15. Chapter 15: Allegiance
It was with mindless steps and absent spirit that I followed the Rangers to the barracks, where I was given the same room as the past winter. I had thought of lying down, forgetting the city that surrounded me, reaching out to my woods; but I could not. The stone whispered, its voice a lament of fear; and when I refused to listen it spoke even louder.
We remember the time before the Men, the time before the Elves, maiden; we remember…but this ruin we cannot take, this ruin we cannot prevent, and as high as they built us as low shall we fall when they are gone…we shall die, maiden, listen to our stories, for they are long; they can't be lost now…not in the Shadow where pale stones cannot glimmer…
I let my sack, my bow fall to the ground, and pushed my spirit farther from there, towards the river, towards the wood. But only darkness lingered there; and the voice of the stone grew stronger.
We remember the dead…many you didn't know, but some you heard breathing…some you listened to…here, here, don't you remember his green eyes, Elvish maiden?
The remembrance of Boromir filled my eyes, a new grief that reawakened the old, the taste of defeat a bitter tide of promise unfulfilled, valour wasted before it could be crowned with reward.
You dream of the wood; but what does the wood hold for you? Forbidden joy and broken pledge…here lies your doom, to us you are tied; fight for us or with us fall, maiden…you that can listen as Men cannot do…
I abandoned the room, like a frightened wind I was out of the door. In the courtyard the Rangers rested in the pale Sun, their eyes half closed, vessels of drink in their hands. At my approach they looked sideways, faintly surprised of such haste; content as they were at the new hour they had snatched from their obscure Death. And my words, when I spoke them, caught them by surprise.
"Are there no trees in this city? Are there no gardens at all?"
"Lady, why don't you rest? The peril has passed. You fought well."
"I cannot rest; not here. You know of no green place encircled by the Tower's walls?"
"The Houses of Healing have a garden, however small. Shall I accompany you there? You look very pale."
"Thank you, but no. I shall find them alone."
I abandoned the courtyard, closing out the rock; seeking with my mind the keen voices of growing things. The stones screamed, pain and anguish and fear; for their spirit was attuned to those of the Men that had hewn them, and they shared the same heart. Faint was the echo of the trees; but I found it, and followed it like the promise of rest unsought for. The same glances of my first visit to the city were turned my way; but fewer were the people in the Tower that had shut itself behind barred doors, and I heeded them not. I reached a stone gateway, and past it I smelled the sweet smell of the green blood of the plants. I walked past the threshold as if in a dream.
"Forgive me, lady?"
An old woman had come from another doorway, carrying folded linen on her arms. On the lines deeply engraved on her face there lingered a wisdom tempered by compassion, and a knowledge of sorrow accumulated in many years of healing. I bowed my head, recognizing in her a great heart.
"I came seeking the gardens. Will it trouble you if I walk there a while?"
She shook her head, and smiled. A curiosity was kindled in her eyes as she took in my features and raiment, but in her it was kind, almost a caress in the face of something she had not known before.
"So the rumours were true: that one of the Fair Folk was fighting with the Rangers in the woods. They had told me you had come here, but it seemed ill to come out to pry. Walk as you will. If you had asked the Chief Healer he would have answered with many more words, but they would have been quite useless, and the core of his reply the same. These Houses are open to all who seek repose."
"I thank you, Healer; you know not the greatness of the gift you give."
She remained silent a moment, and then said: "The stories I was told long ago spoke of those who inhabit the forest, and of their love for tree and dappled light. It seems strange to meet one of you at last, but among carved stones and beneath the dark wing of this ill hour."
She bowed and went her way, after beckoning to which direction I should take. Leaving behind another hall I eventually saw again the light of the open sky, and listened with joy to the song of the wind among leaves and blades of grass. But the notes were subdued; and when I came upon the threshold I saw that the gardens of Men were a thing strange to me, and the voice of the plants that here grew was alien to my mind.
Trees grew among ordered lawns, and in beds of earth rich and tended grew many herbs of healing and power. Some of them I had not seen before; but their scent was sweet. And yet their voice was low and remote, for even the trees had forgotten the woods that had seen them grow from saplings and sprouts. All they knew now was the sky above this high place, and they conversed with the stone as with a close friend. They did not share its fear; and yet this was not out of the savage bravery of the wood, or the wild resentment of the thicket, but out of a peace nurtured in indifference for all that was out of this garden's walls.
Forget, maiden; forget. Lie down on the grass, seek not the voice of the great forest. What is that you fear? Lay down the burden as you let your body rest. Heal; for this is our power, and this is our gift.
They spoke in words no tree I had known would utter; they spoke as if they did not belong to the Earth anymore. But such is the enchantment of stone and labour; such is the root of the mistrust Elves of my kin long nourished towards the Exiles that built cities of rock and forged swords. I came from those of the Firstborn that have never abandoned Middle Earth, and our roots sink deep into all that is close to the simple truth of growth and death beneath a clear sky. The paled life of these plants that had been tamed, these trees that had forgotten the wild life of the wood was a new and subtler shadow on my mind.
