Chapter 26: Epilogue
Déoric wheeled his chair into the scribes' chamber. The little room in which he had begun his career had become too small a space for him, Brecc, and the apprentice scribes, especially since it had to double as artist's studio. At the queen's insistence, the former armoury had been cleared and its contents moved to one of the outbuildings. It gave plenty of room to the people usually bent on the task that was so close to the queen's heart: the writing and illuminating of books. Apart from Déoric and Brecc, there were two young men and one woman – Eadlin, the girl who had once in her grief resented Fana's love of Déoric and who now, with the queen's encouragement, learnt the delicate art of gilding.
The old scribe's room had been dedicated to accommodating the growing library. It held those old volumes Déoric and Léofred had years ago found in the store room, new tomes Éomer King had bought from Gondor, the queen's books and, in a place of honour, two special treasures: Déoric's Book of the Mark, which was meanwhile known as the Green Book of Meduseld, and the book of Shire recipes which had been the wedding gift of the Halflings. Déoric had copied it, so that the cook could have the use of it without spoiling the pages.
Two shallow steps led down into the new scribes' room, and a wooden board had been placed over them to allow for Déoric's chair. Coming down this ramp at speed and rumbling on across the floor almost all the way to his desk added a daring element to his otherwise sedate occupation, and as always he savoured this moment with boyish glee. It was still early; he was the first to arrive.
At the far end of the room, by the windows, stood propped up against the wall on top of a chest of drawers the painting he had completed the previous day. He scrutinised it now with some anxiety lest he found a flaw that had heretofore escaped his notice, but he saw nothing to irk him.
Seven weeks ago, Queen Lothíriel had given him a mirror for painting a self-portrait. What was supposed to be another practice exercise on his way to perfecting this art had turned out to be his best picture yet. It showed Déoric son of Féadred from head to waist, gazing straight out of the panel, his unbraided hair spread like a cloak round his head and rippling onto his shoulders. His right hand held together the fur-lined edges of his coat. The colours were warm browns and dark reds, with white highlights on his face. It had been a sunny day when he had sketched the picture, and the room had been bright, but Déoric had painted the background a uniform black against which his image glowed as if lit up from within. He was particularly pleased with the calm and steady expression of the eyes and with the curve of the lips between the soft moustaches.
It was a splendid portrait in every way, and Déoric wondered for an instant if he wasn't thinking somewhat too well of himself to paint his likeness into such a noble image. But wasn't he the Chronicler of the Mark and court artist of Meduseld? Had he not created precious books and treasured paintings, the first of their kind to be made in his homeland? And had he not stood up to the king in the name of truth and compassion and done what was right rather than what was to his advantage? Was the budding peace between Dunland and the Mark not a plant grown from the seeds that he, Déoric, had sown? No, there was no reason to make his face look humble. The rest of his body, he thought with a sardonic glance at his stump, was another matter, but the painting only reached down to the waist. It was, after all, the artist's privilege to choose the format of his self-portrait.
He turned his attentions to his desk and let his hand rest briefly on a bundle of small sheets covered in delicate paintings; his illustrations for the book of the queen's poems. His first attempts at painting the sea had been pathetic, but they were much better now, after he'd been to Anfalas at her insistence "so that you know what I'm talking about, Master Déoric." The colours in particular he could not have imagined before. The sea seemed to have also cured him of a spell of gloominess that had seized him the previous summer.
This was the fourth book he was working on, after the book of the kings of the Mark and the two tomes containing tales of the Westfold and the Eastfold. The latter two had been adorned not only with Déoric's drawings, but with beautiful borders of knot patterns by Brecc's hand. Now he had the queen's book to consider, and he already knew what would come next: Tales of the Shire. Meriadoc had supplied him with a good dozen during his last visit and had promised to send more by and by. He had also proposed to visit Bree-land and speak to certain Halflings in Staddle. There would be stories from the Latecomers, providing the long lost missing link between the Hobytla and the Mark. Déoric already cherished a delicate woodland scene by Peregrin's hand, which he would use as a title page, and he kept in a little wooden casket an ancient piece of parchment he had found among the oldest records of Edoras. It was an account of the building work at Meduseld and it mentioned in a half sentence that the narrow well in the Hall, the very same in which the Lady Éowyn had lost her necklace and into which Fana had climbed to retrieve the trinket, had been fashioned by "the little folk." He had no proof, but he felt certain that this could only mean the well was the handiwork of Halflings. It would add another interesting facet to his book.
