A/N: In my other fannish lives, I write political psycho-dramas in which people routinely interrogate each other and lead borderline lives of extreme violence and moral ambiguity, usually on board spaceships. So this is something of a departure for me, and I have no idea how well it works or whether this is what people were hoping for from such a story. I can, however, point out that were no spaceships. Let me know if you like it and if you do I'll get Faramir to tell me some more. There's tons to write about, the wedding not least, and it's infinitely more pleasurable then, um, chapter 3 of my thesis. Oh, and I only just noticed I'm posting this on Valentine's Day!
A Game of Chess
Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair
Spread out in fiery points
Glowed into words, then would be savagely still.
Minas Tirith had never, I think, beheld anything quite like our wedding. These ceremonies, between the noble houses of Gondor at least, are most often orderly affairs, with careful attention to legal formalities and the elegance of the language of the vows, which has even, I believe, become somewhat a source of rivalry between certain families. Moreover, as the generations passed and Gondor waned, marriage acquired something of an air of solemnity, as if to impress upon the couple the heavy responsibility they bore in maintaining the bloodlines of Númenor.
But the wedding of the Steward of Gondor and the White Lady of Rohan was much less sedate. From the moment the entourage of King Éomer arrived in Minas Tirith, a week before the event was due to take place, the city acquired an air of celebration the like of which I could not recall ever seeing before. It was naught so grand, of course, as the mood that had surrounded the marriage of the King and Queen the previous summer, but it did seem that the people of Minas Tirith were treating our wedding as if it were taking place between members of their own families. As I went about my business in the city, I was stopped seemingly at every corner by men who wanted to give me their wishes for happiness (gratefully accepted), women who wanted to know about my bride's dress (I knew nothing), and all those who wanted to give such advice, comment and opinion which, it seemed, they believed it was their duty to offer (politely heard). After three or four days of such attention, I retired completely to the Steward's house on the seventh level. Indeed, I hid.
The morning of the wedding itself was bright and warm, a flawless day in the middle of August, but it found me downcast, since I had fallen to thinking how these events in both Rohan and Gondor were customarily family occasions, and I felt keenly my own lack in this respect. I would have been glad even of the presence of my father, although the thought of what he would have said of the disorder that had been brought to the city on my account was enough to make my heart quail. But I missed my brother most acutely, since I knew the delight he would have taken in the whole event, in particular my own discomfort at all the attention.
Thus my uncle found me, late morning, standing with arms folded before the large window in my study in the Steward's house; and I was frowning as I looked upon the sunlight which shone down upon my green gardens and gleamed off the White Tower beyond the wall.
'You have the air of a hunted man,' he said by way greeting.
I gave him a small smile.
He came to stand by me. 'It is a glorious day,' he said, 'and likely to become even more lovely. But seeing your face I think, perhaps, that your mind is less upon the woman who is to be your wife and more with those who will not be here today.'
'You have ever read me too easily!' I answered. 'But I cannot help but wonder how they would be on this day.'
'Your father would be insupportable and your brother would be drunk,' he said bluntly, and I ran my hand through my hair and laughed. 'Now stop brooding, I beg you, and be happy for once!' he commanded, laughing in his turn.
'How was my lady this morning?' I then asked, for it is the custom in Gondor, on the morning of a wedding, for the groom's father to deliver to the bride a gift to welcome her to her new family. Since I had no father living, it had fallen to my uncle to perform this duty for me; and, indeed, upon reflection, I found I could not imagine my father carrying out this task for me and was glad that it had come instead to my uncle. I wondered now whether this, as much as war, was part of what had prevented me even thinking about marrying before; I also knew that had my father lived, I would not have been marrying the woman of my own choosing, but whomsoever he had instructed me to wed. Perhaps it would still have suited our alliances for the heir of the Steward of Gondor to marry the sister of the King of Rohan, but my father would, I think, have preferred and chosen for me a Númenorean wife.
'She was very lovely, very happy, and very nervous,' my uncle replied. 'At least one of which applies to you also, I see,' he added, glancing down; for, as had seemed to become my custom when anxious, I was twisting the silver ring of my stewardship which I bore on the smallest finger of my left hand.
