"Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain."
Written for a BTME challenge Prompt
Title: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
Author: Linda Hoyland
Characters/Pairing: Arwen, Éowyn, OFCs Aragorn, Faramir, OMC
Book/Source: LOTR book-verse
Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
It has been a most pleasant afternoon, sweet friends." Lady Adiva smiled at her guests.
Arwen and Éowyn sat on cushions on the floor of the Ambassador's residence alongside their hostess, in the manner of Harad, while Dame Ivorwen, Adiva's midwife as well as a good friend, sat on a chair. "I hope you will honour me with your esteemed presences again next week."
"We will be happy to," said Arwen.
"I was wondering if you would honour me in the same way your esteemed husbands honoured mine by visiting the hamam with me," Adiva continued. She looked down shyly.
"I was wondering when you would ask us!" Éowyn replied. "Faramir and I will still be in the City, so I should love to accept your invitation."
"As would I," Arwen added.
Dame Ivorwen had blanched and looked as if she were about to fall off her chair. "No thank you, my dear," she said. "The very thought horrifies me. It cannot be quite proper at all."
"You are a healer, Dame Ivorwen," said Éowyn. "I am surprised you are so easily shocked."
"It might well not be shocking in your homeland, Adiva," she said. "But in Gondor it is very shocking indeed! Yes, as a healer, I must often see my patients partially unclothed, but that is because it is needful, not as a means of recreation."
"I did not wish to offend," said Adiva. "In my land, the highest honour you can offer your friends is to share the hamam with them. Our countries, I know, have very different customs. I hope, though, you will join again for tea soon?"
"Gladly, my dear," said Ivorwen, as the three prepared to take their leave.
"Are you certain you want to do this, Arwen?" Aragorn anxiously enquired of his lady as she and Éowyn prepared to set out the next week.
"It did not harm you and Faramir," Arwen replied.
"I did not find it easy, though," said Aragorn. "I went only to support Faramir and as not to hurt our good friend, Tahir. He had been asking us for so long. As we went to the hamam, there is no need for you to have to do likewise."
"I cannot see why we should not," said Éowyn. "It is a pleasant change to find somewhere in Gondor where one can remove ones clothes without shocking anyone. In the Mark we have similar customs of sometimes sharing a steam bath, husbands and wives might do so together with their friends."
Aragorn and Faramir blanched at the very thought.
"Lady Adiva is our friend," said Arwen. Surely sharing the hamam should help cement our friendship? You told me that you felt you had formed a deeper understanding of Tahir as result of bathing together."
"The three of us know each other well," Éowyn added. "We have helped deliver each others babies. The hamam should be as nothing compared to that. We are hardly strangers!"
The two men said no more but still looked troubled.
Lady Adiva was waiting for her guests attended by her faithful maid, Falah, who was clutching three pairs of wooden clogs finely decorated with silver and mother of pearl. She bowed low and presented them to her mistress and the guests.
"For us to wear in the hamam, " Adiva explained. "Do you object if Falah brings us drinks while we bathe?"
"Not at all," said Arwen.
"We will appreciate drinks," said Éowyn.
The ladies made their way to the disrobing room where Falah unrolled three thick mats patterned with intricate designs, on the floor and gave each lady one large peştemal and three smaller and thicker ones and a small casket. The maid then left her mistress and her guests alone.
"Faramir never mentioned mats," said Éowyn eyeing hers curiously.
"It is the custom for the women to sit on the mats to undress," Adiva explained. "We place our jewels in the boxes. Men and women have different customs. We do not have the hamam as hot and steamy as the men do in case a woman is with child and not aware of it."
The three women swiftly undressed and wrapped themselves in themselves in their peştemal. Adiva led the way into the steam room. She spread her covering on the large stone and stretched out. Her friends did likewise.
To begin with, Arwen enjoyed herself. The experience reminded her of the healing baths at Imladris, which she had shared with her mother and the other Elven maidens. Her two companions today, though, were no Elves. Adiva had borne five children, while Éowyn had borne two. Motherhood had forever changed them, leaving silvery marks where their skin had stretched and previously firm flesh now sagging.
Arwen looked at her own body; unmarked and as firm fleshed as any young maiden's, showing no trace of the son she had given birth too. Neither sun nor wind had marked her either. Her skin was as pale as a lily and as soft as a new born babe's. Suddenly her Elven perfection disgusted her. She did not appear to have lived at all. What if mortals, and especially Aragorn, found her changelessness repulsive?
