The Braided Heart
The wheat sheathes soak in the Snowbourne, tethered near the shore with a rock and twine. Brightly the sun shines on them as they glisten, clear water softening them as they languorously wave in the waters. She stares at them, fascinated, despite their relative lack of activity, chin cupped in hands, hands connected to elbows which perch on bony, dirt-smudged knees.
They wave slowly to and fro, then she hears her mother coming to retrieve them. Suddenly sitting erect, grey eyes watch the woman as she approaches the river.
Cool cloths bathe her forehead; her injured arm is readjusted, rebound. She drifts between netherworld and the present, neither able to keep her attentions. With the current of the river she is borne, until a commanding voice gently demands her return. But where she is, and where she is not, are hard to fathom. She glides in the stream, and yet she hears the voice again. She is tenderly recalled, and without force on her part, she slows, then stops.
Is it her mother’s voice?
Faramir shut the door to the garden firmly, ensuring that Éowyn would hear it and not be startled at his approach. Why he was captivated by this unruly woman from the north, obviously passionate but at times stoic to the point of being almost stony, he was not sure. It had been only two days since they had met, her eyes burning with injustice at being held back, despite her obvious wounds.
She now paced, her hands working some long pieces of wild grass which had grown up in this now-untended haven. Her wrist movements were awkward since one arm was bound to her below her ribs, but as Faramir neared her, he saw that she was still managing to plait the stalks. She stopped when she saw him, then, embarrassed, dropped them to the ground.
He looked inquisitively at her, then at the grasses, then back to her face. She shrugged, and said simply, ‘It is an idle habit, Lord Steward.’
Faramir winced as she said the words, still reconciling himself to the news of his father’s recent death, the details of which had, for reasons unknown to him, been withheld.
‘Please,’ he said quietly. ‘Dear lady, call me Faramir. The title of Steward is not one that I had expected to bear. While I intend to carry though with the duties it entails, in this sanctuary at least, I would prefer that you call me by a less formal name.’
She nodded, but did not offer further conversation.
And so Faramir found himself, again, rather self-conscious and wishing that he had something clever to trip off of his tongue. He was not a verbose speaker even in the best of times, and in these challenging days, nothing at all came to him. He was spared any further sense of being ill at ease when unexpectedly Éowyn asked him a question about the horses in the cavalry of Gondor. He replied with as much detail as he could, grateful for something to discuss beyond the pall which had ensnared both of them, or the dread, hopeless battles raging in which they were powerless to participate.
Not that they had spoken of such things in words, for they had not, but like two adjacent puzzle pieces, they were now linked, though only in part.
Her mother takes the wheat stems out of the river, then enfolding her daughter’s small hand in hers, they move to a shady spot under a nearby tree. The blonde child sits, rapt in attention as the elder selects twenty-five of the most even-lengthed straws, then ties three together at their tops. As their bushy strands point outward, one on each side, she begins a braid which widens as she adds new straws every other plait. Her hands are sure and methodical as the thin strands are locked together in a delicate pattern.
‘Which one is that?’ the child asks.
‘A Feorhscylde,’ she replies.
A few moments pass.
‘May I have some straw, too? I want to try and make something.’
Her mother nods, stops her plaiting, and kisses her daughter on the head as she leans forward to retrieve some of the tawny strands.
Faramir paced through another day of torment, of unknowing. The Warden was as ignorant as he was, and even the spirit of Meriadoc was subdued. Subdued to the point of gloomy, except when he was in the company of the White Lady of Rohan. Neither of the pair was very cheery, but they seemed to exude an odd wholeness around each other, as though their days together had bound their spirits.
He spoke with Éowyn as well, about the City, about some of the plants and herbs in the garden, about the healers- always about the mundane, the distant. She had almost fled immediately from him after his spontaneous (and now deeply regretted) comments about her beauty, but as the few days went on, she had not shunned his company. He found that he asked her many more questions than was proper, but he so hungered for her company that his normally well-checked tongue now let forth a regular torrent of dialogue. From time to time he would offer to show her around some of the areas of the City, and though she would not venture far, they walked around some of the terraces, but he often noticed that her gaze strayed to the north.
