Shards of Time: 5. Chapter Five

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5. Chapter Five

V.


She had been a very minor lady, a woman of Rohan who had come to Gondor in her youth and married a nobleman of little consequence and had, as is often the case in such circumstances, embraced Gondor’s customs and life with the self-conscious passion of a foreigner. When Barahir spoke to her, in his late teens, she had three children (all dutifully named according to the most traditional – and by then old-fashioned – Gondorian customs), half a dozen grandchildren, a great-granddaughter, a widow’s garb and one foot very obviously in the grave.

She had not been exceedingly difficult to find, but he had rejoiced, in his own silent fashion, as much as a craftsman finishing his masterwork. There were so few living now, fewer still amidst the Rohirrim, for they were a short-lived people and he had no desire to visit the barbaric plains of the Mark. There was something about open country that made him fret, a feeling much akin to the realisation that soon there would be nothing but hearsay of hearsay to remember the past by. It was as necessary, as imperative, to preserve the truth in his solid written words as it was to remain within solid walls, close to the heartbeats, the life, the death of Minas Tirith. The widow of Rohan was almost a reward for his meticulousness, a rare butterfly carefully dried and stored in a place of honour, to be looked at many times a day.

She received him with a courtesy that bordered on barely-concealed excitement, or as much excitement as her dried old body could conjure. As interview had been suggested, an invitation sent and accepted and after she had proudly shown to her future Prince and Steward her house, its grounds and her careful preserving of her husband’s memory and standing, they now sat in the woman’s receiving room. A maid with a neck like a stork’s and a walk to match had stiltedly brought them a tray with cups of mulled wine. He was expecting it – there would be no fashionable Haradrim haisa here, rich and dark and strong. He gave instructions for his guard to be offered refreshments while he waited for his master. There was no point in troubling the man more than the strictly necessary; he would have come without him, but it did not do for the grandson of the Prince of Ithilien to walk about unguarded. He personally believed that, were an assassin to require him as a target for his crossbow’s bolt or his dagger, not even the whole of the White Company would be able to protect him. He had decided that the best way to achieve safety was to be either too unimportant – as now – or too important – as he would have to be when and if he became the Steward – to be eliminated. In the great chess game of life, there wasn’t a position quite so fine as that of the board.

The woman sipped her drink delicately. There were two twin folds of skin hanging from the sides of her jaw like the sails of a ship. Barahir looked at them discreetly, almost with fascination.

“My lord,” she said politely, “you referred in your message to a certain matter that may concern me. You have to forgive the hastiness of an old woman who feels she has not long before the sun last sets on her, but I would humbly ask you if it is possible to address that matter.”

He looked at the cup of wine in his hands, raised a face with the expressionless smoothness of a bone. "Lady, I believe you may have been at Dunharrow at the time of the War of the Ring,” he said without preamble.

The old woman’s pale skin did not blanch any further, but there was a tightening to her features, as though she had come across a spectre rising from the grave of the past. A phrased bobbed to the surface of his mind, uncalled. Be sure your sins will find you out. Whose sins, he wondered.

“That is an old story,” she finally said. Her diplomacy was admirable, and wholly Gondorian. “And of little consequence now.”

“Oh, but just because it’s old, that does not mean it’s without consequence. I find that old stories are often of great interest. Also, and far more importantly, it is a true story. You see, I am a collector of such stories, the sort of stories that are not written down in books but are no less true for that. In fact, such stories may be more true that the stories that are written down. I think such tales should be better known, don’t you agree, my lady?”

The woman said nothing, but to him, she looked as though she were weighing fears and hopes in a great pair of scales.

“My lord… you will not like this story.” A faint touch of despair there, a vain last attempt, red and vulnerable.

“If it is true, I cannot like it nor dislike it more than a chair or a tree. It will not cease to exist for my disliking of it. I will not command you pettily, for I am commander of none, but I ask you respectfully, lady – tell me.” There was an inflection to his voice, the interrogator’s subtle pincer, sweet as treacle, hard as steel, tempting as sin. “Tell me.”

