It is one of those damp and foggy days, with sporadic rain pattering on the city of Minas Tirith. A poor time to have a wedding celebration, in my humble estimation. But here I am in one of the chambers of the royal palace, being adorned in all sorts of bridal finery by a bevy of giddy, chattering maidservants. And I hate it. My skin feels scratchy, and I yearn for the feel of armor against me, to lock myself up tight inside of it and hide myself from the world. I have worn the warrior’s garb only once, and yet I feel that part of me has gone into it and part of it has remained behind within me.
Now I am to be married to a man who knows what it is to charge into the barbed tips of a thousand arrows, driven on by a senseless heroism that cannot be quelled. A man whose quiet nature often keeps his deepest thoughts a secret. A man who I can call with all sincerity one of my dearest friend. That’s saying quite a lot, considering the assortment of new friends I made just a year ago. And these were not just random acquaintances. These were blood-brethren. Soul-savers. Keepers of a code that rescued our world from the edge of night. And yet, even so, I wonder what marriage to this man will entail and fear being restrained by anyone, like these bridal garments are restraining my ability to breathe.
While I muse upon my unalterable course, a messenger approaches. One of my ladies begins to deride him for interrupting their efforts to prepare me for the wedding.
“But there is a visitor I believe the Princess Eowyn would be most anxious to see,” he insists. He doesn’t have to say any more.
“Merry!” I squeal, flinging a burgundy robe over my underdress, and running out of the room, despite my ladies’ protestations. I have been waiting so long to see my hobbit friend again. It seems like forever since we last saw each other at the great coronation feast before he headed back on the return journey to his country Shire. And even longer since we rode together in the headlong charge of the Rohirrim at Pelannor Fields.
When we were both unhorsed that day, I was sure we would never live to see the night. But wounded though we were, we still took on the Witch King, me, a mere maiden along with a tiny hobbit whose life had been spent tilling the soil! But by sheer luck, or some force greater, we killed the beast that no man could slay.
My wartime memories give way to happier thoughts as I see my friend standing in the corridor, his green traveling cloak draped across his back, his bundle of gear still slung over his shoulder. His small eyes light up as he sees me.
“Merry!” I lean down and press him tight against me. We are past the point of formalities. “It’s so good, so very, very good to see you! Where are Pippin and Sam?”
“Pip got himself intercepted by Lord Faramir at the gate, being a knight of Gondor and all,” he explains. “Sam wanted to come, truly he did, but his Rosie’s well on her way to having twins and…..”
“You be sure to tell Sam that he has all my best wishes, and I expect to be meeting the little ones one of these days. Until then…” I take Merry by the hand and genially drag him into the nearest chamber. Then we sit down and start talking. It is fast, silly talk. And the kind of glistening laughter that could easily melt into tears of joy for the living and sorrow for the dead. Old battle scares heal ever so slowly.
When the emotional excitement finally winds down, my hobbit friend gazes at me oddly.
“Lady Eowyn…I mean, Princess…how you have changed.”
“Changed?” I repeat, standing up and swooshing my petticoats. “Did you expect I would be wed in armor? Or is it the fact that my brother Eomer is now the King of Rohan and I am princess, heir apparent?”
“It’s not that; it’s you. You’re all burnt up inside.”
I stop short at Merry’s simple summary of the inner turmoil that I have been trying so hard to suppress. In truth, my heart has felt like a dying ember, my body like a broken clay vessel. Sometimes at night, I lay shivering for hours after being roused from sleep by fearful dreams. In my nightmares, I feel myself being thrown from a war horse and hear the bones in my arm split under my weight. Once again, I am searching desperately for Merry. I am thrusting my weapon into the head of the beast. My uncle is dying in my arms. And then comes Aragorn. The magical touch of his hand on my forehead, his noble voice murmuring the words of life.
“Don’t worry about me, little friend,” I reassure Merry. “It is nothing that cannot be remedied with time.”
“I know your marriage is King Aragorn’s wish and that the alliance would aid Rohan greatly. But…are you pleased to be marrying my Lord Faramir?” he inquires.
“Why wouldn’t I be pleased?”
“Perhaps because…because…” he begins to explain.
I am saved from Merry’s words of truth by the arrival of another messenger. This time, one from the inner court, bearing the Tree of Gondor on his livery.
“Her Majesty Arwen, Queen of Gondor, requests the presence of Princess Eowyn, White Lady and Shield Maiden of Rohan, at the Royal Chamber,” he trumpets.
Arwen? What could she possibly want with me now? Of course, I knew she would be attending the wedding with King Aragorn this evening. After all, he was the one who had summoned me from Rohan, insisted that the marriage take place at the Royal Palace, and kept me shut up in these comfortable yet confining quarters for the past three days to get ready for the supreme event of my life that I’m having difficulty getting enthused about. But why did she want me now, before I was even finished with my preparations?
I see Arwen seated on one of the two great thrones of Gondor, the one set aside for queen and consort. She is, by any estimation, most regal and beautiful to behold. There is an enchantment that seems to hover over her. I have only spoken to her once before, on the day Aragorn was crowned, and that was a brief formal encounter, surrounded by crowds. I have never had a conversation with her alone.
She sees me coming towards her on the long crimson carpet and smiles. I feel a surge of so many emotions I clench my teeth. In the bitter recesses of my soul, I would think she is smiling to mock me with her success and my failure. But I know better than that by looking into her steady eyes, and seeing the sincerity beaming from them.
I see her stand up from her throne and come forward to meet me, like a friend would do. I turn my gaze down and try to make an awkward curtsy. But she takes my hands in her own and pulls me up straight.
