3. Chapter 3
Each day I went to the Healing Halls to see and offer my support to the wounded and to the healers who worked so tirelessly to ease the suffering. Some of the patients I recognised, Rangers and soldiers of Gondor, and many were strangers who had joined us in the battle against evil. One lad in particular drew my attention. His name was Beruel and he was young, barely old enough to wield a sword; I had known him since he was a babe. His father had served long and bravely as a ranger in my company; he fell to an Orc arrow at the battle of Osgiliath and his body was never recovered. His son now lay wounded and lost in the dreams of fever; an Orc blade had injured his leg so badly that the healers had to amputate it to try to stem the spread of infection; he now lay hovering between life and death, calling to his father in his confusion. I sat by his bed and willed him to live, to fight his way back. I needed him to recover as a promise that the future was worth the sacrifice of so many innocents.
I tried to visit the troops guarding the city each day. I couldn’t help them in the gruesome tasks that they faced day after day, but I wanted them to know that their efforts were recognised and appreciated. I made it my business to inspect the prisoners, to see that they were treated appropriately and that they had sufficient food and water. Lord Aragorn had ordered that the prisoners be put to work clearing and repairing the damage but that they were not to be mistreated. We had taken no Orc prisoners!
In the city I was daily being smothered under piles of paperwork. Nothing was too small to require my personal attention; all decisions seemed to land on my desk. A scribe assisted me, my grip still too weak to hold a pen for more than a few moments.
My shoulder gave me constant pain and my arm seemed to get weaker rather than stronger; I became adept at disguising both, too busy to allow physical weakness to interfere with my duties.
Late one evening when sleep evaded me again, I rose and wandered through the citadel, relishing the peace and quiet of the sleeping city. My feet carried me unthinking to the door of my brother’s room. Placing the lantern on the floor, I turned the handle and pushed the door gently so that it swung open slowly. My view of the room jumped and flickered in the guttering flame of the lantern. The familiar smells of leather and soap evoked such a strong rush of remembrance that my senses were reeling.
The room was as he had left it all those months ago: a soldier’s cell, sparse and functional, no soft touches. The only personal effects were a small framed picture and a lump of amethyst crystal that sparked and flashed in the light of the lantern, both mementoes of our mother. I picked up the portrait, the only likeness I had ever seen of her and my only way of picturing her gentle face. I had no memory of her, just a sense of her presence and the softness of her voice. The crystal was the first and only independent gift from her sons, found on a market stall in Dol Amroth not long before her death.
Boromir’s presence was so powerful that I looked over my shoulder half expecting to see him standing against the mantelpiece, on his face a wicked grim, tempting me to some mischief. All I saw was his long formal cloak draped over a wooden stand, leather boots standing to attention ready to be claimed. I buried my face in the soft woollen folds of the cloak, desperate to re-establish a bond with him, loneliness and longing battering at my heart. I left the room, locking the door behind me and pocketing the key. There were too many questions that I hadn’t asked and too many answers I couldn’t face.
One popped up and hit me unexpectedly the next day. I was consulting with the chamberlain and Hurin and had some formal papers to sign. I asked for the Steward’s Signet Ring to attach an official seal. The awkward pause that followed this request should have alerted me but I pushed on without thought. I still knew nothing of the circumstances of my father’s death, but I had assumed that the insignia of his office had been retrieved. They told me it was destroyed and when I demanded an explanation they told me the story of my father’s decline and death, carefully edited, I later learned, to exclude my part in the tragedy. The stark facts were enough to fill me with horror. That he should have succumbed to madness and despair, deserting his duty to his people in their hour of need so at odds with the man I knew that for the briefest of moments I thought that they lied to me, but the compassion and sorrow in the eyes of my companions quickly squashed that hope. I staggered to my feet and seeking the seclusion of the nearest privy retched violently until my stomach had nothing left to lose and my head swam.
The rest of the day passed in a blur. I’m sure that I saw and spoke to many people but I recall nothing until I reached the healing rooms. I took a deep breath and plastered a smile on my face; I would not bring my grief here. I laughed and joked, wondering as I did so how it could be so easy to pretend that I was alright, while inside my head pictures and words warred and fought as I tried to comprehend my father’s downfall; fear gripping my guts that maybe his madness was a curse that shadowed our family.
Eowyn was waiting for me in the small office. One look at her beloved face enough to crumple my resolve and I collapsed. She fed me warm sweet tea as though I were a child and when I could hold back the tears no longer she held me, rocking me in her embrace and cooing words of comfort. I don’t think I uttered a word but she seemed to understand; she made no demands, asked no questions, just offered me her love and the protection of her arms. I awoke as the first streaks of dawn lightened the sky, disorientated to find myself in a strange room, wrapped in a cloak, my boots on the floor at my side. I snatched open the door to find Tamir asleep in a chair on the threshold. I retrieved my boots and left him sleeping while I went off to begin another day.
Beruel died. I sat at his bedside and watched as he took a last few faltering breaths. I held his hand and willed him to take one more breath, to keep fighting, not to leave me. He was my talisman of hope, but hope and wishing were not enough and he slipped away taking a part of me with him. I held him as he grew stiff and cold beneath my hand. I kissed his brow and said goodbye; I felt Eowyn’s hand on my shoulder but I couldn’t face the love and compassion in her eyes. I shuttered down my heart and walled in one more grief.
I had Tamir saddle up my horse. He helped me to mount, and disregarding the pain and handicap of my useless arm, I kicked my heels and galloped away from the city across the Pelennor, leaving Tamir trailing my wake. I didn’t get far, weeks of inactivity and the after effects of my injuries had weakened me more than I realised. I could feel my heart racing and my head throbbed and pounded with a sense of impotent rage I could barely control. My minder soon caught up with me and I was conscious of his unspoken condemnation of my recklessness.
As we neared the Rammas we came across a party of prisoners under guard working to clear the debris of battle and repair the damage. As we approached, one of the prisoners, a swarthy –skinned southerner moved a block of stone and revealed the remains of a soldier, identifiable by his armour as a Ranger of Gondor; the corpse was headless and defiled. The prisoner kicked at the body in disgust. I was off my horse in an instant, simmering anger blinding my thoughts and my reason. An unspoken command to the guard had the prisoner on his knees before me. He sneered at me in defiance, scorn plainly written on his face, and then he spat on the ground at my feet. I’m not sure what he expected by way of reaction; I’m sure he saw only an unarmed, crippled Captain, hardly a threat. I crouched down until my face was barely inches from his and I spat out, for his ears alone, that he should have awaited the clemency of the King’s judgement; he looked into my eyes then and I saw a flicker of fear. Never taking my eyes from his, I pulled the knife from my boot and slit his throat.
In that moment I recognised with crystal clarity that I was beyond any hope or want of redemption; the madness of the Steward’s line finally manifest in its last remnants. I watched the body slump to the ground, the crimson blood spreading in an ever increasing pool until it filled my vision. And I felt nothing, my mind closed down to the point that all I could hear was my own heartbeat and the silent screaming in my head.
I don’t remember the journey back to the city, whether I rode or walked, if I spoke or was silent. I’m sure that Tamir accompanied me but I was not conscious of his presence. Once back in my chamber I pulled a bottle of strong spirits from the closet and, dismissing Tamir, endeavoured to lose myself in the peaceful oblivion found only at the bottom of a bottle.
I must have succeeded for I awoke in the first rays of dawn; someone had removed my bloodied and soiled tunic and put me to bed, another degradation to add to the litany of my failures.
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.