The banquet hall thrummed with aliveness. Colors transformed its usually dreary walls and smells of roasted meats and wine hung in every corner. Bright streamers hung from doorways and tables. The feast had been cleared from the long tables earlier. Now musicians played from a raised platform against one wall, and couples danced gaily before it. They twirled their partners and stomped their feet, not one person wore a frown, well, not one except for —
Éomer plunked himself down at a table after his dance with Ervinai. Now Lûth spun the glowing Ervinai round the dance floor and Éomer glowered, although, to the casual observer, he seemed only lost in thought. He was leaving for Rohan in a week; a fact which Ervinai was blissfully unaware of, as of yet. He’d stayed away long enough. And, for some despicable reason, he feared he was actually jealous of Lûth. Lûth didn’t have to go back to his own kingdom under the false pretense of a king who enjoyed ruling without a wife by his side. Lûth could stay here with Ervinai. Yes, he would stay while Éomer rode back to Rohan like a good little king.
For a fleeting moment he wondered if Ervinai would be sad over his departure. He also mulled over whether Ervinai would wait for him to come back, but it seemed premature to ask anything of her. Perhaps it was best to leave and not say anything yet. Yes, perhaps that was what he should do. Then he could come back, someday, unannounced, and see whether this was all a dream or not.
“You look beautiful tonight, my lady.” Lûth said in a low voice as he effortlessly guided Ervinai around the dance floor.
“Thank you, Lûth.” Ervinai replied, wondering madly why she couldn’t blush when he paid her compliments, though, she seemed to catch fire whenever Éomer was in the immediate vicinity. Here was a man who was ten times more handsome than Éomer, paying her compliments as if she were the only woman worthy of his time. His arms were firm from hard work and he smelled of manly cleanliness. His face, consisting of a square jaw and deep-set blue eyes, was fixed unwaveringly on Ervinai. Lord, what do I do? Here is a gorgeous man, a fine example of Your creation. Do I admire the work of Your hands, or do I look away?
“Excuse me, young man, may I cut in here?” came a deep voice from behind Ervinai’s shoulder.
“Why certainly, Mithrandir. My lady.” Lûth bowed his head, then strode away.
“I’d rather not dance, Ervinai, it’s been many long years since I’ve participated in such a taxing activity. But I would enjoy a chat.” the wizened wizard said, doffing his pointed hat in the direction of the veranda.
“Of course. I ought to take a break now anyway, all that dancing seems to have muddled my brain a bit.” And my emotions.
“You look like you could use someone to talk to, my dear.” He led her to a bench in the garden. Sweeping up his robe the old wizard seated himself on one end of the bench, his gaze and gesturing arm indicating that Ervinai should sit beside him, but she remained standing, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
“Mithrandir, what do you think of Éomer?
“Ah.” the old man removed his bent hat and placed it on the bench beside him and, tugging on his beard, he closed his eyes and sighed deeply.
“I mean, have you ever been in love?” she went on nervously. “How do you know if someone is `right’ for you? Wait, was that disrespectful for me to ask if you’ve ever been in love?” Ervinai peered anxiously at his now open eyes.
He laughed heartily. “In answer to your first question, yes, I have been `in love’, once, a very long time ago.” he sighed again, then rearranged himself on the bench. “Second, I don’t think `love’ is a strong enough foundation for a relationship which is going to stand the test of time. If you’re willing to commit to someone and he to you, then the emotion of `love’ is just the icing on the relationship.
“How do you tell if someone is `right’ for you? That’s a bit more tough to answer. I guess I believe that if you are both prepared to commit to one another for a lifetime, and there’s a bit of `love’ there as well, then any number of men could be `right’.”
“Oh.” was all Ervinai said as she collapsed on the bench, very nearly squashing the wizard’s hat. He hastily rescued it and placed it on his knee.
“I get the impression our views differ somewhat.” he said, dusting the brim of his hat absentmindedly.
“Well,” she began cautiously, “I had always thought of there only being one `Mr. Right’ and somehow we were supposed to meet, fall `in love’, get married, and live happily ever after.”
“Well, as I said, those are only my beliefs. And I daresay that more people than I like to count know much more about this subject than I. Maybe we’ll discuss this topic again after you’ve gotten first hand experience, and you can enlighten an old man, eh?”
“Why Mithrandir! I never thought of anyone being wiser than you!.”
“The Creator only gives us so much wisdom, precious child, with too much we might hurt ourselves trying to analyze it all.”
Ervinai giggled. “Yes, I suppose so. Thank you just the same though.” she replied, squeezing his large hand warmly.
He cleared his throat and stood. “Yes, well, the research beckons! And, just between us, child, although I wouldn’t have missed this celebration for the world, it’s just as well that I’ve got another reason to be here too, otherwise I might get too comfortable and senile for my own good! I’m here to mix the pleasant and the unpleasant, you might say. I’d best be getting along now.”
Ervinai was laughing out loud now. “You could never get senile, Mithrandir! But very well, go to your research. Thank you, again.”
