6. The Spoils of War
It is there. I see it writ in his face, as he waits for the blow to fall, but alas, I recognize him, and no blood spills. And so he says only, "My king—" and there is more, but I scarcely hear it. I have been a fool, and now I shall be a selfish one just for this moment, and so I hear and yet do not listen to him tell that Ciryon is dead, that Aratan is dying, and as for the rest, I know what I must do. He says it even so, for aye, he is my last counsellor, and the truest, most bound to me, to the fate that I have bound myself to, for such is piety among Men: right or wrong, we hold to our blood. Such is pride of piety that speaks now, saying: Go! Take your burden, and at all costs bring it to the Keepers: even at the cost of abandoning your men and me! So he says, for of all of us in this foul-netted ring of steel, 'tis here, between us, that the scale balances, for we know what lies at the fulcrum, what weights the ends. Is he the better man than I? Mayhap. 'Twas not he who took It, but he kept It secret with me, and again I see it written there: he knows the price of his silence.
"King's son," I murmur. "Forgive me, and my pride that has brought you to this doom." Such a blessing to give a son, but he returns it forthwith and bettered: his lips are rough and cracked as they touch my brow, and I do as I must, turn my back at last as I would not before Mount Doom—is that the turn of fortune's wheel that breaks the dear-bought pride of Men? As I leave this mortal place, his cry is in my ears: Go! Go now! Unseen, I look back but once, and I see it once more: that look that would ask mercy, would accept it gladly in this moment, but holds its silence.
For this is our prize, who would govern our end alone and apart from others: to know the deeds that we have done, to wear the cloak of woe homespun, and to say nothing. By my folly, but not by my hand, my son, which would have been swifter than the thirsting knives of Orcs. Yet it is not too high a price to pay, for do we deserve better than this? To reap what we have sowed, and be powerless to halt the fall of the scythe that we put into play? No mercy, Elendur, for you or me or any of my line, innocent though they be of this wicked, grasping silence of ours. We forfeit it them, as befits kings, who decide for all their people. For such is pride that leads to war, that is no more worth the fight—an inheritance of blood.
Dwimordene's Author's Notes:
Go! Take your burden, and at all costs bring it ito the Keepers: even at the cost of abandoning your men and me!
"Forgive me, and my pride that has brought you to this doom."
Go! Go now!
Taken somewhat piecemeal from "Unfinished Tales", "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields," p. 286
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