Fire and Ice
1. Chapter One
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
- Robert Frost
The king is dead, they tell me. "They" being my grandmother Eowyn and grandfather Faramir. No, no, not that king; not Elessar. He still sits on his high throne in Minas Tirith and never seems to age. But another king is dead: Eomer of Rohan (peace be upon him). And I should be sad, I know; he was after all, Grandmother's brother and by all accounts a great man. But I never knew him, really. So I sit here by the fire in the Golden Hall, trying to melt the block of ice that seems to have encased my heart, trying my best to look grieved over the loss of the man I never knew.
Of course I had met him. He came to Minas Tirith often enough, and when he did, Grandmother would take us -- my sister Morwen and I -- to see him. We'd leave Emyn Arnen and ride across the river, to Mindolluin, and after a few hours we'd see its white spires in the distance. And then through the Rammas and the Seven Gates until at last we reached the Steward's House in the Citadel.
A marvellous city, I'm sure, but I didn't really care for it. It was beautiful, yes, but a different type of beautiful than Emyn Arnen. My home was green, with lots of open lawn where you could lie and enjoy a sunset in peace. But Minas Tirith's beauty was white and harsh. Too much stone, if you ask me. Yet no one asked me, and I couldn't blame them, really. What did it matter if an eight-year-old boy didn't care for the City of Kings?
So I had met King Eomer before, though I hadn't spent much time with him. From what I could remember he was nice enough, and quite handsome even in his old age. I remember more than anything else his face. He had a noble forehead, a confident brow. He clearly had everything under control, regardless of all evidence to the contrary. And his eyes burned with a passion. I remember thinking he could be dangerous if ever that passion broke free of the tight reins the king kept on it. Very dangerous, and that scared me.
But I never really spent much time around him. Whenever he came to Gondor it was usually on state business, and that kept him busy. And what free time he had, that always went to Grandmother. Sometimes they'd go riding out across the Pelennor or walk out to the Rammas and look at the lands beyond. But I think I may have scared him a little, too. Grandmother had told me about Grima, of course, and she said once that I had that same penetrating scare. From what she had told me, I could see how the king would want to avoid those memories.
And, frankly, that was fine with me, us not spending time together. Minas Tirith had one advantage over Emyn Arnen: its libraries, and I liked spending as much time there as possible. Now, usually boys my age -- I was only eight the first time they let me into those ancient vaults -- weren't allowed to read the books. So why was I allowed in? Grandfather but when Elessar heard from Grandfather how I seemed to devour books rather than read them, much like the Steward had at my age, he began sending books back to Emyn Arnen. The next time I came to Minas Tirith I went to the libraries, like I always had, to beg the libraries to let me. Much to my surprise, this time they did. I hardly believed it was because I was a few months older.
Morwen stayed in the house, and so she saw more of Eomer when he came back with Grandmother after those afternoon rides. She had cried when the king's rider brought the news that the king of Rohan had died, but Barahir was untouched. Grandmother, on the other hand, was inconsolable. Her wails pierced the peace of Emyn Arnen like it was rumoured the Halfling's knife had pierced the Witch King's cloak years ago, and I did my best to comfort her, but to no avail. She clearly had loved the king more than I'd guessed. I hugged her and held her hand and let her cry into my shoulder, and I was sad for her, but not for myself.
"Glorious horse," Grandmother explained when I asked what his name meant. I loved words and always wanted to know what names meant and why people called them that, but after Grandmother had explained I almost wished I hadn't asked. Glorious horse! These people called their king "glorious horse"? Now it would be hard to keep a straight face when the men drained a glass to his memory that evening.
As they surely would; these Rohirrim loved to drink, it seemed, even more than that dwarf who sometimes came to call on his way to visit the elf Legolas in the south of Ithilien. But maybe it wasn't so strange that these people would call their king "great horse." They were, after all, strange and wild, and they love their horses more than men, at least according to Grandmother. So if being compared to a horse was such a big compliment, then why not name him "Lord of Horses" or something like that? But do not ask me to ponder the logic of these wild men of the north. I doubt logic and reason plays much a role in anything up here.
