Of Stewards and Rangers
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Reconciliation: 1. Reconciliation
And so I am here; the salt sea-wind in my face and the mournful gulls circling and crying overhead. The sun is warm and bright, and the shifting sea glimmers blue and gold in the distance, as the spear-tips of an army glitters in the morning light before a battle. Is it not strange, my lord, that even in a time of peace my mind still teems with images of war?
It is thirty years since we last came here to lay Mother in her grave. I remember it well, though I was but five summers old. I remember the sound of the surf crashing on the rocks and shining strand far below, and the mound our uncle had raised for Mother here, at the cliff edge so that she would hear always the sea-birds’ sad song and the waves whispering under the moon. Little has changed. I have only to stand at the verge to watch the white breakers washing up to this pale limestone promontory, then retreating again to its shimmering blue depths. Now the green grass waves on Mother’s howe, and here and there I see small white flowers like stars, whose frail petals flutter in the wind. Do you remember then, how it was raw with new-planted grass, sharp and short as dagger blades on the day we buried her?
Are you surprised at how much I remember, my lord?
I have good memory, a mind more suited for learning than for the ways of war. You know that. You knew it when you first put a sword in my hand.
I have you in my arms - your funeral urn is cold and heavy but it is a familiar weight, as though I have borne it all my life. Perhaps I have, in one way or another borne the burden of your grief, your anger and your hopes and dreams.
The fault is mine that you have no pall-bearers, no mourners but I, your son. My lord, the King would have made for you such a grand death-feast as befitted the last of so many ruling Stewards of our House. It was kind of him, for I know now that there was little love between the both of you when he served my grandfather once long ago. But I would not have it, nor I think, would you, my father. I told him that this is a thing I must do alone; in his own subtle way, he understood and, in his mercy, left me to myself. I have not even brought Éowyn here - Éowyn, who is heart of my heart as Mother was yours. Though I think, in your rather odd way, you would have liked her - Éowyn whose spirit and beauty is that of summer and flame, as Mother’s was the spring and golden corn ripening.
I must set you down for a moment while I open the door. The grass has grown long and green around it, but at the threshold, shaded from sun and wind and rain by the broad wooden lintel, I see the remains of last year’s flowers set there by Uncle’s careful hands. He comes here every year on Mother’s death day, he tells me. He tells me also that he has never understood why you - why we - have not.
But I know why.
Father, I have not forgotten the journey we made here together so long ago. You, dark, tearless and silent in your grief, and Boromir who held me in his arms and shielded me from the yellow way-dust that rose in great clouds beneath our horse’s hooves. His eyes were red and I knew that he wept quietly, when you were not looking. Did you know that he tried to make me laugh, as we took the long coast road here to Dol Amroth? But I could not. Child that I was, it distressed me that you chose to bury her here, in such a high and lonely place. Yet in later years, it came to me that she must have wished it, else you would not have her so far from you. She was no lover of stone and cold hard places, as you are.
Father, I remember how you wept when you drew the shroud over her beloved face at the last. You were kneeling not ten steps from where I stand now. I shall never forget it.
The lock is rusted now, and the door has faded and splintered a little at the edges with the suns and winds and rains of thirty years. Do you see these small pale flowers, that grow about my feet? I am careful not to crush them. Simbelmynë. Éowyn tells me they grow in Rohan over the grave mounds of her people. I did not know that they grew here too, in Dol Amroth.
The rust comes away in my hands, the colour of dried blood.
Blood. I have not forgotten the day you hit me - for the first and last time. That was the day you made me swear faith to you. I bear the mark of your hand still, under my right eye, though the blood and the tears are long gone.
I have kept faith, Father, though not perhaps in the way you wished. That was why I let the Halflings go. Do you blame me still?
I am not Boromir, though many were the times, man and boy, that I wished I was.
I have not forgotten what you said to me, when I gave the shattered pieces of his horn to you. You cried, “This was once mine, before it ever was his. It will never be yours now - and I am glad of it!” And not so long ago, I asked, “Do you wish then that our places had been exchanged?,” and you answered, “Yes, I wish that indeed, for Boromir was loyal to me and no wizard’s pupil. He would have remembered his father’s need, and would not have squandered what fortune gave. He would have brought me a mighty gift.”
Did you know what I felt then? No, perhaps you did not. You have always borne your griefs alone.
I wished then that I was dead.
But I know now that it was your grief that spoke to me, not you. Please tell me, Father that it was so.
I found this key in a locked chest in your study. It is a long, slender thing of black iron, and its handle is shaped as a swan. It lies warm and heavy in the palm of my hand, worn and shiny, though you only ever used it once. Have you held it in your hand all these years, waiting impatiently for the day that you might join her here, in her long home by the sea?
I turn the key in the lock; it is stiff, yet it moves slowly, reluctantly. The lock comes away, and the door opens at last, with a great screech of rusted hinges. The silent dark reaches out to me, and with your urn in my arms, I follow the golden afternoon light into the cool shadows. The sun shows me the smooth, plain alabaster of Mother‘s coffin, and the flowers you laid there on the lid - your last gift to her - so long ago. They are dry and brown, and I do not touch them, lest they crumble to dust. There they will stay for all eternity.
I set your urn beside her, in the place you prepared for yourself.
I have many memories, Father. But let us forget utterly the years of sorrow and grief and despair. I shall remember only that I am your son and that you loved me, in your own way.
Let you remember that I, your son loved you also.
I shall come to see you, every year on this day; I, and my sons and daughters after me. But no man will ever set foot here again, in this shadowed space that shall be your sanctuary - yours and Mother’s - for evermore. Here, she shall be yours, and you hers, and none shall come between you. This I promise you. As I took her from you in life, I give her back to you in death.
Standing at the threshold, I would close the door, but it resists my heaving, like a living thing. For a moment, I fear that it is beyond my strength. My heart pounds in the silence, the beating of battle-drums. Yet it shuts at last, with a muffled boom and a shower of earth, and I lock it once more with reddened, trembling hands.
Outside, I draw a deep breath as sweat streams down my back. The breeze ruffles my hair, and I taste the salt of it on my lips. Look, Father, at the sea sparkling and the blue sky rising, rising and never ending; do you hear the gulls singing still their mournful song? A mist grows before my eyes and a drop splashes warmly on my wrist. Do you know that I am weeping for you?
The key, worn smooth by your fingers, has left its red mark on my palm, with the calluses from the swords I have wielded and thebowstrings I have drawn.
I know what I must do with it. I stand now at the edge of the precipice, and below is nothing but blue air and white crashing water. The key leaves my fingers just as a bird takes flight, arcing into space, and its glittering is the fluttering of golden wings. It falls and falls, and then, it is gone.
You have all left me. First Mother, then Boromir, then you.
But I am not alone, Father.
I will never be alone again.
* * *
I have chosen to bury Finduilas by the sea, as it is said that, “… she withered in the guarded city, as the flower of the seaward vales set upon a barren rock. The shadow in the east filled her with horror, and she turned her eyes ever south to the sea that she missed.” - See Appendix A, Return of the King.
I don’t know if the simbelmynë grows in Dol Amroth, but you may imagine it does. : )
With thanks to Avon, Elanor of Aquitania and Raksha for their comments and criticism, and to Ann for her encouragement!
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