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Courting Gifts

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"I made this for thee, my lady."

Arwen peeled back the cloth covering the shallow wooden dish, and considered the contents. Lady Éowyn appeared to be giving her a loaf of bread. It was an elegant loaf of bread–braided out of strands of dough and dusted with some kind of small whole seeds, which were doubtless pleasantly crunchy–but Arwen already had the bakeries of the City at her command. As did Éowyn, for that matter, at least while her visit continued. Indeed, lately-concluded banquet had been in the Princess of Ithilien's honour.

"That is very kind," Arwen said carefully. "I'm certain that I will enjoy it."

Éowyn's expression closed. She had been looking at Arwen with her luminous grey eyes wide and her lips slightly parted–hopeful, expectant, nervous–but now she tightened her jaw and nodded shortly. "I am ever pleased to serve my Queen," she said, and bowed before backing away, and another took her place before Arwen could call her back.

Arwen frowned and looked the gift again. She had clearly missed something, and it pained her to disappoint a lady so fair and true, especially one she whose visit she anticipated this warmly. Yet she did not have time to think on it in greater depth, so simply covered the loaf and set it aside for future contemplation.

Later, in her chambers, she cut the thing in half, remembering a tale of a message so concealed, but it appeared to be just what it seemed: an elegantly-made loaf of bread. Shaking her head in bewilderment, she retired for the night.

Estel had came in when she was already abed, crawling across to lay his head on her shoulder so she could stroke his hair. "Who's courting you now?" he asked in a playful voice, and kissed her shoulder lazily, only just tilting his head, and mostly catching her night shift.

"Your pardon, Estel," Arwen said, pressing her lips to the top of his head. "No one to my knowledge, at least not this season."

"Mmm," he murmured, snuggling down beside her. "Then from whence the harvest knot bread on your table? Is that not by nature a courting gift?"

"I had not known it to be such," Arwen admitted. "Yet I now see several events of the evening with greater clarity." She would have said more, but Estel had already drifted off in that easy way old soldiers often had.

Arwen looped her arm around his waist and considered what he had said. It was some time before she found herself able to free her thoughts and fallow the night paths into dreams.

Indeed, she rose early, untangling herself from Estel's embrace and going to her table.

Setting the bisected loaf before her, she bent over parchment and ink to rework a part of The Lay of Tuor and Idril Silver-foot into common speech. She wrote of how Tuor had come unto the high white walls of Gondolen, alone among a strange people, and how he'd grown in the esteem of a free-spirited princess of golden hair. She left out the following carnage. It was hardly the lovers' fault, in any case.

When she had finished it, she had one of her maidens take it to Lady Éowyn's chambers, then ate the bread. It had been sweetened with honey, and tasted very fine. The small seeds did indeed crunch presently.

"If it was a courting gift," Estel said, having padded up behind her on bare feet, "You're meant to have given half of it back,"

Arwen sighed, the bread was already half gone, and the remainder was not fit to send anywhere save the stables. "Why must Men be so peculiar, Estel? I sent her a poem, in any event."

"That may help." Estel bent to press a kiss to her neck, just below the ear, then began to dress. "Shall I keep to my own chambers tonight."

"I know not," Arwen admitted, "Perhaps..." She hesitated trying to frame a way to ask again why Men must hurry everything so, without implying an insult to mortality. Though in the end, events intervened, the maiden just sent tapping on the door before Arwen could finish.

"The Lady Éowyn begs the Queen to indulge her with an audience."

"I think I shall," Estel said, and gathered his boots before slipping out through the adjoining door to his rooms. He was gone before Arwen could tell the maiden to let the visitor in.

The sun had just touched Mindolluin's summit, yes here Éowyn was in a bodice of midnight blue over a white dress, her hair braided high with silver bands, as though ready welcome guests. A flush touched her fair cheeks, perhaps from the climb to the royal chambers, and perhaps because of the parchment scrolled tightly in her hands.

"Good morrow, Lady," Arwen said, not rising, but setting her plate aside. "Didst thou spend the night well?"

Éowen bowed slightly, perhaps a little stiffly yet. "Yea, my Lady, and yet found this morning better for your gift."

Arwen shook her head so that her braid fell back over her shoulder and down her back. She knew that the light robe she wore did little to conceal the night shift underneath, and that little more over her bare skin. "Such news gladdens my heart," she said, then added more cautiously, "Like Tuor, I do not always know the ways of my new home, yet I deemed it a meet return on thy offering."

"Oh, good," Éowyn blurted, then flushed more deeply. "Rather, that pleases me, Lady Arwen. I had believed that thou might not want it, that thou might not want my attentions."

At last, Arwen rose, and crossed the room to take Éowyn's hands and lift them so that they both enclosed the love poem and held it between their bosoms. Éowyn's skin was warm against the cool of the morning, and Arwen thought she could feel colour rising to her own cheeks. Certainly, her heart beat a little faster, and just then the sun crested the Mountains of Shadow in a blaze of orange an gold.

"I desire nothing more."