Middle-earth belongs to Tolkien. Thanks to Morthoron and Ignoble Bard for beta reading.
The children were running and splashing in the shallow waters. Their lissom bodies glazed with sand, she saw them fling strands of seaweed at each other, pick up shells, whoop at the sight of crabs. Elboron pointed with a piece of driftwood and nudged his sisters towards a rock pool. The other boys yelled something she could not make out.
I must be old, thought Éowyn. Why else would I be content to sit and watch? When I first came to the seaside, I walked and walked, in fact I ran a lot of the time and my skirt hems were always soaked. Faramir could not keep up with me then. When my hair finally dried by the fire at night, salt crystals glittered at the tips. It was not that long ago. Ten years? Ten years. I would have thought it would take longer to grow old.
She scanned the dappled sky. It might rain, but there was no telling in this breeze-whipped country. The clouds could as easily disperse again within minutes. Miles away, the straightest line she knew, the sea horizon, was interrupted by a string of small islands of white rock. She caught herself thinking of them as a herd, as if the mearas had chosen to rest a while and graze on the crest of the waves. She stretched out and pulled her skirt up to her knees to let her legs soak up the sun.
It was not that she did not love Faramir. She might wish for him not to fret quite so much about her, but she could hardly fault him on anything – how could a woman complain about a kind and attentive husband? How could she not appreciate his devotion? Of course she loved him.
It was not about Aragorn, either, though she had to admit that there was still a place inside her that trembled at the memory of his rejection; treacherous ground to tread, so she did not go there. He had been wrong, back then, they had all been wrong, Faramir too and she herself, when they thought she had seen in him only the valiant captain and future king. Would that it could have been so easily dismissed! Experience had taught her what she would not have otherwise believed, that it was possible to love one man and yet to pine for another, to care – so greatly, so pointlessly – what he thought about her and be always watching, watching, for that glint of approval in his eye. But it was not about that.
Nor was it the children. They gave her very little grief and if she did get tired of their antics, there was always the trusty nursemaid or some other servant to take care of them. True, her body was a little heavier than it had been before she bore them, more sluggish, too, but on the whole she remained slender and strong. No, no, it was not about that.
Homesickness? No, while she cherished her visits to Rohan, Ithilien was her true home now. Boredom? Not exactly. Loneliness? With her family all around her? Her old injuries? Long healed.
It was not about anything really, and that was the trouble. She could not even tell Faramir or anyone else when there was no reason, no reason for this gloom that hung over her all the time. All the colour and vigour and joy was drained out of life. It made no sense. If she had been an Elf, she might have thought that she was fading.
Was it one of hers? Yes, Elboron came running towards her, followed by Elfwine and the younger children. They ran right past the spot where Lothíriel sat with her maids and came up to the dune Éowyn had chosen as her retreat.
"Mother, look what I found!"
She prepared to feign interest in some curious shell or dead sea urchin and held out her hand for Elboron to drop in his treasure. It was a stone.
"See the colour!"
The stone was more or less oval, with an irregular surface that suggested it had once been full of rough edges which the sea had since ground smooth. It shimmered in a milky blue, not quite opaque, not quite translucent. When she moved her hand, she thought she saw a golden flicker inside. She held it up against the light and the blue melted away. Now the stone looked golden brown. A vague dark shape was enclosed in its core.
"Do you like it, Mother?"
Five eager faces were turned towards her.
"It's for you then. But you must come over and show it to Aunt Lothíriel."
She rose from her nest among the sea lavender and walked with her children and nephews towards the group under the parasol. Lothíriel sat with a notebook on her knees, stylus in hand. I know she is a good poet, thought Éowyn, but just how many poems can she write about the sea? The next moment, she reproached herself for this ungenerous thought, about Lothíriel, too, who had never shown anything but kindness to her.
"Aunt Lothíriel! Look what I gave to Mother! It's the strangest stone you've ever seen!"
