11. Chapter 11: Winter and Spring
Winter and Spring
The winter that followed was tender and harsh, like frost on rosebuds in a precocious spring, at dawn. Tender, for the hours I spent with Faramir yielded a delight as yet unknown to me; all the more precious knowing they were counted. Harsh, for it was a winter of bitter and long fighting.
There is no glory in the war of the wood, the war such as Elves like me, Men like the Rangers are masters in fighting. There is no glory in ambush and track, no glory in hunting down the enemy, reading his traces as you would with an animal's. No horns were blown, no challenges shouted. No sun on shining armour, for we wore none.
And yet it was a war strangely fitting for the time we lived in, a war for a moment where glory was ended. There are stories of ancient kingdoms hidden among water and rock, kingdoms of Elves far different from me; but always they gambled their future and lost it on the battlefield, always glory came to them in the end. They were forever remembered in song; but no ballad would be sung about the war of bow and knife that was our daily fight.
I taught the Rangers; they taught me. Mutual respect grew as I showed them the paths, the glades, the streams and rocks and caves in long years they had never found, and I had grown to know and love like a part of me. In the evenings I would listen to them, stories and songs and poems, a world strange and brave, new to me, that lived in their husky voices. They had sons and wives and fathers, homes left behind them, and they missed it all.
I listened. I learnt. I understood.
The memory of an Elf can be palace or wood; but always it is unbroken, reaching back to the Stars before Sun and Moon, looking forward to Eternity before the breaking of the World. What our ancestors lived lives in us anew. Human memory is different. A chain it is, Mankind, made of links so small, so thin; and yet because so small so tight. Resistant, resilient. What one Man did not do, another shall accomplish; and if he fails, new generations will succeed. Such is not the law with Eldar; each of us unique, each of us impossible to repeat. Never again shall be born the like of Fëanor, mighty among the Elves; never again a face as fair as Lúthien's shall be lifted to the Sun.
For the first time, in the evenings spent beside the fire, my hands made warm by the bowl of our simple supper, I looked into the faces old and worn, and saw endurance. Men would not fade away. They could not. For the first time I doubted the truth of what my people had been saying; for the first time I thought that they were those fated to inherit this Earth. No longer Elf singing in the wood; but Man felling the tree down, building new cities of clay and stone.
Alien they were to me, and I to them; but we came to friendship deep and pure. I remember their names now, and I count them among the precious things I have known. My brothers in arms, between us a bond of blood spilt, blood lost. Sometimes I watched them in secret, as they laughed and joked among themselves, and I envied them. I had thought the ages of Time belonged to the Elves; in truth, they belonged to them. My time would wither; theirs would flourish, or burn out. No slow death for the kind of the Atani blessed with freedom from the circles of Eä.
When night came, and no duty called, I was with Faramir. Our moonlit walks were a haven of safety, a short oblivion between fight and fight; and as we went the Rangers watched in silence, a smile on their lips, a strange light on their warrior faces. Sometimes I lingered with the son of Denethor by the pool, or under the trees; then he slept in my arms, and as I watched him dream now I caressed his face, learnt its lines for the endless years that would be after he died.
The thought of the end that could lurk so close came to haunt me when it was late, when the world was still, the sky too dark to watch. It crept upon me like poisonous weed, it whispered to my ear with the voice of a snake. Watch him, Elven maiden. Look how breakable, how frail. Look how doomed. You shan't be allowed to die, your love is not that of Lùthien who went to the afterlife and back. You shan't be allowed to become mortal, yours is not such a choice. You have not in your heart the despair to slay yourself as Maedhros the Tall did, sole among the Elves. Yours is no love to go down in legend, Mìriel of the Wood; you know this.
I know it well. And yet it will hurt.
All I prayed for was to die in battle by his side, ere the last leaves fell.
Sometimes as I searched my sack for a thing I needed my fingers would touch the cool, curved shape of my silver leaf. I never looked at it; I could not bear it. When the thought of Legolas came back to me, then the splinter in my spirit ached; then I wished I could be two. For too long I had led a double life; now, after the cut, my heart was crippled. It could never be healed.
So many have not known love among the Eldar. So many have chosen to remain unwed. To me had gone this strange fate: to know how much a fea can hold of a thing of which songs echo. There was nothing to learn, nothing to understand; much to accept. Exquisite was the agony that followed the joy, and in such a broken light I lived and fought to see the Winter become warmer and near the Spring, the days grow longer beneath unquiet moons.
It was one day, as we searched the wood for a party of Orcs. They had come from Morgul Vale, cutting their way through the undergrowth. Scouts, most likely, sent out to explore a way for the fell allies of the Enemy to follow. Haradrim had come, Southrons tried to cross our lands. We waited for them.
