30th of March, 3019
1. 30th of March 3019
The gardens of Gondor were gone.
The fair and fertile fields of the Pelennor had vanished in blood.
To the north and to the east the Rammas Echor had been broken. The great white walls that had once surrounded the fields of the Pelennor had been torn completely asunder for miles to either side of where the northern and the eastern gates had been.
Only to the south there was one little corner of the gardens that had survived the war more or less unscathed, a small orchard of apple trees that blossomed in the golden sunshine of early spring as if nothing had happened at all. Apart from this meadow and its trees a desert of death and destruction spread from the Othram to the Rammas Echor.
Of the eastern and the northern road nothing remained. In between the earth looked as if it had been tilled by a mad man. Deep, ragged furrows cut into the ground, this way and that, crossing and recrossing in lines of chaos. The furrows were filled with reddish, stinking sludge. A deep trench next to the remains of the southern road was filled almost to the brim with this slimy mixture of dirt and thick liquid.
But there had been no rain during the last days…
In the soft southern breeze blowing across the barren fields of the Pelennor the pungently sweet stench of putrefaction mingled with the scent of wet earth. It had not been the gentle drops of rain that had created the sludge in those furrows and trenches.
It had been blood.
So much blood had been spilled on these fields, that it had turned the fertile soil of the Pelennor into oozing mud. Mud that was now, more than a week after the battle, rife with decay.
It had been warm days. The first warm days of spring in 3019.
A faint buzzing filled the air. Millions of carrion flies and blow flies had found a good home in the bloody sludge of the battle field. Now their eggs had hatched, and great handfuls of wriggling maggots could be seen at the edges of many puddles.
The fields of the Pelennor were by no means deserted.
At the eastern edge of the Pelennor, just behind the Rammas Echor the silhouettes of dark hills rose in stark relief against the remnants of the white walls. Groups of men and women were still hard at work here every day, burning the carcasses of enemies and horses.
Dead Orcs and Easterlings and Southrons writhed and recoiled a last time in the heat of the flames, before they turned to stinking ashes and brittle, blackened bones. Open mouths and unseeing eyes stared madly through curtains of flames before succumbing to the purifying power of the fire. The heaps were burning with a black, sooty smoke. When the wind turned, the smell of burning meat, mingled with the sick stench of rotting flesh was swept through the streets of Minas Tirith.
At the sides of the destroyed eastern road, more hills rose from the plains of the Pelennor. But these were silent hills of heaped stones. On either side of where the road to Osgiliath had been, and probably would be again in years to come, mounds of stones had been piled up. The mounds covered the distance from the torn Great Gates to where the eastern gate of the Rammas Echor had been. Most of the stones of those mounds were white, but some were blackened with the smoke of fire and explosions. The stones had been taken from the ruins of Minas Tirith.
Here were the graves of the heroes of the West.
Here were unnamed thousands of Rohan and Gondor, Dol Amroth and the Lebennin.
Here they were, and here they would stay, sleeping forever in blind, deaf silence under the white stones of Minas Tirith.
In long, slow lines children of every age were coming and going between those mounds and the ruins of the Great Gates of Minas Tirith, watched by tired guards.
Coming from the Gates, the children were burdened heavily with white stones taken from the destroyed circles of the city. In long, slow lines the children walked to the silent alley of mounds leading towards the east and added their burden to the growing mounds, then turned around without another glance and went back to the city. In a long, slow procession between destruction and death the children went there and back again.
The white stones from the demolished houses of Minas Tirith covered the dead bodies of the soldiers and fighters of the West. In the aftermath of the battle, they had been taken care of first. The children were now busy closing the last gaps of the cairns with the white stones of Minas Tirith, whereas the adults were at work burning the remains of the enemies. The intent was, of course, to keep off scavengers, to prevent the fallen heroes in their unnamed thousands from becoming carrion for wild beasts and birds.
But despite all efforts, the sky above the fields of the Pelennor was dark with crows and vultures, their raucous cries ringing from the Mindolluin to the Anduin and at night the fields were alive with the scurrying and scuttling of many clawed feet.
There were simply too many dead and too few left alive in Minas Tirith, who were still able to walk and carry stones. Therefore many chinks and holes still gaped between the white and blackened stones of the grave mounds.
In the foremost mound to the right hand side there was a triangular gap almost at the top of the small rocky hill. From the shadows inside a shape seemed to reach outwards. It was a strange, misshapen shape. It was necessary to look at it very closely to make any sense of it. But it could be done. What was revealed was the hand of a hero, reaching from the darkness inside for the spring sunshine outside.
The long, once strong and capable fingers were relaxed, at ease. They lay carelessly curled at the edge of a white stone below that triangular gap at the top of the mound. The rigor mortis had passed. Now it was easy to be dead.
The fingers were already bloated with decay. Five fat white slugs with a sick greenish tinge to their pallor rested between the shadow of the grave and the blue sky above.
Just another hero among the armies of dead that sleep under the white stones of Minas Tirith now. A fallen hero, unnoticed and alone.
Not quite alone.
In a flurry of black feathers a great black carrion crow lighted on the stone next to the gap. Its beady black eyes sparkled in the sunshine. Its feathers shone oily from the soot that still drifted up from the smoldering fires behind the Rammas Echor.
Something had caught the bird's attention. It blinked. Then it hopped closer. It looked around. Satisfied to be alone with its find and undisturbed, it bent its black head and picked at the hand of the hero and his white and green fingers with its large black beak.
The pallid rotting skin was easily pierced. Brown and red and black the decaying flesh burst from the skin, spilling slime and gobbets of flesh across the white stone on which the hand had rested from its labors. Greedily the crow picked and tore at flesh and ligaments. It was hungry for this hero and the hand that had held a sword in valiant battle not so long ago.
Suddenly a thin, pale boy of perhaps seven years left the straggling line of children carrying rocks to the mounds and ran towards the crow, yelling and clapping his small hands. The crow, not at all intimidated, only skipped back a little, a long trail of flesh and tendon dangling from its beak, leaving a slick brown stain on the white stones.
The boy laboriously climbed the rocks of the mound until he had reached the gap and the torn hand. He looked at it for a moment. Then he hunkered down and carefully folded the defiled fingers, tugging them back into the shadows of the grave as his mother had tugged his own small hands under his blankets at night not so very long ago.
The boy placed the large white rock he had been carrying in that hole and made sure that this time there was no crack left. When he was satisfied with his work, the boy turned back to the gates of the city. He would find another rock among the destroyed houses of Minas Tirith to carry to the silent mounds of white stones lining what had once been the road to Osgiliath.
The crow took flight.
Great death has made all his for evermore.
The Army of Death
by Charles Hamilton Sorley
When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you'll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, "They are dead." Then add thereto,
"Yet many a better one has died before."
Then, scanning all the o'ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.
From "The Ghostly Company" in the anthology "The Muse in Arms", online at: http://www.firstworldwar.com/poetsandprose/mia_intro.htm
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