4. Part Three
The hill is dark beneath the Sun, an uplifting of darkness under the daylight; but it is not Shadow, not the darkness of burnt things — only the dark of fresh-dug earth, solid and real, shaped with simple effort, no spell nor sorcerous binding to make swift its raising. Those who set their strength to call it up by work of hands do so full freely, neither asked nor ordered, but purely of their own will, and the wish to join him who wears the King's sigil as though it were his by blood-right, kin-right, as though brother or brother's son to bear without challenge, as none thinks to challenge, who speaks never to them, only to the Lady, and to the Hound. He labors beside them, as he began it, so to the finish, he and the Lord of Dogs, with whose first help he began to break up the packed ground and loosen clods of the sterile soil to heap up above the grave.
It is a mortal custom, this building of new hills to mark the dead, but it is one that well they comprehend, the wish to make some lasting sign upon the earth, some fixed and changeless mark, not easily to be overthrown or hidden, and if it come of a race so short-lived and swiftly given to death that distinction be needed to signify a life spent more rarely in great service — still they understand this now.
—Not after losing first family to the nameless Ice, where mark was neither possible, nor in those first dreadful times of knowing Death, should have been desired nor comprehended; after war, but after the slow but steady losses, over the Long Peace, and more so after the cruel defeat, when none lost might be buried, save those only who lived long enough to die in such safety as might be scantly found; and most particularly now, when all have lived a daily dying, spirit and hope and love as well as body, reduced to little more than breathing earth, whether High-elven or Grey-elven mattering nothing now, when all are so brought low.
And now they are free, and they will do this thing, because none may forbid them to it, and because they will no longer hide from Death, who have been the prey of the Necromancer these sorrowful years, turning away in fear no longer from what they cannot compass, and not least — not least of all — because he wills it.
And they are his now too, though he commands them not, makes no demand nor presumption of them, merely accepting their assistance without question, as from the first when seeing him struggle with his burdens, the immeasurably small handfuls of earth, carried so carefully from below, followed by the Hound and the Lady, who assists him, though she does not fully comprehend his need, those who did perceive, and understood, stepped forth to aid the work, asking nothing but to be seen in return. And this recognition he gives them, always.
He suffers their touch — though he startled at first — without anger or contempt, no more than the great Hound that stays by him ever, staying him when the Lady is elsewhere. For they cannot help it, no more than can help stroking the Hound's heavy fur, brushing him gently with hands scarred as none of Elven-kind should be, touching his wrists, his scars, who alone has ever returned from the Pit, the prize won from the Dark at such price, who looks on them without the horror that those of their own folk would regard them with, that in other days they themselves might have turned on such as they…
Never does he speak to them, no more than the Hound does, but he ever returns the gesture, with a gaze that utters more than any word, stroking their own galls of iron and whip in his turn, his eyes speaking only of mercy and regret. There is no power in this Man, no gift to bestow upon them, it would seem — and yet there is healing in his touch no less than his Lady's, healing of heart as he pours out his pity and understanding upon their wounds, who knows, knows all too well—
He will allow no stones to be used in its fashioning — not one of the one of the worked stones of the castle may be reused, all must lie where the Lady downcast them. He does not speak, nor needs to, and all obey him. It must be of earth, and earth they bring, in hands and cloths and baskets woven of the stunted willows that struggle to live on the tainted banks of Sirion, carrying it carefully across the rough-fashioned causeway that planks the fallen bridge at changing levels, as though it were more of worth than gold or jewel or clean water And thus it rises ever, hour by unnumbered hour, with speed past mortal believing, even for all their weary weakness, by night as day.
They would not dare to remain on the Island at night, daring the nightmares that must still dwell here, in its shadows and hollows, beneath the nooks of stone and round of arch, and most especially in the deep well of darkness that is never emptied, not even at full noon, too far sunk in the bedrock to ever be touched by daylight — did not they bide there, by choice, working in starlight and moonlight, or sleeping, when they do sleep, though they seem to draw more rest from speaking, or merely looking, to each other.
