Author: Aliana

Nominator: annmarwalk

2007 Award Category: Times: Fourth Age and Beyond: Gondor or Rohan - First Place

Story Type: Story  ✧  Length: Short Story

Rating: General  ✧  Reason for Rating: N/A

Summary: For those left behind, memory plays itself out in both familiar and unexpected ways.

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Reviewed by: annmarwalk  ✧  Score: 10

It's the custom, over at LiveJournal where I first read this achingly beautiful story, to quote favorite passages from the story in our comments. In a sense, it's a lazy way to respond; but on the other hand, it provides quick and rewarding validation to the author that the words and phrases she labored over with such loving care did, in fact, resonate with her readers. It's probably a good thing the custom is not used to great extent here at the MEFA's, else my review would consist mostly of lines and phrases and oh, single words, because each word Aliana has chosen is, quite simply, perfect. Can writing be both warm and cool at the same time? The Meriadoc that Aliana has written here is not the irrepressible Merry but the mature, thoughtful Meriadoc, and her Eowyn is not only the loving Princess of Ithilien, but also Dernhelm, the same companion of the road, the battlefield, who journeyed with him to the edge of life and back. The premise of the story itself seems familiar, uncomplicated: years after the War, Meriadoc dreams of the great horses of Rohan [dreaming bits of horses, manes and tails, fetlocks and hooves ... dreams of their hoof beats passing off the edge of something] and travels by himself to visit his comrade-in-arms Éowyn in Ithilien. Their reunion is not so much full of recalling old war stories as it is the need for communion with one who has shared a life-changing experience, the only one who can really understand *how it was* at Dunharrow, at the Pelennor. What I found so heartrending about this story is that it gave me a glimpse of the future, our future, when men and women who served side-by-side in war will meet, not to reminisce, but to take comfort in each other's quiet strength once again. It's really the story of There and Back Again, for those who were not granted escape across the Sea.

Reviewed by: Dwimordene  ✧  Score: 10

Aliana has a way of finding just the right words, and of drawing them all together into a sort of collage made of memories and (often enough) music: songs and tunes are recurring motifs, as if they are the stuff that hold memories together. Perhaps they are, in a way. Songs and silences – moments of memory that hold characters and a story together. In ["South"], Merry's dreams of horses lead him from a full life in which nothing apparently is lacking back to Gondor, to a visit with Eowyn in Ithilien. All along the road, Merry finds himself seeking after some sign of old memories, something to make them perhaps real once more, though he always pulls back, always stops his questing with the realization that one cannot love the present journey for the way it evokes a past one. It's the hobbit, or rather, the Brandybuck in him that saves him: ["you must love the road for the road."] And one's wife for being who she is, as Merry wisely does. Once in Ithilien, he stays with Eowyn, whose husband is negotiating with Harad, hoping to avoid a new war to the south. He finds that seeing the horses of his dreams does not answer to whatever it was that drew him out to Ithilien. This is, in many ways, I think, the key to the whole story: what place does the dream of horses have in this? I really love Aliana's portrayal of the dream: the easy way out is to make the dream's content have a direct meaning, a one-to-one correspondence with whatever it is that troubles Merry. But dreams don't work that way: they are indirect; it's the dreamwork that is important, that translates whatever unconscious desire or anxiety vexes Merry into these images of horses. And so we find it isn't really about the horses, or even about Eowyn * insofar * as she is associated with horses. It's about loss: the fading of horses into the distance in his dreams repeats the fading of memories or the reduction of the fullness of Merry's life to a [strange knotty tune]; it repeats or represents the peculiar shrinking of Merry's world: ["He once thought that leaving the Shire, seeing all the wilds and wonders and terrors of Middle-earth would make his world larger, and it has. But in some ways his world is also smaller, now, shrunk down to the roomful of people with whom he can sit in silence and not feel the need to explain."] Eowyn is one of those people, one of those to whom he can say ["Frodo's gone," Merry murmurs without really realizing], and who can reply, [from across the table, across mountains and oceans and cities. "I know," she says. "I know."] This is the difference between Eowyn and Estella that matters: [He sits and listens to her breathing beside him, and he realizes that he's come because he needs her. He needs Estella, too, of course, and he loves her, loves her and their son more than anything else. But Éowyn understands a small obscure piece of him, a strange knotty tune playing itself out always at the back of his mind. And so he needs her like he needs Legolas and Gimli and Éomer, like he needs Strider—not that he's really old Strider very much anymore, it seems. Like he needs Faramir and Sam and Pippin. Like he needs Gandalf and Frodo.] This is why in the end, Merry, like Pippin, cannot remain in the Shire, but must eventually pass south to end their days among those who understand the strange melody that time and war and hardship have introduced into their lives. Merry needs such people in order not to be alone, and perhaps that is what this story is about in the end: the recognition, the proof that Merry is not alone. And so the dreams cease, as that one anxiety, perhaps, finds an answer and so is able to be laid to rest. Beautiful story-telling, Aliana, in every conceivable way. If you love Tolkien's work, read this story, you won't be disappointed.