On the fourth day after his perplexing introduction to Éowyn, in mid-afternoon Faramir quietly entered the garden, a favorite tome in his hand, hoping that by reading his mind would somehow be removed from the events at hand, at their impending doom. He was quite sure, however, that it would be in vain. Suddenly he stopped and turned, having seen Éowyn’s familiar white gown off to his right, several steps away. His first few steps toward her were purposeful, then as the scene became clearer, he tread more softly, then stopped.
She was curled up next to a stone bench, asleep. Merry lay above her up on the bench, slightly snoring, his body mirroring hers. On the ground before her was another of her grass-projects. Faramir kneeled down quietly and picked it up. It was a braided heart.
Merry shook his head in admiration, puffing on his pipe in the windowsill while Éowyn fanned out the wheat stalks, smiling at her creation in progress.
‘How did you learn to do that?’ he asked after sending an impressive smoke ring sailing out into the heathered dusk.
Still gazing at the plaited strands, she replied, ‘My mother. She was so clever with her hands - she created extraordinarily complex designs, almost always given as gifts.’
With a wistful look, she caressed a couple of the wheat straws before selecting three to begin a new braid.
‘You were young when she died, weren’t you?’ Merry asked.
Éowyn nodded, then turned to look at him. ‘I was seven.’ Her fingers still moved, turning one straw over the next in movements that were obviously familiar. ‘Is your mother still alive? I would have spoken with you about all this long before, but I daresay you would have found it odd that Dernhelm the soldier was so inquisitive!’
Merry chuckled. ‘At least I have your company now, though I am surprised that both Faramir and Éomer have left you out of their sight for this long. To answer your question, yes, Esmerelda is very much alive and very much in charge of Brandy Hall, no matter what my father might think.’ His face grew troubled. ‘Well, I assume she is alive. We have been gone a long time. All sorts of things could have happened in the Shire while we - ’
‘There you are!’
Merry was cut off by Éomer’s thunderous exclamation at having found his sister.
Éomer strode into the room, Faramir trailing slightly.
Éowyn smiled at both men. ‘Here I am! Yes, how odd that I might be found in my own chamber!’
Éomer eyed the hobbit sitting next to her in the window.
‘And how thoughtful of you to ask if you had interrupted a private conversation.’ She furrowed her eyebrows and gazed sternly at her brother. Then she held out her hand to Faramir. ‘Would you care to sit with me and tell me what things Éomer has been subjecting you to in my absence?’
Faramir began to walk toward her when Éomer placed a hand on his shoulder. ‘It is almost time for the feast.’
Merry dropped down from the window, tapped out his pipe, and brushed the pipeweed off the sill into the darkening sky.
‘Well, I’m going to make my way to the feasting-hall now.’ Merry jauntily approached the tall men. ‘If either of you hope to have a decent meal, you will want to start before Pippin does!’ He gazed at Faramir and his lean frame. ‘You especially.’
As Faramir grimaced, Merry turned back to Éowyn and bowed his head. ‘This afternoon has been a pleasure,’ he said, then left the room.
Éomer released Faramir from his grip. ‘Do not stay long.’ He looked meaningfully at the Steward. ‘I am sure that King Elessar will want to see both of you at the board shortly.’
Éowyn shook her head as his steps echoed away down the corridor. ‘He has always been protective.’
Faramir took a seat at her side. ‘What are you making?’
She finished tying the plait to the larger shape, then turned it in her hands to show him. ‘This is but a simple love knot.’
He glowed. ‘And it is for - ?’
Faramir was stung. ‘Aragorn?’ he said in disbelief.
‘And Arwen,’ Éowyn continued, hotly. ‘Perhaps my Lord Steward has forgotten the words I said not long ago about no longer wishing to be a queen?’ She focused on the figure, her fingers tracing the braided strands. ‘They are newly married, and it is tradition in Rohan that a love knot be placed above the bed of those who are recently joined. Since they are here, I thought that I would do them that courtesy.’