She looked at him and into his stare, like a fox caught in a trap, a horse walking into the pits dug by his silence, boats washed ashore by the misleading light of his eyes. People always talked. They came to face with the unexpected sensation of someone giving them his full, emptied attention, and they blurted out everything, anything that would drive away that cold eye, that empty bowl of silence waiting to be filled.

“Very well,” she said, lowering her eyes, then raising them again in a sudden bout of defiance. “Someone else might as well know of this. I never expected, though, that it would be… Well, no matter. Yes, I was at Dunharrow at the time. I was twelve, but I remember it very clearly…”

She went on in a calm, clean voice, telling of the trip from Edoras to Dunharrow, spirits high and bold like a flag in a clear day, the White Lady leading them, commanding and strong. Though there was tiredness, there was no fear then, for how could fear find a hold in Rohirrim hearts when Théoden King had regained the strength of Eorl himself? How could there be dread when they had been entrusted to the Lady Éowyn, in bravery the match of any Rider, who as the King’s sister-daughter had the most to fear yet felt it the least? They had sung, and the girl had caught the eye of the Lady and that stern, proud woman had smiled at her for an instant; it had made her feel special, like a young soldier singled out by his captain for praise.

At first, she had been too fascinated by Dunharrow to pay much heed to anything else. There was a war raging, but she was a daughter of Rohan, and the children of the Mark did not let themselves be cowed by the winds of war. There had been no thoughts of war as she looked upon the great rows of stones, wondering about what hand had made them, long-ago, or who and what were the Pûkel-Men she had found both comical and intimidating in her climb into the Hold.

“My father was one of the men who could be spared to accompany us,” she explained, “and as my mother had died two years before of the Wasting Fever, I often wandered away from the Hold and around Firienfeld, as I did not obey the woman with whom I was staying as I might have one of my blood.”

Things had gone well at first, and the few hard words that had come with the difficulty of their journey had quickly been ended and disputes quenched by the discerning command of the Lady. To the young girl, the White Lady had seemed without reproach, fair and bold and wise, and at night in the booth, as she squeezed in the makeshift bed she shared with the woman and the woman’s three children, she thought about the Lady as one looking through the window of a stately house might wonder about those living in the light and splendour inside. She wondered about her, and what she was doing in her painted pavilion that looked like a great flower, and imagined that she slept at the foot of the Lady’s bed and brought her her cup and braided her hair. She supposed the Lady smelt like the snow on a bright slope, not like too many bodies in too little space.

“And then the Lord Aragorn, who is now King Elessar, came to Dunharrow,” she said, and took another sip of her cup, as though to steady herself.

She had seen very little of him, and had not known who he was, save that he had been a powerful, commanding man. Some captain of Mundburg or some other such place, she had thought – her knowledge of the lands beyond Edoras was hazy and sketchy at the time – and with him came a small company, with a sturdy Dwarf and three who had about them the light and grace she had heard of in tales of the Elder Race. She had assumed they were Elves from Dwimordene. They had not stayed long, and she would have thought no more of it if, in her explorations of Firienfeld, a whole realm for the greedy, savage child she had been, she had not come one evening across the Lord Aragorn and the Lady talking outside the booth he was sharing with the Dwarf and one of the Elves.

“I hid behind the booth, but neither would have seen me in any case. The Lady was clad in white and she looked beautiful and sharp, yet sad. They talked for a while, and although I did not hear all of it, I heard enough.”

“The Lord Aragorn, as the entire Hold knew by then, wanted to take his company to the Haunted Mountain, the Dwimorberg, into the Paths of the Dead. For a twelve year old that sounded less fantastic than it would later, and the Lord Aragorn travelled in the company of Elves and Dwarves in any case, and which way should a legend take but a way of legend? As for the Lady Éowyn…”

She paused, and took another sip of wine. After, she turned to the cup in her hands for a silent moment, as though she were trying to make it yield some vital knowledge from its surface that gleamed like slow rubies in the light.

