Of Stewards and Rangers
Playlist Navigation Bar
Phrygian Flute, The: 5. A Dream and a Journey - Part 2
For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling - my darling - my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.
Edgar Allan Poe
THE DOOR OPENED on an empty room. A flaming sun-square on the empty bed; and through the open window came the wind-song in the trees, and green leaves dancing in the brilliant summer air. The scent of herbs lingered still, sharp and bitter, the room was cold and bright, and it seemed to him that everything in it had the keenness of a knife-edge.
A quickening of the heart, a flare of fury. Had he left after all, without so much as a word of farewell to his own father?
“Where is my son?”
And the Warden, startled by the sharpness in the Steward’s voice, gave back a step. “Why, he must be in the garden, my Lord. He walks beneath the trees every day now, since he was well enough to leave his sick-bed, and often he sits under the old oak tree where my Lady - ” Then he broke off abruptly, for he heard with horror what he had said, and saw the sudden darkness in his Lord’s face. “Shall I fetch him, sir?” he said faintly.
“No. I will go to him. Leave me.”
“Aye, my Lord.”
Footsteps died away, and he was alone at last. His quick eye caught, in a shadowed corner, a kist - and on it, a battered sword, a small earthenware jar of wine, books and an assortment of small packages. So, he had not left after all. Slowly, the Steward made his way to the cot by the window. For a long while, he stood in the sun, staring at the thin striped blanket, neatly folded; then his fingers, quivering a little, ran over the harsh wool; here he had laid his head; here he had slept, and dreamed his unquiet dreams.
Quite suddenly, he recoiled, as though he had been stung. What had he to be sorry for? Why should he berate himself? It was after all, not he who had been in the wrong. A hard look came into his face, and swiftly, he turned away to tread a path he had not walked for many and many a year.
* * *
THE MUSIC DID not come easily to his fingers now. It was so long since they had done anything but the work of war; so long since his hands had lost their cunning. It sat easily in the crook of his arm, this harp of black bog oak, once a friend’s and now his own. Even in the shifting leaf-shade, the old sword-scars on the front stay, starkly white against the smooth dark skin stared up at him. But the strings, still and silent, were bright and warm on his fingertips.
For a moment, he made as though to put it aside on the old stone bench, where the oak-leaf shadows danced on yellow sun-warmed marble. The old guilt, worming insidiously into his heart; guilt for learning its ways in secret, guilt for wishing, as a child, that if he could only master its tongue, he could somehow speak to her again, for she had been so skilled at the harp, and made its voice so much her own that after her death, neither his father nor brother could abide the sound of it.
What if someone should hear him? Laughing softly, he shook his head at his own foolishness. He was alone, and there would be none to hear him save the grass and the old oak tree and the small silver fish darting in the lily pond. And what did it matter if they did? He was no prisoner here in the Houses of Healing, yet it had come to him one night, as he lay tossing in his cot, that he was lonely. There were few visitors now that most of the Company had returned to Ithilien, and Boromir, he had neither seen nor spoken to since that night; and his father… his father who had not come at all…
No prisoner, yet the weight of chains quite invisible to the eye lay heavily on him, and each day, as the longing for freedom grew greater, and so too did the urge to talk, so unlike himself, about anything to anyone - anyone at all. Together, they strangled sleep and made the daily task of living unbearable. And always in the distance loomed Ithilien’s hills, now juniper green, now gently golden in the afternoon, now wine-red at the sun’s setting.
Lightly, his fingers wandered over the shadowed strings, awkwardly at first, as just a man who has not spoken for many years fumbles to find his tongue again. A whisper of sound like the wind humming became a shimmering skein of notes, and little by little the music found its way back across thirty years and more, across the mists of sorrow and grey grief. A woman in a plain dark kirtle, and a small fair child playing at her feet. Slowly, she laid aside her head-rail and loosed her long hair that was warm and bright as the sun on river water. And there she sat, on a bench of ancient stone, braiding, turning and parting the shining strands with her slender fingers, humming softly in the sun-dappled shade of the great oak tree; a golden, honey-sweet humming that became a song:
An Elven-maid there was of old,
A shining star by day:
Her mantle white was hemmed with gold,
Her shoes of sliver-grey.
A star was bound upon her brows,
A light was on her hair
As sun upon the golden boughs
In Lorien the fair.
Her hair was long, her limbs were white,
And fair she was and free;
And in the wind she went as light
As leaf of linden-tree.