Faramir sat in silence, chewing on his lower lip.
Éowyn put the work down, then gently turned his face to hers. ‘Someone will make one for us as well, my love. You need not worry that my heart will be led astray.’ She leaned in, and nuzzled his nose. ‘Ours is a uniting that shall endure.’
Faramir closed his eyes, and murmured, ‘You honour me so.’
The sound of heavy footfalls approaching the room prompted them to move apart, and Éowyn stood quickly as the familiar bearded face of her brother reappeared.
‘Your presence is expected,’ he said, then continued back down the corridor.
Éowyn held down her hand to Faramir, and he took it, rising from the bench. Hands intertwined, they left the chamber.
‘Mama, mine doesn’t look as pretty as yours!’ The child sulks, looking angrily at the twisted straws.
Her mother puts down her own project, and bids her daughter to sit in her lap. ‘Here. Put your hands in mine and we can do it together.’
The little girl does, seating herself within her mother’s lap as strong arms enfold hers.
‘Let’s start with an easier one.’ She picks up three strands of wheat, and ties them together with a strand of flax. ‘One from the right goes into the center.’
Grubby fingers work the straws as longer fingers guide them.
‘Then one from the left. Then the right again. Do you see the pattern?’
The girl nods, smiling. ‘What will this one be?’
Her mother buries her face in her daughter’s golden hair. ‘It is a love knot. We give them to those who are newly betrothed, but this one can be from my heart to yours.’
Attentions focused, the girl continues to braid for a few moments, not realising that her mother has removed her hands, and she is plaiting on her own.
‘I love you.’
‘And I you, Éowyn.’
Éowyn walked down the stone corridor, then hesitated in the open doorway.
‘King Elessar?’ she spoke into the room.
Aragorn turned from the far wall, grimacing. ‘Éowyn, please. I am even in your own house! Call me Aragorn. I have had so many names in my lifetime that I have almost lost count.’
Éowyn laughed. ‘Well, then. Aragorn.’
He motioned to a black stain on the wall. ‘Pardon my curiosity, but is this a flaw in the stone, or…’ His voice trailed off.
Éowyn walked toward the wall, then looked intensely at him. ‘Well,’ she began, ‘one story is that my grandfather Thengel threw an inkpot at the wall one night after a fight with his father.’ She shrugged. ‘Whether it is true or not, I am uncertain. He did leave Rohan when he came of age and lived in Gondor for many years.’ She shook her head. ‘And now I am doing the same.’ She put out her hand and let her fingers touch the discolored stone. ‘I shall miss my homeland, though Ithilien’s grasses are just as green.’
Aragorn looked compassionately at her. ‘I did not mean to make you melancholy,’ he said. ‘Did you wish to speak to me about something?’
She shook herself from her reverie. Putting her hand in a pocket of her gown, she produced a braided heart of wheat. Blushing slightly, she handed it to him. ‘It is tradition that when a couple is newly betrothed,’ she stopped for a moment, then continued. ‘or married, that a love knot be placed above their bed.’
He held the gift gently in his hands, then looked back at her.
‘Since you and Arwen are gracing us with your company, and you are now in Rohan, it seemed the proper thing to do.’
She looked at the floor, then raised her eyes to his. ‘There was a time when I wanted you to have my heart. It is now in the care of one unexpected, and yours was always bound to another.’
Pressing her fingers together, she said softly, ‘Your words tonight were most kind. Though I was blind to it at the time, you did always wish for my own joy. Now that happiness is mine, with this heart I wish the same for you.’
For a moment they stood in silence, then Aragorn placed the knot on a nearby table, took her hands in his, and kissed them.
‘Thank you,’ he said.
feorhscylde = ‘spirit-shield’ (Anglo-Saxon)
My stepdaughter checked out a book from the library entitled The Book of Wheat Weaving and Straw Craft. As I looked at the intricate designs made with such simple materials, I was immediately struck with the inspiration for this story.
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