And so they too work, bringing, or building, or fashioning tools and shelters and seeking food in the woods nearby or in the river, and like their ancient ancestors — nay, far less efficient than those — they make a strange simple village of branch and packed leafage, of small useful vessels that are the greatest part of property, foraging and preparing fare scarcely finer than their meager sustenance as slaves — yet better far than anything ever tasted in their first freedom it seems to them, this simple stuff of garnered chestnut and sharp rose-apple, of bland and bitter, fungus and fibrous water root and fish seared on stone, and what the Hound hunts for them.
Straggled out across both sides of the water, it is an inconvenient and unwarded way to remain, but they know through some mysterious common sense, some shared Sight unspoken, that it is but for a brief while — even as they are sure, without any seeking for proof, that there is no danger to them for the present, that while the Lady bides here nothing dark shall dare draw near, none banished by her presence have courage to return.
—And besides this, how else shall they be with him, who remains only upon the island, as though bound to it — or to his task: for it cannot be that the river daunts him, neither the waves nor the tenuous crossing, who has struggled down the shallows as soon as his returning strength allows it, not only to wash but to wander, over and about the rocks and hollows, seeking nothing, apparently, save to see the boulders, and match muscles' agility against them, and look on the water from this point, and not that, as though he were of their race, in happier days, seeking out new vantages for mere curiosity and gladness of the world.
She goes among them, even beyond the bridge that was, and orders them, and sets some to this task, some to that, and chides them for folly who would be too loathe to seek out the bread of their captivity remaining in shattered cell and all such useful things as might be found, setting example; she speaks to them, answering such questions of doings in the world beyond as they may ask who have been entombed for a handful of years, or more. Her strangeness is more akin to theirs, than his, though she is twice foreign to them, for her heritage of ancient mystery and remote realm as for her sundered kinship with them — and yet there is bond deeper than blood between the Man born scant days ago in their reckoning, and they who have been held by the same dreadful Power upon this place.
They hold him in awe, not dread, and yet there is much the same between the two — mute, he holds such power over them, for having followed so much further into the Night and yet returned to day, that were he indeed to give command, to make request, they could refuse no more than did he speak with the proclaimed authority of their dead King. But they do not even know how much of this he perceives, how great his sway upon their wills, or whether he thinks that they, too, but act upon the heart's free wish, like falcon following the changing winds.
One thing is constant, and that is that one or the other of the two is ever nigh him, either the Lady or the Hound, whether he sleeps or wakes, works or wanders the shore. Another as well, and that is more of concern to them: when he does sleep, whether guarded by her embrace, or by the Hound's watchfulness, it is at the foot of the raising barrow. Thus they must always take heed, though he rests far off enough that he might not impede their labours, still they must be careful of him.
And yet it makes it easier to give him what they would also, moved by forces of spirit which have no easy name nor comprehending, for as they dare not touch him when his spirit is hidden from them, would not presume so much (no more than they dare use his name to hail him, though they speak it low amongst themselves, hailing him only as Edain), so when he looks on them with that mute clarity are they thrown into confusion, and thus bring their offerings, their small and paltry tribute, only while he sleeps.
—A gold leaf, still bright, found clinging to a spindled branch in thicket, or a stone washed smooth with a vein of glittering crystal like stars at midnight; or a pale willow withe, braided and knotted into a memory of woven silver; a few strands of thread, saved from a garment of one long vanished; a bit of clay from the riverbed, molded into the semblance of a recumbent horse, fired in secrecy amid forge-coals, small enough to be hidden in hem; a snail shell, art not worked of hands; a single acorn, undamaged by borer or decay, beautiful in its myriad shades of brown; and a feather, blue as the sky, fallen in reeds from a kingfisher's wing—
—Of such are the gifts they leave, the small treasures of slaves, each given not without pang, each given yet gladly; and each he considers most carefully, turning them over in hands, staring long and close at these tiny fragments of beauty and color new-gleaned or long-hoarded, giving each the heart-praise their worth demands, and they are glad, despite the pain of losing. At first he was bemused by such offerings, left in silence, unclaimed by the givers, uncertain though cherishing of them, and did not know what to make of them, or do with them after, no more than they. But then the fittest use became plain, and his troubled expression cleared, and now he places each deep in the mound where they build, molding a careful hollow for each, and setting it within, and covering its brightness most gently with earth.
