The wind murmured among the leaves, aromatic scents elusively floating about. Sunlight filtered through, golden shot with emerald, and somewhere, a bird was singing sweetly… A little like Ithilien, thought Éowyn affectionately. Almost, but not quite. Still, this place was dear to her for another reason.
She walked about, trailing her fingers on the plants that reached up to her waist, bending low to breathe in the heady scent of the herbs that littered the garden. Finally, she seated herself on the grass and looked up at the walls, smiling dreamily. Atop those beloved walls, a vow had been made and sealed with a kiss…
She heard a small pattering of feet behind her, the source of the noise obviously attempting to be as silent as possible. She braced herself.
"Gondor!" cried a little boy, cannon-balling onto her back and firmly attaching himself there, his chubby little arms wrapped around her neck. She laughed merrily and gently disengaged them, pulling the little boy onto her lap.
"Oh dear, it seems you have caught me off-guard," she said seriously, her grey eyes dancing.
"Yes, Mama, you must be more ob-ser-vant. The orcs will catch you if you aren't watching for danger," replied the little boy just as seriously, the words surprisingly intelligible as they tumbled out of his four-year old mouth. He spoke remarkably well for his age, something Faramir was quietly proud of.
"Then you must always be near me, so that you can protect me if the orcs do come."
"Yes, girls always need pro-tec-tion," said the little one wisely.
Éowyn, remembering a certain woman who rode into battle as a man, stifled a grin. "And what if your new sibling is a girl? Who will you protect first, me, or your sister?"
Elboron gazed thoughtfully at his mother's swollen belly. "My sister," he finally said, "because you can use a sword, Mama, and she can't."
"A wise choice," said Éowyn gravely, unconsciously caressing her stomach. It wasn't huge yet, but the pronounced bump was unmistakable. She turned her gaze once more to the walls.
Elboron, too, was looking at the walls, but the expression on his face said he wasn't truly seeing them. His eyebrows were puckered in a slight frown.
"Mama?" he finally said. "May I tell you something?"
"Of course, Elboron."
"Everyone smells different."
Éowyn had long grown used to hearing the strangest ideas pop out of a child's mouth, and so only said, "What makes you say that, dearest?"
"Papa smells different from you, and you smell different from Queen Evenstar, and Queen Evenstar smells different from King Elessar, and King Elessar smells different from Legolas."
Éowyn nodded, encouraging him to go on.
"Papa has… a Ranger smell."
"Does that mean he smells bad?" asked Éowyn, smiling mischievously in spite of herself. She, if no one else, knew how meticulously clean Faramir was now, although she wasn't quite sure if she could say the same for the time he had spent as a Ranger.
"No," said Elboron with all the impatience of his years. "He smells like… like this." He vaguely waved his hand around. "Like the woods and the birds and the streams and the trees and the flowers."
"Yes," he said, his wide eyes solemn. "And Uncle É'mer… he smells like his horse."
Éowyn nodded once more. That was predictable enough. Perhaps not as bad as his horse, but still enough to give him a certain out-of-doors smell.
"But…" Elboron's face took on a thoughtful look. "He also smells like… like… like the…" His frustration at his inability to find the correct word manifested itself in the balling up of his little fists. "Like the running water," he finally said.
Éowyn blinked blankly at him, which did not happen very often. Usually, she could instantly fathom what Elboron meant when he uttered words that would have been pure gibberish to non-members of the family. "The running water, Elboron?"
"Yes," he said, his dark curls bouncing as he nodded vigorously. "The running water where you pushed him in!"
It came back to Éowyn in a sudden rush of memory, and she began to laugh.
It had been a year ago, when she and Faramir had visited Rohan, bringing Elboron with them. Éomer, partly due to delight at having both sister and nephew in his home, and partly due to the dreadful heat, had proposed a swim in a brook not far from Meduseld. Éowyn, spotting an excellent opportunity to renew sibling love, had given a wide-eyed Elboron to Faramir and, as Éomer was in the act of stripping off his tunic (his head was most conveniently trapped in the garment), pushed him into the water. He had surfaced spluttering, and Lothíriel had laughed so hard that she lost her balance and plunged into the water as well. It had been a joyful day, full of laughter and water and sunlight, but Éowyn was surprised that Elboron still remembered it—he had been a mere three-year old at the time.
The brook did have a certain peculiar smell about it… peculiar, but not unpleasant. Did Éomer truly smell like that? She would have to verify it the next time she met him, although Lothíriel's facial expression would probably kill her with laughter, if the Queen caught her husband's sister sniffing him inquisitively.
"Do you 'member now, Mama?"
Éowyn shook herself out of her reverie. "I think you meant the brook, darling."
"Yes, that's the one."
"Yes, I do remember," said Éowyn, and impulsively began to tickle him. He shrieked with laughter, until he yelled breathlessly, "Stop, Mama, stop!"
She obediently paused, and the little boy climbed off her lap and glared at his unrepentant mother. "I'm not yet done, Mama."
"I'm sorry for interrupting, Elboron," she said contritely, drowning her laughter. "Do continue."
"Queen Evenstar smells like the stars and the wind in Dol Amroth."
Éowyn raised an eyebrow. "How can you smell like the stars, Elboron?"
Elboron gave an endearing little shrug. "She smells… twinkly."
"Twinkly? Goodness, is that a word?"
"It is to me," pouted the little boy.
"All right," said Éowyn softly, pulling him back onto her lap and hugging him. "If it is a word to you, then it is a word to me too."
The little boy took it all in his stride, waving his Mama's comment away. "And King Elessar…" Suddenly, Elboron looked nervous. He glanced over his shoulder and around the Houses of Healing's gardens, checking for possible eavesdroppers. Éowyn didn't see how there could be any (unless they were hiding in the rosebush), and even if there were, she wasn't sure they would be at all interested in a little boy's earnest explanation of different smells.
"King Elessar smells like… like…"
"Like what, dearest?"
"Like pipeweed, and like…" He looked absolutely terrified. "He smells like he used to smell Not So Good before," he completed in a whisper.
Éowyn quickly drowned her laughter. "That would be because he was a Ranger himself for a very long time, Elboron. And from all accounts, it is not an easy task to keep yourself clean in the wild," she explained seriously, knowing that if she laughed, her little prince would be quite offended.
He looked intensely relieved. "You won't tell him? He won't get mad?"
She hugged him tightly once more. He's growing so big already, she thought wistfully. Soon, I won't be able to hold him in my lap anymore. "No, of course I won't tell him, and even if I did, he wouldn't get mad," she said out loud, picturing Aragorn's amused face if she did tell him.
"Elboron," she said suddenly, struck by curiosity, "what do I smell like?"
Elboron smiled, reaching up to hug Éowyn. "That's easy, Mama," he said, his eyes shining with honesty. "You smell like the flowers in 'thilien, and but-ter-scotch, and the stories Papa tells at night, and the nice fire in my room, and all the colors of the rainbow mixed together. You smell like everything nice, Mama."
Éowyn blinked a tear or two back. "I used not to smell as nice, you know," she found herself saying very quietly, to her own surprise. She didn't think anyone living in the same vicinity as Wormtongue could have smelled nice. And no one had smelled even close to nice during the war, in the midst of all that blood.
"But you do now, Mama," he said unconcernedly, not bothering to add the obvious, and that's what matters.
Éowyn smiled. The wisdom of babes.