And here and there in the grass green as emerald, grew the pale white stars of alfirin and the sweet summer scents of rosemary and lavender and wild thyme lingered in the bright air. He remembered looking up at the leaves rustling in the wind, and the shards of blue sky shivering in the spaces between the dark oak-leaves, and how, he had tried to catch in his childish hands, the little patches of shifting sun-gold.
Beside the falls of Nimrodel,
By water clear and cool,
Her voice as falling silver fell
Into the shining pool.
Where now she wanders none can tell,
In sunlight or in shade;
For lost of yore was Nimrodel
And in the mountains strayed.
A harp of silver wood lay by her feet, fair and graceful as were all the things she had brought out of Dol Amroth. Lying on the grass, the child traced with small tremulous fingers the flowing lines of swans and ships on its slender stem, and suddenly, with great daring, struck a stream of shining notes from the strings of white bronze. Flighting into the golden air, they mingled with the woman’s voice, and then her low, sweet laughter. Flinging a heavy braid over her shoulder, she set her small son on her knee and laughing still, her eyes as blue as the sea, “By and by you shall learn to wake the singing magic, little one. We will make of you a harper yet!”
But there had been no time for him to learn to wake the harp’s singing magic, for not long after, the sweating sickness came to the White City, and for many days, the Steward’s younger son lay in a wandering fever, and the Lady Finduilas, who had nursed him in the long sleepless nights and days of his sickness, took ill at last. Yet while her son mended, life and strength left the Lady, and it was said by many in those days that she had given her life’s grace to her child and kept not enough for herself. And one day, before summer faded to autumn, the bells of the White City tolled her death-song, and so she died, crying for the sea and the white strands of the south, and the long home of her fathers.
They buried her on a wind-swept day on a high promontory, where the tall white cliffs fell away to flaming sands and crashing surf below, and the shimmering sea soared into blue cloudless skies. And in the quiet air, the seabirds sang their plaintive song; and so would they keep her company until all the world was changed, and the sea came no more to Belfalas.
He would remember always that day of days, the green mound that was her burying-place, and the two grieving children clinging to each other within the circle of dark-clad mourners; and how their father in his heavy black robes drew at last the shroud, hemmed with silver stars, over her beloved face. He was stern and silent, and the rising wind lifted his hair, the colour of a raven’s wing over his pale cheek. Did the Steward remember then how he had once raised her bridal veil long ago, when she had come to him, a princess of this kingdom by the sea?
Her fair hair braided with gold lay like a bright pall on her breast; at her feet lay her harp of silver wood, and on her white kirtle, her slender hands were clasped in sleep. And as they laid the Lady in her green grave after the manner of her people, singing the sad half-forgotten songs that had come down to them out of Numenor in the west, her younger son turned away trembling, to quench his silent tears against his brother’s shoulder. And for a long while, he clung to the warm wet darkness of Boromir’s tunic, listening only to the beating of his brother’s heart. Then, a cry shattered the song, a man’s harsh cry of grief and loss and despair; a cry that seemed to him the splitting of the world, for surely the earth could not endure it. But when he looked up in horror, the sun still shone, the seas had not dried, nor had the earth sundered and swallowed them.
And he saw his father, falling to his knees, shuddering, his face bent into shivering hands, and his uncle gently taking the other man in his arms. But the sound of it echoed still in Faramir’s heart, long after the wind had had borne it away to the sea and in after years, it was to haunt his dreams.
“Boromir,” he said, drawing closer, and his brother’s reddened eyes met his own.
“Hush now, little one. It is all over,” said Boromir, and drew the other child into a fierce embrace. “Hush now, it is all over.”
And so he sang into the silence, the last verses of the Lay of Nimrodel he had learned so long ago, and the sun shining through the dark oak leaves glimmered on the harp-strings of white bronze, waking them to gold.
From helm to sea they saw him leap,
As arrow from the string,
And dive into the water deep
As mew upon the wing.
The wind was in his flowing hair,
The foam about him shone;
Afar they saw him strong and fair
Go riding like a swan.
But for the West has come no word,
And on the Hither Shore
No tidings Elven-folk have heard
Of Amroth evermore.
He did not hear the light footsteps along the shaded colonnade, or how they hesitated for what seemed an eternity before they crossed the grass; and the last strains had hardly faded away when a sharp voice struck him with all the cruel suddenness of summer lightning.
“Is this how you divert yourself in Ithilien, Captain?”