And they are glad, for they never could have done so themselves, and he has done it for them, and their meager gifts, twice given, gain in worth so that the thought of them does not bring shame for the paltriness, and though he does not nor would ever name himself their lord, nor do they claim him so, all know that in this, in some strange fashion he stands in the place of lord for them, as he is leader in this tribute that they raise…
At last it is high enough, taller than he, and he turns from that work, wordless as ever, and begins to hunt among the stones of the citadel. Leaderless and lost, they must watch him, wandering amid quoins, wondering what it is that he seeks for, for never has he gone, as the boldest of them have done, as she has done, hunting for such useful things amid the wreckage as have perchance survived the downhurling and the fall of stones, to be scavenged for repair, for usefulness and their survival.
Finally he halts, after long searching far and wide, and drops to his knees so suddenly that they fear some break in the ground has felled him, as though struck down by a heavy blow, and when they draw near in disquiet their spirits are disquieted still more, seeing what he has found. The Hound at his heel growls low, too, hackles rising in anger, not fear; but the Man does not shrink from setting hand to the blackened stone, nor look aside in dread of vision not of this day but of the endless night of the Gaurhoth, when this huge slab was of the lowest step of the dais, set before the blood-splashed throne of the Necromancer.
It is cracked, one large corner gone, and chips have been dashed from the face of it leaving white patches, as of splintered bone in a wound; but it is the same, and not one of those who have been slaves upon this isle does not know it in waning daylight as in memory and dream, no less vivid in the latter twain — indeed it almost seems far less real, here, in the open and apart from the place it had, and holds in mind still. Undaunted, the mortal runs his outstretched fingers across it, as though it were aught precious to him, and leans against it, eyes closed, for long whiles while they wait, silent, for him to act.
Then he rises, with that swift abrupt grace that has returned to him with healing, liker to animal than Eldar, neat as a dog-fox springing from sleep to waking down a sunny rock, and goes quickly down to the southern shores of the island, where sand is washed in protected bars in the lee of it. From thence he returns with hands full of the fine wet grains, spilling it down heavily onto the middle of the stone, and tearing another piece from the given tunic that will scarcely miss the loss, begins to abrade away what covers the fallen block of marble. All through the long watch he scours it, scraping away the writhen masses, frozen falls of darker-than-amber, dripping from birchen pallor under scourge or edge or fang
It is their blood he scours away, their shame and torment, wrung from them for the delight of their old Enemy, their memories of mockery and destruction, mutilation and betrayal, sacrifice of love and faith before the weight of power, the dark taste of hellish knowledge poured down their throats, the blood of their breaking — It is long, long before any of them can bring self to draw near, again, to that step of slaughter, the blood-drenched footing of the throne of their loathéd Master, reclaimed for its true lord by hand of one yet faithful, if but in vain…
Not until he pauses for exhaustion, head bent against the clotted surface, and they see that his hands too are bleeding from the effort do any dare come, offering late their own strength, own hands to the work, while the Hound softly licks his worn fingers and presses against his side. Then only do they compel themselves to come close, to take up sand and shred of rag in hand themselves and set their wills to it, wresting aside their own horror, and begin to wear away the stain of their own destroying…
When the Lady rises from sleep and sees what he has wrought, she weeps, kneeling at his other side and taking his hands in her own, kissing them and healing them and then unfolding her cloak so that she may wrap it around them both, pulling him so that he rests in her lap while she takes up his task for the while. As the face of the step is freed the carving on it becomes clear as well, and the deeper-graven patterns now stand, white against a field of grimmest black, the raised Stars in band enscrolled, cunning work of hands, fashioned in love, freed by love and hands' hard work…
As fingertip traces the round and hollow, following line and dint, shaping the shape beneath in clearing out the defilement, memory of more returns, remembrances of beauty made, and one who once knew the ways of stone and setting chisel is moved to carry the band full about, so that all sides shall be matched, and meet, and with his small haft of broken iron blade set in blunt of wood for eating, and a round stone of the river-bed that fits well his hand, begins to work in the pattern along the shorter face of the slab.