“Anytime, Ervinai, anytime.” Then he was off into the whirling dervish of color. The rainbow of dance partners parted both before and after his tall, somber figure but no one but Ervinai saw him leave …
That night Ervinai sat up long and late on her balcony thinking and praying about what Mithrandir had said. It made sense to her that if two people were committed then they could lead very happy lives together, but that did undermine her whole `Mr. Right’ theory. She knew though that Éomer would not be in Minas Tirith indefinitely, she supposed he’d have to go home and rule his own kingdom sometime. A king? What am I doing, thinking I can fall in love with a king? Maybe it’d just be simpler to stick with Lûth. But, did she love him? She wasn’t even sure how she truly felt about Éomer yet. Perhaps it’d be best just to be friends until she was absolutely sure of her emotions both Éomer and Lûth-wise.
“Ervinai?” A knock sounded at the door. She moaned and rolled over. How had she gotten in bed? The big wooden door swished open. “Ervi, darling?”
“Arwen?” she asked groggily.
“Sorry to wake you, honey, but it’s midmorning and I wasn’t sure whether or not you were sick.”
“Ugh…I stayed up pretty late last night.”
“Well, some of us are thinking about having a picnic out near the woods. Would you like to join us?”
“Aragorn, Éomer, Merry, Pippan, and I. Please say you’ll go, otherwise I’ll be at the mercy of those pretentious males!”
“When are you leaving?”
“How about as soon as you can be ready?”
Ervinai stretched out and got quickly out of bed. She scrubbed her face in the basin beside the bed, praying as she did. Father, I ask that You would help me to stick to my decision to just be friends for now. She quickly selected a cherry colored vest and skirt set and tied her hair back at the nape of her neck with a matching ribbon.
All the way to the picnic spot Éomer and Ervinai talked together like old friends, ignoring the sparks which had erupted between them in the last few days. Éomer had been transported back to the night before when he saw the color of Ervinai’s outfit, but, sensing her desire for camaraderie only, wisely said nothing. Besides, her strictly “friends” view on their relationship made it easier for him to see himself leaving within the next few days. At least, he thought it did, but deep down inside he knew he was jealous that she seemed not to struggle with the same emotions he was battling.
Aragorn and Arwen had apparently told other people about their pregnancy, for Merry and Pippin were giving their opinions on proper parenthood and suggesting baby names enough to name the whole Shire for two generations. “Daffodil”, “Buttercup”, and “Parsnip” were some of the suggested titles. When Aragorn calmly stated that it could be a boy as well and, `couldn’t they come up with some masculine names too please’ both hobbits hotly declared that they’d heard Gandalf saying it was a girl. They’d misunderstood the wizard, of course, but were either too dense or too caught up in their baby naming contest, that neither of them realized their mistake.
“I’ve arranged appropriate punishment for the hobbits, I hope you don’t mind.” Éomer whispered aside to Ervinai as they unpacked the picnic from the horses’ saddle bags. Ervinai hooted.
“No, I don’t mind at all! I can’t wait to find out what you’ve arranged!”
The six companions lounged under the branches of a large oak on the edge of the forest, eating and drinking their fill with lighthearted spirits until,
“I wonder where that path leads?” Éomer asked, bored.
“No way are we falling for that old trick, Éomer!” Pippin guffawed.
“Yep. You’ve use that one on us before! Hasn’t he, Merry?”
“Sure thing. I’m just gonna sit here and enjoy my lunch.” Only, when he turned to get another piece of roast chicken he found Aragorn hungrily devouring the last slice.
“Do you suppose there’s treasure in these parts, Aragorn?” Éomer asked in the middle of a yawn while stretching out against the tree’s trunk, eyes closed.
“I’m shure fere ish.” Aragorn replied around a mouthful of chicken.
“Don’t talk with food in your mouth, dear. How would you feel if our baby girl began to imitate you?”
“It’sh fa boy.” he replied soundly, swallowing his bite and reaching for a flagon of river water to wash it down with.
Éomer began to snore quietly and Ervinai was busily stuffing the empty hampers inside of one another, gathering up the dishes and any leftover food the hobbits hadn’t consumed.
“Say, Merry, how’d you like to be rich?” Pippan asked in a dreamy manner.
“I’d love it, but not if we have to climb through fire and water to get it!”
“Ah, c’mon! It’s just a little, harmless path in the woods!”
“I’m not going in, Pip. Remember what happened last time? We got stranded on an island in the middle of the Anduin for three days!”
“Well, let’s just go look at it then.”
“Alright, but just to look.”
“Don’t blame me if we die old and poor then, you unadventurous Brandybuck.”
“We’ll only go in a little ways then, ok?
As soon as the hobbits disappeared Éomer jumped up and grabbed Ervinai’s hand, pulling her along behind him toward another, more hidden, path leading off into the wood. “Come. We’ve got to hurry if we’re going to be there when they fall in! You two enjoy yourselves, we’ll be back later!” he called back to Aragorn and Arwen over his shoulder.
