9. Winter Solstice
The Lord of Imladris sighed, weary with the weight of all his years tonight, and tried to shake off his gloomy reverie as he prepared for bed. Unbuttoning his dark green robe, he lay it carefully over a chair.
It was equally true that no finer, more prepared group of companions could be found; certainly not with the willingness of heart, the strength of spirit to volunteer to go. Where they had come by it, he did not know. They were strangers, of different ages and races, even their hopes for the journey and how best to accomplish their goal were at odds. Yet they unhesitatingly stood up for each other - uncomfortably at first, but fervent – and if none of them seemed sure how they could serve the quest, each believed he might be able to aid the others.
He slid his long hair inside his grey inner robe and raised it over his head, placed it to lie carefully with the heavier fabric of the green. He would let his mind focus there, on the already flourishing bonds that formed between them. They had all looked proud as they stood gathered to say goodbye at the gate – proud of each other, proud of the invisible steel that let the little ring-bearer stand straight and firm. When the steward’s son had let out that horn blast, the valley walls had taken up the call, sang back their praise. He had looked stern, and cautioned them not to be so foolishly blatant again, but the nine had nodded together in agreement when the big warrior had said they would not go forth like thieves in the night. They had needed their moment, their battle call, the chance to feel their blood stir and answer the summons. They were going to war, perhaps the deadliest war of all. They must battle not only the Shadow, but the desire to run home and abide in safety and joy – perilous, deceptive joy – and let someone else be visible, be vulnerable, carry the flag.
He turned down the coverlet of his bed and sighed. Nine standard-bearers, each knowing he might be asked to pay the ultimate price. Each had nodded, touched his heart to show his steadfastness, and gone through the gates of the valley toward the unknown. He might have wished they had more warriors to rally to them, but their longed-for victory might be better served by their quiet determination. Sometimes a man was strongest stripped back to his feä and his face.
He stood in only his silken shirt, looked down his long body at the ring that gleamed on his softly glowing hand, and placed it in the gesture of farewell over his own heart, where he wore, as he did every hour of every day, an embroidered field of stars on deepest blue. Once you have accepted a standard, there is no way you can surrender it and keep yourself.
He turned and blew out his candles, and stood a moment in the darkened room. He himself was now stripped back to his basic hope for their quest; his desire to see the feä of Arda continue to burn bright.
-- fileg (email@example.com)
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