War has nagged in low fits and starts at this nation for ten years, like an intermittent low fever. We lurch forward, appearing healthy, but occasionally there is a stutter or a start. A village is lost, good men fall, horses die, children die, livestock stray, women are raped-- but not too many, and the villages are eventually rebuilt, a little smaller and more huddled, and new marriages are made, and new children are begotten and herds built up, and life goes on, but with shudders here and there like a man prone to relapses of fever.
There are many areas that are utterly untouched and continue in blithe health. Rohan continues to wax in strength, potential uncurling into full flower in the sheltered vales where the population, and army, is centered. But the borderlands remain harried in ways they never were when Rohan was weak.
It is not that we knew no conflict before. We have ever been vigilant and ready for war, longer than we have lived in this land. It was war that brought us to the only home any of us now remember. I believe it was war that formed us as a nation to begin with. There has always been shadow threatening.
But only in the last decade has war begun to present itself directly to us, begun to pick and prune at us, begin to convulse us like the shivers of ague. We walk a fine line now, between growing to meet it and shrinking from it, and it is constant struggle to keep the balance tipped toward growing. My Riders must be tireless in their vigilance, swift in their retribution. If it becomes bad enough that villages are no longer rebuilt, that the battered women no longer remarry, that the slain infants are no longer replaced-- then Rohan is doomed to slow fall.
But my Riders are the balance, in and of themselves. I cannot spend them rashly. They must know peace at times, as well-- all men must, for the business of life to go on. I kindly encourage them to marry, to have families, and I do what I may to see them have some kind of real life with those families. But I can give them little, in the end, and in the end all I can guarantee is to take the news of their falling to their wives myself.
I have become practiced at consoling widows, have inwardly choreographed my moves. I am a practiced artist at the consoling embrace, have learned always to have a clean handkerchief even if I am still dressed in armor clotted with battle's gore. Words never fail me, except when it would be correct for them to fail me, and I bow my head in silence with practiced ease. I am an old hand at bad news.
But it seems this sympathy has robbed me of a great deal of my own native emotion. I no longer see women as pleasant company. I am always monitoring them with half my attention, waiting for them to break down and need to be consoled, even in times of peace in the flowering vales. Even the young unmarried ones. I know they do not come to me for comfort. I know what they come to me for. But at this point, I know it only on an academic level. My instincts have become wrapped around a bent reality to such an extent that they only know consolation.
Women and children-- they are like cities to protect, and I see them in terms of strategy.
Strategies of sympathy. My little cousins are fortunate that I had not become so hardened when they were new to me, but even they were a part of this. I first honed my ability to deal with children in the process of raising them, in teaching the boy how to cope with nightmares of his father's dead face, in distracting the little girl neatly from her morbid fascinations with death. I taught the girl politics, and I taught the boy to kill.
I taught the boy to kill and now he rides beside me, a man to all appearances-- but he is younger than he looks. And I am still strategizing, still dealing with him in ways he does not realize, still working to shield him from this.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.