1. Ad Sum
They walk like ghosts in the twilight, stooping now and again, hands outstretched and grasping, like beggars after the bright glint of coin. Then they rise and continue on, until at last, at long last, they see, and then the lamentations rise. All too often, though, they cannot find whom they seek, and after awhile, they stagger back towards the city, like drunkards after a night on the quays, with their eyes wide and vacant, blind, overwhelmed by too many faces, for they have not my art. Sometimes they come upon me, and as it is my place to walk among the ruins, I direct them back towards their path, or if they fall to the ground, I offer such remedies as a poor lass might have. The wisdom of my kind, to know which herbs deaden the sense of smell, which ease the untried stomach's turmoil, which can rouse those stupefied, for I have enough charges without burdening myself with the living.
On your feet, goodwife, 'tis time you were away. Hush now, woman, there is still hope.
A charwench* am I, or so they say, making mockery to ease their own fears. My father died ere I was born, so you might say I was born to the profession. I learned it of my mother, who lived in the South for long ere she came to try her luck in Anórien. Better business in the South, I say, for although Anórien is often troubled, there are not so many pitched battles, and the men take care of their own more often. But Mother had her heart set upon the North, and so we came here when I was fifteen. She was dead ere my twentieth birthday, rest her well, and afterwards I betook myself to Minas Tirith, though I would have done better to return to the battlefields of the south. I do not know why I remained. Perhaps for this very day, for there is much work to be done, bringing corpses to the charnel fires. It has been long since I practiced my profession, but I have kept myself well enough--hauled plowshares like an ox, carried charcoal up the long, steep ways of Minas Tirith, and pulled nets in from the river, all of it with my own two hands and shoulders. A knight in armor is a heavy burden, dead weight, but one I need not lift, only drag, which is no worse than a heavy-laded fishing net. Better, in fact, for men do not cut into one's fingers, and a man fetches a higher price than a fish.
Thank you, good sir, for having lain down for me here. Generous of you, to pay for my meals.
And sometimes one finds a pretty one, even. I know what they say of us, who take pay to work the carrion fields, but never have I done aught unclean. There is no shame in saying a man can be lovely, even in death. And why not say it? For whom would I save such praise? For it is certain none have ever looked my way for long in life, nor shall they. One can unman a man so easily--tell him simply that his face reminds you of one you saw upon the field, and watch his passion drain from him like blood from a corpse. They do not like me to look on them, our bright soldiers, for all I see is truth: they are naught but flesh. Nothing more, nothing less, and though they do not like to hear it, the beauty of flesh outlasts that of the spirit, which departs so quickly. A face remains longer in the mind than something one cannot see, after all. One should therefore make the most of flesh while it remains--men use women's bodies for their pleasure, but I use men's for my small prosperity. There is no shame in that. Someone must tend to these who lie here, for it would be an ill show of ingratitude not to take some care of them. Mother taught me well: never drop a man, nor simply leave him lying once he is brought to where the pyre is: lay him straight, cross his arms (if he has any); if he is an enemy, then put a bit of turf in his mouth, but if of Gondor, then put a pebble instead; always close his eyes if you can. And always thank him--then you will have done all that is proper, save to take such items from him as another might be wanting. Not to sell, though we do get fee from the captains for bringing such things as might belong now to another: I have found letters to sweethearts, charms, marriage rings, a fair number of cloak clasps from the high-born, necklaces and the like. Later, such things will be shown about, until someone recognizes them and can claim them.
Thank you, good sir, for having lain down for me here. I shall take this for you, to give to those who knew you.
Pretty face, pretty cloak-clasp--about the only fair things he has, this one and surely someone will be missing them at home, wherever that is. I cannot return his looks, but the brooch I shall see to: I have seen a few of his company walking the fields, but they have not bothered me. A nod, if ever we chance to look upon each other, but no more, and they go about their business pitching tents where the ground is less wet. And since they are strangers here, I shall stop to give them the brooch before I finish tonight, for else it shall go up into the city and lie unclaimed 'til someone takes it, supposing it belongs to no one. It must surely belong to someone, though, for it is a fair thing, and a son or daughter might be pleased to have it back when the strangers leave us. If they leave us. There are some girls who say that 'tis foolishness to search the bodies for such trinkets as these, for the End is coming, and no one will need them ever again. I do not know of that. I do not know about any of it, and 'tis not my place to think about it. What use, thinking of the end of the world, for one such as myself? Better to tend to my own charges, there are so many in need of me....
Excuse me, good sir, but I think this must go to your people. You are welcome. Thank you. Good night indeed, my lord.
And another pretty one, though still alive. But no matter, that--the dead and the living have so little to separate them, that 'tis not hard to think of him dead, as I know men best. He seemed glad of the brooch, though grieved as well. Silly man, do not regret it too much. I saw to your friend, and all is well with him, as well as can be. But the fires are still hungry, and the field is vast. So many miles of cold flesh and iron.
Thank you, good sirs, for having lain down for us all.
*charwench--charwoman--a cleaning woman...
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.