That day we had had no luck. The Orcs moved carefully, they opened and marked the path, then disappeared. We would catch them; we always did. The day would end in black blood. But the desire to slaughter was subdued in us, a duty, not a call. Not an urge. There is no glory in war of stealth, no lust in spilling blood in silence.
A thin mist hung over the trees nearer to the river, the sky would darken sometimes with hideous shapes. Nazgûl the Men would whisper, of all the magics of Sauron the blackest. Black riders on black mounts, clouds of fear slicing the light open. The back of a sunlit day is a night unspeakable; and such night they brought with their coming.
We hunters had split, I led a small party reading the tracks, Faramir by my side. The days spent itself away behind the clouds, its milky light grew weaker. Silently I picked the scent, beckoned the Men forward. Now, nearer, after the next trees; bow drawn, arrow shot. Knife lowered and plunged into corrupted flesh. The mist thickened; the silence lay heavy. The Rangers gathered the corpses to give them to the fire. I went to the river to cleanse myself.
Anduin the Great ran slow that day, its waters like congealed blood. Rivers know nothing of fear and war, rivers care not for the blood that in them is spilt. Red in water becomes lighter, then fades. The river kisses the sea, it drowns its torments there. The Children of Ilùvatar know no such grace.
Gloomy were my thoughts, and when Faramir came to me from behind, treading light on the mud and sand, in myself I could find no smile. But when I turned he was not looking at me. Past my body bent over the water, he looked at the broken thing the river had washed ashore.
Walking slowly, carefully he reached it, and raised it from the ground with delicate hands. He looked at it long and hard, his eyes fixed on its lines, as if asking a question of them. I watched, and recognized the cloven horn. The very same that hung at Boromir's belt the day he had left.
It was not foreboding that fell cold on my heart, but certainty set in stone. The same must seize Faramir then, for he did not look back, but forward, to the river, and there were no tears in his eyes, and it was more painful to behold than if he had broken down in sorrow.
He looked to the river, and the mist over the water seemed to take shape: slim boat with tall prow, cutting the water heavily, and yet with grace. The sun was not there, in such a mist visions could take form and truth; but Faramir had no fear, and waded into the water, towards the unknown craft. It passed within his reach, but he dared not lay hand upon it. His eyes looked into it, and what he saw, I could not distinguish from the shore. Away it slipped then, born on the current with steady pace. Noiselessly it disappeared, and I mistrusted my own eyes for having seen it.
When the captain came ashore, a piece of the horn in each hand, he spoke no words. Without looking aside he walked back into the wood, he called his man with one gesture. Silently we filed back, following his lead to the chamber in Henneth Annûn. There he called the courier, a Man known for his speed; and to him he entrusted the horn.
"Ride to Gondor, and do not wait. Announce to Denethor lord that the river brings ill news, and that all hope is dead. Boromir the Valiant, his son and heir, is no more."
Amazement filled the Men at these words, but it did not last long; for those were black times, and all were ready to believe that such a thing could happen. They withdrew into corners, and muttered darkly. Their grief was a tearless thing, a painful grimace on their faces. Faramir walked away, seeking the peace of a tongue of rock thrust upon the waterfall of the peak. I followed him.
Slowly he turned to face me, and in his eyes there were too many tears to be shed. His soul was broken that day, a great part of his heart shattered.
"Men should not live to see such days."
He clasped me to his breast with a violence that spoke of maddening pain, of rage and grief and lost love mingling together into one fury. With the same violence of his embrace he pushed me away.
"Go," he said, his voice a grating thing, "Go. I can't – I cannot."
I understood. Without speaking anymore I left him, I found with careful steps my way among grieving Men to the stairs cut into the rock, and descending them I alighted to the bottom of the small bowl of earth where the pool came to lap the shore. There I sat among the bushes, and listened to the water, looking into my mind for songs. In music and lament shall Elves grieve, and in such beauty try to ease their pain.
I recalled from my memory Boromir as I had known him, such a short, such a far space; I thought of his strength and his pride, and of his fear when he had come asking for a help I could not give. Man and warrior, and captain of armies; beloved son, beloved brother. Many things could have been said, many things turned to song. But when I opened my mouth to sing I thought of his green eyes, and of his powerful hands that would be now forever still, and of his voice in the dark, speaking of a spirit that was flawed, but great.
And my voice came out a useless thing, a tormented sound that could be shaped and bridled into no song. A raw grief then came into my veins, a grief for things lost and wasted, and for the destiny of Middle Earth without light or joy. I fell upon the ground on the fresh grass, and I wept long, without grace.
The songless, wordless mourning of Men had caught me.