36. Memories and Fear
Dark times, dark ages, dark days. Sauron was taking these expressions literally and I was beginning to feel fed up with this gloom.
I woke in a broad, comfortable bed in a beautiful guest room with a view across the sea to the west that would have been magnificent without Sauron's gloom taking away the colours of spring and the light of the sun.
For once I had managed to sleep late. A bright bell tolled ten times from somewhere in the castle as I sat up in the bed and rubbed at my eyes. I felt wide awake and rested.
And my stomach grumbled in a very un-ladylike manner.
I got to my feet and made for ewer and washing bowl. By now I was used to washing this way. It's definitely an art to get clean with an ewer and a washing bowl, especially without leaving most of the water on the floor. Anyway, in the end I felt reasonably clean and I was quite proud of myself when I saw that I had managed not to splash all of the water onto the floor.
I rummaged in my backpack for clean clothes. In the end I chose the green Rohirric clothes Éowyn had given to me, although they were more than a bit crumpled. But they were clean and they did not smell quite as strongly of horse as the jeans I had been wearing on the journey to Dol Amroth.
And I wanted to save the elvish clothes for an occasion.
When I was ready to go in search for breakfast, someone knocked at my door.
"Come in," I called and was amused to see Mel and Númendil peering cautiously around the door, their faces filled with curiosity.
When they saw that I was up and dressed, they looked relieved but no less curious.
"Mama sends us to ask if you would like your breakfast up here or down in the kitchen,"
Númendil inquired politely.
"I'll come down, thank you. If you could show me the way? This castle is pretty big. I could easily get lost," I asked, trying to remember how and when I had found my room yesterday. Lady Míriël and I had talked for hours after dinner. At some point of the evening the fatigue of the journey had caught up with me, and there my memory blurred.
"Yes, it is really a great Castle!" Mel agreed his eyes full of pride. "It's the only castle in Gondor that was never taken by any enemies! It's the greatest and safest castle ever. We will show you the way and everything else, the towers and the dungeons and, just everything!" Blushing, Mel added in a small voice, "My lady."
"You can call me Lothíriel, or Lothy. That's easier to say than 'my lady'," I told them. I was still uncomfortable with being called 'my lady' especially by kids!
"Thank you, my… Lothíriel. That is an honour!" Númendil said and bowed to me.
I inclined my head in a hopefully polite way and smiled at the boys. Mel would have no problems to progress from 'Lothíriel' to 'Lothy', I guessed. Without any more bowing, pomp and circumstance.
I was correct. By the time we were down at ground level and entering the kitchen, Mel was hanging on my hand, calling me 'Lothy' and trying to persuade me to let him ride on Mithril.
Although it was not even noon, the boys had heard of my magnificent horse and had gone to take a look at it.
Lady Míriël was in the kitchen, poring over the ledgers with the white haired butler and "Haushofmeister" or major domo called Enho. When I entered the kitchen with her sons, she raised her head and smiled at me. "Good morning, Lothíriel."
Before I had gone to bed, she had made me promise to call her Míriël. Now I discovered that, although I still felt strange about addressing people with things like 'my lady' or whatever, and even stranger when addressed like that myself, in this case I felt just as uncomfortable using the first name. Or rather personal name. In Middle-earth only the Hobbits seemed to have surnames.
"Good morning, Míriël," I said, feeling awkward and smiled, too. "Sorry that I am such a sleepy-head."
"That's alright; your journey was long and exhausting. I told you to sleep as long as you wanted."
"I did, thank you."
"My lady." A young maid-servant appeared at my side with a tray stacked with plates and cups. "Do you want to take your breakfast here or in the hall?"
I looked at the children. Mel mouthed 'here', shaking his head wildly – indicating that the children would not be allowed to join me if I ate in the hall.
"The kitchen will be just fine," I said, "if there's a corner where I would not be in anyone's way."
We ended up at the window side of the large square wooden table where we had dinner the evening before. The table was so huge that on the other side of the table the dough for new bread could be prepared without getting even a speck of flour into our cups of tírithel while I was eating my breakfast. The boys climbed on chairs on either side of me, keeping me company with a large cup of tírithel each. Breakfast was more or less a real English breakfast. It would have made any hobbit happy. I managed to eat a bowl of porridge with fresh fruit and bacon and eggs with a fresh bun. Then I had another cup of tírithel and felt completely stuffed.
