1. The Burden of the Swan-headed Boat
For Antane, Armariel, and Fiondil for the inspiration each gave to this tale, and to Lindelea, Febobe, Virtuella, Harrowcat, Linda Hoyland, and Dreamflower for their support at what has been a bad time for me. And thanks to eiluj and Fiondil for the beta.
The Burden of the Swan-headed Boat
He who crafted the swan-headed boats for the Galadhrim had been among those who had come in the train of Findaráto across the Helcaraxë into Middle Earth. His mother had been of the Noldor, while his father had been of the Teleri, and had come into the service of the House of Finwë when the Lady Eärwen married Arafinwë. Always his father had served his princess, going with her to Tirion from Alqualondë as one of her personal guards, and marrying one of the ladies-in-waiting to the Lady Findis. His atto had taught him the secrets of carving watercraft, and together they had created a number of smaller boats, each swan-headed, for the children of their Lady to sail in the ornamental lakes and streams that filled the royal park.
When Arafinwë turned back to return to Tirion and judgment, the younger boat-carver had continued stubbornly on, sickened by what they'd found in the city from which his father had come, and feeling particularly tainted having learned that Fëanor (he refused to ever again give that one his Quenya name) had himself slain his uncle on the quays of Alqualondë. He'd intended to take personal vengeance upon the one he saw as the instigator of their misery, his fury at Finwë's oldest son alone keeping him going across the grinding ice; but when they arrived at last again upon solid ground it was to learn that Fëanor had died at the hands of Morgoth's creatures almost as soon as he'd made landfall.
Before he'd come away, the carver's mother had given him a necklace set with black jewels crafted by Mahtan to remember her by, and he kept it ever with him. He considered himself as a part of the household of Findaráto, and he dwelt with his Lord in Nargothrond until the coming of Celegorm, at which time he left Finrod's service and went to dwell at Balar instead. Too much did Celegorm, of all of Fëanor's sons, remind him of the ellon's hated father, and he would not remain where that one was accepted.
In Balar he served Círdan for a time, and learned that each time a ship was crafted intended to sail between the Hitherlands and Aman a jewel from Aman was set within each eye carved upon the swan's head of its prow to lead them Home. This was an open secret among the Falathrim, but was not shared with those among the Edain who learned the art of shipbuilding from them. He helped Eärendil to construct his ship Vingilot, but although this one had more than his share of elvish blood, none of those who had a hand in the construction of the ship would share with him the secret of the gems. So it was than when in time Eärendil sought to sail to Aman to beg the aid of the Valar against Morgoth, he sailed in a ship blind to the way, and it took the arrival of his wife in the form of a seabird with the Silmaril upon her breast to bring him the guidance needed to arrive at last upon the shores of the Blessed Lands.
During the Second Age of the Sun the boat-carver passed into the service of Findaráto's sister, following her first to Eregion and then into Laurelindórenan. Here at last he found an unexpected peace dwelling in the Golden Wood that his new Lady caused to grow there east of the Hithaeglir. Here he again carved pleasure craft for her as he'd done as a young ellonwithin Tirion, and each time he created a new boat he set within each eye of the swan-headed prow one of the black gems he'd take from his mother's necklace. When Artanis Galadriel asked him to choose three of the sturdiest of his smallest boats to gift to the Fellowship, he'd considered within himself as to whether he should remove the gems, but in the end, moved by some unspoken guidance he felt within his heart, he let them remain. And as he saw the son of Thranduil admiring the workmanship of the three craft, he found himself pressing upon the golden-haired archer a small silk bag that held two more of the gems he'd recently prised from the necklace, having intended to use them in creating a new boat for his own use. "For the eyes," he's murmured to Legolas Thranduilion as he'd slipped the bag into the archer's hands. He'd seen the lack of comprehension in the wood-elf's eyes, but he was certain that when the time came Legolas would realize their purpose. For this Elf he recognized as one who would in time choose to sail to Aman.
As he watched the three silver boats sail away down the Silverlode toward Anduin the Great, he felt an unexpected lightening of his heart, for a whisper from the river itself told him that at least one of these would find its way Home. He called upon Ulmo to bless these and their occupants, and turned away from the river with a song upon his lips, one he'd last sung in Balar.
