7. Chapter 7
His path took us deeper into the forest; sunlight dappled through the canopy casting moving shadows on the undergrowth. He stopped running and stepped into a sunlit glade. Scores of people began to move out into the sunlight. There were so many faces; friends and comrades that I never thought to see again, all whole and unblemished, no stain of death or injury marred their faces. They all looked so happy; I moved from one to another, and though they never spoke, each greeted me with happiness and pleasure.
I noticed it had grown dark. A large bonfire burned brightly in the centre of the glade; it gave off no smoke but sent up sparkling showers of sparks into the night sky to light the darkness like fireworks. A tall cloaked figured called me forward; I couldn’t see his face but as I moved towards him, he was joined by a companion. I had my back to the fire. The firelight flickered and revealed to me the faces of the two hooded figures; I recognised them both: one was the prisoner from the Rammas and the other was my father.
Neither spoke. They lowered their hoods and I saw contempt and loathing in their eyes. They moved towards me, edging me back closer to the fire. I called out and begged for their forgiveness but they just kept moving. I could feel the heat of the fire against my back; I tried to move aside but they had me cornered. I called to the assembled crowd to help me, but they stood like statues. I fell to my knees and my father crouched down before me. I heard his voice in my head, full of loathing and madness: “You should have sought the King’s clemency, but I am not the King and I have no mercy.” He pushed me backwards into the fire and, with a fierce grip on my shoulder, he held me within the flames. “Now my son, you will burn for all eternity, for madness cannot be allowed to flourish and there is no hope for you.”
I screamed for help but no help came. I felt the fire scorch and burn the flesh from my body but still I endured. Through the haze of the flames, I saw my mother and brother hand in hand watching and then they were gone and I burned within the flames, lost and without hope. I called to the stars to help me, to have pity, but they abandoned me; their light snuffed out and the sky went black, and the blackness filled me and smothered the flames.
For time without measure, I drifted within the cloak of darkness, cradling the pain to myself as a measure that at least one of my senses still functioned. The darkness was absolute and the silence deafening. Occasionally I sensed a presence circling around me, supporting me, calling me. It was reassuring but not something that I wanted or needed to react to. The darkness was my friend; it offered nothing, demanded nothing, and sought nothing but acceptance.
It was lonely but I had always been alone; from early childhood, I had only ever been really close to my brother. He was the only one who accepted me without question and the only one to whom I had nothing to prove. I believed that I earned the respect of my comrades in arms, but respect was not friendship and friendship was not love. The memories of Boromir opened the floodgates of remembrance; in my darkness, scenes from my past played in a never-ending cycle. Not all were painful; I saw beloved faces and relived happy moments, but those happy moments couldn’t erase or negate a lifetime of doubt and unhappiness, couldn’t give me back the love and respect of my father, his final act in life the ultimate betrayal of trust. I recognised that I had driven myself with hopelessness and self-doubt. I had always had a smug confidence in my personal integrity, proud that I treated others with confidence and respect. Now even that integrity seemed suspect, driven by the need to prove myself to others; I had been living my life in the pattern of other people’s expectation and never able to meet the goals that they set or I expected.
Now the choices were all mine, and I struggled with the demons that clouded my judgement and stifled my instinct for self preservation. Accepting the darkness was so tempting, to no longer struggle with the shadows that crept ever further into my soul as they dampened my spirit and sucked all joy from my life. I was so tired of simply existing; life without joy and hope was no life.
And then the darkest of all realisations swept over me, for I realised that I had rejected the two offers of redemption that the defeat of Sauron had extended to me…Eowyn and the return of King.
What now of hope! Easier by far to accept the darkness and stop fighting, stop resisting, ignore that little something that hovered at the edge of my consciousness, that little spark that offered a hint of a promise. Hope was dangerous, too fragile and too delicate; one touch of my fingers and it would evaporate into the shadow whence it came.
No, better by far to stop resisting and accept the darkness.
I felt myself moving forward through the darkness until I stood at the entrance to the King’s Hall. If I entered here, a decision would be demanded, resolution achieved. Was I ready? Could I make a decision? Or was it easier to stay in this dark undemanding nothingness forever.
The doors swung open and I paused on the threshold taking in the familiarity of the surroundings. The room was dark: only the light from a wall sconce illuminated the Steward’s seat at the base of the dais. The seat was occupied. My Father sat watching my approach; he raised a hand and signalled me to stop, and then he stood, his face calm and impassive, no scorn, no bitterness evident in his expression. And then he saluted me and at his side I saw my mother and brother, and they both smiled at me. My heart jolted within my breast; I wanted to move forward, to embrace them but my feet would not obey me. It was my shadow-family that moved; they glided past me and stood with their backs to the closed door, watching me. Boromir signalled my attention back toward the dais; I turned around. The light in the sconce had been extinguished and now a shaft of light from a high window illuminated the King’s Throne. The King sat in splendour, bathed in sunlight, tall and regal and exuding power and compassion; at his side a figure stood, cloaked in a mantle of midnight, face hidden within the shadows of a hood. I recognised the cloak; it was my mother’s, and yet my mother stood behind me. I looked from one to the other in confusion until the King rose to his feet and lowered the hood and revealed Eowyn as the cloaked figure at his side.
No one moved, no one offered encouragement or inducement. This then was my decision, past or present, kin or companions, certainty or risk. The past held no dangers, only the hope of reunion beyond the circle of life. The present was more difficult, the future terrifying….and yet…could I reject the hand of friendship, the offer of hope in the future!