Guilt and surprise burning in his cheeks, the Steward’s son turned, made a small convulsive gesture as though to lay aside the betraying harp before he stilled himself.
“Father - my Lord, I did not think to see you here.”
“It seems clear that you did not.” Crossing the remaining space between them, he marked the wary eyes dogging his every step, and how Faramir’s narrow hands grew white on the harp still settled on his knee. Taking the far end of the bench, Denethor said quietly, “Put it away. I wish to speak with you.”
A pause. Then obediently, Faramir set it down on the seat between them as a man lays down his weapons. “What is your will, my Lord?”
How could he speak now the words he had come to say? The harp-song had wounded him more deeply than he had thought possible, and he was shaken to find that he too, was not beyond hurt. Anxiously, he turned over in his mind the words so carefully rehearsed, spoken in a dozen different accents in the fastness of his heart; and hearing again the dozen different answers that haunted his dreams, he hesitated.
I would not lose you; not when your brother is gone. I would fain have you stay. Stay, and we shall be as father and son should be.
What would he say, this strange child of his? Had he forgiven the years of suffering and banishment? Did he understand now the gift his father had given him - that of strength in adversity and courage against all odds? So near they were, and yet so distant. The Steward had only to stretch out his hand to touch his son, but it was as though all the sundering seas lay between them. And suddenly, he was afraid.
The words stuck in his throat, for he had never found it easy to speak to this younger son who was so like her, and whose clear eyes saw so much. Long ago, Faramir had put up a shield between himself and all the world, a shield he lowered to one man only - and that man was not his father. So, an odd trick of fate, it was Faramir, who could no longer endure the enforced silence, who spoke first, and the chance was lost beyond all catching back.
“My Lord, may I have your leave to return to Ithilien?”
How easy it was to wound with words.
Denethor did not answer at once, but when he did, his voice was cool. “You may go whenever you please. You are not needed here, for Hurin can take your brother’s place until he returns.”
The palpable relief in his son’s eyes was unexpectedly hurtful.
“Thank you, my Lord. But you wished to speak to me - ”
“So I did.” The harp lay between them, and watching sun and shade fluttering over the silent strings, he said, fumbling a little, “It was your mother’s death-day but two days ago, and I - I have not been myself. Take this harp of yours back to Ithilien if you wish.” It was the closest he had ever come to an apology.
And he saw in Faramir’s dark eyes, a great hunger and loneliness, and something in them reaching out to him, tremulous and uncertain as a child’s first steps. “I would gladly lie down and die today, and not think it a heavy price to pay, if by my death I could give her life again. I would do that, and more, my father, if I could make anew all that is broken; if I could have all that is hurt made whole again.”
A deep, ragged breath in the silence. All around them, leaves fell, gleaming like green and yellow jewels in the sun.
He could not meet the eyes of his younger son, not now, perhaps not ever. Very deliberately, he opened his hands, and saw for the first time the deep crescents, red as wounds in his palms. “There is no power in middle earth now that can bring her back,” he said harshly. “I wish…” Abruptly, he stopped.
A woman’s quiet voice, and behind it, the sounding sea. I wish that the day and the light would be ours always and always, and that night need never fall; I wish that there were no tears, no grief, no laments in this world, only laughter and music and songs of joy.
Then it seemed to them that even the wind had ceased its blowing, and that there were none other than they in all the wide spaces and long ages of the world. Father and son. Son and father. Then the words came, a mere breath in the silence and he knew, without looking up that the other’s eyes were as darkly luminous as a deer’s in the instant that the hunter thrusts his spear into its heart.
“What do you wish, my father?”
He did not know what answer he gave, for he heard nothing but his heart’s pounding; he knew only that the words tore savagely from his breast as a creature long caged bursts for freedom; he came blundering to his feet, and eyes, suddenly black with pain following him. Grass and stone spun away before him, and then he was out of the sun, and walking swiftly into the safe, shadowed colonnades where the eyes could not follow.
For a long while, his son did not move. Then, he too rose, staggering like a blind man, and in the green shade of the old oak tree, rested his burning cheek against the cool bark. He did not hear the harsh, tearing sobs in the silence, the breathing of a hunted animal. He felt nothing then; neither the roughness against his skin, nor the leaves falling like tears around him. Yet, the merciful numbness wore away little by little, and the old pain returned, the turning of a dagger in his breast. As one whose strength is over-borne at last, he dropped to his knees, his slender hands crushed over his ears. He was alone.
When would they stop?
* * *
Playlist Navigation Bar