“The Lady Éowyn wanted to go with him, of course. I do not blame her for that, as who wouldn’t want to be a part of legend? I would have liked to have gone myself, I thought at the time, but I was a young girl with no duty to fulfil and no charge to mind but myself. She, however, had been given the command of the people by the King himself. But she did not heed that; what mattered to her washer glory, her chance at valiant deeds. She talked of her fears and her wants, but as for us, the people who followed her, the people who needed her… why, she had no more for us than a passing thought, spoken in displeasure, displeasure at the fact that we were there, existing to rob her of the chance to lead her life as she pleased.” The old woman blinked like an owl in the light, and her voice dropped to little more than a whisper, shrinking as a wave retreats after it blasts the shore. “I am sorry, my lord. I did say you would not like it.”

“Don’t be, lady. I do like your story. It is most… refreshing.” He immediately wondered if that was the appropriate word to convey to her the essence and subtlety of his difference from others, so much like a white flag flying low in a foggy day. “Do go on.”

She went on, with a sliver of eagerness more than he expected at first, before he realised that she dealt with her buried tale as one might deal with a buried canker, eager to root out its poisonous wholeness.

Even at twelve she had felt the sharp tug of rejection, felt it with that peculiar clarity of children. The Lady didn’t really care about any of them. She cared only to follow that captain. She would never braid the Lady’s hair or bring her her cup or sleep at the foot of her bed. It had been an illusion, dispelled like morning mist under an unforgiving sun. She had been so surprised in her disappointment she had not even heard the Lady’s steps approaching her. She had only realised she was in her path when the Lady had surged in front of her, gleaming and haunting like a spectre in her white dress. She had held her breath, but the Lady had just given her a brief look and had stalked off to her pavilion. It was the sort of look that slid over you and told you you were no one, or at least no one who mattered.

“The Lord Aragorn went off in his quest with his companions the following day, of course, and I saw them depart, for who would hinder an unimportant little girl from walking around the Hold? She was there, of course, girt like a Rider this time, and I saw her get on her knees and weep and beg for him to allow her to accompany them. She was looking at him with hunger – but somehow, it was hunger for something else. I don’t know how I remember things that were beyond my understanding at the time, but perhaps my child’s mind kept them the same way a child keeps a bright stone she later comes to realise is a precious gem. So later I understood that she looked at him like a hungry dog looks at an empty bowl – it is hungry for the food that may fill it, not for the bowl itself.” She shook her head. “I fear I am making little sense, my lord.”

“No, lady, it’s all perfectly clear.”

She took a little breath, her wrinkled, loose-skinned face almost sagging, and then she went on. “Théoden King came the following day from the Hornburg with his Riders and a Halfling in the company, yet another legend. There were some, however, who did not come back. There was very little weeping, though, and from my side there was none, as I knew none of those who perished as more than names or faces. We were Rohirrim, and Rohirrim do not weep. Not while war rages, while the times ask for strength. Then, when the war is done, we bury our dead, and wail, and sing of them.” The corners of her mouth raised in a half-grimace. “Or at least we do so at times. Sometimes.” She paused for a moment, a hand raised to her face. “No matter. I was telling you about Dunharrow, not the customs of the Mark. I spoke to my father in the meantime and tried to tell him, in my awkward way, that the Lady Éowyn brooded. You see, when I was acting sullenly, my father always told me it did not do well to brood. But he answered only that it was no wonder she brooded, when the red arrow of Mundburg had come again, and the whole host of the Eorlingas was to ride forth in remembrance of our old allegiance.”

She had almost trembled with excitement and fear, and had almost forgotten the exchanges she had overhead. The red arrow had come, shot through the miles like a scarlet token of the past. Dwarves and Elves and the red arrow and the Haunted Mountain – she could not bring herself to think of war, which was a drab, dull thing she had grown up with, nor of her bitter child’s sorrow at the Lady’s dismissal, which she wished to forget. The host would ride forth, and her spirits were so elated it was almost terrifying. It seemed the host would ride forever into song, not into the strife of battles.