But it is so long since, so long forgotten, that sinew remembers not the way of it, and limb labors in almost-vain, and the symbols that shape from the hollowing stone like ice forming in a pool look so crude, so unsteady and rough that they seem a mockery of the forms they pattern after, and he weeps at his own loss, and despises himself that he cares of it, when such greater loss is all about him, and looks at his own work in bitter contempt.
A gentle touch upon his shoulder startles him, and the artist looks up in the defensive flinch of one caught in weakness, and into the foreign eyes of the Man standing beside him to see what he does. Controlling the impulse to cover his folly he waits, cringing inwardly as the mortal kneels and traces blood-grained fingers over the new-cut star-shapes, brows drawn together in a slight frown.
—I will hack it off, and at least it shall be plain, and not ugliness, he vows in his mind, as certain of his companion's displeasure as of his own. But his hand is caught, and taken in the other's, and held with wonder, and as the would-be sculptor looks up from his weary shame he finds that for the first the other smiles, the faintest lightening of countenance, as a glimpse of the Sun's light on a bleakest day of Winter, and his heart begins to pound as though in fear as fear departs, and tears well up from within as from a spring so long clogged with ash and cinder, trickle slow, yet purifying, sure—
—and he is himself caught, and folded into a fast embrace, so that he may weep without heed, supported on shoulder, until the flood-tide is past, like the crest of a storm of Autumn, and he looks up clear-eyed into the gaze of a pity deeper than words, and is released to the work, that he resumes without trouble of heart, nor comparison, nor self-compare, only steady striving, to learn again, and anew…
It is a strange thing, how purpose can give strength, where effort would, one would think, take away from such store, hinder recovery, yet it is far otherwise in truth. Not all can bring themselves to it, many have not the will for it, cannot face that stain, that stone, but only support those who may. Yet all of them give to it, even if only in yearning, in gratitude, that it be done. And thus the guilt that is born of unreason, of ignorance not deed — We did not know! a cry of shame, not defense — little by little is assuaged…
It is soon readied, whitened with scour of sand and rasp of sharpened stick, washed of the flakings with water from the inexhaustible source at hand, and the broken face made a part of the whole with the carrying of design about all edges. The swiftness of this, too, seems to amaze the mortal, by his expressive silence, the wondering way that he circles it, touches it, though to them it has been a slow and lagging labouring against their own weakness, learning again to work in full daylight, to simply work, without fear of punishment, without any other need than that which is being done, and to take satisfaction (if not, alas, delight) in the making.
There are chains that could be better used to haul it, to be found amidst the wreckage, links and hooks that might be fashioned into harness and gear more suitable, but they will not touch them. Easier, far easier to weave of wood and willow, birch and reed, a soft sledge to case it all around, working the withes beneath with patience, and to make a track of water, slide of wet earth, so that it may be both drawn and pushed along the course of mud by many hands. Dirt and plant bear no nightmares in them, and with so many helping it is so swiftly done, for their strength so far exceeds the Man's that his assistance is immeasurable — and yet did he not set hand and stay upon the course, it would not come to pass.
When it is set upon the center of the mound they rest, without triumph, yet with satisfaction: it is meet, it is needful, it is done. There are embraces, and touching of hands, but they recede then, waiting upon him, for this is his working, not theirs. What he does next surprises them, though they could not say why. He goes around it, smoothing down the furrowed earth of its track, and patting it down smoothly about the sides, brushing the spilled clots of it from the face, though not with great care — it is but earth, only earth after all…
And then he stands at the foot of the slab, simply stands, staring at the blue clarity of the sky, unmoving, and something seems to pass from his spirit then, some tension of bearing, to be replaced by a profoundest calm. And still he only bides there, and they too wait, yet in patience, until he half-turns, to where the Lady stands, a little apart, a little nearer to him, with the Hound beside her, and holds out his hand in plea. At once they go to him, and she takes his hand, and strokes his face while he gazes at her, and kisses him freely upon the lips, and with hands clasped, side by side, they turn again to the white stone, and he lifts his head again, closing his eyes, and draws in a great breath of sunlit air—
And then — he sings. No lament: it is not a song of sorrow, nor of regret, nor even of farewell, not a song of deeds, but only a song of beauty, naming the Stars, and many things, a song of peace, of praise, of joy-in-Arda that does not forget the sorrows of earth but looks past them, not to what might be, in hope that may be deceiving, but to what is, even no less than as the sorrow is, and which fails not. The cadence of it is changed, even the melody is changed, but it is enough the same that they know it, and guess truly why it is that he makes this gift, for it was given in depths of time by the one to whom it is returned…
—They are in wonder that they could have forgotten, since forbidden, that no death was well-honored without a singing-forth, that this mortal must remind them of it, child who learned it of them in days long past, and it is strange, and troubling to many that one not of their Kindred should take charge of this the honoring of their people. But then it comes to them: he has no people, none to claim him save she who stands beside him, who is of their people, and of race more ancient than this earth alike. He has suffered for them, as one of them, in darkness not of latter date alone, and still he claims them as his own, no less than the one whose words he offers for them…
They would hold the moment poised, were it within their power, changeless, flawless, to dwell within forever — that being impossible, they hold it within memory like a blossom set within crystal, carved of perfect stone. For all too soon it passes, and the present world asserts its timeful power, and the power of that beauty but recollection, overswept by the ongoing of that which is.
Even as they wonder what shall follow, the mortal stoops, sweeping his hands again across the white, uncarved upper face, as though to brush away some last scatterings of earth, and leaning forward lies full-length upon the stone, pressed against it as though he would sink beneath its surface, and the taste of the salt of his tears is strong upon the wind. The Lady kneels too, beside him, and lets her hand glide upon his back, her eyes filled with understanding, and upon his left the Hound lies couchant and rests his great head softly upon the Man's shoulders.
And thus they bide, for hours, while the warm Sun pours over the three mourners on the chill stone, and the day wanes; and as clouds begin to ride in upon the currents of the air from the western horizon, hiding the Sun's light, the late thralls go silently across to the river's shore, slipping away by threes or twos or singly, not speaking, waiting still in patience for sign, guide, leader, sensing that some time of change draws near.
The overcast gathers heavier, darker, water riding it like weight of ash upon the air, troubling in its image, but it yields no stink of burning, rather a fine rain, not pelting nor whipping cold, but most rarely warm, an unseasonable West wind bringing weather that is not from the deadly North, and though the freed ones retreat to the margin of the woods, and to shelter, the others do not stir from their place, save that she unfolds her cloak to draw it over him as well, when she pulls it up over her head against the mizzle.
Only when the rain has ended, and some silent signal has passed from the clearing heavens to the three that a just measure of time has gone by do they rise then, as one, he letting the other two help lift him without resistance, without protest of pride, they steadying him until he is sure of his footing again, one arm about the Hound's lowered neck, the other held by the Lady. Thus do they make their way down from the white crown of the dark hill, poised forever like the pale crest of a vast wave, down the arc of the island to the side where once causeway arched, and with the same tedious caution that all others must use, pick slow path to the river's shore, the Hound warding them with his sturdy support, though he might easily swim over where clear of the rubble runs the torrent.