Falmalótë of the people of Ulmo found the small, grey, swan-headed boat floating upon the surface of the Sea north of Tol Eressëa, and drew it to the mainland and through the archway toward the quays of Alqualondë. The boat was filled with water, and within the water lay preserved the body of a warrior who had apparently died of multiple arrow wounds.
"He is none of the Eldar," murmured the one who'd discovered this boat drawn up by his own fishing vessel.
"Nay, he is of the Edain," agreed Prince Findaráto, who had come with his mother Eärwen to visit her parents' people. "And he is of the house of Barahir, a distant descendant of Beren, I would judge. See the color of the hair, the turn of the nose, the width of the brow, and the cleft in the chin?"
Eärwen, who had been inclined to bid her son turn away from what she believed must bring back to him terrible memories, paused at the respect she heard in his voice as he indicated these were aspects of Men he'd known, honored, and even loved. She gave the body a full examination, putting aside her prejudices against the Mortal Lands for the yéni they has stolen from her of her children's presence. At last she looked up to meet the gaze of her son, himself returned to her through Námo's halls. "Do you remember, beloved, how perhaps a yen past one came to us from Tol Eressëa naming herself Mithrellas, bringing us word of Nerwen Artanis, telling us that now she is named Galadriel? Does he not also have the look of her? Regard the set of the mouth, and the shape of the hands. For all this one is clearly one of the Second-born, still there is about him that which speaks to me of the Eldar."
"And how is it he came here, and in a craft clearly wrought by one of our people?" asked the master of the ship by which they stood.
The Noldo Prince knelt and scooped out a handful of the liquid that bathed the fallen Man and tasted it. "It is fresh water, and mostly from a river of Endorë," he pronounced. "Some is from rainfall, I admit; but this tastes of the Mortal Lands, carrying with it the sorrows and triumphs of those lands and their peoples."
But one of Eärwen's guards had come forward with no thought of protocol, his attention fixed upon the small silver-grey craft itself. "I know this work!" he said in wonder. "It was carved by my son—I know it! My son—he yet lives in the Mortal Lands!"
"But how is it that such a small boat, one clearly intended for use in sailing upon a lake or a river, managed to come unhurt across the Sundering Sea and by way of the Straight Path?" demanded his fellow.
It was Eärwen's father who discovered the secret as he examined the carved swan's head on its prow. "There are jewels set in the eyes," Lord Olwë said, indicating what appeared to be the pupils. "These were crafted here in Aman, and by a Noldo smith of master class!"
The first guard leaned to peer more closely at the nearer gem, and he began to smile. "His ammë's necklace that I gave her when he was born—these gems are from that necklace! She gave it to him to remember her by when he left to follow the rest! Mahtan himself wrought the jewels, and set them in the necklace!"
"And these jewels led it here to our shores," Olwë added. "So it is with our Falathrim kindred who craft the ships by which those who return here sail from Endorë, setting the eyes of the swans' heads with jewels from Tirion to help them find the Straight Path and to lead them to Tol Eressëa."
"He was a landsman," the ship's master noted, his attention still fixed on the body of the warrior, "and not a sailor himself."
Findaráto indicated his agreement. "A warrior. His weapon of choice is the sword whose hilt lies yet with him. Not for him a watery grave, for all his body was apparently given to the river to preserve it from desecration by his enemies." He reached for one of the stubs of arrows still protruding from rents in the Man's garb, and it came away in his hand with little hurt to the body. He examined it with growing distaste. "The work of yrch," he pronounced.
The air was beginning to shimmer with the arrival of Maiar, and Eonwë himself, attended by others in the liveries of Manwë, Vairë, Estë, Nienna, Ulmo, Aulë, and Námo, appeared about the small craft. The gathered Elves bowed in respect, and Olwë spoke for them. "Welcome, Lords and Ladies all. We are uncertain as to what we should do with the body of this one, who apparently fell in the Mortal Lands after facing creatures twisted by Melkor and his fell servant. Shall we lay him within the earth here, or perhaps build a tomb to house his body? Or is it even meet that his remains should have come here from the wilds of Endorë, and should they be returned to Ulmo's care?"