“My father was to stay, as we were not to be left completely unguarded in our exile. I think I acted with some disappointment at that; I wanted my father to be part of the legend and the glory. But secretly I believe, or at least hope, I was relieved, as he would be safe that way – I did not, of course, even consider that none might return, and that we all might die in the last defence of our land and ourselves, and the realm of the Shadow would know no end.

“They went away the day after they had come, and the dawn of that day came with no light, full of a murky, dreary darkness that poured out of the East and fell on your spirits like a heavy hand crushing a spider. There had been whispers in the night of some spectral ride. Yet we were not defeated; we stood there, to watch them go, and we were proud. The husband of the woman I was staying with was going, but she did not cry. She held herself stern and sad but tearless. We all did. We were Rohirrim. And then I escaped from her distracted vigilance and ran until the edge of the stones and stood there until the Riders vanished out of sight.”

Barahir caught a glimpse of her memory like a dust mote out of the air, and there was a small girl running after a thunder of hooves, falling back out of sight like a minute wild flower in a meadow of rock. She had stayed there by the monoliths for some time, her mood shifting like the shadows in the lightless sky, until she had heard a voice, her father’s voice, calling for her. He had sounded hurried, worried, and had grabbed hold of her with a sharp word and rushed with her back to the Hold. He had returned her to the woman, whose formerly impassive face was now rippled with worry, and gave her a barked command not to go straying again. The woman’s three young children had been clinging to their mother, wide-eyed like moon-calves. There were knots of people, murmuring voices and shifting eyes and old women who had come from behind wooden doors, harsh and hesitating. What is happening?, she had asked the woman, and she had answered simply, the Lady Éowyn. The guardsmen had raised their voices to quieten the people, to cast away that unaccustomed fear that fed off them like a raven of torment pecking here and there in a battlefield full of a scarlet sunset.

“The truth, of course, was that the Lady Éowyn was nowhere to be found. It seemed somehow to be appropriate for the day, so full of that deep, murky darkness that sapped your will like a constant drip-drip-drip of water, day and night, filling the silence. I did not feel it so sharply – for some reason, children didn’t – but I still felt it, like the weight of death. We managed to pull together, despite that, and told each other that, surely, she could not be far? The Riders had gone only some hours previously, and the Lady had said her farewells right before the muster. She was not in her pavilion, but surely she could not be hiding behind a rock? No doubt she had simply gone some paces down the long, winding road, as it were after all her King and mother-brother, and her own brother who had left. Or maybe she had gone to see if danger crept out of the path that lead into the Haunted Mountain. Had there not been those strange tales of a nameless whisper riding through the land, a host of ghosts? It made the child I was think of skeletal riders upon skeletal horses.

“Some said we should just wait for her, to stop our nonsense and just wait for her to ride back into the Hold. And so we waited, for a while, but it was the nervous sort of wait of a rabbit eating hurriedly in the knowledge that a fox may be watching at the edge of the field.”

He nodded.

“We waited,” she went on, “and she did not come. After a while, all sorts of guesses were being made and spread: perhaps she had lost herself in the mirk, perhaps she had been waylaid by those dreadful spectres whose voices some now claimed to have heard in the night, perhaps the orcs or some other enemies of the Mark had taken her, were maybe climbing into the Hold on that very instant, perhaps she had simply become ill or fallen on her way back from wherever it was she had gone to and was now lying on the ground, maybe in pain, maybe dying.” She made an expression of distaste. “Do you know that the Rohirrim are not truly brave? You may think this is the rambling of an old woman, but it’s true. We are just not afraid, do not feel fear in much the same way a blind man cannot see light. Or rather, we cannot feel it most of the time. But that is not bravery – it is perhaps the opposite of bravery. No, not cowardice, cowardice is the absence of bravery – I talk of something that is its opposite, for bravery is overcoming your fear. The Rohirrim have no fear to overcome. We are, or at least were, simply content to ride into a glorious death in battle, to readily follow our commanders, and others see that eagerness and mistake it for courage. We do not realise that the reward of war is nothing. What man needs nothing? What is there to love in nothing? Better to love good earth, and music, and a warm fire. War is necessary at times, of course, in the defence of those things, but I do not think it needs to be performed in joy.”

