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The Tapestry

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Théodwyn knows she is dying. Her women urge her to keep to her bed, to save her remaining strength. She hears their words in silence. But when they have gone, she walks on unsteady legs back to her loom, half-falls onto her bench, and plies the shuttle with feverish haste.

Théodwyn has one thing she still must do. It is not only thread she weaves in her tapestry. With every movement of the shuttle, she sings the old charms that have been passed down, spells of protection for her son and daughter--so young to be left fatherless and motherless! She chants them and weaves them into her cloth: charms against ill-luck and illness and the laming of horses, protection for hand and head, eye and ear, and every part of them. Her voice cracks and her hand trembles, but she will not yield until the end. Théodwyn thinks of oath-sworn warriors falling one by one around their king, singing as they wield their swords in their last battle. Will shall be sterner, heart the bolder, spirit the greater as our strength lessens. She too is a daughter of kings, of shieldmaidens and valiant warriors.

Her tapestry shows Eorl, first Lord of the Mark, standing beside Felaróf, father of horses. There is trust and love between them, shown in the way they hold themselves, in Eorl’s affectionate smile and the way the stallion presses his nose against Eorl’s hand. The man’s yellow hair and the horse’s mane and tail are tossed by the wind, which also bows the green grasses of the field they stand in. Théodwyn has chosen to weave this for her children, for she wishes them strength and swiftness, that they will find friendship at need and love that will endure through all sorrow.

No matter how the healer-woman chides, Théodwyn knows she is right to finish her weaving. She has seen a spirit, perhaps summoned by the charms, who lingers near her and smiles at her when she works. She must be a spirit, for no one else can see her. At first Théodwyn only catches sight of her in quick glimpses from the corner of her eye, gone when she turns her head. Her image becomes clearer as Théodwyn’s strength fades, and by now Théodwyn can see her fully: a woman unearthly fair, her eyes shining with light. Her hair is silver--not like an old woman’s, but with the sheen of polished metal--and flows freely down her back. Her movements are quick, graceful and assured; her face shows both gentleness and pride. Théodwyn takes courage from her bright gaze, as if they were warriors in the same battle-line.

But her life is fading too quickly. Théodwyn’s will alone cannot drive the illness from her body. She is racked by coughing; though she tries to hold the shuttle, it falls from her hand. She grips the frame of the loom with fingers gone white.

There is a movement near her. Théodwyn struggles to raise her head. She sees the silver-haired spirit standing close beside her. She gives Théodwyn a fierce, bright look, and Théodwyn can tell that she is indignant on Théodwyn’s behalf, that she should die with her work unfinished. Théodwyn wants to tell her she is sorry, but she cannot catch her breath.

Then the spirit bends down to her and takes Théodwyn’s face between her hands. Théodwyn has only a moment to wonder at it, before she leans closer and presses her mouth against Théodwyn’s in a long kiss, sweet and dizzying. Théodwyn feels a surge of strength pass into her. Finally, the spirit pulls back, though her hand lingers a moment in Théodwyn’s hair. She steps back, leaving room for Théodwyn to wield her shuttle.

Théodwyn briefly touches her own lips, reveling in the remembered pleasure after so much time of pain and weakness. But she has no time to dwell on it. It has been months since she drew breath so freely, since her body felt such vigor. She has been given a great gift, and she will not waste it.

Under the spirit’s approving eye, she picks up her shuttle and sends it darting back and forth. Her voice is steady now as she sings the verses of the charm, weaving the enchantment into the cloth. In her tapestry, a field of green grass grows under the feet of man and horse. Scattered here and there are white flowers of simbelmynë for memory, and a reminder of the cost of kingship.

And then the work is done. Théodwyn feels her strength go out of her; others will have to take the weaving from the loom and tie off the thread. Her body feels too heavy to move, but the silver-haired spirit comes to her side and takes her hand. There is a moment of dizziness, and then she is elsewhere.

Théodwyn stands in a vast dark hall of stone. The walls are lined with tapestries, as far as her eye can see. The two of them are alone, and she wonders about the folk who should dwell in such a hall; but as her eyes grow accustomed to the dim light, she sees indistinct shapes of men and women in flickers of silver, like minnows in a stream.

“What is this place?” Théodwyn breathes. “Is this your kingdom?”

The spirit shakes her head. “My name is Míriel,” she says. “I was a queen before my death, but now I serve the Lady Weaver, who weaves present and past and future. This is the hall of her husband, who keeps the Houses of the Dead. I have no power over your fate,” she adds with a look of regret, “or I would ask you to stay with me. Nor am I allowed to know what befalls the Secondborn after death. But before you depart, there is something I wish to show you. In this hall, all times are the same. Look--” And Théodwyn is guided to a pair of tapestries, their colors brighter and richer than any she has seen; she can tell they were woven by the same hand. Both of them are set amid scenes of war. Somehow she knows that both of them show different parts of the same battle.

On one side stands her daughter Éowyn, grown to womanhood; she is dressed in the garb of a Rider, though her long hair falls loose about her shoulders. A bright sword is in her hand; her face shows defiance and despair. She is striking at some fell creature of darkness, which crumples before her in defeat.

On the other side is Éomer, her son; he has just tossed his sword in the air, and his face is alight with great joy. Théodwyn can almost hear his exultant shout. She recognizes the white walls of Mundburg in the distance behind him. Théodwyn feels tears sting her eyes, as her heart lifts with sudden hope.

“They will live,” Míriel says softly, “and they will triumph over great evil. Go then where you must go, and have no fear for them.”

Théodwyn turns to meet Míriel’s bright eyes for the last time. “Thank you,” she says, “for what you have done for me, and for these tidings of my children.”

Míriel leans closer, and Théodwyn steps forward to meet her. Their lips touch once more, and then Míriel releases her hand.

Later, her women find her slumped over the loom. When they hurry to her side and raise her up, there is no breath in her, and her eyes are open and unseeing. But her lips are smiling, as if she has seen something bright and wondrous.