Between Crown and Mantle
1. Between Crown and Mantle
Little escapes her notice, and she knows this too. Yet it is odd how -- as her betrothed once remarked, helping her with the bandage -- she does not perceive the injury until it is too late. Not even during her first lesson with the longbow, when her skin had cracked and bled from the effort. It had been foolish, really, to decline the gloves.
But she does see, and understands, even those things she has not been able to tell him, or herself yet. There is a new darkness in the home she once knew. Not one of unseen eyes or the vague sense of dread, but of sharp glances and silent accusation, lingering among things meant as reminders of something else -- the black garb the women wear, the fresh mounds that now lie beyond the gates. And even in her notice of this, she feels her betrayal.
She cannot name it, but it is there. She sees.
She finds him in the room furthest down the hall, the one few visit.
He is facing the wall at the far end, his hands clasped behind his back, suspended a short distance from hair so white, it still startles her a little, even now. She watches him, knowing he is aware of her standing in the doorway, and notices a red gleam in his gnarled fingers, fleeting and bright. She steps forward and closes her eyes to better adjust to the darkness of the room. When she opens them again, it is gone.
"Lady Wraith-slayer," he says, without movement or trace of jest. "I require your assistance."
She feels the reflexive flush of resentment. Until recently, she did not realize how convenient a shield it was for the trepidation she truly felt. She strides forward, but he does not turn at her approach, his eyes fixed on the tapestry before him.
"This one once hung in the Great Hall," he remarks. "Did it not?"
Forthwini's Retreat. Yes, she remembers now; how her uncle once stood before it, explaining the history of their great battles. Her brother had shifted impatiently from foot to foot, his glance darting to the men sparring outside when he thought no one was looking. But she had looked at her king -- who was then already more than a father -- and thought of him in those vivid fields, a raised sword in his hand. She had smiled up at him then, and he had smiled back.
The threads are now a little more worn and discoloured, perhaps; the small holes she remembers are larger, a sea of limbs displaced by torn islands of moth-bitten linen, barely concealing the wooden panels beneath. Yet she is still captivated by the figures of the scene, the men frozen in time and death on the battle-plains.
They look like they are dancing, she thinks, and suddenly remembers how that had been her reaction, years ago, when she had seen it for the first time. Then the memory turns, takes a path less travelled, and before she can stop it, she draws in a sharp, shuddering breath, and remembers.
She can still smell it, still taste what that was. More than a thousand years, she thinks, and still it is the same. Flesh cleaving into flesh, becoming what it destroys.
"Yes," she replies evenly, sound dislodging thought. "They have removed it. New battles, I suppose, will replace the old."
To this, the corners of his mouth turn a little, into what could be construed as a smile.
The air is less harsh here, in this darkened room; where both time and dust seem to claim things more slowly. Here, the tapestry will sit, until its canvas puddles become floods, until the faces melt, the colours drain, and neglect devours the rest, spitting out the chaff, leaving it to a forgotten end it did not deserve. And its replacement, commissioned already, shall hang in its place in the Great Hall.
One day, when the new tapestry is complete, she will stand before it and look for a Rider -- smaller and more slender, perhaps, than the rest -- who stands in a corner, sword thrust between crown and mantle. She will relive that terrible moment once again. The glory of kings. The price of knowledge.
And one day, it too shall fall to pieces as it clings to a wall, forgotten by children who turn their eyes elsewhere, or see what was never there. But I will remember, she thinks, with a strange tightening in her chest. In me, it endures.
He glances at her, briefly, before turning back to the wall. "Tell me, lady. What do you make of that?" And his strong, wrinkled twig of a finger points.
There is a man with dark hair, lying in the arms of one fair and proud. The red thread flows, like a swollen river, from his breast. She had not noticed it before.
"A mistake, I think, by the weaver," she replies. "Perhaps she ran out of yellow thread?"
"No," he contradicts softly. "I think rather, he is a warrior, joining the Northmen in disguise."
She squints a little, and moves closer. Even amid the decay, she cannot help but marvel at the craftsmanship; the countless shades of red for the blood, the delicate, almost imperceptible stitches for the faces and hands, the eyes like gems, glittering with death. They see a world falling, a darkness approaching. There is despair in the outstretched arm, the cry of pain…
Forgive me, forgive me for what I have done…
And suddenly, she too is choking back the stench of rot and blood, tasting the sulphur on his tongue, sinking in the pain and shadow; and there is nothing left, nothing, but the overwhelming need to see them once again, before the end. The terror reawakens, it screams; and she does not notice, until it is too late, that she has stopped breathing, that she has clutched her own arm so tightly her fingers have seared their anger before she can jerk them away.
The wizard does not notice either; or if he does, reveals it not.
"He goes for the brother and the father he loves, the ones who bade him to stay," he continues. "A deserter to his people. But here --" he points again, "he is among the fallen, those honoured in the Golden Hall of your people."
She looks at the wizard, a question in her eyes, and he turns to her and nods, with eyes wistful and sad. He shifts something that gleams red in his clasped hands. But she no longer cares to look.
"The line died with him," he says. "And in the end, restored another, long in exile."
But she does not care about the lines of kings. Her eyes turn back to the one who lies dying. Deserter, she thinks suddenly, I know you. And the words that come next are spoken before she can draw them back.
"His name," the wizard says, turning back to the tapestry, "was Faramir."
The title comes from LOTR, "The Battle of Pelennor Fields": Then tottering, struggling up, with her last strength she drove her sword between crown and mantle, as the great shoulders bowed before her.
Forthwini was the son of Marhwini, leader of the Northmen (and precursors to the Rohirrim) who warned King Ondoher of Gondor that the Wainriders of Rhovanion were recovering from the defeat inflicted by his father and Calimehtar, Ondoher's father, in 1899. He is not specifically mentioned as having taken part in the battle against the Wainriders, but I am making that assumption based on the participation of the Éothéod.
Faramir (I) was the younger son of Ondoher, King of Gondor. He was slain in battle with the Wainriders in 1944 of the Third Age. Of him, I will note:
It is possible to make out, however, that men of the Éothéod fought with Ondoher; and also that Ondoher's second son Faramir was ordered to remain in Minas Tirith as regent, for it was not permitted by the law that both his sons should go into battle at the same time … But Faramir did not do so; he went to the war in disguise, and was slain. The writing is here almost impossible to decipher, but it seems that Faramir joined the Éothéod and was caught with a party of them as they retreated towards the Dead Marshes. The leader of the Éothéod (whose name is indecipherable after the first elements Marh-) came to their rescue, but Faramir died in his arms, and it was only when he searched his body that he found tokens that showed that he was the Prince.
- notes in Unfinished Tales, "Cirion and Eorl," p. 380-1.
As for Gandalf's comments, the following should be considered: the death of Ondoher and his heirs not only left Gondor without a King, it also ended the direct line of Kings in the southern realm. It has been aptly noted in the Encyclopedia of Arda that had the sons of Ondoher not died, the line of Kings would have likely survived and lasted to the end of the Third Age. Aragorn would have found Gondor ruled by a King, which would have likely prevented him from claiming the position himself.
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