Barahir eyed her carefully, this woman who knew the secret of war. Those who had lived through a war as tremendous as that generally did, but there were fewer and fewer of them, and so many of those who, like him, had been born under the hand of peace were so quick to betray that flowing, capricious mistress, finding her flesh soft, her habits decadent, her demands meddlesome. They waxed nostalgic about battlefields they had never seen from the comforts of a good chair. But this woman knew, and that somehow endowed her in his eyes with an added significance.

She half-closed her blue eyes that were filmed white with age. “Forgive me if I stray, my lord. But I think I must explain what… what the Rohirrim are like, if you are to make sense of what happened next. A sense of sorts, at least. You see, when Rohirrim do feel fear, we do not know what to do, maybe because the feeling is so unaccustomed, so foreign, that we halt to try to understand what this new thing is. It is too great. I once saw a small bird standing in front of a snake that was staring straight at it. It wasn’t a very large snake, and the bird could have flown away at any instant. And yet it just stood there, paralysed, ensnared by that stare until it was bitten and killed and swallowed whole.” She let the obvious conclusion hanging in the air, unspoken.

“So for a while we stood there, undecided. Cut the head and the body falls. We need our leaders, us Rohirrim. When a King dies, sometimes even before his death, another is proclaimed immediately. Not just Kings, of course – any commanding person. We do not need them there, mind. We need just the knowledge that there is a leader, somewhere, and we will go even unto the end of the world. We have, however, very little ability to deal with uncertainty. And her absence and the dreadful day made us feel uncertainty, the very greatest uncertainty.

“So we stood there, dry-eyed and straight-backed but gnawed at by that sharp-toothed serpent, and even the smaller children felt that crush of dread and started crying and their mothers quietened them with sharp tongues and sharper hands. What were we to do? We had been told to stay, and the Lady had taken an oath to lead us as though she were the King himself. We could not comprehend how she had vanished, and what was now our duty.

“And then I remembered what I had heard. It returned to my mind as though disappointment had buried it and dread had brought it back. At that time, it felt immensely important.” Her fingers were wrapped around the cup like claws, locked in a moment of anger and guilt that had long since found out that time heals nothing. “So I insisted with the woman that I had something important, something vital, to tell my father, and I tore myself from her and ran through the Hold searching for him, with her calling for me, dragging her children behind her, hot on my heels. I was panting when I found him, and he tried to shoo me away, and I could see the worry in his face. So before he could say anything, I blurted out what I had overheard. I told it awkwardly, but he kneeled down in front of me, laid his hands on my shoulders and told me to repeat it, slower and with all I could remember. So I did, and though he tried to be dismissive, saying it was probably of no importance, I could see that it had troubled him. The woman, who had stood besides us as I spoke, was twisting her hands, though her face was expressionless. He rose and told me to go back to the Hold, and as I allowed to woman to drag me back to our cluster of booths, her children trotting about her and eyeing me suspiciously, I looked over my shoulder and saw my father speaking with the other guardsmen at that end of the Hold.

“That night a fire was lit. There were talks, though I was a child and had no part in them. I peered from the door of our little booth and saw my father talking, and the folks around him were lapping up his words like thirsty dogs, a thirst for something that was almost like knowledge or certainty. I could see the shadow of the great stones in the fog, looking like terrible giants in the weak firelight. Then I shut the door and sat on the floor in the pale light of our single candle. The children were in bed, and their mother was listening to the talk outside.”

The old lady placed the half-empty cup on the little table beside her, next to her summoning bell, slowly, as though the movement pained her. She folded her hands on her dark lap, like pale dried leaves.

