Her red box of memories

Tidings Travel South – Part 2

with one comment

A fresh breeze swept straight up river from the Bay Of Belfalas and whipped in through the open first floor window of the old town house and into the empty bedroom. It slammed one shutter hard shut and toyed with a shawl that had been strewn across the back of a chair. Then the gust skittered across the bureau and rifled shamelessly through the letters that had been left neatly stacked there; tossed them up willy-nilly and fecklessly abandoned them across Leoba’s bedroom floor.

Leoba was in the corridor beyond, distracted from her rumination by peals of laughter.  They heralded a small herd of children who thundered over the wooden floorboards with all the confidence of the finest Rohirrim cavalry.  They were armed to the teeth: the eldest boys brandished feather bolsters and each of the girls wielded a hairbrush.  Thorondir was brave and made a swipe at his aunt’s knees with his pillow but Leoba’s sparring days were not so far behind her and she was both quick and relentless as she landed a counter-blow on his rear, which sent the boy sprawling in a cloud of snowy goose-down.  She in turn was set upon by the other boys, in a brutal revenge attack and she too went down, outnumbered.  Míriel leapt on top of her, followed by her other willing siblings until they were all a flailing mass of skinny limbs, sun-bleached nightshirts and squeals of excitement.

A loud rap at the front door sent them all into sudden surprised stillness and then there was an undignified scramble for the tall window at the end of the passage, which overlooked the street.

Míriel, flattening her nose against the glass, was first to spy the familiar flour-dusted cap of the baker’s delivery boy.  “It’s Col from the bakery” she squealed, “and he’s got cinnamon buns today!”  She turned around to face the others, beaming from ear to ear; Rían started jumping up and down and squeaking with glee. Col hadn’t just brought the cinnamon buns, there were also the daily loaves for the household, with darker rye bread for the servants and soft white rolls for Serindë.

Leoba clapped her hands authoritatively and issued marching orders to the children to go and get themselves washed and dressed.  The greatly-desired buns were at their best eaten warm and fresh from the oven and any moment of delay was considered criminal.  A dozen bare feet scampered away in hasty search of facecloths and towels, tunics and dresses.

Abandoned by the window, Leoba twisted her dress lacings around her fingers, pricking her palms with the points: her nerves were on edge, despite her attempts to divert them and naturally she couldn’t avoid thinking about the previous day’s news of the battle.  For all the glad tidings, she just couldn’t get the vestiges of her dream out of her head.  There had been a dragon, as she had told Serindë, but that wasn’t what had woken her, screaming.  She resolved that as soon as they had broken their fast, she would hasten to the citadel in search of more detailed news.

She gazed out of the window. The sun had still not deigned to show her sleepy head but had instead left the sky to steadily grow lighter grey, augmented unpleasantly by the ongoing drizzle.  It was fairly uninspiring.  Down on the quay, Leoba knew that the daily fish market would be in full swing, rich with the stench of brine and seaweed and alive with the calls of the salesmen.  She knew too that later, their cook would venture up town to the big market and that there would in all likelihood be something special for supper. And no doubt at some point she would be prevailed upon to take some of the children out to go and stare at the caged monkeys and performing dogs that always accompanied the more serious stalls.

In the street below, the baker’s boy had moved on and it was peaceful again.  Leoba heard the brass dinner-gong echo through the house, calling everyone to the breakfast table and she was about to answer its call when she saw something out of the ordinary turn the corner into their road: a mounted soldier, all in black, in what she knew to be the livery of the White City.  They rarely saw soldiers down here amongst the villas and the larger old houses; it was too far from the barracks, and the taverns. She looked again at the rider, took in his bright auburn hair and matching close-cropped beard and the commanding air with which he held himself in the saddle; she would recognise her eldest brother a mile off.  In excitement, faintly tempered by uncertainty, Leoba waved to him.  Culanir saw the sudden movement and looked up and saw his sister framed in the window, dressed in the green of spring leaves; they made eye-contact and she smiled. He tried to smile back.

“Come on Leoba!  Hurry up. They’re getting cold!” Thorondir hollered up the stairs.

The cinnamon buns.  Leoba had totally forgotten about them and since there was going to be an extra mouth to feed and the possibility of sharing being necessary, there was considerable risk of a tantrum from someone; not necessarily the toddler.  She gave her favourite brother one more smile through the glass and rushed down the stairs and into the dining room where everyone was politely waiting for her to take her place before they started.

“Carandil, you’ll never guess who’s outside”, Leoba said.  “I think we’ll be needing an extra place for breakfast.”

The children all looked at her excitedly.  “Who? Who?” begged Taron, wriggling in his seat with anticipation (for the buns).

“None other than a certain Captain of the Tower Guard.  I’ve just seen Culanir ride down the road!”