However, this was not a day for thinking about books. The queen had decreed that it was time to start on The Painting and in an hour she and the king would sit for him in all their majesty. He would have felt confident to do this a year ago, but at that time the queen had not fitted into her wedding dress. Déoric began to assemble everything he would need for this purpose, palette, brushes, eggs, his sketches from the wedding day, the box of pigments. That box was always well stocked these days, for the queen had made sure that a word from Déoric sufficed to send a man to Mundburg with a list of orders.
A servant had entered the room.
"This was brought by the courier that returned today from Dunland," said the man and handed Déoric a slim parcel of grubby cloth tied with string. "It is for you from an old woman, though our men could not remember her name."
Déoric took the parcel eagerly.
With a brief greeting, the man left.
The string was knotted thoroughly, and it didn't take long before Déoric lost patience and cut it with a knife. He began to unroll the linen. The bundle felt so light and thin that he wondered how it could contain anything. For a second, he hoped that it was a message, but of course neither Lunet nor anyone else in her village could write. Twice she had sent him word, but never more than that she was well and hoped the same of him.
When he opened and unfolded the piece of cloth fully, he saw that it was a message after all, for onto his desk dropped the thing Lunet had sent him: a single ear of wheat. He picked it up and studied it closely. Fat, pale yellow grains ran in neat rows along the stem. It had been a good harvest. He tried to imagine rippling fields of wheat where those plaintive boglands had been. He smiled. They wouldn't drain all the land, he hoped, otherwise, where would the curlew live?
When his hands smoothed the cloth on the desk, he discovered that it held something else, a very light, brownish-green, shell-like thing. It was a chrysalis. He wondered how Lunet had come by this. She must have been very confident that the butterfly wouldn't hatch before its arrival in Edoras. How long did they stay in this state? He didn't know. The insect might emerge very soon. He placed the chrysalis on the windowsill along with the ear of wheat and returned to his task of preparing for the painting. By the time Brecc stomped in with his hearty greeting, Déoric had everything arranged on a tray.
"Can you help me with this? I want to get things set up in the Hall right now. Oh, and pass me the easel, I can put it on my lap."
He wheeled himself back up the ramp, followed by Brecc, who carried the tray. The Golden Hall was still empty, apart from the two guards on duty. Morning light streamed in through the high windows and lit up the specks of dust floating in their endless dance. Brecc and the guards positioned the royal chairs according to Déoric's instructions.
"No, turn it a bit to the left. We don't want the sun right in the queen's face. Just a bit more. Right, that's fine."
"I'm glad to see you are well prepared, Déoric." Éomer King approached from the front of the Hall, where the royal chambers lay above the entrance. He wore his wedding tunic of dark green silk, with two lions rampant facing each other on his chest, embroidered in red and gold by the queen as a gift to her bridegroom. "My lady is on her way."
Indeed, Queen Lothíriel and her two ladies in waiting just emerged from the stairwell that led down from the royal apartments. Their soft shoes made no sound on the stone floor, but their dresses rustled, and the queen's robe of carmine silk almost seemed to whisper secret words. One of the ladies in waiting carried the infant Elfwine, who clutched a small wooden horse in his chubby hand.
The ladies nodded their greeting and Lothíriel ascended the dais on which stood the royal chairs. When the other two ladies sat down a little to one side, Elfwine wriggled himself free and crawled over to his mother. She stepped aside and snatched the train of her dress out of the reach of his inquisitive little fingers.
"Mama!" wailed Elfwine.
"Not now, darling. Mama is busy."
"I could include the princeling in the painting," suggested Déoric.
"No," said the queen and firmly handed the child back to his minder. "I do not think that would make a good impression on future generations."
He wasn't surprised when he saw her wink. He knew her well enough by now. If she had once insisted that he should make sure to catch the twinkle in the king's eye, it was perhaps because there was usually a twinkle in hers, too.