“I… buried my face in my hands, and I knew as only a child knows that they were lost, all of them; Théoden King and his Riders had fallen, and so had that captain with his Elves and Dwarves, and the Lady had wandered off into the mists and how we were all alone in a land of spectres. Maybe everybody else had died, everywhere, and there were only ghosts around us, ready to take us with them into the Shadowland. I lifted my eyes and they darted about in the darkness, and I felt that the darkness moved and called my name. Then I felt angry, and snatched up the candle and waved it about in the dark. I don’t want to be a ghost, I said, and the smallest child woke up and started whimpering.” She shrugged her shoulders awkwardly. “I was just a silly girl.”

“But I would not cry, and I would not behave foolishly when others needed me. So I got into bed and quietened the child the best I could, and as I did that I kept thinking, Lady, why have you abandoned us?, until I fell myself into an uneasy sleep, in which I kept running in a deep mist from a dread with no face.”

“The following day I woke up late, long past dawn, dizzy and tired as though I had run all night. I let you sleep, the woman said, with a stony face. She was sitting at our tiny table, cutting thin slices of hard bread and even harder cheese. Her hands and voice were firm, but it was the sort of firmness that comes when you realise that what you dreaded would happen has already happened. It was best this way, she said as she gave a little of our precious milk to her youngest. They will be back soon, in any case, she added. I scrambled out of bed and put on my dress and my shoes. I did not know what she meant so I demanded it from her in a shrill voice. Your father and others went looking for the Lady, she said. It was decided last night. They reckon she can’t be far, and they won’t go far. Her voice was blunt. I think they should have gone sooner.

“I sprang to her, my hands on the table. She did not flinch. How many?, I asked, how long ago? She seemed uncertain. A dozen, a dozen and a half, she said. More than could be spared, in any case. Not very long ago, she believed, but who could tell in that forsaken mist? They had taken the path that led to the Haunted Mountain, she believed, as my story suggested she had gone that way.”

She paused heavily, and her hands were entwined, so tight the veins stood out like blue cords, great painted rivers on the whiteness of a map.

“I… I cannot quite tell how terrible that moment was,” the old woman continued, in a voice that was as frail, as defiant as a tiny boat tossed about by a storm. “I could not tell why, still cannot, but it felt as though the whole weight of the world was crushing me. Like I had something inside of me waiting to burst, some malignant child. I got up and ran out and tripped and fell and got up and ran again until an old man caught me. I almost threw him down in my rage, but by then the woman had caught up with me and she gave me a slap and shook me by my shoulders and told me to stop being foolish or she would drag me back. Did I think I was the only one who loved someone who had gone to danger? And not a great danger at that, as her husband had ridden to meet death and my father would surely come back. Who did I think I was?

“So I allowed myself to be led back, dejected, and we waited there in the mist, under that terrible fog that made you feel as though you were never going to see the light again, that robbed you of the will to live, to go on, as though a great ravenous beast had swallowed the sun whole. Even I was feeling it then, and the sick and wounded we had brought with us felt it worst of all. Even worse than the hard journey we had made. Quite a few of them ended up dying, and maybe they would have died anyway, but I do wonder if it wasn’t the added weight of hopelessness in addition to the ills of the flesh that killed them. How could we have given them hope, if we had no one to give it to us? But what I regret the most is not having seen my father just before he left.” She looked down at her hands on her lap, and looked almost vanquished.

Barahir cleared his throat very lightly. “Why is that, lady?”

She looked straight at him, blue eyes innocent of meaning. “I never saw him again, my lord. No one did. Not any of the others. They all vanished without a trace.”

“I see,” he said, his voice perfectly even.

She shook her head lightly. “Few are able to do so, my lord. We waited, and waited, and we waited again, but no one ever came to ease our pain, because no one ever does. Then it was another spectres-haunted night, and the following day – if you can call it day – the plateau was like an island of stone surrounded by dirty mist. Everything was quiet. Sunless, and dead quiet. I cannot tell you how it was, to huddle there, abandoned, lost, as still as that bird in the gaze of the snake, waiting only to be swallowed whole. Maybe we had all died already, and we were in the Shadowland, to dwell forever as haunts. Who knew? I knew only that I had lost my father, that he would never hear me calling to him ever again. And so we waited for death to take us, to at least free us from our misery. We were leaderless, we were surrounded by ghosts, we had been abandoned, and little by little, we went insane. But we wouldn’t cry. I wouldn’t cry.” She turned her eyes towards his. “I can’t. I don’t.” She shut her eyes tight, her face a mask of inexpressible sadness for a moment, and when she opened them again they were dry like sand.

