Title: Kindred Spirits
Author: Frodo Baggins of Bag End (FBoBE/"Febobe")
Rating: PG (K+)
Characters: Frodo, Eowyn, occasionally others.
Summary: Written for the 20 Rings challenge, set 1, this series of short ficlets (half-drabbles, three-quarter drabbles, drabbles, and the like) follows Eowyn and Frodo in an AU post-Quest scenario.
Notes: This is, of all my work, one of the collections or pieces I have most enjoyed writing. I love it better than almost anything else I have written, with few exceptions, and I hope you will enjoy it as well. I may post more challenge work in the future; in fact, it's quite probable, but to date this is my only complete set...and my best work. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing it.
UNDER THE SKY
Because it is good for you, the healers say, so at their urging Eowyn wanders under the war-torn skies of Minas Tirith, walking alone in the gardens of the Houses of Healing. She cannot think what good it does her to look upon so much darkness and destruction.
Yet she is there on the day they return, looking down from the ramparts as they are brought in: the Ringbearers, one sturdy and staunch and already beginning to stir. . .the other skeletal and spectral and white as death itself.
From o'erhead she watches, herself a ghostly figure high above them.
The wall of Eowyn's room is the wall of Frodo's room - so the pallid little Ringbearer is named, for so Merry tells her when he visits, speaking in tears of his cousins and companion. She needed not Merry's confirmation that their rooms share a wall, however, for she has eyes and ears, and can hear the king and the wizard singing foreign songs over him, smell the strange wild fragrance of kingsfoil - now like apples and mushrooms, rain and the air of the Sea, all mingled into one deep intoxicating inhalation.
She can hear him talking now, too, though his voice is faint - for he has awakened at last, much to the joy of his companions and caregivers. It is a voice hollow, gaunt with exhaustion, spent beyond imagination.
A voice like her own.
And when at night he does not sleep, twisting restlessly in soft sheets and blankets, she takes her own cover from the bed and goes to the wall, settling herself into a chair against the hard surface, wrapping up against the strange cold that would chill her feet and hands, as it does every night now.
A long time ago, in a land not far from here. . .
A full three days' ride, but less if you don't stop for meals. She wonders whether he can hear her smile. In that land lived a handsome prince, the son of an aged but very dignified king. . . .
In very little time his breathing evens, slows; he is asleep at last. . .and Eowyn, too, can sleep, golden head leaning against the wall until morning.
IN A DREAM
When Frodo sleeps, his dreams are nightmares, shadows of thirst and darkness and flame.
When Eowyn sleeps, her dreams are nightmares, hissing whispers of rumour and falsehood, words of torment.
When they dream rare dreams of sweet peace, each dreams of the voice on the other side of the wall.
Never has Eowyn waited well. Her patience is not that of a mare, but of a colt or a young filly, eager to stretch its legs and burst forth to gallop wild and free upon the meadow.
But today she must still wait. . .even now, freed from the healers' tethers, dressed in the richest of finery - clothes fitting indeed for a king's sister, and far more elaborate than her usual wont.
And even so, when the waiting is over, it will not be the same, for they know from the bard's visits that they must be Frodo of the Nine Fingers and Eowyn the White Lady.
So they will wait until all the crowds have gone, till supplicants follow King Elessar away, till the Ringbearer's friends are pressed to return to their own lodging for the night. . .and then for a moment, stolen if need be, they shall be Frodo and Eowyn and the voices on either side of the wall and the stories that drive away the dark and the cold.
It is astonishment enough to see one another at last, creatures of story as they are, tales carried by Merry between their rooms, for Aragorn will not permit Frodo to have visitors yet, nor will he allow him to leave his room.
Not until now.
She smiles, for she needs no help from Merry to recognise him: he is still too like the nearly-dead, too-still figure carried into the Houses weeks earlier, despite considerable improvement in his colour, and the fact that he walks unaided.
He smiles, and the crowd cheers. . .but only she sees that his eyes meet hers, after some searching, and only then does the smile light up the diminuitive face. She is so like Merry's stories: tall and regal as a queen, hair like lightest honey. . .but her eyes. . .surely the Sea must be like those eyes, so deep and unfathomable.
And his smile broadens to see her mouth open in astonishment when the bard ends his song about Frodo of the Nine Fingers only to beg leave to sing once again. . .this time of Eowyn the White Lady, Vanquisher of Evil, and the Witch-King of Angmar.
King Eomer himself weeps, and there is none among the audience left unmoved.
Only Frodo sees the tears glimmer in Eowyn's eyes. . .and with them, pride. . .even joy.
Not all Arwen's elven gifts fade: still she hears the songs of living things.
Frodo's song is one of pain and fear, of shadow and darkness and exhaustion, of hurts even before Mordor's pains tormented him: the Witch-King's blade, even the loss of his beloved parents as a young child. Yet there are mithril-threads woven throughout the melody, and a few remaining threads of his old life: the familiar scent of baked apples and warm seed-cakes and mugs of ale on a winter's night, the sound of Bilbo's beloved voice ("Frodo, my lad!") and Sam's soothing tones ("There now, Mr. Frodo - ") and the young, ribald laughter of Merry and Pippin. These hold it fast. For now. But the dark and bittersweet threads of shadow and sorrow are strong. . .and will, Arwen deems, grow stronger with each passing month.
Eowyn's song is one of pain and longing, of bitterness and sorrow and weariness. . .yet woven within are the warm scents of hops and clover, of the wind on a summer's day, the sound of horses neighing and Eomer's rich laughter. As with all the Atani, there is, too, a bittersweet thread: the much-missed sound of Theodred's warm voice, Theoden's fine, proud tones in happier days. . .the voices of her dear parents, many years dead now. Deep pain stains the melody: though her love for Estel has changed, love which once burns leaves behind burn-scars. There is even a dark gash left, not unlike that left in Frodo's song, by the Witch-King: even dead, he has left behind an indestructible legacy. Yet strong silver threads, true and fine, hold fast her song: she is of stern stuff, this one, daughter of Glorfindel's prophecy. She will endure.
Strangely, though. . .there seems now a thread of each within the other. . . .
They talk so much that everyone notices. Pippin titters, stopped only by sharp elbowing from Merry, who is the cause of their being seated beside one another: Frodo should by rights have been put beside the king, and would have, but Merry is neither blind nor deaf, and being not dumb he has made it known that Frodo and Eowyn ought not to be separated at the feast. So at Aragorn's right hand sits Arwen, and to her right, Frodo, and to his, the White Lady. Sam sits by Eowyn, his fears of Frodo talking more than eating allayed by the occasional sounds of gentle coaxing from both ladies, who do their best to draw the Ringbearer's attention long enough to get some of the rich food down his throat.
But it is more than mere conversation. Eowyn pinks, and her laughter is heard to rise above the din - laughter that has not been heard in longer than anyone can recall. Frodo smiles, like sunshine after storms, and life seems to return to his gaze.
For dessert there are glazed strawberries, an extra-special treat, so difficult to prepare that these are for only the head table. Frodo and Eowyn feed each berries as if no one else in the world were watching, and Frodo laughs when a burst of berry sends juice running down his small cleft chin.
Watching, Arwen nudges her husband gently, but he is already looking on with a warm smile.
Today is the beginning of joy.
Eowyn's heart has been stone for so long she fears it might shatter. But on the king's daily visit to her room, she gathers all her courage and pours it out as best she can, asking aid in ending the separation between them. The healers will obey his orders. They will not obey hers. She is still confined to the Houses of Healing, for she does not regain flesh swiftly enough, and even Eomer will not plead her case, for in truth she does not eat, and they both know it. Frodo is not yet well enough to leave: a good day here and there do not health make, and today is not a good day. This she knows, for he has murmured to her through the wall in drowsy tones at intervals.
Yet her heart soars when he consents. A little time for his visit to Frodo - time enough to brush her hair so that it falls in thick, glossy waves down her back, to put on a simple but fresh dress of cornflower blue, to wash her face again.
He is in bed when she arrives - he feels too ill today to get up, Aragorn (for still she thinks of him, not as King Elessar so much as Aragorn) whispers in confirmation to her before she goes in, explaining that he is indeed well enough to receive visitors, only weak and tired. In bed he looks even smaller, leaf-shaped ears delicately pointed at the tips, ebon curls dark as midnight tumbling over the snowy pillow.
She sits carefully upon the bed beside him at his gesture. . .but when they are alone, they say nothing, only remain in peaceful silence, she stroking his dark curls, he gazing up at her through eyes sea-troubled and bluer than her gown.
I want only to be a butterfly.
Butterflies are free. They fly unfettered by worries or troubles.
Or broken bodies.
Then I should like to be one also.
We could fly away together, you and I.
Oh, I should like that - very much!
They bring Frodo his luncheon-tray while Eowyn is there. They offer to bring hers, but she refuses, as usual; she has eaten fruit at breakfast to appease Eomer during his visit, and the thought of eating again now seems unpleasant. Frodo seems no more interested in food than she does. Examining his tray to better coax him, she can see why: Aragorn has allowed the healers to supervise his diet, and so there is a clear broth, arrowroot porridge, and chamomile tea.
An unappetizing meal indeed.
Memories flash through Eowyn's mind so swiftly that she wants to shake her head to send them away.
Theoden king as he began to falter, becoming frail.
No. . . .
Theodred, as he lay in bed during his final hours, injured, sick unto death. . . .
But there it is.