We -- Grandmother, Grandfather, Father, Mother, Morwen, and I -- had ridden all the way from Ithilien, through Gondor and Rohan. At last I saw the Golden Hall gleaming in the late afternoon sun, and I knew we'd be leaving this blasted road behind soon enough. If Eomer was any example I didn't expect to like these horsemen much, but at least in Edoras I'd have a bed.
As we approached the gate Grandmother smiled down at me. "You'll like Edoras better than Minas Tirith," she said to me as the guards stood aside and the gates opened. "It's nice and green, like Emyn Arnen." Perhaps, but as I looked around I doubted it. The golden hall at the summit of the hill was impressive, yes, but the rest of the city seemed rather dingy. Low wooden houses with dark doors and thatch roofs. Yet this trip was not about pleasure; I was here to do my duty and honour the old king as best I could, so it didn't matter much whether I liked his city. I followed Grandmother up the cobblestone road to Meduseld, up the great steps, and into the hall.
Now, Meduseld was more to my liking. It wasn't like the harsh stone of Minas Tirith, but it also wasn't the thatch-roofed houses we?d seen walking through Edoras. In fact, it was surprisingly like Emyn Arnene. Of course, Grandfather didn't sit on so rich a throne, but the tapestries and the carvings reminded me of home. And the low fire burning in the middle of the throne room was comforting, in more ways than one. It gave the whole room a cosy air, but it also warmed my near-frozen limbs. Rohan was cold! I'd never been so cold in my entire life, and though my cloak and thick tunic had seemed too warm when I left Ithilien, now I was glad of them and wished my hood was lined with fur.
Grandfather and Elboron were walking toward the throne. Mother hastily pushed me forward, and I hastily crossed the room and bowed before the throne.
"Ic grete þe --" Grandfather began, but before he could continue, the king held up his hand for silence.
"Greetings, Faramir," the king answered, "and thank you for the courtesy. But for the sake of your honour, I think we will continue in your tongue." He clapped his hands twice, and somewhere far off a gong sounded. The king and queen rose, and Father and I bowed low. As we rose I noticed a twinkle in the king's eye as he looked at me, but then he turned to Grandfather again. "Your manners are impeccable, hlaford min, but mine are somewhat lacking. You have just arrived, and still I keep you standing on your feet. Come, we must retire."
"As you wish," Faramir answered. "Would you like a private conference, or --"
"No, no," the king interrupted, "we won't be discussing state business this evening. Your wife and son must at least join us. Elboron," he said, nodding to Father, "it has been too long."
"Many years, hlaford min," Father answered.
"And your wife and children?" the king continued. "They are well?" He looked again at me, then said, "Ic grete þe, though I do not know your name."
"Min nama is Barahir," I answered in what I thought to be flawless Rohirric. Much to my chagrin, however, the king merely laughed. "Ic grete þe, Barahir," he replied, "and let me congratulate you on your fine Rohirric. I see my aunt Eowyn is a good teacher," and at this he nodded to Grandmother, "though your pronunciation leaves something to be desired. Yet that is a shortcoming you share with your grandfather, which puts you in good company. I am called Elfwine. Would you like to join us for a mug of ale?"
I looked up at Father, trying to discern his answer, but he was no help. At last Faramir replied, "We do not encourage that behaviour in boys his age in Ithilien, nor even in full-grown men except on special occasions. And while this is certainly a special occasion, Barahir is still a boy and I doubt his mother would approve."
Elfwine nodded, understanding. Then he walked back to where the women stood, returning a few moments later with Grandmother. "I have spoken with the boy's mother," Elfwine said, "and she wishes to help Barahir and Morwen settle in, but gives you leave to join us." He nodded at Barahir, then left the room with Grandmother, Grandfather, and Father; I gratefully returned to Mother and Morwen and followed the servant out of the hall.
