5. Chapter 5
Events moved forward and I approached Lord Aragorn and tendered to him the White Rod, symbol of my office. He handed it back to me, and I would have dropped it if Hurin had not steadied my hand. I did not want it…I wanted only to hand-off the now hated responsibility and disappear into peaceful obscurity. But duty called, and I would not spoil this moment of destiny or shame myself in the eyes of the King. The ceremony progressed, and I called upon the citizens to proclaim the King, and he was crowned and the people rejoiced. Above the Citadel, the banner of the Stewards was lowered and replaced by the banner of The Tree and The Stars as the King returned in triumph and glory.
As the procession moved up through the city, I had two tasks still to complete: to talk to the Halfling, Peregrin, and to face Eowyn. In the event she sought me out, she left her brother’s side and stepped into the garden, drawing me with her. She stood in front of me, tall and proud and brilliant in her beauty. I would have looked away, but she held my face and I felt I would drown in the depth of love within her eyes, but the cold, deep well of my fears bubbled up, and I hardened my heart against her love. I removed her hands from my face and released her from our alliance. I saw the pain and shock in her face as she paled; it grieved me and I felt as though my heart was shattering into a thousand brilliant shards. She challenged me to deny my love for her and I couldn’t, but neither could I hold her to a relationship with a lineage as tainted as mine, to risk bringing forth children with such a blighted heritage. She would not leave me and in the end I turned and walked away, left her standing rocked with grief and tears; it was the longest, bleakest walk of my life, but I consoled myself that by leaving her I was protecting her from a lifetime of grief and regret.
The celebrations for the Royal Party were laid on in the Great Hall. There was to be no formal sit-down banquet, the store rooms and larders not yet restocked sufficiently for producing a worthy feast, but a buffet was laid out along one wall and the wine and ale were flowing freely. Distinguishing Peregrin was easy, his livery setting him apart from his companions. I sent a messenger with a summons to say that he was required in the Steward’s office.
He had already started on the ale, and I took advantage of his slightly tipsy state. I knew that he had been present during my father’s last few hours and I asked him to tell me all that had occurred. He was clearly reluctant to relive the experience, and, to my shame, I pulled rank and ordered him. He pulled himself to his feet and standing to attention began his tale. If the earlier facts of my father’s death had shocked me, these new revelations left me reeling and finally tore away the props of my reason. As he talked, I looked out over the city with unseeing eyes. I didn’t even realise he had finished speaking until he pulled on the sleeve of my jacket and offered me a glass of wine with shaking hands. I saw the tears on his face and the grief in his eyes and I felt shamed. All I could manage was to whisper my apologies and release him and send him back to his friends.
Later in the evening I found myself in the Great Hall, the celebrations still in full swing. The room was noisy and hot. I secreted myself in a shadowed, dark window recess, a retreat often used in my childhood when avoiding my father’s notice. It offered a good view of the room and its occupants, while I could remain hidden from all but the closest observation. I removed my heavy ceremonial tunic and rested back against the comforting, cold roughness of the stone walls. My shirt was damp with sweat and the coldness of the stone leeched some of the heat from my skin.
The noise of the throng got louder and louder and made my head spin. I could see groups of people laughing and talking. Eowyn was with her brother and the Elf, Legolas, she seemed composed, and when the King came and joined them, she seemed to be at ease. After a few minutes she excused herself and moved away to talk to the Hobbits. She looked around as if seeking someone and I knew that it was me her eyes sought; I pulled further back into my refuge and closed my eyes to shut out the dizzying blur of colour and movement. I had a desperate need to escape the throng and find peace and solitude. Without even seeking leave to withdraw, I rushed for the side door nearly knocking over one of the servants in my hurry; I mumbled a hasty apology but I had to keep moving.
Blind instinct guided my steps from the heat and noise of the Great Hall. The coolness of the night air buffeted me like a wave and chilled the sweat against my skin. I stood at the wall and looked out over the plain, now studded with tents and pavilions and the twinkling of many campfires, the pungent smell of wood smoke and roasting meat wafting on the evening breeze. The smell triggered an overwhelming sense of nausea, bringing to mind the fetid, sickly smell of funeral pyres. I took a deep breath and pushed my thumb and finger against my eyelids to blot out the unbidden visions of my father that flashed in my mind. The buzz and murmur of raucous celebration played over the open ground and filtered fitfully up to the higher levels. I should have been happy, should have joined in the festivities with my friends and brothers-in-arms, but how many of them now remained? No, I could not celebrate; joy and happiness had no purchase on my heart and self-loathing blotted out all chinks of hope and light.
In my head I heard the echo of a familiar voice. He called again and my need to find him blotted out all other thought from my head. I knew where to find him, knew were to seek sanctuary. I hurried along the darkened corridors, playing the keys through my fingers as I went. At the door I hesitated, suddenly so apprehensive that my fingers shook and I struggled to fit the key in the lock; the door opened silently and I peered into the inky darkness. I crept in and locked the door. I called his name softly but the echo had gone. I called more loudly and stumbled forward until my hand brushed against the warm softness of fabric…his cloak. I pulled it over my shoulders and buried my nose in the heavy folds of memory. I staggered forward in the darkness until my knee nudged the edge of the bed. I lay down wanting only to close my eyes and to find peace, to blot out all pain and memory, to escape from the blight of unfulfilled expectations and shattered dreams; with his name on my lips, I allowed the waves of darkness to rise up and sweep me away to oblivion.
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.