1. Promise and Sorrow
Middle Earth and its original characters belong to J.R.R.Tolkien.
What shall I do about the shoes, I wonder? The boots are as good as new, good as new they are. Can't throw away a good boot like that. Shameful, throwing good shoes away. Maybe there is somebody... Have to ask around. Socks are not a problem, of course, but what about the shoes? No sense in having them standing around here like this.
How proud he was when he rode out. Fearful too, yes, but proud to be counted among the men. One of the riders of the Riddermark, eighteen years old, riding out with his head held high, just like his father, I always said, just like his father. On a cart they brought him back, together with many others who had been injured, and what shall I do about the shoes now?
Six years old he was when I taught him how to tie his laces. He sat on that little stool by the kitchen door. "Now, look," I said to him, "with your left hand you hold on here, and with your right hand..." Six years old. Learned it within two days, he did. Always had big feet, even when he was little, needed new shoes all the time, all the time. On a cart they brought him back, and he had ridden out so proudly...
The neighbours were quick to point out, weren't they, that I should be grateful he came back at all. As if I wasn't on my knees every night offering thanks to our Fathers for his return. But the shoes. Have to ask around if there is somebody... Always had such big feet, the boy.
Of course he had learned to ride a horse before he learned to tie his laces. His father taught him. Now there was a man with big feet if ever I saw one! Boots as big as crates. Taught him to ride a pony before he was four, as is right and proper. Lovely little pony it was, too. And he so clever on it, and so proud, though his feet didn't reach the stirrups.
Many didn't come back at all. Mustn't forget that, they say. As if I wasn't down on my knees every night. Our king, he never came back. Crushed by his own horse, they say. Not a good way to go, poor man, but we none of us know what's in store for us. Young Eomer now, he will be a king to be reckoned with, and as for Lady Eowyn, well, I always thought she was meant for great things. And it's the coming back that counts, for sure. If only I knew what to do about the shoes.
Always had such big feet, even when he was a baby. His father and I, we tickled his toes, and he laughed, oh, how he laughed! How he cried, when he fell down on his bed. "I shall never ride again, Mama." He's been crying every night since, though he waits now till he thinks I am asleep.
But he did come back. Mustn't forget. Tickled his toes, six years old he was, always had such big feet. Down on my knees every night, rode a pony before he was four, and what shall I do about the shoes now? How proudly he rode out, my baby, my only child, crying every night, my one-legged son.
I will remember this day all my life. No matter how old, how tired I might grow, never will I forget the glory of this day.
This morning I woke up crying. I was shaken by the shame and the guilt of failing to make my heart rejoice in my sister's wedding day. We had shared the same anguish. Why would I resent it that hers had been relieved?
I had done whatever I could for my sister. I had gone back and forth through the whole city. With so many fallen, a great number of things were sold cheaply, or simply passed from hand to hand. Men's gear was easier to find, of course, but I came across some useful things; shoes, ribbons, a velvet cap. For a poor family like ours, this was good fortune indeed.
Poor we might be, and yet richly blessed: Our father, our mother and our two brothers walked with my sister today. There are few houses in the city where a wedding would have been fitting so soon. Our Lord Faramir, he cannot wed yet, for he has to mourn his father and brother. I should have been grateful. My mother gave me no reproach, she tried to comfort me. There are still men returning, she said.
I helped my sister trim her gown and wash her hair. I brushed and braided her shiny tresses. How well I hid my tears I know not. So many nights we had both been lying awake, whispering to each other about our fears. I had done what I could for my sister, but she knew. Why did I fail her so?
At noon we walked along the street towards the house of her bridegroom. I was behind her, so she did not see my face. My eyes were cast down, watching my feet stepping on the cobbles. Even when I heard riders approaching, I did not look up.
But I noticed that the sound of hooves on stone suddenly stopped, and then I heard a voice calling my name and the world stood still. When I raised my eyes, I saw him standing before me, dirty, haggard, with his armour battered and his clothes torn. A more beautiful sight I have never seen.
In an instant, my sister flung her arms around me, and there was no more reason to hide the tears, neither hers nor mine. He waited, patiently, until our sobs had ceased, and then he took my hand. We walked on, my hair flying in the breeze.