"Is it indeed?" Lothíriel turned the stone over. "I am afraid I will have to disappoint you on that count, Elboron. I have seen stones like this before. But let this be a consolation: it is a very rare and precious stone and, as you say, very strange. It is blue amber, which we also call Tears of Uinen. Your mother will have a beautiful jewel when this is polished. She must be very happy that you found this for her."
So Éowyn did her best to look happy and kissed Elboron on both cheeks and dropped the rare and precious stone into her pocket.
"Come, I will show you something."
Lothíriel beckoned and Éowyn climbed up the spiral staircase behind her. As usual when she visited Dol Amroth without her husband, Lothíriel was not accommodated in the state chambers reserved for royal guests, but in her old rooms on the second floor of the South turret.
"It would do for Éomer as well," said said over her shoulder, "but my father does so insist on etiquette. I much prefer my rooms to that pompous apartment. It is almost reason to leave Éomer at home!" She laughed.
Éowyn had to admit that the day room was certainly delightful. Semicircular and overlooking the bay, it caught the early evening light which gave the walls a peachy glow. The furnishings were less grand here and yet more elegant than those on the ground floor of the castle. A writing desk on sleek, curved legs stood by the window.
"These are Master Déoric's work," Lothíriel said and gestured at two paintings of shells and sea-washed pebbles. Éowyn remembered what Éomer had mentioned in a letter some five or six years ago. Our esteemed chronicler and court artist has been suffering from dark moods for a while, but a spell of sitting in the sun by the seaside has cured him. Would that it could cure her.
Out at sea, the sun hung low over the horizon. It had turned the white mearas into black silhouettes. Éowyn stared out of the window and paid little heed to Lothíriel's mutterings of "Maybe back here," or "No, I think it must be the other drawer." Eventually, "Ah, here it is," she said and Éowyn turned away from the window to see what Lothíriel wanted to show her.
It was a necklace, a long string of beads, alternately blue amber and jade. The jade beads were of a vivid hue, pure and strong and playing into turquoise. They has been shaped into even spheres. Between them, the blue amber was more irregular in form and size, but equally polished to a high shine. Their colour varied from paler to brighter to slightly greenish and in all of them, as Lothíriel poured them from palm to palm, the honey-coloured core could be glimpsed.
"This was my mother's," said Lothíriel. "I suppose it is mine now, though I have not thought of it until today." She slipped it over her head and it hung down to her waist on her green silk dress. "Yours will be different, as it is a much larger piece. It will make a pendant, I should think. When you come through Minas Tirith on your way home, take it to a jeweller in the fourth circle; his name is Sarthevril. He will polish and set it for you beautifully."
"I shall remember that."
"And here is something else, something quite special." Lothíriel picked a gem from the box that had held the necklace and placed it in Éowyn's hand. It was a large piece of ordinary amber, clear and golden, almost the size of a hen's egg, and in its centre it held a tiny white butterfly.
"That is surprising for something that came out of the sea!" said Éowyn.
"Perhaps," Lothíriel replied. "But remember that there used to be lands that sank to the ocean floor. Maybe this comes from Númenor. When your stone is polished, you should be able to see what is enclosed in it."
Éowyn gazed at the little insect trapped in the stone. How had this happened? Could a stone just grow round a living thing, a real stone, not just the stony indifference that was growing around her? Was there another such unfortunate creature hidden in her own blue amber? She shuddered. It might be better not to know, to cast the gem back into the ocean that had washed it up. But Elboron would ask what had happened to the fine jewel he gave her. She had no choice.
And so when she came through Minas Tirith on her way home, Éowyn visited Sarthevril the jeweller in the fourth circle and gave him a commission to polish and set the stone.
"And how do you want it, my lady?"
"Oh, any old way."
He looked at her, and shrugged, and lifted the stone against the light that fell through the high window. She paid his fee and with a murmured greeting, she left.