The royal couple took their seats on the chairs Déoric had so carefully arranged, inevitably disturbing their position in the process. With skill and patience, he coaxed the king and queen back into the correct angles for the perfect lighting. Meanwhile, Brecc set out Déoric's painting supplies on a folding table next to the wheeled chair. At last all was ready. Éomer and Lothíriel sat beautifully attired and wearing blissful expressions, as if they easily relived the memory of their wedding day and thus rendered superfluous the portrait drawings made on that occasion.
Déoric grinned to himself. Some years ago, he would have worried that the painting would be a fake, because it didn't show the real wedding day. He could shrug off such scruples now. Everyone who looked at the king and queen could see the great tenderness between them. They each seemed to have found something they had been missing all their lives before. That was what Déoric was going to paint. The fine garments were mere decoration.
Nevertheless, the garments would have to be painted with great care. He observed how the light fell on the fabric and planned in his mind how he would blend the colours and apply glazes to achieve the same effect on his panel. He sketched some rough lines onto the prepared surface. Then he studied the sitters again. After a few minutes, he dipped his brush into the egg mixture and then for a while the world dissolved into a pattern of shapes and colours.
It was nearly evening when Déoric left the Golden Hall. The sitters had been supremely patient and allowed him several hours, almost until midday, for his work, and after that he had continued all afternoon to paint as much as he could with the memory still fresh in his mind. They would need another sitting session, perhaps two, but he felt already confident that the outcome would be grand indeed.
He didn't have far to go. It was the one day in the week when his little family took their evening meal at the home of Léofred and Dirlayn. When he arrived, he found only his stepfather sitting in his armchair.
"Good evening, son," said Léofred as Déoric leaned his crutches against the wall. "Your mother is cooking. I've only just arrived myself. Fana and the little ones are out in the garden, looking at butterflies. How did it go?"
"Very well, I think. The foundations are laid. Now I need to build on them."
"As ever. Well, I am sure you'll make a splendid effort."
"I'll do my best. The queen has waited so long for this painting, I cannot possibly disappoint her."
"I know you won't."
Just then, a flurry of footsteps was heard from the open door and a moment later Déoric's secondborn, Synne, came in.
"Granda!" exclaimed the child and flung herself into Léofred's arms. Léofred picked her up and kissed her cheek.
Granda. Blythe always called him Léofred. And here was Synne, just learning to talk, and she said Granda. But he isn't really your grandfather, Déoric wanted to say. However, the words never reached his mouth. Other words elbowed them aside, words from a man who would never speak again and who lay at rest in a field of Simbelmynë, not far from the grave of Théoden, his master.
Truth has many faces – seek the one that nurtures your people.
He looked at the faces before him. Synne, with her little fingers dug into Léofred's grizzled hair, her mouth sticky with honey cake. Léofred held her tenderly and somehow looked younger and full of life.
"Do you love your Granddad?"
"Yes," said the child and smiled, showing her tiny white teeth. And that, at least, was true.
Consider Man. Whether he has two legs or only one, the path of his life makes indents into the course of history, however minute. His beliefs and desires propel him forwards, while he is well advised to use his reason to steer. He may seem stubborn at times, easily swayed at others, and always in one way or other dependent on his fellow man. Great cruelty he is capable of, great depravity and great wickedness. And yet, he need not prey on other Men, for Good or Evil are his to choose: he is not born committed to either realm. This, Man needs to be forever aware of, that both paths are open to him and that he alone is responsible for which one he takes. Perhaps it is the need for moral reflection that makes Man so strong. Common now in every part of the world, he flourishes only where he chooses virtue and extends the hand of friendship to others, each of them named and cherished, and seeking truth as best they can.
Many thanks go to all the people who supported this story, especially Epilachna, Morthoron and Finlay for beta reading, as well as those numerous folk who have given advice on individual passages and practical questions. Thanks also to the reviewers and those readers who chose not to review but nevertheless loyally followed the story (a certain Welshman springs to mind…).
If anyone thinks they recognise the self-portrait, they're quite right. It was painted by Albrecht Dürer in 1500.
The philosophical content of this story was inspired by a number of books I read last year, and which I would like to recommend:
"Beast and Man. The Roots of Human Nature" by Mary Midgley
"Freedom and Discipline" by Richard Smith
"Moral Education: Beyond the Teaching of Right and Wrong" by Colin Wringe
"Virtue Ethics and Moral Education" by David Carr and Jan Steutel