietly.
Miriel's mother glanced at her daughter. Surprise flickered in her emerald eyes and played behind her merry smile. It was a loaded question that could lead anywhere.
"Sure, anything," she answered immediately out of habit. Children could ask the oddest things at the times when she least expected it, which she had learned after raising three of them nearly to adulthood. She had long since ceased even trying to guess what the next words out of Miriel's mouth would be. So she listened with an open mind and no predetermined opinions while continuing a methodical stirring of her brown aromatic stew.
"I'm concerned about finding true love," Miriel began, settling herself on the dirt floor and looking up at her mother with an innocently appealing doe-like expression in her large silver-gray eyes. "There are nice enough young men in this village, but I don't really connect with any of them. I want to know how I can find true love. After all, I'm just a plain peasant girl in an insignificant village hidden away in the farthest corner of Rohan."
"Ah!" returned her mother. She glanced at Miriel with a knowing grin. "I had the very same concerns when I was your age, even living in Edoras, the capitol of Rohan. I know Edoras seems like the center of the universe compared to here, but Edoras is actually quite small and would not be in any way special if it weren't for the King's palace: Meduseld, the Golden Hall.
"In my youth, I lived with my family in Edoras. I was the youngest of eight children. As soon as I was old enough, I became a maidservant to Queen Elfhild, the wife of King Theoden. She and the King loved each other very much. The Queen was wonderful, and she was greatly loved by all the people of Rohan. I could not have served anyone so kind or gentle, and I thoroughly enjoyed the years I spent with the Lady Elfhild at Meduseld. She could be wise and queenly, but she was also very down-to-earth, and no one, no matter how great or lowly, ever felt uncomfortable in her presence. She used to confide in me, and I in her. We became close friends.
"I remember one day when she came flying down a stone staircase with a smile like the sunshine in springtime and her golden hair billowing in her wake. She rushed toward me, shouting my name.
"`Rowen! Rowen!' she cried, seeming to forget her queenly dignity for a moment in her excitement, and yet never losing her unfailing poise and grace. `I'm going to have a baby! I'm about to become a mother!'"
Miriel's mother paused, smiling tenderly at the memory and stirring the pot while the soft firelight turned her dark hair to bright gold.
Miriel rejoiced inwardly. She could see that her mother, Rowen, was wound up and preparing to tell one of her delightful tales from her days at the palace in the city of Edoras. Although Miriel had heard every story dozens of times, she never tired of them. Miriel lost herself in the enchanted ambience of the Golden Hall: The splendid feasts attended by fair lords and lovely ladies from all over Middle-earth, princes and princesses clad in rainbows of vibrant colors and bedecked in rare jewels set in gold and silver, while jugglers and jesters entertained them and beautiful music filled the air.
Miriel imagined herself in the magical atmosphere among the perfumed throngs, clothed in a flowing dress of deep midnight blue trimmed with rivers of white lace shimmering with silver stars, eating delectable dishes and tasting the delicate wines while minstrels sang songs of faraway lands and valiant deeds of noble knights. They told of myths and legends out of the Dark Years, of heroes and villains and outlaws, of doomed quests and vast treasures hidden away in dark caves, of epic battles with dragons and trolls, and the rescue of many a fair damsel in distress, perhaps locked up in a stone tower by some tyrant lord or held hostage by a terrible beast.
Inevitably, the hero would slay the evil monster and carry the lady away to his castle, where they married and lived happily ever after.
They spoke at length of the downfall of Númenor, also called Westernesse, which was swallowed by the Sea. King Elendil sailed away from the devastated land of Numenor and emerged in the land of Gondor, which bordered Rohan. He was a good king, and peace reigned while he and his heirs sat on the throne. But the last king, Isildur, went away to war and did not return. Gondor was currently under the care of Stewards until the rightful King should be revealed and return to his inheritance.
But Miriel's favorite tales concerned the other races of Middle-earth. There were the Dwarves, a short, sturdy race of bearded creatures who delved deep under the mountains in search of gold and diamonds and other precious metals. They were cunning folk with stonework and created beautiful jewelry. The minstrels told of great stone halls where the Dwarf-kings dwelt, and endless caverns of crystal veined with silver, and perfectly still underground lakes that mirrored stars and fire but would not show you your own reflection.