I put the hand behind my back. 'And did she look favourably upon the gift?' I had chosen for her, from out of my mother's possessions and which had been passed down the female line of her family for many generations, a blue gem in a silver setting shaped like a swan, upon a silver chain. And it pleased me very much to have given Éowyn something which belonged to my mother and which bore with it a connection to Dol Amroth, and even more it pleased me that my uncle had been the one to deliver it to her. For, while nothing was of greater consequence to me than my role as steward and head - and sole surviving member - of the line of Mardil, yet it was into my living family that I wished most to welcome Éowyn and by them have her loved as much as I loved her.
'She thought it very beautiful, and when I told her whence it came she thought it more so.'
'I am very glad,' I said softly, and chewed absently at the thumb of my right hand.
He reached up and drew my hand away. 'Come and eat something,' he said. 'We have some hours yet.'
'Indeed, uncle, I hardly feel like eating - '
'Maybe not, but it might at least stop you fidgeting and thereby make you less maddening to watch.' He smiled upon me once again; and, before we turned to go as he had suggested, I clasped his arm, and he took mine, and I thanked him for all of his many kindnesses to me, in which throughout my life he had been better than a father.
Four hours after noon, we left the house and went down into the court of the fountain where the marriage was to take place, before the White Tree; and the sunlight caught on its silver leaves. Already gathered there, stretching back from the Tree along the keel, were many of the folk of Gondor and the Mark, and from many other realms; for, whatever I may have preferred, this was unavoidably an event of diplomatic significance. I looked upon all those gathered there with dismay. And I seemed to have stopped moving, for my uncle gently nudged me forwards until at last we came to the White Tree. Two tables had been laid out there, covered in white cloths, and each bearing a sword and a gold ring. We stopped beside the one on the right hand side, the whole assembly behind us, looking on, and I could hear their murmuring.
The King was already there and greeted me with a slight frown. 'Are you quite well?' he asked with quiet concern, and when my uncle started laughing under his breath, the King caught his eye and a smile spread across his face.
'Mm,' I answered thoughtfully, staring at the ground, unwilling not to answer the King, but unsure of my voice.
'Look,' he said softly in reply, and I raised my head and saw that coming towards us, from the White Tower, walking with her hand upon her brother's arm, was Éowyn; and, once I had seen her, all my worries were driven from my mind.
I heard behind me a few murmurs from the ladies of Minas Tirith, for my bride was not wearing white, as was the custom in Gondor, but had instead chosen to wear midnight blue, and it was edged and embroidered with silver thread, and I knew that she wore these colours because so she had been clad when we had stood by the walls in the Houses of Healing, and the shadow had departed, and we had clasped hands for the first time. And about her neck she wore my gift to her, the swan pendant of my mother's, and her hair was bound back from her face but hung long and loose down her back, and it shone in the sunlight. And she was more beautiful than I had ever seen her; even more so than the first time I beheld her, because now she was not sorrowing or sad, but radiant and smiling as I had most desired to see her.
The King greeted us both and all our guests; and first we paid attention to the customs of Rohan; and this meant I gave to her my sword, for her to hold in safe-keeping for our sons. My uncle passed it to me and I held it by the hilt and offered it to her, saying, 'Ic giefe þé þis ecg. Geheald hit swā þæt úre bearnas hæbben and befæsten hit.' She smiled merrily, and I knew I would suffer later for my accent. But she took the sword and looked upon it; and it was the sword with which I had for years protected Ithilien, and then used in the defence of Minas Tirith. And she looked at me with great love, before passing it to her brother until the ceremony was over.
And then she had to replace my sword, so that I might be able still to protect our home and family; and handing me the sword her brother gave to her, she said, 'Þæt þu nerien ús, þu sculest beran ecg. Mid þissum ecge nere úre ham.' And I took it from her, and I was greatly moved for, although the blade itself had been shattered, this was the hilt of the sword with which she had slain the Witch-King; and I looked at her and marvelled as I did almost daily that a woman so fearless and fair should consent to be my wife.
And I passed the sword to my uncle, and we turned then to the traditions of Gondor. A year ago, at Edoras, we had given each other silver rings; and these now we gave back to show that we had held firm to the promise we had made then; and she set hers on my right hand, and I set mine on her right hand; and then we gave to each other in the same way gold rings, as a sign of the strengthening of the bond between us. Then her brother, in place of her mother, took her right hand; and my uncle, in place of my father, took my right hand; and they brought them together, and facing each other we joined them. And then the King asked us to speak to each other our vows. Great store we set in Gondor on the speaking of these vows; and they are written anew on each occasion by each party, and not until they are spoken does the other hear them. My lady spoke first:
'From Rohan to Gondor I come to thee; in love I bind myself to thee; and so I swear to love thee and honour thee all the days of our life together. So say I, Éowyn, Éomund's daughter, of Rohan.'