The cacophony of chatter which greeted this remark was swiftly silenced by a loud knock at the door.  Carandil thrust his chair back and with one commanding hand motioned to the rest of his brood to stay put in their places.  “Don’t wait for us.”  Taron’s hand was already in the bread basket, helping himself.

Leoba closed the dining room door behind them as she and Carandil went to let Culanir in. Both of them were pleased and intrigued at the thought of seeing their brother.  It was exceptional for Culanir to visit Pelargir; despite his position commanding the Pelargir contingent of the Minas Tirith guard, it had been two years since he had last graced them with his company, when he had been sent to the city on an ill-fated recruitment mission: the incident with the press-ganged son of the Seneschal was not one Culanir would forget, or be allowed to forget, in a hurry.

When they opened the door, the soldier who stood on the front door step was not the best  advertisement for the glory of armed service.  Culanir dripped into the hallway, smelling potently of wet wool and horse.  Leoba grabbed him in a soggy embrace all the same. With his good arm, Carandil slapped him heartily on the shoulder in the manner of a man who would dearly love to be relaxed enough in his own manhood to join in the group hug.

“Come in, come in”, Carandil welcomed him. “You look like something the cat dragged in, and she’s not known for being fussy”.

“Lovely to see you too.  You’re a born charmer, Randy” said Culanir with a look of tired, stretched patience.

“You were the best teacher” Carandil replied. “Truly though brother, welcome. You’re always welcome here.”

“We’re about to eat, Culanir, if you want to join us straight away?”  Leoba asked. “It’s such a lovely surprise to see you and totally unexpected.  Did we miss a letter?”  She spotted the spread of muddy water puddling around Culanir’s feet, soaking dark rings into the hall rugs; expensive rugs, imported from Far Harad.  Leoba could imagine what Serindë’s face would be like when she saw the damage. She also saw how Culanir stooped in his weariness and the concern that creased his brow into two deep furrows. She knew her brother well, knew that he was prone to melancholy and realised that he was in the grips of a bad spell.  “I’m sorry, the questions can wait. You look absolutely exhausted and I’m sure if you want to get cleaned up first, everyone will understand.”

“No, don’t worry: there’s no hurry to get clean and dry as I’ll have to go back out in it again anyway.  Besides, I’ve left my poor horse tethered to the ring outside with no more comfort than a nosebag. How could I ask for more for myself?” Culanir looked solely and seriously at Leoba: “This isn’t a pleasure trip I’m afraid, I’ve got official business to see to. But you come first, always”.

She couldn’t hold it in any longer. After all, there was only one person on her mind at the best of times. Leoba clutched at Culanir’s sleeve in supplication. “Have you got news of the battle?  Oh Culanir, please tell me you know something!”

“You’ve heard about the battle?!”, Leoba caught him on the back foot.  He floundered and looked at Carandil. “Is there anywhere we can talk properly, other than the hall?” he muttered to his brother.

“Of course, of course, let’s go into my study.  No one’s going to disturb us there”.  That wasn’t quite true; Serindë had an irritating habit of blundering in without knocking. Only the previous day she had heedlessly wandered in and started talking to him about a singed table runner.  It was, however, a relatively safe adult haven into which none of the children would dare set a foot.

Carandil opened the nearest door and ushered Culanir and Leoba into his sanctuary. The window faced onto the street and being small, on this dull day, let in barely adequate light.  It was sparsely furnished but Serindë’s taste was in evidence even in this strictly male sanctum.  The patterned rug which covered the tiled floor was of the same Harad extraction as the one which Culanir had already dripped all over and there were potent flowers arranged artfully on the rosewood desk.  Leoba looked expectantly at Culanir and she couldn’t hide the worry in her face.

“Carandil, would you do me a favour?” Culanir asked. “Could you bring something for me to eat in here.  I’m not up to massed company right now.  Promise Serindë, I will make it up to her later; she can feed me properly tonight.  And” he lowered his voice to whisper to Carandil, “I need some time alone with Leoba, so please, take as long as you need”.

The door closed behind him with a loud click.

“Culanir, tell me what in the name of the Valar is going on?” said Leoba.  There was a cold wedge of dread lodged in the pit of her stomach and she didn’t like it one little bit.

Culanir unconsciously rubbed his beard with his thumb and fore-finger as he fished for the right words to begin what he had to say.

“The battle?” Leoba prompted.  “They said there was victory.  But you’re not acting as though that’s right.” the longer he paused, the more the knot in her stomach tightened.

“Let’s sit down” Culanir said, doing just that and patting the space next to him on the oak settle.  Leoba obediently responded, pulling out the embroidered cushion from behind him before that too was ruined. “There was a victory,” he went on, “there is truth in the rumours, though how you heard that before I got here is a mystery because I have outridden even the wind to get here from Minas Tirith so quickly.  The Mithril Knights were engaged under the shadow of Carn Dûm, what must be a day or so ago now.”