Manwë's herald looked at the broken arrow held by Findaráto and shook his head slightly. "Not by Melkor or he who was once known as Aulendil were those who slew this one last meddled with, but by one we'd thought to be of our own. I grieve to know that another of our brothers has fallen to the Black One's blandishments, but this is not the first time, and perhaps may not prove the last time, either. We were sent to bring this one's hröa to the Máhanaxar, that our Masters and Mistresses might decide what is to be done. Ere he died he was sorely tried, but repented his errors and knew forgiveness before he breathed his last."
A female Maia leaned over the boat, her face filled with compassion. "Also, he fell defending two of his fellows who were not raised as he was to warfare. They each did as he could to protect himself and his kinsman, and together they sought even to protect him as their enemies closed in about him. But the orcs sent against them were told to capture those two and to kill all within their company who were warriors, and they left this one dying ere the others with them could return to their aid. He fought bravely and well, but archers are harder to protect oneself from than those who wield swords."
Findaráto asked, "Was he indeed descended from Barahir and Beren?"
Eonwë smiled at him. "Indeed, distantly. There are others more directly descended from those two and Elros Tar-Minyatur than he, however. But none can question his nobility, or his courage." So saying, he leaned down and took up the body in his arms with great gentleness, as if the fallen warrior were likely to waken if jostled.
The Teleri guard stepped forward. "The boat—was it indeed carved by my son?"
The female Maia examined him. "And if it was?"
"Then he might yet return to me!"
She looked on him with compassion. "He who carved this boat has served well in the Mortal Lands. The decision is his, however, as to when and if he will return here and face judgment and accept forgiveness."
With that, those who had accompanied Eonwë gathered about him, and the party shimmered out of sight, leaving the night scented with flowers and herbs, and the Elves gathered by the quay were smiling and heartened in spite of themselves.
Those gathered in the Ring of Doom looked down on the Maiar who appeared in the midst of the circled thrones, and at the body of the one carried in the arms of Eonwë.
So he is come at last, and to our shores.
Ulmo, who came rarely enough to these gatherings, shifted on his throne, and the reflection of light from water filled the circle, touching the face of the fallen warrior. When he was given to my keeping in such a manner, and in such a craft, what else might I have done with his hröa? He gave all that the two companions of the Cormacolindo might survive, and he should have his reward. We have agreed that all three of the Cormacolindor might come here, each in his time, and that the Naugrim Gimli might accompany his friend Legolas Thranduilion. Shall not those of the Edain not also be represented, considering their efforts in facing the evil of Sauron, which after all was inherited from our own fallen brother?
But, objected Vána, his fëa is already in the keeping of our brother Námo. And how are we to honor this representative of the race of Men when his body is already empty of the flame given him at his birth?
Manwë looked from her visage to that of his brother in question. Her query is meet, is it not, Námo? What more can be done now for him, when there is no indwelling spirit within the body of this Child? Nor was this one brought living to Tol Eressëa as has been granted to the others, but dead here to Aman itself. Even if you were to restore fëa to hröa, he would not live long here, where the air itself would cause the flame within him to burn more brightly than his mortal frame could bear.
Námo merely shook his head. There is a reason he was brought here after his death, and a purpose intended for him. His spirit may dwell in my halls for now, now that he has fled the confines of his body but has not yet stepped beyond the Circles of Arda, but there is a blessed fate intended for him. For he recognized not only the extent of his own sins, but also that of those who gave birth to his lineage. He repented and accepted forgiveness, and has no need of further judgment from us, for it was to the one intended of be the High King of the Edain he confessed and from whom he accepted forgiveness. Even though he had not yet crowned, yet he was already the Sacred King, empowered to offer absolution beyond our ability to judge and dispense with doom. Evil has failed to take him as it intended, and now he will lead others to face their true purpose.
Vairë examined the face of her spouse. The Sleepers? she asked.
He merely smiled at her.