It was a modest feast with sparse dainties and humble wine, and one unexpected guest, who wore no wedding clothes. It was merriment so gay, a celebration so rich, it would have been fit for the king himself and his Elven queen. Back home, alone now in this chamber, my feet are still dancing. As I untangle the ribbons from my hair, I know I am blessed beyond all measure. Here in the White City of Gondor, at the heart of our realm, a new Age of hope and joy has begun. My wedding day will come.
My father gave me no trinket before he left, nothing to remember him by. He barely even looked back. He took his axe and his shield and set off with that strange fire in his eyes. The power that drew him away was stronger than his love for his family. It was the same with all of them, every man of weapon-bearing age in every house and cottage. A dark line of bodies marching away towards the sunset, leaving the women and the children and the old men. I must have been too young to hear that call. I did not understand it.
My mother wept, but not for long. The fields had to be ploughed, the cows milked, the sheep sheared. Farming folk cannot afford great mourning. Some highborn lady sitting on a pinnacle in the White City might sing a lament to the sound of the lute. My mother put on my father's boots and harnessed the oxen. My brothers and sisters kept asking when Father would come home. I am the eldest. I knew.
My father was a quiet man. He told no stories, and I will never know now if he would have had any to tell. He made toys for the little ones: crudely carved animals and little blocks of wood painted as houses. Whenever he entered a room where my mother was, he would seek her eyes, and whatever she was doing, she would seek his. In the spring time, he would rub the new blades of grass between his fingers and hold them under our noses for us to smell.
But he marched off, in boots studded with iron, towards that shadowy country that filled the sky with ash and gloom. A great evil lived there, they say now, and we would have done better to fear it than to join with it. The proud men of Gondor do not seem so threatening after all.
And now it is spring again. The great shadow is gone. They say there is a new king in the West, wise and just. If his wisdom is great enough, he may bring peace. Though I do not know if there is wisdom in this world that could make the barren lands flourish again. But justice? What justice could there be for our people of widows and orphans? Was it a judgement on us that our men fell under the shadow?
There is a new king in the West, and the world is sighing with relief. The sun is brighter and the sky bluer than I have seen them in my lifetime. With the shadow gone, creatures of light are pouring into our lands, sweetly singing birds, silvery fish and graceful deer. Already the fields are lush with the blades of the new wheat. My father will not return.
They are sleeping now. Flickering firelight reflects on the strands of sandy hair that fall over her arm. She lies on her side, the newborn curled up against her chest. How silently they breathe. I cannot sleep. Not now. I have to look at them. I have to watch them till I know for certain that I am home and they are safe.
For many years I was a blacksmith as my father had been before me. I wielded the hammer and forged tools and weapons alike. With my body strong and my mind firm, there was little that I feared. Now I know the greatest of all terrors. Those burning homesteads on the Pelennor Fields...
There was a brisk wind from the sea the day I wed her. Her hair was moving in the breeze as she walked over the doorstep of my house. I was holding my breath, hoping it wasn't a dream. Ever since that day, this house has been filled with a delight beyond my words.
I was a soldier for a few gruesome weeks. In sparse armour I rode out with the others to defend the heart of our realm. All too quickly did I get used to the trade of death. Orcs we slew and other foul creatures, but men, too, men from Rhun and from Harad. Strange they were and fearsome, but men nonetheless. This helmet that I picked up on the battlefield must have once belonged to an Easterling. I wonder now why I wanted to take anything home with me other than my life.
Worse than the fighting was the fear on the way home. The first thrill of victory was nothing compared to the joy I felt when I saw my house unscathed and the chimney smoking. But nothing, nothing can match the bliss of seeing her sitting by the hearth, with our child in her arms. With my hands so large and rough, I worried that I would not muster the tenderness due to one so fragile and small. But the child melted into my arms as if there was no fitter place in all of Gondor.
As I sit by the fire watching them sleep, the grim images fade from my mind. The dread that had possessed our lands has passed. We shall be a proud people as we were of old and walk with good cheer under open skies. With our city and our king and the bounty of our lands, Gondor shall prosper.
I shall be a father now. I shall teach my child the virtue of hope. I shall be a blacksmith again and forge the tools of peace.
This would have been my wedding day.
Today I saw the Lord Faramir standing by the wall near the Houses of Healing, kissing a woman with golden hair. Many saw them. The shadow has passed and now joy and love return, they say.