I am a healer. I could speak with Aragorn. I have seen my own meals; there is more to be had, if only they understand: fresh creamed spinach with ground nutmeg, hot tomato soup, delicious gooseberry and elder-flower fool, carrots glistening with thyme butter, soothing mushroom soup, warm applesauce, rich soup made from beef stock and late spring vegetables, even a beautiful chilled strawberry soup made with white wine.
She smiles as she replaces the tray-cover, shaking her head, and tells Frodo he must eat.
A picnic! Yes, a picnic. . .we shall see whether we may find any trees left. They will be trees like us, war-worn and strong and tired, and we shall rest beside them and have our lunch.
She suddenly feels unaccountably hungry, and rises, bending to kiss Frodo's cheek, to go speak with the healers.
Is this the place?
It is cold even now.
Yes. It is.
Does it hurt you to be here?
Why did you bring me here, at cost to your comfort?
Because I wanted you to see for yourself.
The two figures huddle close, tall and small, upon the field of Pelennor, gold and ebon locks whipping in the wind. The air here is chill, and will be for a long time yet.
One small hand takes hers, and miniature lips kiss it.
Were you not afraid?
Aye. Aye, I was afraid. She hesitates. And yet. . .not so.
He nods. For a long moment they stand in silence. At last she turns.
It is Heaven's field now. Let us go, and let it be!
Frodo scarcely feels like moving at all, but Eowyn has been too long indoors, and too long still, and they are far from the sight of the healers. So she kicks up her heels into the wind and runs, fleet-footed pace light and swift as any colt's, as smooth as that of the mearas themselves.
It is enough for Frodo to watch her from his place upon the blanket and smile. She is beautiful indeed.
Eowyn's hair is a golden mane, tangles of honey and wheat, thick and full despite past months.
Frodo's hair is a raven tumble, curls of ebony and midnight, limp from his ordeal.
They lie together on the picnic-blanket, honey and midnight mingled, close enough for hair and breath to touch.
All the way back, Frodo is silent, though he has eaten with good appetite, taking sandwiches and peaches and strawberries readily, and has seemed well enough, with no sign of fever or increasing pain. His blue-eyed gaze grows distant, and he seems far away.
Too well Eowyn knows that feeling.
Her laugh. Silence. You?
Silence. Her smile, I think. And her smell.
Mmm-hm. Like apples and mushroom soup and forest ferns all mulled into one fragrance. Smelled so good.
Hops. Hops and new-mown hay. Eomer says I smell like them.
Silence. Shadows play along the walls.
Nights have always been long and cold for them both ever since the unspoken. They do not speak of it even now, but Aragorn has ordered that the Lady be permitted to come and go as she will, so at sunset Eowyn slips over to Frodo's room, there to climb onto the over-sized bed and tell stories without the wall between them. When Frodo sits up and leans to kiss her, he tastes of mushrooms and medicines, of ash and dust beneath; there is a strange dry taste to his lips, like that of a far-away dark and arid land.
Eowyn has taken over the preparation of Frodo's trays. The healers do not object, in part because it seems to get her nibbling at something - she at least tastes her work, and that is more than she has been willing to touch - but largely because King Elessar has told them to let her be.
So she peels carrots and potatoes, chops savoury herbs and sweet fresh fruit, stirring up delicious soups and soft foods for the little hobbit who will not eat for his attendants. But at her gentle coaxing, every tray returns to the kitchens completely empty.
Frodo's eyes are blue. Blue as the river, blue as the rain, blue as the Sea. And they are ancient.
Eowyn's eyes are blue. Blue as forget-me-nots, blue as a blue standard, blue as the sky. And they are old.
They speak not with their lips. They have no need.
A gentle heart, Aragorn calls her in his mind, surprised to find that the shieldmaiden has grown into someone he never saw before. Or perhaps she was there all along and he was blind to her presence.
But he is not blind now, for any eyes can surely see it: warrior though she is, Eowyn's thought now turns to the care of the Ringbearer, and more to the Ringbearer himself.
There are many in Minas Tirith, muses Aragorn, who would care for him, who would look after him.
He watches from a terrace as, far below, Eowyn coaxes Frodo through shaky steps his first since their picnic-outing. The two laugh as Frodo totters, falling into her arms, looking none too displeased. Straightening, he tries again, succeeding this time and continuing, at her coaxing, with steadier pace, strength and confidence gradually returning to his gait.
But who else truly loves him?
The sun is slow to peek out, though there are no objections from Frodo's room.
Hundreds, even thousands, of sunrises have passed for each of them.
How many have they left?
Somehow not knowing is enough.
Sleepy limbs disengage from the tangle of blankets, and Eowyn stirs atop the snowy coverlet, reaching over to tuck a still-drowsing Frodo in more securely. Outside the warm spring sun begins to rise, seeking her place in the sky.