Vána danced with Yavanna and Nessa about the body of Boromir son of Denethor, and youth and fullness were restored to it. Nienna wept over it, tears of grief, rightful and selfless pride, and joy, and it was cleansed of all its hurts. Estë and Tulkas together anointed the body, and the wounds were healed, the skin made whole, the sinews again knit together in strength. Aulë took the hilt of the sword that had remained clutched in the warrior's grip and wrought for it a new blade, one that would never break and that would shine as brightly as Andúril as it was wielded against the foe. Vairë took the rent garments and remade them, enriching them with mithril images of Moon and Stars, and embroidering a great golden sunburst over Boromir's heart. Oromë gifted the renewed warrior with a new horn, and a sheath of dragon's hide to house his renewed sword. Varda herself kissed his forehead in blessing, and replaced the silver belt of green-enameled leaves about his waist, setting one of her smallest stars to shine at its fastening. And Manwë set a kingly helm and a great shield beside the body as it lay upon the bier where it had rested as these ministrations were performed upon it, laying his hand upon the warrior's breast and hallowing him to his new purpose.
At last Ulmo and Irmo took the body and brought it to its new resting place, in a cavern filled with the hröar of other mortal warriors who had once thought to follow Pharazôn to seize the secret of immortality from the Powers of the West, only to find that true everlasting life was quite different from remaining in one body for all of eternity. For over an Age of the Sun the bodies had lain here, their fëarin a long sleep, awaiting the day when their might and weapons would be needed to redeem themselves as they faced the Master of him they had known as Zigûr, the one who had betrayed them by convincing them that they could avoid death. Ah, but they had lost their lives in vain striving for what they had never lacked, and would awaken to the final battle having lost the chance to know any other fulfillment.
Námo returned to his halls to speak to one of those who dwelt in the Hall of the Dúnedain, and showed him what had been done to his body. Will you accept this commission, when the Last Day dawns? he asked.
Boromir laughed in joy and delight. "Of course! What other purpose have I ever wished than to strike the greatest blow against those who would destroy all of what I ever held dear?"
Then you will accept being consigned in time once more to the body you once bore, and will lead those who until this time never knew the purpose for which they were truly intended?
"If you wish it, I will gladly become their Captain General. Let those who think only of domination and destruction quail in the face of our valor, my lord."
The Lord of Mandos returned to make his report to his fellows, well content with the outcome of his mission.
The Ringbearer slept upon the couch he considered his, the light of Varda's stars shining upon him through the open casements of the room in which he and his kinsman rested. The room was filled with the scent of athelas from the plant that grew in a stoneware pot upon the windowsill near his head, and the Maia sent to summon him paused, delighting in the beauty of the slight body and the mithril purity of its pulsing Light of Being.
Olórin smiled down on his friend, and leaned over to speak softly in his ear. "Frodo, will you come with me? Lord Irmo has something he would show to you."
Frodo looked up, smiling sleepily. "He would show me something? Where would you take me?" He rose up, then stopped, surprised. He looked back at the couch, where his body still rested, then looked up in question to meet the former Wizard's eyes.
You do not need your body for this, Iorhael. Let it rest and be renewed while you go where it cannot safely travel. Take my hand.
Frodo found himself in a cavern that was filled with shimmering light emanating from a pool that filled much of the floor of the place. He looked about, somewhat puzzled, at the multitude of warriors that filled the vast hall, each with his weapons by him, helm on his breast, shield across his feet. One lay somewhat apart at the far side of the room, the body of an aging Man dressed in gilded armor, a sword surely one his age must have found difficult to wield lying with his hands resting upon its hilts, its blade unsheathed.
Ar-Pharazôn the Golden, he named himself. And this is what he has come to, he and those who voyaged with him in his great armada that served no purpose at the time.
The Hobbit looked upon the body of the failed King of Númenor with pity. Too bad he did not realize earlier the vain nature of his quest. As for why anyone should wish to live forever, unable to get away from pain and grief, I cannot imagine! I do not envy the Elves their apparent immortality, I have found.
But, then, you were ever rightly named, Iorhael. But that is not why you were brought here.
Frodo turned to regard the one who'd spoken. No Elf this, and no Maia, either. His eyes had depths to them that the Hobbit felt he could easily lose himself within, and his hand lay upon a bier that was different from those on which the other warriors lay. On it lay a familiar form, and Frodo felt wonder fill him. Boromir! Boromir lies—here?
The Vala's head turned to look down at the Man's face. Yea, so it is and shall be. Let it be a warrior who has truly faced evil and who has mastered it lead the rest of these when their day shall come.