I turned back to my family, looked into the faces of each one and saw love and sadness and compassion. Now I moved until I stood an arm’s length from them. I could see that they were phantoms of memory and yet their love was real and stole into the recesses of my heart. I saluted them and felt tears spill from my eyes; I saw my mother’s hand reach out to me and felt the faintest ghosting of touch on my cheek…and then they were gone.
I walked slowly through the Hall to stand at the base of the dais; Eowyn slowly descended the steps and extended her hands to me, joyful and radiant. As she stepped closer, she moved out of the shaft of sunlight and I lost sight of her in the darkness.
I lay in the darkness as awareness gradually came to me. Hearing was the first sense that I mastered and yet it offered few clues to my situation. It was very quiet; I concentrated harder and heard the hiss and crackle of a fire in the grate, my own breaths whistling with each rise and fall off my chest, the distant footfall of a sentry. I drew in a breath and sampled the scents in the air; the musty, pungent smell of a sickroom overlaid the more subtle aromas of soap and herbs, and somewhere closer to me the heady scent of roses and lavender pricked at the edges of an illusive memory. I tried to take stock of my situation. I lay on a soft mattress, propped onto my right side, a bolster at my back. I tried to move but my body would not cooperate; I couldn’t move my head and my limbs felt like dead weights.
I marshalled all my energies and forced my eyes open. As my sight focussed, I took in my surroundings; it was night-time and the amber glow from the hearth and a single lantern gave the only illumination to the large and unfamiliar chamber. I moved my gaze back to my immediate surroundings and realised for the first time that I was not alone. Eowyn was seated at my side, sleeping with her head resting on the mattress, my right hand enfolded tightly within her hands; her hair splayed out before me, glowing like gold in the flickering rays of firelight. I tried to speak her name but could make no sound. My left hand lay on the mattress near my face; I closed my eyes and focussed my remaining energy on inching my fingers down towards her hair, progress was so slow that I feared the few inches were beyond me, but I persevered until I felt the precious strands of gold within my grasp. As I played the tresses through my fingers, fresh waves of roses and lavender filled my senses and accompanied me as I drifted back into darkness.
I edged back towards consciousness, aware that some time had passed; I couldn’t open my eyes but through my closed eyelids I sensed that it was daylight. I heard two, no three male voices in quiet conversation but I was too busy concentrating on my physical state to decipher their words. I was propped up in the bed, not against pillows but against the warm and comforting solidity of a broad chest, my head supported against a shoulder by a hand upon my brow. I lay passively as I felt a spoon against my lips and tasted the salty sweetness of broth slide over my tongue; felt the soft touch of fingers against my throat encouraging me to swallow. I turned my focus to the conversation and this revealed the identity of two of those present. The King and Eomer were discussing the reordering and restoration of Rohan, and it was clear that Eomer was anxious to return to his homeland as quickly as possible. And what of Eowyn? Would she go with him? The possibility caused my heart to plummet. It was clear that both King and brother realised that she would be torn between her sense of duty and the call of her heart and neither wanted to influence her decision. I wondered why she was not here to participate in the discussion. And then the person behind me joined in and asked about me and what plans they should make. This was altogether too much; I needed to let them know that I could hear them. I still couldn’t open my eyes, so I did the only thing I could think of to get their attention: I closed my lips tightly against the spoon and pushed my head back against the shoulder supporting me.
Someone spoke my name and I felt my hand lifted. ‘Welcome back, nephew.’ I squeezed the hand that held mine, it was a feeble attempt but it was the best I could manage. Aragorn spoke quietly, reassuring and gentling my fears, his voice a balm that soothed me back to an untroubled sleep. For the rest of the day I slipped in and out of sleep, aware of the gentle hands and ministrations of my carers but vaguely conscious of the absence of the one whose presence I most needed. At one point I clasped my uncle’s hand and gasped out her name; he smiled and reassured me that she was resting and would be back later. She came at dawn; flustered and out of breath, anxiety hastening her steps. Her gaze shot daggers at the King who raised his hands in acknowledgment at her anger. And then our eyes met and the King was forgotten; she was at my side in an instant, she kissed my hand and wiped away the tears that had leaked un-bidden down my cheeks; we embraced, each wetting the other’s shoulder with our tears, tears of joy and relief and completion.
I was not good company; I drifted in and out of sleep, blacking out halfway through conversations; it was very disorientating but Eowyn always recognised my discomfort and prompted me back to understanding. I had few visitors. Eowyn tended me in the daytime and Tamir or one of the healers sat with me at night; I was never left unattended.
I woke from a deep sleep to see the King and Eomer in earnest conversation with Eowyn. I couldn’t hear their words clearly, but I could see that Eowyn was distressed. I remembered the snatches of conversation I had overheard. Eomer was to return to Rohan and he needed Eowyn. I would not allow her to be torn in two; her brother and her people needed her and she was trapped here by her devotion to me. I called her to my side and reached for her hand. I told her to go with him, to go home, and watched in despair as I saw the look of rejection and hurt flicker across her features; desperate to reassure her, I bade her take the portrait of my mother and keep it for me, promising to come to her when I was fit and able. I saw the look of gratitude in her brother’s face as he nodded his thanks. I held her as tightly as my weakness allowed as I felt exhaustion overtake me once more.
I never saw her go, never got to say a proper farewell; I woke to a chamber full of sunlight and empty of her presence. I closed my eyes and feigned sleep, ignoring my carers and passively accepting their ministrations; I had urged her away so that she would not be forced to choose, but I missed her with a fierce and powerful ache in my heart.
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.