That was at the hight of summer, and now autumn crawled down the slopes of the Ephel Dúath and into the woods of Ithilien. Patches of yellow appeared among the foliage. When Éowyn stepped out into the garden, she could smell the colder days coming. There was a nip in the air and a tawny tint that encompassed earth and sky. This, too, had once filled her with joy, the scent of a new season arriving on her doorstep. Not so this year. She had left the hall because she could not bear Faramir's looks of concern.
Someone was coming. She could hear the muffled thud of hooves on the path that wound up from the river. No visitors were expected tonight, but messengers might arrive at any time of any day. Or it could be Aragorn... Aragorn who would see her with the lines that had appeared at the corners of her mouth. He would see that she had begun to wilt, while his lady remained eternally youthful. What did he want here? Why did he always come unannounced like this? Why did he -
The rider came into sight and she exhaled. It was Legolas, who would always be forgiven for unexpected calls. She walked down the steps to greet him.
"You come at a fortunate time," she said as they led his horse to the stables. "There is half a roasted stag in the kitchens from yesterday's feast."
"And nobody dresses a stag better than your cook, I know." He flashed a smile at her. "I shall be glad for a hearty meal, though that is not why I came here."
"You have an errand?"
"I bring a parcel. It is for you. Can you wait to open it?"
Éowyn shrugged. He had not seen her for a while, he would expect the old impatience in her.
"Come inside," she said and led the way.
She stood quietly while Legolas and Faramir embraced and exchanged news. After they had sat down by the fire, Legolas handed her the packet. It was small and wrapped in a green cloth.
"Is it from the jeweller?"
"Yes. I was in his workshop on some other business and was glad to save his son the journey, as I meant to come out here anyway."
Éowyn held the parcel on her lap. What did she want with it? A strange, colour-shifting stone and perhaps, no, almost certainly a tiny corpse trapped inside it. She put it aside on the mantelpiece and pretended she did not notice the questioning glance Legolas shot at her husband.
"Thank you," she said. "I shall look at it later. You must be hungry. I shall tell Cook."
It was a welcome excuse to leave the hall. On her return, she found Faramir and Legolas speaking in hushed tones and then looking up and smiling at her in a thin, worried sort of way. She sought her bed early that night.
In the morning, she went out into the garden and walked up to her favourite spot. Here Legolas found her and sat down beside her on the carved wooden bench that overlooked the meadows. Time floated past in sullen drifts until he broke the silence.
"Tell me, my friend, what is this jewel that you do not wish to see?"
She sighed. "Blue amber from Dol Amroth. Elboron found it at the beach and gave it to me."
"And it makes you sad?"
"Lothíriel showed me another piece, one that belongs to her. It had a butterfly trapped inside it. How can this happen, Legolas? And why do they call it Tears of Uinen? Who is Uinen?"
"The Lady of the Sea. She is a spirit of the Undying Lands, the spouse of Ossë, one of the Maia kind, kin to Mithrandir. People call the amber Tears of Uinen because they find the stones on the beach, but she has little to do with them other than carrying them up from the ocean floor. They are old, very old, and date back to the time before Beleriand and Númenor sank into the seas."
"So Lothíriel was right. She thought they might come from Númenor. But what of the butterfly? How can a stone grow around a living thing?"
"It does not start as a stone. It is a dollop of tree resin that time and the weight of the land have turned into stone. Sometime way, way back, perhaps in the First Age, a butterfly carelessly alighted on a tree trunk and found its feet stuck to the resin. And, as more and more resin bled from the tree, it became encased and thus preserved through the ages. That is what amber is, ancient pieces of petrified resin."
"So what they really are is not the tears of Uinen but the tears of a tree?"
"The tears of a wounded tree, yes, if you would have it so. And it is true, there is a melancholy side to them if they enclose a trapped creature, though few people give a second thought to it, and neither would you have done this time last year." He paused and laid his hand on her arm. "Faramir tells me that dark moods have taken hold of you. Will you let me help you?"
All of a sudden, she found herself fighting back tears.