Reviewed by: dkpalaska  ✧  Score: 9

Months after first reading this, I am still caught up by the beauty and poetry of the prose. You unobtrusively tuck in reams of images and information, yet it never feels dense or crowded but natural and flowing. Your phrasing, pace and word choice are as stellar as always, with delightful and spot-on characterizations. The intro alone is worth exploring in depth. The way I'm drawn in by the wonderful descriptions touching on many senses - I could feel like I was sharing the dreams with Merry, both the horrific and the mystical. The horse imagery in particular is marvelous. Merry's interactions with the two most important women of his life are excellent: Brief but precisely capturing why he loves them in all their similarities and differences, with nice mirroring images of Estella and Eowyn and the babies to draw the link. I loved how you led us along with Merry into understanding why he had the dreams and needed to make this journey as part of his post-war healing. We're given the evidence of the hold his experiences still have on his life; and finally, at the end, we share in his last dream that he has found some sense of peace with his memories and how the war has formed him.

Reviewed by: EdorasLass  ✧  Score: 8

This is a beautifully understated bit of writing, with Merry visiting Eowyn in Ithilien. I love how they barely speak at all in this piece, yet the entire thing is filled with quiet emotion, friendship, and ease with one another. [Éowyn understands a small obscure piece of him, a strange knotty tune playing itself out always at the back of his mind.] This is really the whole point, isn't it? All the people who were affected by the Ring War can be with one another and know that their past experiences are understood by the people who were their companions at that moment. Whether any reference is ever made to the Ring War or not in their conversations, it is a common experience, and by virtue of that alone, Merry and Eowyn are closer to each other on some levels than they are to anyone else. I tend to think that only Eowyn understands what Merry went through and vice versa, because both had been ordered to stay behind and yet were determined to go; they were side-by-side throughout the Battle of Pelennor Fields, fought the same foe, and both suffered the same wounds. I would think it would be very relaxing for both of them, in a way, to have such a friend, to know that there is another person who *does* truly understand.

Reviewed by: Dreamflower  ✧  Score: 6

Wow! This is absolutely breathtaking. Merry's memories of his time away on the Quest fill his dreams and his thoughts, and so he makes a journey South, to visit his old friend Eowyn. His thoughts, his feelings, are palpable. We are shown the ways in which his time away from the Shire, in the world outside its bounds has changed him--but not in the usual fashion of angst-ridden memories of battle, though they are present--but in the longing for old friends, whose absence in his life is always felt, and in the longing for the world he once journeyed in--a world which had held marvel as well as battle. I love the relationship between Merry and Eowyn shown here, of comradeship and an understanding of something that only the two of them will ever know. A beautiful piece.