“What is this?” she whispers, her soft Elfish accent warming my cold veneer. “We have no need for such things here in this place.”
She looks about the chamber thoughtfully, and her glance settles on what looks like an old fire pit. I know she sees something in her mind’s eye, something dreadful out of the days of battle, when the minions of Sauron descended on the city with claw and teeth, sharpened metal and molten fire. Suddenly I wish more than anything to have the power of the Elves to cut through time with their piercing vision. There is something important that took place in the royal palace that I do not yet know.
But she has returned to the present now, gesturing for me to sit beside her on one of royal thrones. It is the one belonging to Aragorn. I shake my head, hesitant to accept the honor, feeling suddenly sensitive over proper protocol with regard to the king’s chair.
“He would want to have you sit here,” Arwen insists. She gazes at me for a moment and then adds, “You hold a part of his heart, and you always will.”
I am put to shame by her gracious stance. She almost died for love of him, just as I almost did. She was willing to risk leaving this world for the hope of having him, while I was willing to risk it when I realized he could never be mine. She has him now, and could lord it over me, but she doesn’t. Instead, she concedes that there is still a bond between myself and her husband. I bite my lip and take my seat with no further fuss.
At first, our conversation revolves around slight things, the rain, the blossoms on the trees, the palace, the wedding preparations. Then we begin to speak of the homes we both left behind to come to Gondor. I speak of Rohan, great halls and wide plains, the fine steeds and the fearless riders. She speaks of Rivendell, her Elfin kingdom that has now faded away, gone across the sea to the Gray Havens. Suddenly I realize that she too has lost so much, almost all that she has ever known. I sense a weakness creeping into her voice, a tremor in her hands. Court gossip says she has been ill, and I wonder if the cause is more homesickness than anything else.
“But you have him, at least,” I whisper, although I know I should not.
“As long as I do, I can have joy,” she responds, swallowing the lump in her throat. “But what of the time…when he is gone?” Her eyes are glassed over again, seeing far into the future, seeing the corpse of a king prepared for burial. I shudder.
Suddenly I understand that Elfin immortality will be her greatest torment. In marrying a man, she tied herself to the mortal world, and yet she will linger on long after Aragorn is dead. He may be part of a race with an unusually long life-span, but the end will come for him, sooner or later. And she will be left here alone, among strangers in a strange land.
She winces and touches her belly, her fingers still trembling slightly. I instinctively place my hand over hers, feeling how cold it is. Then I feel something. A movement, ever so slight. It all becomes clear to me.
“You are with child?”
“Have you told Aragorn yet?”
“I wished to speak with you first,” she states.
I am taken aback. “Why…why would you seek me out first?”
She shrugs. “There are some things a woman longs to tell another. But I have no one to confide in here. Aragorn had hoped we might become friends.” She looks at me intently. “I had hoped we might become friends. He speaks of you often, of your courage and strength and kindness. I thought I might confide in you, if anyone.”
Again, I feel ashamed. I had foolishly assumed her husband was all the companionship she would ever need. But now I realize loneliness takes many forms.
The queen looks down at her belly again, her gaze penetrating. “This was the child that brought me back,” she whispers. “I saw him in the woods. A beautiful boy with golden hair and eyes as blue as sky. And Aragorn was holding him and smiling.” She inhales deeply. “I could not leave after that, even if there was the slightest chance these things might come to pass.”
Arwen turns her eyes back to me. “I was not afraid then, but, strange to say, I am afraid now. It is all so new to me. I am afraid…afraid I will fail…”
Suddenly I am worried myself. She does look terribly pale. I can’t bear to think of Aragorn going through more tragedy, not after everything he has been through already. I try to put on a cheerful front, so as not to frighten her more.
“You have no cause for apprehension,” I insist. “It’s all more natural than it seems.”
Her face lights up. “Tell me, tell me what I must know. Everything.”
So we speak about it. Pregnancy and birthing and everything. Not that I have had first hand experience in any of this, but I try to sound as confident as I can, hoping that my old nurse’s lessons on the facts of life were sound enough to be repeated.
At the end of my chattering, Arwen smiles contentedly. “You have given me much comfort in knowing what it to come.”
“And if you want me…I mean, when the time comes…”
“You shall be the first one I call.” I can tell she is in earnest. But, truth be told, I know hardly anything about how to behave when someone is in labor. Perhaps it is just a friend that she needs, even if that friend is generally ignorant.
She stands up, looking serene and dignified, transformed from a frightened woman back into a regal monarch. “Will you join me now in the terrace? The rain has let up for some time now, and the King and Lord Faramir are having a contest outside in honor of the coming ceremony.”
I hesitate. Honestly, I do not feel like seeing either of them, especially at the same time. I dread the emotions of my heart will addle my head. Nevertheless, I feel obliged to accept. This elf-woman is the queen, after all.
Come back next week for the second and final part of “The Marriage of the White Lady”.
Avellina Balestri (aka Rosaria Marie) is one of the founding members and the Editor-in-Chief of The Fellowship of the King, a literary magazine with a strong Tolkienite influence (which, by the way, is open to submissions). She reads and writes extensively, and eagerly seeks out the deeper spiritual significance of popular fandoms such as The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Hunger Games. And yes, she does have a soft spot in her heart for classic Disney movies, The Princess Bride, and Merlin 😉 She is also a recording artist, singing traditional folk songs and her own compositions as well as playing the penny whistle and bodhran drum. She draws her inspiration from the Ultimate Love and Source of Creativity, and hopes to share that love and creativity with others.