"Why is this happening to me, Legolas? Why has all joy drained from my life?"
"I cannot be sure. It may be the black breath catching up with you, but I have seen others fall under this cloud who never saw a nazgûl in their lives. It is an ailment that sneaks up on people, we do not know how. You have not answered my question, though. Will you let me help you?"
"What would you do?"
"I cannot heal your soul as a potion cures a fever, and I do not think anyone can. But I can teach you a song that might soothe and lift your spirit. It is a song the elves of the Greenwood sing for an ailing tree. Something tells me it will have the power to touch you."
Éowyn bit her lip to stifle a bitter laugh. Ah, elves and their unfaltering trust in the power of songs! It was a marvel that Legolas had ever taken up a bow and arrow rather than trying to sing down the orcs at Helm's Deep, it was a marvel that - she called herself to order. He was her friend and she did not want to offend him.
"So you would teach me?"
"I will sing it to you, right now if you wish, and then again whenever it suits you for as long as I stay. Once I leave, you can sing it to yourself."
"Very well. Do I have to close my eyes?"
"Do as you wish."
Éowyn fixed her gaze on the horizon, which was a crooked line here, formed by woods and hills. She couldn't have told what she expected, but when Legolas's voice rose beside her, she was filled with wonder. It was a song without words and almost without shape, a tuneless humming that swelled and swayed like the tides, like the phases of the moon. And the first thing she realised was that the landscape, which had seemed drab and lacklustre to her, had taken on a little of its former radiance. The scent of the morning air fluttered and tapped into her memories, it brought up images of days spent riding beneath turning trees, of vigour, of joy. And then the tears came. Not for real, not as drops running down her face, but inside her; floods of tears that lifted all the sad debris of her numb spirit and enclosed it in a shimmering sphere. She could see it in her mind's eye as a hovering orb, translucent and flecked with the deposits of her sorrow.
"Hold on to this," said Legolas when his song had finished. "You never know, time might turn it into something precious."
"How did you know -" she began, but he put his fingers to his lips and nodded at the meadows.
"How does the world look now?"
"Brighter," she said. Perhaps by a finger's width only, but brighter, undoubtedly brighter. "Thank you, my friend."
By evening, he had sung to her thrice and the sunset had seemed very nearly cheerful. Faramir looked noticeably relieved as she smiled at him across the dinner table.
"Call the children," she said when the servants had cleared away the empty plates.
"They will be asleep by now," said Faramir.
"That just goes to show how little you know, my dear," she replied. And indeed, some minutes later the three children appeared in the hall in their nightshirts, but with bright and wakeful eyes. Faramir and Legolas each took one of the girls on their laps while Éowyn wrapped her arm around Elboron's shoulders.
"As you may remember," she began, "when we stayed in Dol Amroth last summer, Elboron gave me a mysterious stone he found at the beach. Aunt Lothíriel told us it was very special. I left it with a jeweller in Minas Tirith to be polished and set and Legolas has brought it here from the city. Shall we have a look at it?"
The girls cheered. Elboron, conscious of his superior claims to dignity, merely nodded. Éowyn handed him the parcel and he gingerly undid the ribbon that kept the cloth in place. He lifted out the slim golden chain and let it dangle from his hand. In the firelight, there was only a faint hint of the stone's curious blue colour. The jeweller's craft had given the gem an almost perfect translucency. Éowyn braced herself, and then her heart leapt with delight when she saw that enclosed in the stone was no agonised creature but a flower, a sprig of sea lavender.
"Look, Faramir!" she cried and held out the necklace to him. He took it and inspected it. Briefly, sorrow flickered over his face when he saw his mother's favourite flower Then he smiled.
"It is beautiful," he said and passed it back to her. "It will suit you very well."
Legolas leaned his face against the youngest child's head. His keen hearing picked up the pulse of her youthful cheer, robust and pure.
Blue amber is a real gemstone, albeit very rare. It is found in the Dominican Republic.