J. R. R. Tolkien is the creator of The Lord of the Rings and I can take no credit for any of his wonderful world or characters.
The switch in verb tense in the last third of the piece is intentional.
The ribbon had been embroidered by Lothíriel, herself a princess and the closest thing to a sister as had both the bride and groom. The ribbon was fine white silk, embroidered delicately in jade and gold with stylized running horses, and caulked at the end with a spreading tree in silver.
They clasped an end each and wound their hands within: her hand, small and white and freckled with half-forgotten calluses; and his hand, lean and broad and steady. They remained just so, hands wound together without touching, as the words of their vows washed over them, weighty and bright, and then she was speaking her troth and he his. At last he drew her close, kissing her lips to claim her as his wife, kissing her hand to claim her as his Lady.
In keeping with tradition, they slipped their fingers from the ribbon's hold and raveled it round their wrists after clasping their palms together and linking their fingers. They remained so bound during the dinner, when they supplemented their joy with the finest of Gondorian and Rohirric feast-foods alike and sipped from one another's silver goblets; and during the dancing, when he pulled wild laughter from her whole being, and she poured wit and banter into his ears.
When at last they were able to take their leave of the celebrations and slip out under the stars, he untied the ribbon from their arms and folded it over his bride's eyes, stifling her giggle with a kiss.
Through the gardens he led her, a chase quickened by full and thundering hearts and limbs trembling with coltish earnestness. She could not see the stars, but her acute awareness of the flawless fit of his hand in hers was beauty enough for this moment, for this sliver of this night. He led her down the back ways until at last he swept her up in his arms and carried her into the bower he had prepared for them, a wide room of warm mahogany and elegant white limestone, full of flowers and firelight and a hundred other details that did not want attention this night. He uncovered her eyes and, while she was gasping in amazement and reaching to embrace him ever so closely, installed the ribbon above the frame of their marriage bed.
He turned then into his bride's arms. Beneath the symbol of their union, they made full their joy.
Whenever he was away, and her longing for his presence was like an ache in her limbs, she would take the ribbon from its place and lay it across her lap. She would recall the clammy eagerness of their hands that night; she would conjure up every time that night when he had spoken a bit of his soul to her, and she would remember that even when distance came between them they were not truly separated.
The ribbon was a way of sometimes settling arguments, or any kind of especially difficult discussion, between them: they would sit each holding their end and take turns saying their piece, punctuating each few sentences with a crease of the ribbon around their hand. Sometimes it was deliberate and meticulous, cautious and thoughtful; sometimes it was all in a rush, and the ribbon was the only thing reminding them not to burst. Finally they would come together, white knuckles clenching the handfast silk, and they would have no choice but to talk it out.
She particularly preferred this method of problem-solving, because their proximity almost invariably led to kissing. She wasn't sure if he hadn't originally suggested it just for that reason, but she never protested.
Its place on the pegs above their bed was clearly one of honor, and both of their children asked about it, at one time or another. Elboron paid it fleeting attention, and the story, when it was to told him, was of little interest to him. He gave a nonchalant shrug of his ten-year-old shoulders, declared that he didn't ever plan on getting married, and muttered something disappointedly about his father being girly for wanting to keep something like a ribbon.
They both smiled over it later, and he observed that their son would much rather have heard the story of the faint scars that webbed up his mother's left arm. In the safety of his encircling arms, she found she could consider the War without fearing that the cold hand would latch again around her throat, that her husband's steady warmth was faithful to drive away the feverish throb of old wounds.
Lalaith asked about the ribbon in the same year, when she was six years old. Unlike her brother, she sat on her parents' bed, staring up at her mother with those wide grey eyes that marked her as so like her father in looks and temperament alike, and listened to her mother's explanations of wedding traditions in awe.
Two days later, they found her binding her stuffed bear and rabbit together in marriage with one of her hair ribbons. They watched from the doorway, grinning silently as Lalaith solemnly intoned the promises her dolls must make to keep each other for life, and love each other for always, and save cakes for each other at teatime.
When the ceremony for the bear and rabbit was at its end, they crept away before their daughter could catch them spying—they returned to their own room, and reenacted their own wedding dance.
"Good work we did that night, starting on those children," she murmured, and his low chuckle warmed her as it resonated against her cheek.
"I wouldn't have missed it for the world."
By now the creamy white silk is a tawny, well-worn hue; a pulled stitch or two causes the little running horses to stumble; the fraying at the edges threatens to chop down the silver tree altogether.
He clutches it, willing it to absorb his tears, as if the decades of memory and closeness it holds can bridge the gap of separation yet to come all in a moment. She is still in sleep, her wrinkle-laden face blessedly lined with fewer cares than when she was wakeful. Yet he fears she will slip away without waking, that he has heard her last words already, that he will never again meet those eyes that by now can read by rote the poetry etched on his very soul.
"Éowyn," he breathes, so slightly.
Her steady breathing halts, and a terrified grief stabs into his chest like a blade. The ribbon crumples in his fist, then begins to fall before he tightens his fingers on the silver tree.
Then her fingers twitch upwards, tasting the air in search of him. She feebly grips the less frayed end of the ribbon. "The story…is not done yet…my love. …Don't you dare…give up…on me." Her eyes flutter open for just an instant, her clear gaze reminding him how well she could read him even in the darkness of her deathbed.
She has not the strength to do more than clutch at her end of the ribbon, but he wraps the rest around his own hand until the backs of their fingertips just touch. He leans down to lay his stubble-roughened cheek beside her own age-textured one, and like that they remain until Mandos touches her shoulder at last.
When her hand falls away, he presses the ribbon to his lips, as if he can still gather in what warmth of her remains, as the fire of her full life turns to embers and then ash inside her body, beautiful at the last.
The ribbon is his constant companion in the years that follow. It suddenly feels like a mockery, enthroned above the bed that suddenly is bereft of one of its key inhabitants, so he removes it and binds it about his wrist, hidden beneath a sleeve.
It is his quiet reminder that death does not part them forever, that their dancing days are not yet through. It is his subtle assurance that his Númenorean blood is a blessing because he can bear this better than she would have, that twenty years in the shadow of her absence is not too heavy a price for the sixty years he had in her radiance. It is his gentle warning not to run from her memory, not to flee from the grief that sometimes swells in his chest and steals his breath, not to refuse memories of her to his children and the others who loved her. It is the faint remnant of her presence that helps him cope, that reminds him of what was and what might yet come and not only of what is not.
He cannot carry it with him into the Halls of Waiting, but he knows, as he catches sight of a lissom white form and a bundle of newly young limbs and golden hair is flinging itself into his arms with a cry of heartbreaking joy, that he does not need to.
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