A Man's a Man
1. White, black
All’s fair in love and war, they said, all’s fair in love and war. What drivel! What nonsense! What detestable rubbish! It was love and war that had been her undoing, when she did not deserve it, she who had been so very good all these years, she who had never but once been selfish or inconsiderate or dishonest or neglectful or arrogant or wicked!- and now, for loving! For loving, loving when there was war, she was all undone! That was not fair, no, it was not, it was most unfair, indeed!
She had said so, truly, she had said as such to Lady Éowyn after the lady-healer had examined her, and told her, told her what she had already known- but the lady had said-
“Not fair? No, it’s not, you’re right, it’s unfair. It is unfair. I suggest you turn to the Valar, and tell them that it’s unfair, and they’ll say: Oh, sorry. You’re let off.”
Well, that was the White Lady, well enough. It sounded unsympathetic, though it wasn’t, it wasn’t really. It was just so brutally true, yes, indeed.
A click, a squeak of the door, little feet upon the floor of her chamber. She looked up.
“Ilsa! You should knock when you come into chambers, little one! Don’t you know that?”
Ilsa Elyarel Hurin-Arianwa-Alyahéra, (who had more names than she could pronounce never mind spell, let alone really needed) started- she wasn’t used to being reprimanded by the nice young princess; she said:
“I’m sorry, milady Princess. Shall I come in again?”
“No.” Elensil sat up on her elbows. “Come. Sit. What have you to tell me?”
“I wanted to see you.” Ilsa entered and, after a couple of false starts, surmounted to sit on the edge of the bed. “You’ve been crying,” she said.
“Yes, I have,” Elensil said. “I have.”
“Mamma said you weren’t very well earlier,” Ilsa said. “Have you got a pain?”
Elensil studied her for a minute. Should she say? Probably not.
“My stomach hurts,” she said. “It will pass.”
“Do you want me to tell my Gramamma?” Ilsa said. “She is a Healer.”
“I know. She has already seen me.”
“Couldn’t she make you feel better?”
“I didn’t need medicine. I will get better by myself.”
“I can tell the King if you like.”
“He already knows. He is my father, isn’t he?”
“Yes.” Ilsa swung her legs on the edge of the bed. This seemed to generate another thought. “I like him very much, you know.”
“Yes. So do I.”
“I used to think he was scary when I was little, but I don’t any more. You know when I was ill when I was three?”
“Yes, I remember,”
“He came to our house, you know.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“He was really nice. He made me laugh.”
“Yes, he does that with children when they are frightened of him.”
“Ilsa?” Lady Halafindë in the passage. “Ilsa, where are you? It’s your bedtime.”
“I’m here, Mamma!”
“Ilsa?” The door was pushed open, the Lady looked in and saw the child, saw Elensil look up at her, the Lady bridled and Elensil didn’t care, the Lady said:
“Come now. Leave the Princess alone.”
Elensil squeezed the child’s hand.
“All is not fair, in love and war,” she said. “Remember that.”
“I do,” Ilsa said, hopping down, “remember the poor children in Nûrn.”
It was true; Elensil had forgotten the poor children of Nûrn. She should not do that. Never should one forget the poor children of Nûrn! Yes, love and war had dealt worse blows than this.
“No. We must not forget the poor children of Nûrn, ever.”
I am sorry I forgot them, Halafindë, truly; do you see that? she tried to say in her eyes, she tried but the woman did not want to see it, she gave one look that said that it did not matter whether Elensil remembered them or not, and then she turned away and would not look again, not her business, no, though if was not her business why would she not look Elensil in the eye, who was only four years apart from she, why would she not speak to her if the quarrel was not hers?
“Goodnight, Princess,” Ilsa said, spreading out her skirts and dipping her head.
“Goodnight, Ilsa. Sleep well.”
And the door closed.
No, she must not forget the children of Nûrn. What would this be in Nûrn, but a little inconvenience, caused by a little indulgence?
She was silly, she was self-dramatising, oh yes, she was, if self-pity had made her forget the children of Nûrn! They had something to weep and curse the world for and call ‘unfair’, yes they did, yes, their lot was a lot less fair than Elensil’s, and she wept for it! And now, now of course, she wept that she was weeping, that she had been self-pitying, and now that she was caused to deride herself for self-pity, for she was not in Nûrn, else she would not be undone, not nearly so undone, were she not in Minas Tirith, were she not the King’s daughter.
Were it not for the war. Ah, the war.
There again, though. She was not in Nûrn, but nor was she in Harandor, out in the mud and dark, watching the enemy’s torches as they watched hers, waiting for steel and praying it be wide of the mark or else sharp and clean… no, no, let it not come at all, not for them, not for them! Could she not still send her blessings to Elboron and Eldarion, far away in the dark? May her whispers guide them to lay down on soft, dry ground, her watch in dreams keep them safe from harm, her spirit wrap about them and keep them warm in the icy night, to know only blissful peace, hearing her lullaby in their hearts: I love you; brave brother, dearest lover, you are the very best of men, and you shall return to me.
But how could sleep hold her?
For there was a voice, a low voice in the passageway:
“Off to bed, Ilsa?”
“Good girl, yes, you are a good girl, are you not, Ilsa?”
“She is good, then, is she not? Yes, she is. Off to bed with you, if you must, Ilsa; the more you sleep, you know, the faster you shall grow; as if you were not growing fast enough. Goodnight, Ilsa, goodnight!”
Heavy long-legged footsteps came to Elensil’s door; and after a second, they passed the door.
Then a few minutes went by, and they passed the door without hesitation, and faded away.
How could sleep hold her? How could she be still, if she held her feet rigid her limbs would snap, not now, not now, when she had been in her room for hours and hours. Still in her morning-gown! Too late, too late! No time now for dressing, no maid, no, no maid, not now, here were her button-boots, her cloak, her hood, downy white and softness, now covered in black, black that flapped, as off she went! Off into the city by evening, a black bombazienne, the guards turned their heads as she walked by so fast, had they not seen her walk with purpose, purpose to walk and walk and walk, before?
From a window high in the white wall… pale eyes watched her go.
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.