Frodo felt himself smiling, and his Light of Being shone the brighter. He called out after me that he realized he'd been taken by It, and that he repented what he'd sought to do. But I do not blame him. How could I, knowing how It tormented me, and how It promised what I knew It could not in the end fulfill, as It could only destroy, not create? At least he inspired me at last to do what I knew I must if the Ring were to be brought to the Mountain to Its destruction. And he will lead the rest? That would please him mightily, to know he led the army of Men who would help destroy the Enemies of us all.
The Vala's face shone in approval as he laid his hand upon the shining head of his mortal guest. I am told he has indeed accepted this commission, and will gladly waken to his body again when the time comes, and will see these serve their rightful duty to stand against the forces of Darkness. That you would approve of this was desired, and I rejoice to know that you have let go all fear and anger you ever held toward this beloved Child of Eru. Those who fight against the Dark, whether through force of arms or through endurance and faithfulness, are all worthy of our respect and honor.
Frodo awoke just before dawn again upon his couch, his light silken blanket over him, listening to the soft snore of Bilbo as he yet slept. Bilbo would not linger much longer, he knew, but somehow that thought no longer filled him with pain. Somehow the knowledge that Boromir the Bold lay in a blessed rest, awaiting the day when he should indeed fight amongst the warriors who would oppose Melkor's returning horde gave him assurance that all would be well, no matter what might happen to those he loved throughout the Bounds of Arda. He rose up, carelessly straightening the blanket over the cushions on which he'd slept, and stepped to the window that faced east. There he began to sing as the Sun rose in the sky, the Sun that had already risen hours ago over the King he loved and the kinsmen and brothers of the heart he'd left behind in Middle Earth. And all rejoiced who heard that song, including Bilbo as he awoke, gladdened to know that even more healing had come to his beloved lad.
The ship that carried Master Samwise Gamgee to Tol Eressëa finally disgorged its final passenger, as one who'd once followed Lord Findaráto to Middle Earth now followed his latest lord off onto the quays of Avallóne. Today, he knew, he was lordless at last, and he felt somewhat lost as a result. Celeborn needed no guards or followers here, and with his reunion with wife and daughter his attention was upon his new life rather than his old one or those who'd served him in Lórien or Imladris.
He looked about almost helplessly, suddenly at a loss to know why he'd decided to come now. Who would remember the son of a mere guardsman to the Lady Eärwen, after all?
But then he heard a once familiar voice call his name. "Artos! My son! Artos! Here!"
He turned to look at the water, dumbfounded to see a familiar silver boat being rowed toward him, his father in the prow, his uncle, apparently reborn, at the stern, his mother in between, their faces alight with joy. The paddles he'd once carved for this craft had been replaced by different ones, most likely carved by his own father.
Suddenly he knew why he'd come—because he'd hoped, hoped beyond all expectation, that he might know just such a welcome. And his joy leapt up in his breast as he leaned down to take his father's hand….
The chamber rocked, and a wall shivered away to rubble as the Last Day dawned, the Sun red as it shone into the cavern.
"Wake up, you slug-a-beds!" Boromir roared, one hand on his hip, his sword's point grounded on the floor of the place. "Up and doing! Take up your swords, your bows, your pikes and spears, your catapults, and all other weapons you might have, and let us go forth to face the foe! Up! Up, all of you! You too, Pharazôn! You wanted to conquer something, didn't you? Well, the day is come, and it's time to be ready to fight. And fight you shall, even if it's a far different foe than you'd first envisioned. Why do you think you have all lain here for so long, except for this day? Strange, that in Middle Earth Aragorn should find himself seeking out the restless Dead to bring them to fight for him that they might fulfill their vows and find peace, while I must rouse the sleeping living for the same purpose. Come on! The Enemy won't wait until you rub all of the sleep out of your eyes! Fall in! Yes, that means you, too, Pharazôn! I am the commander here, not you. Again, and I mean it—fall in!"
He reached down and swept up the helm readied for him and set it upon his head, and took his shield upon his left arm. "Now is our time!" he called to the others. "Today, we fight!"
"Today, we fight!" echoed the rest in agreement, including Pharazôn, who followed after the rest as they streamed out of the cave after Boromir son of Denethor to wreak vengeance on the one who'd betrayed them all and his own Master who was more fell still. And as they went, Pharazôn knew he was no better—and no lower—than the Man who led them.