And there in the grey light of the fading day, when all the browns of the rainy woods are sharp and dark like polished agate in the wet, the three causes of their freedom cross the shore of Sirion together at long last: he who battled with sinew and blood to overthrow usurping power, she whose challenge drew forth to that battleground, and he for whom all fighting was accomplished, all obstacles overcome. A time of change has come once more, and they fear it, fear the words the Lady speaks, though inevitable it be, and well indeed they know that so it shall ever be upon this Hither Shore.
"Huan will lead you home," she tells them, "he will protect you and guide you through the secret ways to Nargothrond." Some object — their return is forbidden, they will be turned back to find solitary lives, or shelter with what village dares to harbor them, or fade — but she shakes her head. Huan will bring them safely home, and none shall turn them back — and between the calm assurance of her voice and eyes, and the great Hound's mighty presence, and their own memories of the manifest power that banished wolf and Wolflord on that night so short a while, so long since fading into memory, their arguments subside — but not dismay.
—But ye twain shall not be with us! they cry in answer, and to this she has no word, only gaze of pity and sad understanding. And so they look to him, as though he might sway her, on their behalf, and reach out hands to his, who does not flinch from their need, meeting touch with gentle touch, with look of regret, but without yielding.
"There is no road back for me," he says then, speaking to them for the first time and alike the last, and hearing his voice, that soft, rough accent familiar to many, reminding of days of ease and peace when Beleriand was free to both their Kindreds, they weep for lost lives, and not theirs alone. "—Thence we may not return," and though his reasons are both clear and manifestly true, still are they distraught, and fear the lonely ways without their Lord and Lady to ward them through the shadows.
But they are resolute, and do not debate further, but only stand arm-clasped, not to be turned from their will, by argument nor plea. Until finally weariness wins out, and those who were bound here, and are not, submit to power not of sorcery nor other violence but only will unchangeable, and accept that they have no choice but to bide here as ragged fugitives, or make way with helping guard to hope of shelter.
One last time do they make fire together, encampment upon the river's bank, one last time to share light and food, that which they have learned, either anew or from the first to prepare as their earliest kin, of him who gladly has shared his wild learning with these forewandered Firstborn, even the preparing of the meats that he does not partake. Looking at each other with hungering gaze, they understand at last that though they have taken of strength from him, innocent theft of touch, he too has drawn of them in vision, all those firelit evenings when mute he watched them, staring on their faces in the changing glow until consternation concealed by heat of flame brought rush of blood to cheek, discomfiture, that ever faded in the shameless innocence of his wide-open eyes, even as smallest child — or ancient Hound — might stare without offense meant or taken.
And this time they make other gift, willed, free-offered also, gift of music, of song, hesitant, half-remembered the ways of voice, of rhythm, faltering and clumsy, but never failing utterly, erring and uncertain and all mistakes mattering not, matter for small mirth, and passing on to other tune, other verse better known, or known to all; and the Lady smiles in childlike delight at their efforts, whose Song is past attaining, and so past envy, save to smallest of spirit, and claps her hands in gladness to hear melodies of her Sindarin folk, and joins softly in the chorus of the songs she knows, whelming none with her power; and the mortal Lord but listens, rapt, leaning against the Hound, his face a mask of wonder, though to their own ears the melodies and harmonies be but frail, feeble echoes of what once was.
And too soon it is dawn again, and the promise of true Winter is in the grey air, and they must go their severed ways, and again the two weep, parting from friend, embracing the Hound long, leaning against his broad chest and bone-ridged brow, clinging to shaggy neck without heed for witness, while he in turn licks their hands with sad thin cries; but end must be made, or beginning never shall be, and thus at last they draw away, letting him go downstream to where the multitude awaits, leaderless, for him to guide them.
When the freed ones look back after a time, before the river's turning takes them entirely out of sight, to where the Fortress once stood and the causeway fell, they see but one small dark figure, two so close together that they cast but a single shadow, walking slowly northwards, unarmed towards the dangerous borderlands, where never willingly would any think to go…
The riders go in silence under the wind-tattered sky, the clouds ripping and racing in the stiff breeze like the pennants of the lance-guard, blue lighter and clearer than lapis now by turns masked and revealed by long heavy shreds of white, not the warm white of summer skies, touched with softest gold and melting rose, but the white of marble that shades to grayed blue, boding of storms even in fair weather. There is not sound of bell, nor song, nor even voice this riding-forth: even the horses, sensing their masters' mood, curb their own exuberance and frisk little in the wind.
They are heavily armed, and armoured, and though they are a strong company they ride warily, despite all that they have heard; but the woods are quiet, and the plain of the river is still and bare of all that moves, save deer, hunting through the sere grasses for undevoured shrubbery, that stare at them as though they have never seen horses, nor such riders — and most probably they have not — before dashing off, still wary of anything that goes in these lands that they venture to reclaim.
The hushed cavalcade follows a bend in the river, rounding the headland that hides the plain northward from view, as they journey to find what they already know they will find, yet cannot imagine, and come to the place where they can see to where, for long years of remembering, so that mind does not even hold image of horizon without it save for effort, the Tower has stood, watching over and holding the vale, first for its builders, then for its captors, Tol Sirion, Tol-in-Gaurhoth, Tower of Guard—
—Where nothing now stands, no silhouette of home or gloom, nothing to match memory, all changed beyond recognizing, past knowing, so that did they not know this were the place that they sought, were there no other place it could be, they would think themselves in a strange country… —Only the island, scattered with quoin and corbel as with the petals of Spring blossoming, blown from the trees of the wood that is now bare beside the waters, yet where grass still holds green, as though defended from the weather by sheltering nook of wall or hollow of land, where never Winter spared this shore in bygone seasons.
(Those who fear most seek such reasoning to allay their unspoken dread, telling themselves that the winds are unusual this year, an unseasonable spell of mildness, though they rode through snow to get here — but they dare not admit what is beyond even their ken, who have seen all manner of hell-wrought evil wrenching and slewing the workings of earth in their lifetimes, this unsought, unexpected beneficence of nature…)
—Only the hill, that rises upon the farthest slope of that isle, across which those must fare who by foot, not astride, must make wary way through stones, damp-splashed and cold, as they have made their way over the shattered bridge not as they left it, in haste, but slowly, as though reluctant — as in truth they are. There are flowers, small yet bright like stars in the field of heaven, and others green-white as scattered pearls, bending softly beneath the tread of their boots, too many to avoid in the new grass that yet grows as though of a full season of Spring. (—Yet ever they spring back from underfoot…)
At the crest of the hill they halt, all of them, for a brief span of time, as if having received a message in a foreign tongue, pausing to draw forth its meaning before pondering its significance. Then one walks slowly forth from their midst, while all others hold back, he going as though he has right, and therefore duty, of it, to stand at the side of the white stone that lies there, while the rest look about them, over the island, and out across the vale, as though to find any presence or sign, even, of those who have wrought this change — But they are the only ones whose spirits, troubled, trouble this place; and where those two have gone, none now may discern.
Their leader sinks upon his knees, running his hand along the edge of the slab, and slowly, as if in a dream, then reaches up to remove the winged helm, silver-crowned, that he wears, and as though struck from behind, unseen, by javelin or well-shot dart, he folds over the stone and lies there, curled against it, bent and still, save for the sobs that rack him, his shining mail no defense, no more than his many strongly-equipped warriors, neither King nor proud Lord of the West in this hour, but only one bereft, alone—
About the Island there is only the silence of the world, silences of wind and water, voices of forest and field, singing of air upon stone, stirrings of life in the stillness. Where Spring has visited so briefly, and yet lingers, here there is peace — though there is darkness still upon the northeast shore far off, and in the North a menace bides that lies unseen by eye for distance, but ever in mind's knowing. —Yet here, for a little, in war's shadow, is peace, still guarded yet by love that death has mastered not, that masters Doom—