Beside her, Adiva was feeling equally distressed. She thought how unfavourably she compared with these tall, elegant women of the West. The five babes she had given birth to and suckled had left their marks upon her. Her flesh drooped and sagged and her dark skin was marred with paler lines. She knew that Arwen was unique, but there must be many women in Gondor not unlike Éowyn. Adiva felt a stab of dread. What if her husband chose to take another wife from amongst such beauty? Collecting herself, she remembered her duties as hostess and started to tell her friends about the beauty treatments the women of her land used in the hamam.
"We bring colouring for our hair and faces to apply here if we are to attend a feast," she said. "Unlike our husbands, we do not mark our bodies permanently. Or if a maiden is about to be married, her mother will bring her for her first treatment with sugar to remove all hair from her body."
"Éowyn glanced down at her limbs with their covering of fine hairs, then at her companions' smooth skins. A horrible thought came to her. Faramir must find her as hairy as one of his hounds!
Just then Falah, clad only in a thin shift, entered with the tea. All three women started. They sat upright and pulled their peştemal around themselves.
"Do you require assistance with bathing, esteemed ladies?" she asked.
"No thank you, not today, Falah," said Adiva.
The maid eyed the three towel shrouded forms curiously for a moment then bowed low and departed.
Tears started to roll down Arwen's cheeks as she sipped her drink.
"What ails you, dear esteemed friend?" Adiva asked in concern. "Alas, I am the lowest of hostesses, I have offended my guests!
"Not at all, Adiva," Arwen reassured her. "It is I who offend your eyes!"
"But why, esteemed Lady Arwen? Your beauty dazzles my gaze!"
"You and Éowyn appear to me as real women," Arwen said sadly. "I am more like some marble statue! The greatest joy I have known is to become a mother, but my body appears as that of a young maiden!"
"My greatest joy too is my children," said Adiva, "But alas, they have taken my beauty from me!" She burst into tears.
"And how can Faramir find me fair when my limbs resemble those of his hounds?" Éowyn lamented.
"Maybe we should proceed to the soğukluk?" Adiva suggested desperately. "Then when we are dressed, maybe you would like a walk round my rose garden and tea and cakes?"
"We would like that very much," said Arwen.
A short time later, the three still despondent ladies were strolling arm in arm through the rose gardens. Arwen and Éowyn were trying hard to convince Adiva that she was a most excellent hostess and their melancholy was not her fault.
The ladies were surprised to see their husbands appearing from the opposite direction.
"What is wrong, vanimelda?" Aragorn asked Arwen.
"We thought we would walk home with you as we finished our work early," Faramir explained." You look troubled, Éowyn."
"And why has my fair flower been weeping?" asked Tahir, hastening to embrace his lady.
Adiva poured out her heart to her husband.
"But my fairest blossom," he exclaimed. "It is you alone that I love! Had I desired a lady from the West, I would have taken a concubine from amongst the slave girls long ago. I want no other bloom in my garden. I see the marks our children left upon you as akin to the tattoos I bear, or the battle scars I won with honour."
Arwen meanwhile had told Aragorn what troubled her.
"But why do you need marks upon your body when your people carry everything in their hearts, forgetting nothing?" he asked gently. "Your beauty first drew me to you, but there is far more to you than looks. I love everything about you, your smile, your laugh, your kindness, your wisdom and the wonderful child you gave me."
Arwen's tears turned to smiles.
Faramir paused to admire a rose and thought carefully what to say to raise his lady's spirits. "You do not resemble a hound at all!" he said. "You are the fairest of ladies and I like you exactly as you are. The Queen's perfection fills me with awe, but I would never desire one such as she to be my wife. Aragorn told me once that during his travels he saw some cats specially bred to be without fur and how he found them most repulsive! I would feel the same about any warm-blooded creature that was smooth and hairless as a lizard! You would not breed horses without hair would you, my love?"
"The very idea!" Éowyn snorted, her earlier melancholy mood banished.
The three couples made their way back inside the Ambassador's home, the ladies now content again.
"That the loveliest woman ever born should fret about her looks!" Aragorn remarked to Faramir as they sipped mint tea and ate cakes flavoured with rose petals.
"My Éowyn is just as bad," said Faramir. "Such folly is enough to make the Valar weep!"
Éowyn overheard him and retorted, "We women might be foolish at times, but not nearly as often as you men folk!"
"We are not!" Aragorn protested.
"We can at least agree that Lady Adiva's tea and cakes are delicious," said Arwen.
"You make a better diplomat than I, esteemed Lady Arwen," said Tahir. "Now you must sample some of the latest sweetmeats we have been sent from Harad."
"Your hamam has certainly made us hungry," said Éowyn." Visiting it has taught us a great deal."