13. Telling the Story (Interlude)
“So what about your girl? What did she say?”
“She’s not my girl.”
The friend is puzzled. “Is that what she said? Or is that what you think? Just the way you’re telling the story?”
Beren feels a little bit ill. Normally he doesn’t take this sort of nonsense from anyone but Tarondor, and Tarondor is dead, so there’s no one, really.
“Just shut up, will you?”
And the friend does.
And go back one week, to two other soldiers, in a different place: the outer defenses of Gondor, towards the East.
“We’ll hold them if they come,” says the one to the other. “That’s what the captain says. We’ll more than hold them.” He is a young man and his voice is firm and warm against the stillness of the air. After the fires have been lit for the evening the other men will often ask him to sing, and he is a bit vain about that, but there have been few fires and no songs for several weeks now.
The other is silent. No use, anyway, the first one thinks. Hardly ever speaks. Too much in his own thoughts. A strange set to his mouth, tension in his hands.
“Well then,” the first one says by way of conclusion, and turns away and takes out a needle and thread to do his mending. The light is weakening by the day; must make the most of it. Humming to himself, he sets to patching the dark sleeve of his tunic. And a nice one it is too: Eastern River Company. Pride of Gondor.
And now go back sixteen years, a great many births and deaths before all of this, to a pretty young woman wandering the courtyards of the upper circles of the City, walking over dry stones and trailing her fingers through fountains. She is tired of the summer heat and the baking rooms and the sweating stones, the way the flowers wilt almost as soon as the servants bring them back from market in their white bundles.
She is tired of her husband’s absences. The young statesmen, they’re all of a piece, the other wives console her. It will be better in time, you’ll see.
Yes, she says to them, of course it will.
And now she pulls the edge of her sleeve, dripping, from the fountain, because she has forgotten to tuck it up about her arm, and then she notices the young man in apprentice’s garb sitting on the other side of the stone ledge. He is often here and he seems vaguely familiar, and she goes around to him and looks at him, sorting her thoughts until he takes his nose out of his book.
“I know you,” she says.
“Do you, my lady?” he asks, startled. A pleasant-looking young man, careful with his hands as he sets the heavy volume down in his lap.
“Someone told me your people are from Amroth?”
“They told the truth, then.”
She considers him further. An apprentice from the Houses, by the look of his clothes. “You know my husband, I think.”
“And who would that be, my lady?”
“Aradîr. Attending in the lord Steward’s council.”
A short nod. “I know him, yes. In passing.”
“Many people do, it seems. My people are from Amroth, too, you know. We must keep a lookout for one another, foreigners like us,” she smiles.
He laughs, a bit awkwardly. His attention is gone from his book, not even a finger in between the pages to mark his place. “Yes, I suppose.”
“Do you miss it? The coast?” She knows she is being too direct, as she often is, and yet something about him seems to invite it at the same time. With her, things simply seem to click into motion, like setting a child’s ball down a staircase. Besides, he is only an apprentice and should not mind it very much.
“Yes, very much.”
“You must miss the sea.”
“Of course. Very much. Do you?”
“Every day. Especially on days like today.” And she gestures to the stifling air all about them.
She wrings at the fine cloth of her sleeve, and her forehead is beaded with sweat, and she wants to ask him if he knows the small cove, south and west of the city, with the black rocks that stand like jagged sentinels, and when he came here and if he ever means to go back to where he is born, and if he ever sits in rooms and feels the walls grow closer, as she does. But she stops herself because somehow the time doesn’t seem right. Perhaps later, she thinks. Yes. Later.
“I must go,” she says, “but I’ll see you here some other time, I trust.”
“Yes, you might, my lady. Be you well.”
And she smiles and bobs her head goodbye to him in the graceful way her mother taught her, and she leaves the courtyard, her long heavy skirts trailing the warm summer dust of the City. After she goes, Valacar sits quietly on the fountain for several minutes, and does not open his book again.
And keep stepping back and back, now, back beyond living memory (or human memory, at least), when a song of malice was spun in time with a bit of gold, and our history was born. When armies fell and rose, and men lusted for power or for safety and fear began to grow in the belly of the earth. When the winds began to shift, and the little object passed from hand to hand to hand until there was no other way things might have happened, and until the loveliest of cities would become the ragged edge of the world, the gasp before the blackness, a refuge for the frightened and the defiant. When everything seemed to coalesce here, and all the forgotten people who stood on the outside of the great deeds and tales could only shudder at the sweep of events that came to gather them up. When that story began, all of our tales became small and melted in the face of it, and all of our tales became one.
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.