Upon entering the forest, Éomer promptly released Ervinai’s hand so he could lead her through the trees and underbrush at a break-neck pace. In a few moments they were both breathing heavily.
“Blast these skirts!” Ervinai spat.
“I’m sorry I didn’t give you more warning, then you could have packed extra clothes.”
“And where would I have changed, O Master of Intelligence?” she puffed out irregularly. “Here in the woods? I don’t think so.” She couldn’t see his face, but she noticed his ears turned a bright shade of red at her comment. Great, now you’ve embarrassed him!
“We can stop here. Let’s climb this tree. Oh wait, can you climb in a dress?”
“Sure, if you go up first and give me a hand.”
No sooner were they settled in the tree above the place where their two paths formed a junction in the wood when they heard little hobbit voices coming along.
“I don’t see any riches, do you, Merry?”
“No, Pip, I don’t, but I already told you, this is a trick from Éomer.”
“Nah, Merry, did you see him fall asleep back there? He wouldn’t have gone to sleep if he really was interested in tricking us.”
“Surely you aren’t that naïve, my friend, I would hate to think you were.”
“You just need to loosen up some, that’s all.”
“Well, perhaps you’re right. I don’t see much to be suspicious about in here, do you?”
“Not a thing.”
“I take that back, what’s that shining over there?”
“That way, off the trail a bit.” he said, pointing.
“Let’s go investigate!”
“Ok, but Pippin, we must be careful.”
Ervinai grinned around the tree trunk at Éomer. She was loving this.
“Look Merry! It’s treasure!”
“Wow! It sure is, Pip! We’re gonna be rich!”
Both hobbits rushed forward toward the chest which was gleaming in the sunlight. Ervinai hid a giggle behind her hand as she realized what Éomer had done. The “treasure” was suspended by an elvish rope, which was all but invisible, from the trees above and “sitting” on the surface of a large mud hole, which was partially hidden by the underbrush, so that the surface appeared solid.
No sooner had Ervinai seen this than the two hobbits went sprawling into the hole filled to the brim with watery mud. They floundered around for a bit before dragging themselves out with the help of large grasses growing on the bank. They stood there for a moment, dripping from every limb, before looking back toward the treasure. Once glance told all. Vowing that Éomer would `get it’ this time they stomped back to the trail, leaving footprints of mud behind.
Éomer and Ervinai roared with laughter. They held their sides and hooted until tears ran down their cheeks.
“Did you see their expressions when they realized what had happened?” Ervinai wheezed.
“Can you imagine how upset they must be?”
“My congratulations, Éomer. I never would have been able to pull something off that exquisitely.”
They climbed out of the tree, Éomer catching Ervinai around the waist and lowering her gently to the ground. Neither particularly wanted to face the hobbits’ wrath, so they leaned back against the tree and talked, catching their breaths.
“So, when are you heading for home? I know you won’t be staying forever.”
“First of next week.” he sighed. “Aragorn says I’m well enough to ride now.”
“You know what they say, `The hands of a king are healing.'”
“More like the powerful prayers of a princess.”
She blushed. “Actually, it’s the power of Illúvitar.”
So that’s who she prays to. “I don’t see what difference he makes.”
“Illúvitar created the very air you breathe and the ground you walk on. He knows what’s in your heart and He sees everything that happens. If it weren’t for Him we wouldn’t be here. How can you not see Him in the world around you?”
“I’ve just never understood all that religion stuff. I take care of myself and my country well enough, certainly you can’t credit that to some far off `god’, can you Ervi?”
“Éomer, when it rains in your land, when your horses breed well, when He gives you wisdom in how to rule your people, that’s God at work — watching out for you.”
“So why should I sacrifice my time and self to him if he’s already watching over me and protecting me as you say?” he cocked an eyebrow at her, daring her to answer.
“The only way to live a full life is to live it the way God instructs — I found that out the hard way. If you surrender to Him, He will bless you beyond imagination and guide you in whenever way you ask.”
“I bow down to no one.”
“In denying God’s calling on your life you’re bowing down to the Evil One. You serve either evil or good, love or hate, there is no middle road on this one, Éomer.”
“I’ll make my own road then. Come on, it’s time we headed back.”
Ervinai didn’t speak the whole rest of the day; she prayed. She prayed for Éomer and his self-serving soul. Now she knew why Mithrandir had sought her out, even though he himself may not have known the reason, Illúvitar was using him to remind Ervinai that, although she may `love’ Éomer, she cannot commit to one who does not believe in her Master. To do so would destroy her, and aid the Evil One. Unless Éomer came to a saving faith in the God who created him, Ervinai could not entertain thoughts of their possible future together. She was suddenly relieved he was leaving in a few days. She prayed God would save Éomer’s soul and protect her heart from being hurt.
Hey guys! Sorry this chapter was so long in coming! Somehow I got it into my head that I still needed to majorly edit this chap before putting it out…turns out it was fine and only required minimal tweaking. LOL Enjoy! E-Cookies & Milk to all! (Completely free of all E-Calories, of course. ; )