And in return I said to her, 'By your presence you heal me; with your love you honour me. And I offer thee in turn my love and my honour, and I swear to thee my constancy throughout all the days of the life we begin here today. So say I, Faramir, son of Denethor, Prince of Ithilien and Steward of Gondor.'
And then the King confirmed that he had heard our vows, and that all we had done was in accordance with the laws of both Gondor and Rohan; and I became her husband and she became my wife; and at last we embraced and kissed in the sunlight as the White Tree shimmered before us.
Drink flows freely at any gathering of the men and women of Rohan, and at a wedding even more so. Now, I do not particularly care for being drunk; indeed, whilst living in my father's household any such loss of self-possession would have been disastrous. The most I had ever drunk on a single occasion was in Ithilien, after I took a spear in the side and, in order to distract from both injury and surgery, I ordered Damrod to hand over a bottle of brandy that he had kept hidden for months. I drank half and then fainted gratefully. It had seemed to me the least worst of my choices, even taking into account the quality of the brandy, since I like the sensation of pain somewhat less than the sensation of being drunk. I am certain that at least some of my habitual restraint was in place throughout the wedding feast, but I do recall at one point late in the evening embracing tenderly both my uncle and my new brother, and telling them at great length and with, under the circumstances, remarkable eloquence of my deep love and admiration for each of them; how I had not known it was possible to be this blissful; and that I was certainly the most fortunate man ever to live and breathe. So I am forced to conclude that on this occasion too I may well have not been entirely sober. At least I can be thankful that the King had not been standing nearby for me to include him in my eulogy, which I undoubtedly would have done if presented with the chance.
As the evening drew to an end, I stumbled off in search of my wife - and how well I liked to say and even simply think that word - and I saw, looking down from the keel onto the levels below, that the whole of Minas Tirith was alight, with lanterns shining along the streets and on the buildings, as the people of the city celebrated too the great happiness of the Steward and the White Lady. And as I made my way on I saw, looking back, that further down along the keel the King of Rohan was now deep in conversation with my cousin Lothíriel and, indeed, very lovely she looked, with her long dark hair and her sweet and laughing manner, and he seemed quite entranced by her.
I found my wife talking to my cousin Elphir, the eldest son of my uncle the Prince, and, coming up behind her, I wrapped my arms around her waist and pulled her in close to me, and I kissed her on her neck and her skin was soft beneath my touch; and she leaned her head back gently onto my chest and closed her eyes briefly and smiled. Then, with a quick movement, I swept her up into my arms, and she wrapped her arms around my neck, and threw back her head and laughed out loud; for there was one more old custom from Rohan about which I had read, and she had realized that I remembered it. Very risky it was considered for the bride to walk across the threshold of her new home, since if she stumbled it was an ill omen, and so she should be carried. And I did so, as our friends and our guests watched on and laughed, and I took her home. And I shall, for the moment, stop here; since to go further would not be gallant.
A/N: For the Gondorian wedding ceremony, I used the account Michael Martinez gives in Parma Endorion (http://126.96.36.199/parma_endorion.pdf) of the ceremonies conducted by the Eldar. It seemed reasonable to think that the Númenoreans would use some version of this too, although perhaps changed a bit to account for the passage of time and, also, the probably more rigid and patriarchal structure of late Gondorian society. I lifted the details of the Rohan stuff from some Anglo-Saxon wedding vows and customs, taking bits and pieces which I liked. I came to the conclusion that the people of the Mark would jump at any chance to have a big party and drink a lot and quite right too.
As for the Old English: Faramir says (I hope): 'I give you this sword. Preserve it for our sons to have and to use.' Éowyn answers (possibly): 'To keep us safe, you must bear a blade. With this sword keep safe our home.'
Who knows if it's accurate? If you do, and it isn't, then please tell me! It's a long time since I last wrestled with a subjunctive. I would love to know how well I did with a vocabulary list, a basic grammar (links to both of which I found on one of Dwimordene's pages here on this site -- thank you!), and a pretty limited and now mostly forgotten classical education.
The whole chess thing will make sense eventually, I promise.