Then there were the Elves.
Elves were immortal. Elves were fair. Elves were wise. Of all the creatures of Middle-earth, the Elves seemed to be the greatest. They loved flowers and trees and every living thing. They spent their days dancing among the golden trees called mallorns, flitting among the shadows under silvery starlight and singing. By all accounts, Elves had enchanting voices, and some people thought that you could fall under a spell if you heard one of their songs. When the Elves grew weary of their days in Middle-earth, they were permitted to take a ship and sail into the West, to the land of Valinor, which was the paradise that awaited them.
Few were the legends of these elusive, beautiful, ageless creatures that lived in the forest and easily vanished from sight, but they were by far the best stories. There was the tale of Luthien Tinuviel, the fairest Elf that ever walked in Middle-earth. She fell in love with a mortal named Beren and was lost to Elven-kind forever. Earendil was a mariner, and he sailed away long ago to Valinor with a brilliant jewel, a silmaril, on his brow. The silmaril was set in the heavens as a star to bring hope to those in Middle-earth. Gil-galad was an Elven-king who fought in the first war against the Dark Lord, Sauron. He was victorious, but perished in the fight.
Elves were so rarely seen that many people doubted their existence, believing that the colorful stories had merely been invented. Others thought that the Elves had long since forsaken Middle-earth, and the few sightings had been visions and empty shadows of things as they once were. Rowen, Miriel's mother, had never met an Elf during her time in Edoras, and she was not sure if Elves were real or not.
Miriel, on the other hand, believed wholeheartedly in Elves. She longed to meet one someday, and, even though she knew it was quite impossible since mortals are forbidden to set foot in the Undying Lands, Miriel wished she could sail into the West and see the enchanted land of Valinor.
Miriel returned to the present. She folded her hands in her lap and waited expectantly.
"I was just as thrilled that Queen Elfhild was with child as the Lady herself was," Rowen was saying. "I tended her with special care in the months that followed. But when the time came for the baby to be born, the Queen died in labor.
"I was devastated. King Theoden was disconsolate. The whole of Rohan mourned. And the child, a strong, healthy boy named Theodred, entered the world without a mother.
"So I raised young Theodred myself. When he was old enough, I taught him fair speech, manners, and how to read and write, the same as I have taught you. The only things I did not teach him were swordsmanship and the arts of war. I left that special training to others more skilled in the craft, although I picked up plenty along the way and passed the knowledge on to the three of you children."
Miriel began to wonder where her mother was leading with her story, but she listened intently in case she missed a clue.
"One day when I was running an errand, I met your father, Elidan, in the marketplace. I can't even explain what it was like, Miriel, but one look passed between us and I knew. I just knew."
"What did you see?" ventured Miriel, staring at her mother in rapt fascination.
"I don't rightly know," sighed Rowen. "I saw myself mirrored in his eyes. I saw the future, and, if I may say so, it even seemed as if I saw the three of you children. I just knew that he was the one."
"Did Father know it too?" Miriel asked.
"Yes, he did. He asked me to marry him after only a few short days."
"And you accepted?"
"Obviously, or I wouldn't be here, and neither would you," answered Rowen with a laugh, but a shadow passed over her face. "Not right away, though. I had a good life in Edoras, and living at Meduseld was the best thing I could ever have hoped to attain for myself. If I married Elidan, I would give up everything, and leave behind all my royal friends, and the King, and young Theodred, and choose to live as a peasant instead. That was a hard decision to have to make, and a senseless one at that."
Miriel had heard the story many times, but Rowen had never told it in that light before. Miriel frowned.
"Then why did you choose the peasant life?" she asked.
"Because true love is the most precious thing anyone can hope to obtain in this life," Rowen replied, smiling down at Miriel. "When you find it, give up everything to obtain it! True love is worth far more than prosperity or riches or gold or silver, or even life itself. Love does not always make sense, Miriel, and do remember that. It took me awhile to realize this, longer than Elidan would have liked, I know," she added with a little laugh. "And if you can believe it, Miriel, I am happier here than I ever was in the palace, even though this is a much harder way of life."