But my exhausted spirit called for rest, and if unnatural was the call of the garden, still it was a soothing and a benevolent one; and I heeded the voices, and lay down on the grass. From the folds of my tunic I drew out the leaf-shaped jewel I had never left behind; and as the white light played on its silver and its emerald I remembered different times, different voices. In all the dangers I had faced I had tried to forget what pain my choice would have caused to one that had given me such peace, but it had consoled me to think that still my ancient love lingered in the woods of his childhood and youth, that from them he would draw relief to grief and disappointment, and strength to face the evils to come.
But as a leaf in the wind Legolas had been thrown in this war even as I had; and he was close and still cradled in the thought that I had been faithful and steadfast. My treason haunted me and bit me, and my heart rebelled; and the fracture in my spirit throbbed. Hearts that do not change are bound to suffer thus, and I wished my choice had erased from my memory the happiness past. But what was decided could not be undone; nor did I wish for it to be so. How could I, when now the thread of my life was so tightly spun with Faramir's? How could I, now that the raw life of Men had seeped beneath my skin, now that too often Time followed in my steps with his hasty call, as if I too had been born to suffer mortal doom?
To such worry the garden gave no heed. Above my head its leaves chanted, and they murmured softly of sleep without dream. The jewel clenched in my fist, past and future knives whose joint tips cut me, I curled and closed my eyes, as one who wishes to forget all that is around her. Ithilien and Mirkwood mingled their voices in my head, their life untamed the only song I wished to listen to. I fell asleep, and my abandoned body was but a speck in the despairing whiteness of the City of Kings.
It was his fingers that brought me back from my sleep, their caress lingering on the nape of my neck. I opened my eyes and saw him, his profile almost invisible against the darkness of a night without a star. A redness in the East tainted the black; and its silence was a fear that spoke loudly of our end. Seated on the grass beside me Faramir looked to it, his mouth set in a hard line; but in his eyes a sadness deeper than my words could say.
"The Steward commands that what my hands did my hands undo. In the morning I shall sally forth to retake Osgiliath."
Clear was his voice, and his words fell heavy and yet expected, a verdict pronounced. They echoed in my heart as in an empty chamber, and I knew this was the sign my unquiet mind had been looking for. My death revealed itself before my eyes, and I feared it not.
"Together we shall ride; together reap an impossible victory, or face what defeat may present to us."
"No. I shall go. You will remain here, to serve with the archers in the defense of the city."
"Faramir – "
"Long ago I asked you to remain by my side. Now I beg that you leave it."
A doom that was colder than death fell upon my spirit, and now I was shaken as if by terror as I clasped his hands between mine.
"Why? There can be no safety, no life where you are not. Faramir! I stayed out of love of my land, and I have abandoned it; and out of love for you, that last stand between me and the darkness in which these days plunge."
He took me in his arms, and held me. An ill wind blew as an accursed breath; yet its fingers could not break his embrace.
"Of such a gift not a thousand years could repay you. But as it is love for Ithilien, love for me that keep you alive, so you and my city are all that is left to me. I cannot see the future, Mìriel, but it takes no seer to guess what such a command can bring to me. And were I to fall tomorrow, I would fall thinking that you both stand; thinking that not by my hands and because of my deeds shall your blood be spilt."
I remained silent, and felt my will crumbling; for now in Faramir's words a warlike spirit was aroused, and a determination such as his brother may have shown in other times. He saw what was to be done, because the folly of an old Man whose beloved son had died, and who blinded with madness sent his other to his death. And yet he embraced such a bitter fate, riding to meet it as heroes of sorrowful tales and ancient accounts might have done. Such was the glory of the field my forefathers had always shunned; and I wished I could understand a deed in which I saw only bitter waste.
But even as I considered Faramir did not hesitate, and raising my chin so that our eyes would meet he asked: "Will you promise to remain here, Mìriel? Will you promise to stand with the archers on the wall, and defend my city even if I should not return?"
Promises broken, promises kept. To Boromir I had promised I would protect his brother, that I would not forsake him; but even as I held to my words as to the last standard of my sanity his voice echoed in my mind. Against this doom I could do nothing. The fate of a war, and of those who fight it, shall hang forever on the tip of a bloodied sword.
Destiny was black in that starless night, heavy as iron upon my shoulders. No easy death for the Elven maiden that had chosen to stand with Men; no glory to it. The day would dawn on a morning that would bring the love whose allegiance I had followed even to this sterile rock in the reach of a Darkness I could not fathom, at the borders of a land where I could not follow.
Destiny was black; and no was not the answer it would take. My voice was a breath of wind as I sealed my doom: "I promise."
No more words were spoken. There was that night, wavering on the edge of an abyss we did not know; and our sternness could not cloak our despair. He sought my lips as if it were for the last time, and I felt an empty and a cold thing, forsaken by furious tides on shores uninhabited by Man or beast. His fire filled me, and I resisted not: for the customs of my kind were forgotten, and my life had shrunken to those hours before the Sun rose. A blind passion and a burning pain brought us together, and the desire of Men that thinks not of what is to come seized me.
In that darkness we were together; and the dread of the future was forgotten as pleasure and pain mingled, and the Earth swallowed the sky as my spirit lost itself in his arms.
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.