Barahir felt curiously drained. The significance of this was too deep and heavy for the now, filling him with a peculiar sort of dread. The idol fell, and released a river of fire. It was like the thorough satisfaction of a wish made in youthful rebellion, ignorant and petty, a desire for riches answered by a deadly shower of gold.

“What happened to your father and the others, my lady?” he asked carefully.

“No one knows. How many dangers are there in the world? They vanished from memory as much as from sight. No one even asked that question – it was muffled in the roar of victory, when the fog dispelled at last, and the shadow was vanquished, and we returned to our homes. Do you know that, by some twist of fate, that woman’s husband survived and came back? We knew the truth about the Lady, then. She had not been lost at all. She had just gone off the with Riders in disguise, dragging the Halfling behind her, for no better reason than she wanted to, and now had returned as a heroine.” The word fell from her lips dripping with distaste. “And then we were supposed to revere that woman as though she had delivered us from all the hosts of Mordor. A heroine, simply because she had been capricious, childish, selfish. None of us spoke. What could we say? Who were we? No more than those who stayed, and those who died in secrecy. Better to busy ourselves with our lives. We all knew, and we were all silent. No song for us or for the missing and the dead. They were forgotten in the little skirmishes of time. They meant no more than an instant, barely noticed. What did those few do? What did they matter?

“But I remember. No one thinks of them anymore. But I do not forget. And when I am gone into my grave, then they will be less than the smallest shadow. Forgotten. Forever.”

She fell silent, and a single, solitary tear fell off a blue eye, full and perfect, and rolled down her white face, and then it broke away into nothingness. Barahir felt as though that moment was glistening with a deep, hidden meaning, and felt the weighty touch of Destiny, filling him with a fretful sorrow. He pushed it away, composed himself, drank the rest of his wine, his smooth self-control returning.

“There is not much more to tell,” she added. “And it’s of little importance. Éomer King learned that I was left with no family, staying where I was accepted, and so he took pity on me and had me brought to Meduseld, where the Lady was at the time presenting to Rohan her new troph—” Her face tightened and she cleared her throat. “Her new trothplight husband, the Prince Faramir, that is. And meanwhile, Halflings had destroyed Mordor and the Lord Aragorn was now King Elessar in Mundburg, and none of it mattered much to me. I felt no more than a stunned nothingness. Éomer King asked me if I wished to stay at Meduseld and I said no, and then he asked me if I wished to go to Mundburg, and I said yes, and that was all. He took me to the Queen Arwen, and I did not care if she was or had been of the Elder race, or if she was Queen or what have you. She did not mind my sullen ways, though, perhaps because she knew even more sharply what it was like, to lose both mother and father, was feeling the eminence of the latter keenly, and I told her that I was twelve and could work hard. So she took me as a maid when she returned to Minas Tirith and taught me how to read and write and speak and act in a dignified manner, for which I am grateful. And then I married, and that is the end of my story.”

There was silence. Barahir felt inexplicably tired, heavy with damning knowledge.

“Thank you, my lady,” he said. “Your tale was most… instructive, and you were very helpful. I shall trouble you no further.”

She looked at him, almost relieved, as though he had somehow cleansed her from all guilt.

“It is only the truth,” she said. “Though I think there are none who care.”

He wanted to feel a surge of that burning sense of justice his grandsire said was so important, and he conjured no more than a feeble spark. He had a weary sense already of the essential unfairness of life.

It did not, however, have to be a lie.

“I care,” he said, and was not surprised to realise that, at that time, that was the whole and perfect truth.

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.

Story Information

Author: A. L. Milton

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 4th Age

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 04/08/05

Original Post: 01/26/03

Go to Shards of Time overview

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