These garments spread out before me, made with care by my mother and my aunt from the best fabric our family could afford. These tiny, tiny stitches that their elderly fingers can do. Trimmings of silk. Useless now, like fallen leaves.
We grew up together in opposite houses here in the third circle of the city, playing together in the street, making faces at each other from the windows on those rainy days when our mothers would not let us out. A boy and a girl bound together by the laughter and the games and the stories we shared. Seamlessly our childhood friendship turned into adult affection. No other objection did any of our parents have than that the times were darkening and the future uncertain. And yet we thought that we could wait for the spring, for that auspicious season.
This would have been my wedding ring. It is thin and light, all the gold that a carpenter's family could buy. For the sake of a ring this war was fought, for the sake of a single band of gold, heavier than this one for sure, but a ring only, nonetheless. That such a small thing should have yielded so much power.
Today the Lord Faramir has chosen his bride, standing by the wall looking east, towards the place where the Dark Lord was overcome by those they call the Periain. That such small folk should have defeated such evil. Today I stand in my chamber looking across the street towards a window that will remain empty.
These would have been my wedding shoes. Light and soft and meant for dancing, too delicate to walk the streets of stone day after day. The Periain wear no shoes, they say. With their bare feet they trod over the barren plain of Gorgoroth. Naked toes found the path to the salvation of us all.
Out there on the Pelennor Fields the wreckage of the battle lies still. All those siege engines and catapults. They sent into our city missiles of flame, shooting over the walls at great height, and thus it was that while I slew orcs by the gate, one landed in the third circle, where a woman was hurrying along the street on an errand for the Warden of the Houses of Healing.
Today the captains of the armies are rejoicing and the People of Gondor are beginning to rebuild their fair city. Today I run my fingers over my wedding garments, my wedding ring, my wedding shoes and marvel that I, a soldier, should live, while she, a healer, died in flame.
How peaceful this place is. I come out here most evenings to look at my country. The river moves in lazy curves through the plain under the setting sun. Beyond it the mountains carve their crisp outlines into the evening sky. Our city is a white speck in the distance. Behind me the rising slopes are crowded with pine, fir and larch. The only sound is the trickling of water. Stretching out in front of me is my new homeland. It is a place of rough pastures and groves of olive trees for the most part, dotted with groups of small wooden houses. Timber is abundant here and the men set to work with their axes almost as soon as we arrived. My cabin is a poor affair compared to my little house in the fifth circle, but I shall make it homely by and by.
It is the same mossy boulder I sit on each time I come here. Here on the edge between the tame and the wild. It used to be the edge between the light and the shadow. Long had that shadow darkened not just our skies, but our hearts. The pride of our people dwindled, as our world shrank to the confines of our city walls. With the shadow gone, all places are ours again. This land will thrive as it did of old.
Even I may thrive again. Long before this war began, my life had gone stale. The world can seem so dead and dreary in a city of stone when you have no kin. Here the air is filled with the scents and sounds of life. I close my eyes and inhale the sweet smell of thyme and sage, listen to the birdsong. Often I walk with bare feet so I can feel the living land under my soles.
Not many womenfolk came out here with Lord Faramir's people in the beginning. But very soon the White Lady of Rohan will arrive to marry our Lord Faramir, and then cheer and joy will ring through the hills and woods. Do not blame me for loving these two better than I love our king and his Elven queen. I tended to them both for a while, when they were in the Houses of Healing. A lingering tenderness stays with me always for those I have cared for.
So many broken bodies. The Perian recovered swiftly, after the new king had seen to him. But that young lad, one of the riders, how he was crying when they brought him in. And lucky for him it was that they brought him quickly; he would have died the way he was bleeding. Lovely lad he was, shame about his leg, poor lamb. He almost cried again when we parted and he said he had nothing to give me in the way of thanks. All he wanted was to get back home to his mother. And he did. How surprised I was to receive a gift that was brought all the way from Rohan, a headscarf that keeps me cosy on these nippy evenings. Little white flowers his mother has embroidered on the cloth. He will never ride again, but his heart might heal.
There has been neither sickness nor injury in the months since we have come here. My days are busy with building, planting, gathering herbs. The younger women come to me for advice. What wisdom I have, I offer to them. We work together day after day, chatting and laughing. No fields have been tilled yet, but gardens have been made and are green now with the young growth. The olive trees are laden. There will be a harvest in Ithilien this summer.
The world will heal.
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.