Surveying the wall in front of her in the King’s House, Meren pursed her lips. “This is going to take some doing,” she remarked. “This tapestry is enormous. Where does the Lord Faramir want to put it?”
Eowyn shrugged. “He just wishes to take it with him when he leaves the house – this and a few other special things. I suppose it will have to hang in his lodgings until he settles on a permanent home. His mother made it, but I don’t think it’s been taken down for cleaning since she died.”
“Finduilas?” asked Meren, shocked. “But that must be 30 years ago. She died before I was even born. This is going to be harder than I thought.”
“Well, this is what you get for being the only tapestry expert I know,” said Eowyn with a grin. “I asked Faramir if there was anything I could do to help him in these last days before the king arrives and this was the first thing on his mind. He simply doesn’t have the time to see to tasks like this, and if it was moved without cleaning, well…” she shook her head.
Meren hoisted herself up on the settee below the tapestry to inspect it more closely. “The dust and dirt are terribly ingrained,” she said after a moment. “We’re going to need soap – pure soap, and lots of it – a good supply of warm water and sponges … and more help. If we try and tackle this by ourselves we’ll still be going when the king gets back.”
“We’d better not risk that,” laughed Eowyn. “I’ll ride down at once and ask Haleth… and perhaps Bergil might be convinced to give us a hand?”
“You can try,” Meren said with a snort, “but he’ll probably think this is women’s work, and therefore something he shouldn’t trouble himself with.”
“Perhaps,” came the reply, “but if I say who we’re doing it for…” she winked. “I think I can convince him.”
“Good,” said Meren briskly. “Then maybe you can also convince his father and another of the off-duty guards to come and help get this tapestry down. It’ll be far too heavy for us.”
Eowyn’s smile faded at once. “Haven’t you heard?” she asked.
“Beregond’s been placed under house arrest. Because he left the city to follow Faramir to Lossarnach when he should have remained to await trial.”
“But why should it matter?” Meren protested. “He saved his life by going. And he can’t have done anything that bad in the battle, surely?”
Eowyn bit her lip. She had not been aware that Meren was ignorant of Beregond’s actions in the Hallows – actions that had saved Faramir’s life, for certain, but which had resulted in the death of three men. She frowned, wondering how much to say.
“What Beregond was involved with during the battle was… very serious,” she said at last. “The king will have to judge the case when he returns – and he may not be lenient.”
Meren’s face went suddenly pale. “But I thought … what are you saying, then?” she asked. “The king wouldn’t – I mean, he couldn’t…” she faltered. “What in the name of heaven has he done?” She leaned over and grasped Eowyn’s hand, her face taut and fearful. “Please, tell me they won’t kill him… please?”
Here was something unexpected. Pity and worry surged through Eowyn, and her anxiety for Beregond – which she had kept to herself – grew greatly as she looked into Meren’s stricken face.
“My dear,” she said softly. “Forgive me. I did not know.”
“Neither does he,” Meren murmured sadly. “Beregond does not know I exist, I am sure. He has been doing his duty as father, mother and soldier all in one – there is no reason why he should notice a girl like me.” She sighed, brushing away a stray tear. “But can you tell me what happened? No, I see you cannot… but … has he a chance of freedom? Do you know?”
“This is not my country,” said Eowyn, shaking her head. “Its laws are different, more ancient, more – more lofty, in a way… I do not know. In any case, it is out of our hands – we can only pray that the king will be merciful.”
“But you know the king – I mean, before he was king,” said Meren eagerly. “Could you not speak for Beregond?”
Eowyn opened her mouth and shut it again. Meren had no idea what she was asking … but should shame at her past foolishness prevent her from taking Beregond’s part with Aragorn, when she was one of the few people who could address him privately? If not just for friendship’s sake she should do it out of gratitude, for without Beregond Faramir would be dead. She would not have learned what love could be and she would have lost her soul mate without knowing who he was.
She took a deep breath and nodded, gripping Meren’s hand tightly. “I will speak to him,” she said. “I will do all I can. You have my word.”
“Thank you.” Meren drew a ragged breath and attempted a smile. “Now you go and see if you can get us that extra help, or we’ll still be here at midsummer.”
The edges of the laundry floor in the King’s House were littered with cleaning cloths in varying stages of filthiness. The Dol Amroth tapestry took up most of the floor, and against the walls a series of large stone sinks were filled with water: clean, soapy or muddy, in which numerous round sponges were floating. Bergil, a huge smut of dirt across his face, was carefully sponging one edge of the tapestry – which had begun to glow a brilliant blue as he worked.
Eowyn stood up and surveyed their work, sucking in her bottom lip thoughtfully as she did so. “What do you think?” she asked the other women. “Is it just about done?”
Heaving herself to her feet, Haleth squeezed some water into a nearby sink. “I’m not finding the water as dirty anymore,” she said. “I’ve cleaned carefully underneath as well and the water’s nearly clear, so I think we’ve shifted all the grime that’s going to move.”
“I don’t know what it looked like originally,” said Meren, frowning. “It’s hard to know.”
“I think it looks wonderful,” said Bergil admiringly. “There’s even silver thread in here, you know – look at it! – to show the sun on the water. Was it really all done by the Lord Faramir’s mother?”
The women smiled at his eager enthusiasm. “It certainly was,” Eowyn replied. “She was very clever, don’t you think?”
“Meren’s tapestries and needlework are just as good, aren’t they Meren?” he said innocently, turning to her. She blushed and waved a dismissive hand. “I’ve never done anything on this scale,” she said. “And it’s nothing that thousands of other women haven’t done.”
“I love that one of the sun shining through the beech woods in the hallway at the Houses of Healing,” Bergil continued. “That’s father’s favourite. I told him you made it. He was very impressed.”
Aware that Meren was too flustered to respond, Eowyn told Bergil it was time to get the orderlies back from the House. “We’re going to have to hang the tapestry up to dry before it can be moved into the Steward’s new lodgings,” she explained. Bergil raced off.
“What I wouldn’t give for that kind of energy,” Haleth remarked, as she sat down on a nearby chair with a grunt. “I think we deserve a medal – the order of the tapestry. You should ask Lord Faramir to see to it as a special birthday treat.”
Eowyn smiled at Meren’s exclamation of surprise. “My birthday is in a few days,” she admitted. “I’d almost forgotten about it with all that’s been happening, but Haleth would never forget.”
“No indeed,” the older lady said. “And seeing as King Eomer may not be back in time to celebrate it, I have taken the arrangements for a special dinner upon myself.”
“Have you indeed?” said Eowyn, amused. “I’ll look forward to it.”
The days passed quickly and soon news buzzed through the city that the king and his victorious army were returning and the coronation would take place on May Day. Women made garlands to line the streets. Men cleaned and rebuilt what they could and children tried not to burst from excitement. Meanwhile Faramir put the finishing touches to the ceremony for his successor, and Haleth was true to her word, providing a quiet celebratory dinner for Eowyn’s 24th birthday on April 26.
After drinking her health friends tactfully left Faramir and Eowyn to a private repast: roasted meats and spring vegetables followed by almond cake and bottled apricots – the last of Ioreth’s hoarded summer fruits.
“Perhaps I should have placed Haleth in charge of the feast,” said Faramir with a laugh. “I’m amazed at what she’s been able to organise. She hasn’t even been in the city a fortnight!”
“I’ve learned over many years never to underestimate Haleth,” Eowyn replied. “If she’d had any inkling, for example, that you weren’t a good match for me… you would have been in deep trouble, I assure you.”
Faramir laughed again. “Then I take her favour as an even greater compliment,” he said with a smile, and leaned over to kiss Eowyn gently on the lips. “How many days is it?” he asked softly, running one hand through her hair.
“Since what?” she teased. “Since we have had the chance to be alone together? Since we have travelled on horseback together? Or since we have had to behave very properly because people were watching?”
He moved a little closer. “Nobody is watching now,” he whispered, caressing her cheek with his hand.
“Nor they are,” she answered, blushing slightly. Faramir drew Eowyn to him, and the spark of their closeness made her shiver. Her arms slipped around his neck as their lips met, and so lost were they in the intensity of the kiss that neither heard the knock on the outer door. It was only when Eomer’s voice rang through the house – with a joyous response from Haleth – that Eowyn sprang back.
“It’s my brother!” she said, rising from her chair. “Eomer is…”
Before she could say any more, the door to the dining room burst open and Eomer stood in the doorway with a broad smile on his face. But his birthday greetings died in his throat as he noticed Faramir… and the remains of a cosy dinner. He frowned.
“Would you mind telling me what is going on?” he asked.