Reviewed by: Imhiriel  ✧  Score: 6

Exquisitely lyrical style that gets really close to the characters, what they think, feel and experience, as well as paint scenes with short but brightly evocative "colours", rather like Impressionist art. As ever in your stories, you manage to tell just as much in what you *don't* say, through what can be inferred or read between the lines. Merry's dreams, so enigmatic to begin with, are interwoven into the narrative of his day-to-day life with its little mundane things that are nevertheless so very important to him. This contrast between dreamscape and reality hightens the mysterious, almost mystic quality of the dreams. I like the way the comparison between Éowyn and Estella is very subtle, very naturally; no value judgement, just a matter-of-fact allusion to some parallels and some differences. And just for the record: I want a copy of that map *g*!

Reviewed by: Raksha the Demon  ✧  Score: 5

This is probably my favorite story about the relationship of Merry and Eowyn - an understated vignette that reveals the closeness between people of different races and cultures who have endured profound danger and sorrow together. Merry and Eowyn have shared horror and the joys of peace, and Merry comes to realize, on a Fourth Age trip to Gondor, that part of him belongs to the lands of the south. I particularly liked Eowyn's showing Merry the new map of their world - we see what is new and what is remembered of the past. The story flows beautifully and easily. Good handling of dreams, which are not always connected with Merry.

Reviewed by: Nancy Brooke  ✧  Score: 5

I loved everything about this story. I think it the height of fan fiction to begin a story with an element - Merry's dreaming of horses - unsupported by Tolkien's text that is so perfectly plausible as to fit seamlessly into this very plausible and insightful tale. I really enjoy post-war fics such as this one: the best of them, and I believe this one to be among those, are tender, insightful, and kind even while exposing sometimes traumatic after-effects. This story is so gently written, unfolding slowly, woven of details that do not always divulge thier significance immediately but shine out from the narrative nonetheless and touch the reader.

Reviewed by: Marta  ✧  Score: 4

I already knew that this author could write hobbits from her Eowyn-and-Frodo vignette from I think the 2006 awards, but in this piece her skill really shines. They are adult and have weighty concerns that must be addressed and dealt with, yet they still have that buoyancy I love so much, and it hits the reader all the harder because Merry is so very weighed down by his wartime horrors. Excellent character writing, Aliana.

Reviewed by: Aranel Took  ✧  Score: 4

A very touching look at the friendship between Merry and Éowyn. I like how his dream of horses led him to visit her, and that they can sit together in silence (a mark of true friendship). I love the connection he has with the remaining members of the Fellowship and others (such as Éomer), that he needs them because they understand everything he's been through. I love this paragraph best of all: ['He once thought that leaving the Shire, seeing all the wilds and wonders and terrors of Middle-earth would make his world larger, and it has. But in some ways his world is also smaller, now, shrunk down to the roomful of people with whom he can sit in silence and not feel the need to explain.'] Wonderful story!

Reviewed by: PipMer  ✧  Score: 4

This is just wonderful! A haunting glimpse into the relationship between Merry and Eowyn: a loving one, without delving into a sexual aspect. The two would have a special bond, not only after riding with the Rohirrim, but also because the two of them faced the Witch King together... and vanguished him. I love how the difference between his love for Estella and his love for Eowyn is portrayed; with much sensitivity, and beautiful language. Thank you for this story.

Reviewed by: Larner  ✧  Score: 4

Restlessness and dreams have drawn Merry southwards for a brief time, to share with Eowyn the unspoken memory of their ride together. For those who have been through the glory and terror of war as has Merry, there is so often the need to connect again with those who shared that time with them. A wonderful capturing of that need, and the special kinship that flowers between those who have risked all together; and a wonderful memorial to those Merry loved and honored, both remaining with him and lost to him.

Reviewed by: agape4gondor  ✧  Score: 2

This was beautiful - hauntingly peaceful, yet poignant. It all means very much to me. Beautiful.