Looking at the windows behind me, I had the feeling that outside the shadows seemed to be growing deeper and deeper as the morning passed into afternoon. But inside the kitchen, it was cosy and bright. The kitchen was warm and cheerful with a log fire in the fire place, the hearth and oven brightly lit, too, and an oil lamp suspended from the blackened ceiling as an additional light source. There was the smell of baking bread and simmering stew in the air, and the cook was humming a tune as he seasoned the stew.
A warm, bright haven of safety in the darkness of the world.
I had a look around the kitchen and was thrilled as I realized that I was looking at a real working castle kitchen that was – if not exactly medieval – not all modern, industrialized, electrified. It reminded me of a kitchen I had seen in a castle in France. Had that been a kitchen of the sixteenth or the seventeenth century?
I did not really remember. What I did remember, however, was my surprise at how sophisticated the kitchen had been without any modern appliances or electricity.
This surprise now returned threefold as I saw the whole thing in action.
An oven for baking, an iron hearth for cooking, a fire place for roasting meat – meat as in a whole pig on a spit – complete with the turning wheel for a kitchen dog, a dog on a leash walking in circles to turn the meat. And they must have some kind of indoor plumbing. Perhaps a rainwater cistern in the roof? Anyway, there was a large sink with an iron faucet in a corner. One wall was hung with copper pans and pots shining brightly. The other wall was almost hidden by shelves and cupboards with plates and cups and pots of herbs. Doors at the back of the kitchen led probably down into the cellars and to the larders. The floor was made of cleanly swept cream coloured tiles and the walls were white washed red stones.
It was a warm and cosy kitchen, exactly how a child would imagine the perfect kitchen.
My thoughts drifted…
Sitting in the warm, bright kitchen with two merry boys on either side chattering away, it was hard to imagine that only some three hundred and fifty miles or some five hundred and sixty kilometres, a ride of only a week with a horse like Mithril, war was raging.
Why the hell could my thoughts not stay in the warm kitchen with my breakfast?
War and death. Darkness and cold. Pain and fear.
I shuddered and had to put down my cup. I tried to concentrate on the warmth of the kitchen, the brightness of the fire, the smell of baking bread and the laughter of the children. I tried to recover the feeling of safety and peace I had luxuriated in only moments ago.
It did not work.
Instead I suddenly remembered something.
Something that I thought I had forgotten.
Something that I thought I had never known.
But it was suddenly very clear in my mind.
As if I was looking at a picture.
A bizarre version of déjà vu.
A page of the appendices of "The Lord of the Rings".
As if I had the book open in front of me.
The history of the war of the ring. The Tale of the Years. The Great Years. March 3019.
"15 - …Battle of the Pelennor…
17 - …Battle of Dale…
18 - …the Host of the West marches from Minas Tirith…
22 - …third assault on Lórien…
23 - …dismissal of the faint hearted…
24 - ...the Host reaches the Morannon…
25 - …"
I gulped. My heart was pounding heavily. In my mind I made some hasty calculations.
It was today.
Today was the fifteenth of March.
The Battle of the Pelennor.
Thousands of men screaming and dying. Horror and pain.
This very minute.
I recalled the movie, of course. That was bad enough. My mother had refused to watch it because of the gruesome battle scenes. But I also remembered films made in the trenches of the First World War, one of the first attempts at making moving pictures on earth. Trust men to make the first movies ever made movies of war and death and not of beauty or peace.
And I knew that the real Battle of the Pelennor would be worse than anything ever thought up in the studios of Hollywood or New Zealand. Promptly my memory provided me with a fitting picture. Once I had visited the battle fields of the First World War at Verdun.
The chapel of the Ossuaire de Douaumont is built upon the bones and skulls of more than 130,000 unidentified dead of the First World War. More than the entire population of Erlangen in 2004.
You can walk around the Ossuaire. There are glass windows set all around the basement of the Ossuaire. Behind each window there is a small chamber. Each chamber is filled with a heap of bones. Skulls, arm bones, leg bones, the bones of hands, the bones of feet, pelvic bones, rib cages, pieces of spine. Whole, cracked or barely recognizable. White, yellow, brown or covered with mould.
In a few days there would be enough bones on the fields of the Pelennor to build an ossuary there.
The Host of the West was outnumbered on the battle fields of the Pelennor.
The forces of the West were outnumbered of at least three to one.
If not worse. One man: three enemies. Soldiers of Harad? Fighting uruk-hai? Trolls?
The forces of the West were also not as well equipped as the forces of the enemy.
I remembered the hillmen with their pitchforks and their axes.
I remembered the uruk-hai with their heavy black armour and their scimitars.
I remembered the huge troll in Moria.
I remembered the deadliness of the black riders.
How many were dying this very moment?
How many men were taking their last agonizing breath just now?
How many bones would fill the ossuaries of the Pelennor?
I felt sick.
"What is the matter, Lothíriel?" the Lady Míriël asked in a low voice.
I turned my head towards her in a daze.
The warmth and the light of the kitchen had faded around me, leaving me shivering and cold.
"Today. It begins today." I could not continue.
Before my eyes the visions of heaps and heaps of bones would not fade.
I put my face in my hands, squeezing my eyes tightly shut.
But the images would not go away.
"Enho, Marai, children, would you mind leaving us alone for a while?"
"No, Mama," low, frightened voices answered from either side of me.
I felt a warm arm around my back.
"How do you know?" Míriël asked.
I did not look up but tried to concentrate on the warm darkness of my hands before my eyes.
"I just know," I said. My voice sounded choked. "It is today. They will call it 'The Battle of the Pelennor'. They are outnumbered by far. So many will die. So many!"
"How will it end?" Míriël asked in a calm voice. How could she be so calm? I felt as if I was breaking apart.
"How will it end?" she repeated.
I drew a shuddering breath.
How will it end?
Would the stories keep their promise?
I swallowed dryly.
Please, God, let it still be true. Let it become true!
"The legends say Sauron was defeated. Once and for all." I looked up and met Míriël's eyes.
Míriël stared at me, her grey eyes were wide and frightened, but they were slowly filling with a cold, bright light. "Are you sure?"
"No! I'm not!" I cried. "But it's what the stories say. Where I come from, at least. But I don't know if they are still true." I paused, visions of bones still alive in my mind.
"And even if the stories are true, so many will die."
"Where you come from, there are legends about this? About this war? About the Enemy in the East?" Míriël asked, her voice only a whisper. "About the end of the war?"
Oh, fuck. Now I had done it. I groaned. Melodramatic Lothíriel blabbing her head off. Fuck.
"I was not supposed to tell anyone. Dangerous knowledge," I said, clutching at my head.
"I just forgot. How could I forget? I was supposed to keep silent. The enemy must not know what I know."
Especially not now. Not so close to the end.
"That's why they sent you here," Míriël said slowly. "Now I understand."
At that I raised my head. The kitchen was empty. Only the Lady and I were in the room. Only Míriël had heard my blunder. And she was safe. Imrahil was safe. Míriël was safe. No one else had heard me.
Míriël looked at me with an expression somewhere between shock and amazement on her face. "Don't worry, Lothíriel," she said. "You are safe here. Your knowledge is safe here. My husband asked me in his letter to keep you safe at all costs. I did not understand why he sent you here. I did not understand why he was so worried."
She took my hand and squeezed it tightly. "Now I understand. You are safe here. The Enemy will never know that you exist at all."
My heart was racing.
Keeping me safe at all costs?
From the enemy?
Did I mention that I am sometimes awfully stupid and awfully slow on the uptake?
I never realized the real reason why they sent me here as out of the way as possible. Far away from Dol Guldur. Far away from Isengard. Far away from Minas Tirith.
If they had told me, I would have been too scared to take a single step.
"Lothíriel," Míriël said abruptly, but then she did not go on. I looked at the woman beside me, her arm around my shoulders, comforting me, and I saw the same fear in her eyes, the same need for comfort and reassurance that I felt myself.
"In the stories I know, he survived," I whispered. "But here… I don't know… some things are different… I don't know. I just don't know!"
Míriël let out her breath in a soft sigh, closing her eyes.
"We will just have to hope… and pray."
I nodded mutely.
Míriël made me drink another cup of tírithel, then she called the servants and the children back into the kitchen. She did not offer any explanation to the staff and the children. But when the children announced that they wanted to show me around, she called for the guard who had escorted me to the great hall yesterday.
"Anmir, please, accompany the Lady Lothíriel and the children on their way around the castle and the town today. I don't want them to get lost." Then she turned to us. "Don't venture beyond the battlements, my dears. We don't want anything to happen to you."
The children agreed with some grumbling. I only nodded, knowledge an icy lump in the pit of my stomach.
At the moment there were six persons who would mean the ultimate victory for Sauron, were they taken or killed. The ring bearers, Aragorn… and myself.
I was twenty-four years old. I was an adult. I made it through black rider attacks, through Moria, through kidnapping and the paths of the dead more or less unscathed. I had learned how to fight and how to survive. I was as safe as I could possibly be in these dark and dangerous days.
And there was nothing I wanted so much as to run back upstairs and hide under my bed.