Miriel looked at her mother with a renewed sense of awe.
"Some, and perhaps most, of the people living in this village would probably disagree with me," Rowen continued. She stood up and brushed off her apron as she swept the plain room with a glance. "But I would not give this up for anything. Who cares that I traded the feasts of royalty for beef stew? I found my real treasure here, in this bare little cottage, with a wonderful husband and three precious children. I have no regrets."
Miriel blushed and lowered her gaze, but her eyes were sparkling. Rowen looked down at Miriel with an odd light in her green eyes, as if she coming to a decision. Suddenly she turned and reached for something on the mantle.
"Speaking of treasure-" Rowen murmured, then broke off.
"What are you doing?" asked Miriel.
Without a word Rowen lifted an earthen jar and picked up an object that had been hidden beneath it. Miriel caught a faint sparkle in her mother's hand before it was quickly covered over by Rowen's fingers. Suddenly aware that Rowen had something very special, Miriel eagerly scrambled to her feet. Rowen dropped a silver ring into Miriel's outstretched palm.
"What is this?" wondered Miriel, examining the smooth, jewelless ring curved in the shape of a little star.
"That ring," answered Rowen a little breathlessly, brushing a stray lock of hair back from her forehead, "was given to me by the Queen just before she died. I've been saving it and waiting for the perfect moment to give it to you, and I felt the time has come for you to have it."
"Oh," was all Miriel managed to say. "What is it?"
"I was kneeling at the Queen's bedside, drowning in floods of tears, when Lady Elfhild took it from her finger and gave it into my trembling hand," Rowen replied. Her distant eyes saw a land and a time from far away as she spoke. "`Take this and be comforted,' she whispered to me. `It was wrought in Numenor, or so `tis said. It is supposed to protect the wearer from any weapons of Man's making. I will no longer need it now, but I want you to have it in memory of me. Give it to your own daughter someday,' she added wistfully, and I knew she was thinking sadly that she would never see my daughter. Then she struggled toward me and gripped my hand tightly and said to me, `Rowen, Rowen. I wish you love!' Those were her last words, and then she fell away into sleep."
Rowen faltered, choked with emotion. Miriel tentatively touched the silver ring in her palm with reverence, and then slipped it onto her finger. It fit, but barely. It was made for a larger finger than hers. It was perhaps a half size too large, but Miriel cared not for that.
"I will treasure it forever," Miriel declared solemnly. Rowen smiled through her tears. Suddenly there was a popping noise from the fireplace. Instantly Rowen remembered her stew and looked down at it. It was bubbling violently and exploding in the pot.
"Oh my, it's boiling!" she cried, falling on her knees and stirring madly. Immediately the bubbling subsided. Rowen brushed away her tears and glanced up at Miriel with a sheepish grin.
"I forgot all about supper," she explained with a little smile. "I have never burnt my stew, not even once, and I want to continue my perfect record! But it's ready now, so be a dear and greet your father and your brothers when they come in from the fields."
"Of course, of course," answered Miriel distantly, for her mind, and her fingers, were still on the precious ring. She moved slowly toward the door and put her hand on the latch, and then stopped. Miriel turned to find her mother watching her and smiling, absently stirring the stew.
"I never knew that part of your story, mother," Miriel said quietly. "And it all turned out wonderfully for you. But how do you know that my story will have a happy ending? Will I ever find true love?"
Rowen stood up with a knowing smile on her face. She crossed the room and kissed Miriel lightly on the forehead.
"Don't worry. Love always finds a way, in its own time. Until then, Miriel, know that I love you. Just dance."
Miriel glanced down at the silver ring glinting in the firelight, and it seemed to her that it held the promise of her mother's words.
"Thank you," Miriel whispered, and then she was gone.
There are some cliffhanger chapters coming up, and if you don't want to wait for me to get around to posting it all, then go to www(dot)talesofmiddleearth(dot)com and download the free ebook: Miriel: Princess of Rohan.