Just as I had predicted, a few hours later we were in the banquet room. After a most lavish dinner the women who had served us began bringing around mugs of beer. What was I going to do -- should I drink , or was there some polite way to refuse it? Luckily, though, the king had passed my mother's wishes on to the kitchen staff, and when the serving-woman reached our table she placed mugs of warmed milk in front of Morwen and myself. I didn't disapprove of drinking, per se, but even if I were old enough and Mother didn't mind, I didn't much care for the idea of losing control over myself.
As the night wore on the men offered their toasts in louder and louder voices, and some went so far as to break into song. That was really too much, I thought; not only were they entertaining a foreign prince, their king had just died. Months ago, yes, but I'd expect them to show a little respect for the king's sister whose grief was still new. When the bawdiness got to be too much and I felt myself grow ignored, I asked Father if I could go to bed. He nodded, an understanding look in his eyes.
I walked to where the king stood with Grandmother. "Wes ðu hal," I said, bowing.
"Good health to you as well, Barahir," Grandmother said, smiling. "Is this good night?"
I nodded. "I'm very tired. I hope that's all right?"
"Of course, of course," she said, smiling wearily. "I fear it will be a long night. To bed with you, then." She leaned down and kissed me on the forehead, then watched as I left the hall.
I didn't go to bed, though, because I wasn't really tired. More than anything I wanted to breathe the night air, to clear my head of the raw emotion of the feast. I didn't expect it to work very well, but a quick walk outside was the only thing I could think to do. I was quite surprised when I stepped out into the night air, even more chilly than it had been that afternoon, though I scarce believed that possible. I took a deep breath and my mouth cleared, as if he had drank a tall cup of chilled milk. A gust of wind swelled up, blowing my hair back from my face, and somehow my mind felt clearer than it had all day. A very good thing; I had walked in a haze and didn't like that feeling at all. I closed my eyes and let the wind blow past me until my cheeks felt raw and half-frozen, breathing in the clear, chilled air.
"If you want people to believe you are really going to bed, you should at least take the right corridor," someone said behind me. I turned around quickly, and my shoulders stooped as I saw Grandfather standing in the doorway. Was he angry? No, if I guessed aright he was trying to hide a smile. He sat down on a bench a few paces away, and I joined him.
"You don't like it here," he said.
It was a statement, but like so many of Grandfather's statements there was a question hidden inside that had to be found and addressed. "I like it well enough, I guess," I answered. "I like Edoras, at least, it's a magnificent hall."
"Let me rephrase myself," Grandfather chuckled. "You don't like the people here."
I thought about that for a moment. Didn't I like them? I didn't not like them, specifically; they just weren't like me. But then as I thought on it, I suppose --
"No, I don't." I looked up, surprised to hear my own voice. Those words had come of their own will; I certainly hadn't meant to say them, but now they were said, so I should at least try to explain them. "They're so . . . exposed, I suppose, though that isn't quite the right word. Whatever they're feeling, you can tell right away. And that's dangerous. Isn't it?"
Grandfather nodded slowly. "Yes, it's dangerous. But that's not the only thing that's dangerous." I looked at him quizzically, waiting for him to explain what he meant. But he didn't, at least not right away. Instead, he asked a most peculiar question. "You've heard the stories, haven't you, Barahir, of your Grandmother and I in the War?"
"Oh, Grandfather, I'm too old for --"
"Do you know the stories or not?" he snapped. That surprised me; he didn't usually raise his voice to me or anyone else, so I knew he was serious.
"Yes, I've heard," I replied, mastering my surprise. "Grandmother killed the Lord of the Nazgûl --"
"You say that name altogether too easily," Grandfather interrupted. "But go on."
"Grandmother fought the Lord of the Nazgul, and many men died but in the end you beat back the Shadow. That is all I know for sure. I don't trust much the songs the minstrels sing, words chosen more for rhyme than truth, I'm sure."
"Doubtless," Grandfather said, smiling. "But what do you know of my role?"
"You -- you were sick, weren't you?" I asked, not wanting to voice the thought that occurred to me, that Grandfather had played little role in that battle.