Leoba said nothing, but shuddered; the name of that place and of the realm of Angmar which it had once ruled brought nothing but memories of Dirk’s struggles with evil.

“The knights killed a dragon, a great wyrm out of the oldest tales.”

Leoba carefully nodded; it tallied with what she’d heard. “And what else, Culanir, there’s something you’re not telling me.  Is Dirk hurt? Tell me!”.

Culanir took a deep breath and looked straight at her. “Leoba, there’s no easy way… he didn’t make it.  Leoba, Dirk is dead.”

Leoba’s face turned ashen white and for a time she could not speak.  In the ensuing long moments of silence, those three words hung between them like full-blown seed-heads, set to spatter their debris irredeemably far and wide at a touch.  He reached for her hands; she was as cold as marble but he felt her tremble.  In the dimmed light her emerald eyes were dark as forest pools, glimmering with unspilled tears.

“I’m so sorry, Leoba. By Manwë’s breath I wish it wasn’t so.

“How?”

Culanir tried to explain though he knew as he said it that it sounded poor; he wanted to give his sister so much more.  “I don’t know nearly enough from despatches.   But I do know that Dirk was desperately brave. He entered the dragon’s lair, on his own and he fought it, wounded it, deprived it of its fire.  It was because of him that the other knights killed off the beast and were unharmed.  They survived only because of his valour, his sacrifice.”

Leoba remained agonisingly silent.  There were words in her head but she feared that if she opened her mouth they would issue as a scream and that once she started screaming she feared she would never stop.  Just as if one tear dared to tumble it would unleash an unstoppable torrent.  She tugged her hands free from Culanir’s and buried her face in them, bent double with the leaden weight of shock and grief.  Leoba didn’t want to think. She willed her mind to be as numb as her body but in the enveloping darkness she saw the dragon of her nightmare again and knew the awfulness of Dirk dying alone and so far away.  If only I could have held him she thought. She thought about their last goodbye; their last touch and the glint of the early morning sun on the hilt of his sword as he had melted into the distance. And she wanted, so much, to hold him again. I should have sent that letter. I hope he knew just how much I Iove him.

Then Culanir put an arm around her.  His loving gesture tipped the balance so that she could no longer keep her fragile hold; the first tears seeped through her fingers.

“Oh Culanir, help me” she begged.  “What am I going to do without him?”

He looked at the young woman weeping in his arms and he truly did not know.  “I wish I had the right answers to give. But I will always be here for you”.

She lifted her head and looked at him through the mist. “Will you really?  Dirk once said that to me.”

“He truly loved you.  You know that. I’ve witnessed that.  Don’t ever ever doubt it.  If he could have come back to you, you know he would have done.”

“It should have been me first, Culanir, me, not him!  We were so certain, we talked it over and over.  I was going to grow old with him, bear his children.”

Leoba turned from her brother and knelt alone on the floor, wracked by choking sobs.  Wait for me Dirk” she whispered. “I have never begged you for anything but I am begging you now, please wait for me”.

Culanir looked down at his sister’s bent shoulders, her face darkly shrouded by her hair, and he feared for her in the days and weeks and months and years to come. Grief was not a stranger to Culanir but seldom had it hit so close to someone he loved. He mourned for the passing of Leoba’s youth as well as for the passing of a valiant knight.  He knelt down beside her and bowing his head in supplication, seeking comfort for them both in the familiar ritual, he began to recite the litany of the dead:

Erulaitalë. I have called on the One and He answered my cry;
Great are the sorrows of death
Greater still His is love for the Children of Illútvatar.
Though my spirit is sorely pressed I live in His love and trust in His Mercy
He is the Lord for Always who dwells beyond the world;
Who made it and is not of it nor in it, but loves it.
Despair shall not consume me
Though beset by the shadow of grief I shall not be afeared
For beyond the mask of darkness and beyond the Circles of the World there is light.
Aurë entuluva
I sing his praises and I give thanks unto Eru the Allfather for His Gift
For He is gracious and He is righteous and He is merciful. Erulaitalë

He finished the first prayer, and Culanir reached for Leoba’s hand. She was still crying, but he sensed from her stillness that she had been listening.  He squeezed her hand tight. She joined her voice with his; together they prayed.

Written by leobavorima

February 15, 2013 at 8:15 pm

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. * Erulaitalë : ‘Praise of Eru’
    ** Aurë entuluva : ‘day will come again’

    With due credit to Tolkien for the line from The Book of Lost Tales Pt1 which I have incorporated into this prayer.

    leobavorima

    February 15, 2013 at 8:47 pm


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: