Ides of March, The -- Onlist Challenge
4. Fire -- Lanthiriel
It was this untamable beast that the Steward would have embrace him. He laid himself beside his noble son on the oil-soaked pyre and waited for his guardsmen to put the flame to work. Fur-trimmed robe and rich jewels, flesh and sword and eyes once lit with wisdom would crumble soon together until what was left was indistinguishable as separate entities. Man and tinder, blade and bone – all vanquished, left to scatter on the winds. Nothing would remain of the ruler who had once commanded armies, governed sternly from his tower, fathered sons. Nothing would be left of the strong young Ranger who had often smiled with mercy on the forsaken, comforted the weak and helpless with his bravery and gentle judgment. Nothing would endure – not even the empty shell of a liberated spirit like the others in that long street of rest, tongue-less, left to darkness, but still present in some small way as the march of time transformed them slowly into dust.
That was the power of fire, to end utterly; even memory was victim to its wrath. And yet, was it not true that fire too could cleanse and hasten the growth that would spring from charred soil with a new dawn awakening? But that is why he faltered, the young guard who drew his torch away and stood, hesitating, though the Steward commanded his men to set the pyre ablaze. In that deep and silent street even the sound of the battle was but a rumor to the ear, yet the dread of it made each heartbeat painful in his chest. For if the Steward himself had abandoned hope and life alike, who could be so foolish as to count upon the morning? It would not come, and the guard realized – as if it had never occurred to him before – that the never-ending night would not fall on the White City alone, but on all lands and upon all peoples. The entire world was burning. And if some chance brought about another dawn and fragile shoots of new growth did push their way above the ash that covered them, who would be left to tend to them, to harvest them, to pick and trim them for the window of a lady’s chamber, to breathe in their fragrance sweet? None but ghosts. And each shoot, each flower, each blade of grass would wither anew in the poisoned winter of the earth just as each young maid, each child, each soldier grey-bearded with age had been cut down wantonly before the triumphant Darkness.
“Obey me!” the Steward barked and the young guardsman was wrested from his waking nightmare. No longer could he stay his hand and deny his ruler’s wish. All was dark and cold in the Silent Street; they were already forgotten. The pyre would warm the marble crypts and shed its light through every archway; each death mask would gleam with the same red shimmer that danced wildly in the Steward’s living eyes. The last light, the last heat would burn there in the Silent Street, as without an utter darkness would extinguish stars and moon and sun. When, the young guardsman wondered, had the Everlasting Fire abandoned them, deciding to let them perish below in blindness and bitter cold? He gazed at the other guardsmen, slowly tilting their torches towards the wood of the pyre; he saw with sorrow the unconscious form of the Ranger and the expression of determined resignation on his father’s face; he glimpsed, in his mind, the walls of Minas Tirith shattering and the white paving stones stained with blood. He lowered his torch to do his master’s will.
There was light, though no flame had yet kindled in the pyre, and suddenly life had stirred within the Street. Issuing from the chamber the guardsmen found themselves at the sword point of Beregond, their comrade, and several fell as loyalties were contested with deftly wielded weapons. “Stay this madness!” a voice cried, stronger and more commanding than the Steward’s, and in a moment Mithrandir the wizard stood upon the steps, his white staff held aloft in his left hand, a bright sword in his right. The Steward had raised himself from the pyre, enraged at the intrusion, and he called to the guardsmen demanding vengeance. But they had lowered their weapons, confused and bedazzled by the coming of the wizard, and the young guardsman stood alone to the side of the crypt, motionless save for the arm that fell limply to his side. Loosed from his grip the torch plummeted to the stone floor and against that smooth surface, cold with long ages of death, the fire was smothered to naught.
Another flame was thus extinguished, but the light in the Silent Street grew brighter. The young guardsman saw it shining from Mithrandir’s face and about his form and white staff, a light immediate and palpable but falling as if from a great distance or through a vast space of time. A white fire, not the red and black tongues of destruction, but a flame of renewal, of guidance through the perils of the night and the fiercest of storm-stirred seas to safe, verdant shores.
They had not been forsaken, the young guardsman realized. Passing through one darkness or another, they would still reach springtime and dawn.
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.