"Sick," he repeated, frowning as if the word left a bitter taste in his mouth. "Yes, I suppose you could call it that. There was something of an epidemic in the White Tower that day." He breathed in deeply, and if I didn't know better I would have thought Grandfather was trying to calm his nerves. At last he continued, "And what of the fire, and of the Rath Dinen gate-guard?"
"Just songs," I replied, "or so I always thought."
"Not all songs are pure lies, Barahir." He looked at me, those deep eyes again unreadable.
"You mean he really did that? Denethor? He lit you on fire?"
"No, of course not," Faramir answered. "He tried to light me on fire, and lit himself. He burned the House of the Stewards to the ground, and with it a thousand years of proud corpses. But that fire, Barahir, wasn't started by wood and spark. It was started by ice." I looked at him questioningly, and he sighed. "The whole blasted day was all about fire and ice, come to think of it. You should appreciate the poetic qualities of the whole affair, Barahir, you who love order. My brother Boromir was given to the water, and if my father had his way, I would have been consumed by fire and reduced to earth. And while I near burned on a fire started by ice, your grandmother drove away the ice with fire." He looked over me, taking in the shocked look on my face. "But of course, that means nothing to you. Let me start in the beginning."
And then he talked until I had heard enough, and when I looked up at him with a pained look in my eyes, he kept talking, not really seeing me. He told me of the dark morning when he had arrived from Ithilien, and of the council that was more torturous to him than anything Sauron could have devised. Then he told of the ill-fated defence of Ithilien and the flight back to the Causeway Forts, and how at the very gates of Minas Tirith, he had felt the icy fear of the Nazgul envelop him, and how his uncle Imrahil had carried him quickly through the Seven Circles, all the way to the White Tower, and entrusted him to his father's loving care.
"Of course I don't remember what happened next," Grandfather told me, "but the Halfling told me what he saw. My father went away for a while, and when he came back there was a mean ice in his gaze, and he told his men to bundle me up and carry me to Rath Dinen. The end had come, and we would meet our end together rather than waiting for Sauron's hordes to finish the deed they had begun."
And so Grandfather talked on. He painted a word image more fearful than I had ever seen, and was glad for that. How would I react to seeing the gate-guard dead at his post, his neck snapped; or the giant billowing smoke as the House of the Steward caved in around Denethor; or to seeing the king's mangled body as he struggled for his last breath under his horse as his armies died around him on the bloody Pelennor. And then the flame of passion, a love that drove away all fear, extinguished the Lord of the Nazgul so that no one else would ever wilt in his presence, feel as if his very breath froze their soul.
And then, at long last, he stopped. I looked up at him; he was utterly exhausted, leaning back against the stone wall behind us, his eyes closed. I took his large, rough hand, and, seeing it was cold, rubbed it between my own. A moment later he looked down at me. "Thank you, lad," he said, leaning over and kissing the top of my head. "But I reckon you've had enough of an old man's stories?"
"Hardly stories, Grandpa," I answered, and was surprised at how tender my voice sounded to my ears. Surprised, again! How many times had I been surprised this evening? I was obviously not myself.
Grandfather looked down at me. "It's not you that's changed," he said, reading my thoughts, "it's the world you find yourself in."
"How did you know I was thinking that?" I asked.
"I've gotten good at reading people's thoughts and knowing the answer before they asked the question. A necessary skill under my father. But I must admit that I've rarely been able to read you." I nodded, deep in my own thought. Then I shook my head, a grin creeping across my lips. There would be time later to analyse all Grandfather had told me tonight, but right now I just wanted to be with him. At that he stood up, and took my hand.
"So, are you ready for bed yet? Or shall I tire you with more 'tales,' as you put it."
I shook my head. "I'm not tired, I don't think. But I would like to go back in; it's cold out here."
Grandfather nodded. "Back to the hall? Or where?"
"To the hall, I think."
He chuckled, and we went back inside, leaving the merciless wind behind.
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.