To See The Light by Mirach|
Summary: We are trapped in eternal shadow. Who shall call us from the grey twilight? Who shall give us freedom? Will he dare to walk our paths – the Paths of the Dead?
Disclaimer: There are no names in this story, but you will recognize them. They are not mine.
Time passes like grey threads of cobwebs floating in the stall air of underground passages. Like the cracking of dry bones and echoes of long rotten drums is its rhythm. Like the last breath of a withered corpse it strokes my unseeing eyes in the eternal darkness. It creeps forwards: moment after moment, hour after hour, century after century. It passes by. But we stay.
We are the whispers in the empty hallways, ashes and dust carried on the wings of colourless moths. Forgotten. Dead. This is our world... The whispers, the shadows. I know that it was not always so. There had to be life once. There had to be feeling in my fingers when I touched things. There had to be blood in veins and wine in goblets. There had to be voices, real voices raised in song. But I don’t remember. I don’t remember my name. It is cold... so cold.
There have been words. They echo in the empty darkness still. They were just sounds, just passing ripples on the surface of air. How is it that they have such power? The ripples grow... they spread their circles, further and further. We are trapped here, in their circles. The words of an oath... and the words of a curse. There is no escape. We desire warmth, but it is cold, so very cold. We desire peace, but there is only unrest and turmoil. We want to sleep… sleep and dream, or just sleep and know nothing. Anything is better than this dream without sleep, this nightmare. We desire light, but we are trapped in eternal darkness, in the shadow of an unfulfilled oath.
Shhhh... A sound! A real sound in the heavy silence of death. The warmth of a living breath moves the still air. The hooves of horses clatter on the cold stones like rain behind the window of a man condemned to thirst. The fire of torches. A memory of light and warmth. It is so cold.... Who dares? Who dares to mock us?!? Who dares to disturb our un-peace?
They are many. In a silent cohort they walk, one by one. Their feet swirl the dust of centuries. They walk with their gaze cast down, and do not look back. They are afraid. We feel it... we smell it. The sickly pale smell of fear. We draw closer. We follow them. We circle around them. The life! We need it! We need to touch it, to feel it, taste it, devour it! Closer. Closer to the fire. It is so cold.... Closer to the life! They came to disturb, to plunder! We will not let them pass! We will drink their life like wine, and maybe it will make us forget the eternal emptiness just for a short while.
Here, in this place.... They will not see our hoards behind these doors. Only one mortal tried to open them until now. His bones lie here still, dust and ashes and cold glimmer of gold instead of a mound. This place will be your tomb as well! Closer.... We circle. We lurk. We wait. Closer. Closer.... We bask in the warmth of life that we can’t feel. Soon it will be cold again. Dust and ashes and cold bones where no light of stars can reach. Yes, come closer. Touch the gold...
“Keep your hoards and your secrets hidden in the Accursed Years! Speed only we ask. Let us pass, and then come! I summon you to the Stone of Erech!”
Hush! Wait! Do not touch them yet! Erech.... The name brings a memory. The oath and the curse. The bonds that are holding us here. They are bound to that stone, heavy like death and black like the darkness of our extinguished sight. He summons us.... Who is he? Who is he that he dares to order us? Is he the one who can give us peace? After so many centuries.... No! We do not believe! You can’t give us peace, you can’t give us light! It is cold, cold and dark! No light, no fire! If you ask speed, you must walk in the darkness. Yes, the flames! The warm flames of your torches we will extinguish, but not the flames of your life yet. We can wait for a while longer, we can follow you in the dark, follow you to the dark stone in the dark land. It is dark everywhere, but we must know who you are.
We follow. We watch. When they stumble, we draw closer. When they hesitate for a moment, we reach for them, for the warmth of their life. But we do not touch yet. We take the breath from their mouth and drink its warmth. It is so cold.… Nothing can warm us. We watch for any who would stumble and fall, overwhelmed by the darkness, but no one does. They walk forwards steadily, as if guided by an invisible line. He guides them. His will is like a shield between them and us. Does he not feel fear? Does he not feel our cold breath on the back of his neck?
Oh yes, he does. He is afraid. We can smell his fear. We can smell his sweat and weariness. Oh, he is weary, so weary, and a shadow lies on his heart. And yet he walks steadily through darkness and the thick mist of fear, and his men follow him like a beacon in deadly storm. What is it that guides him forwards when he should fall or turn and run back, into our cold embrace? Oh, it is tempting, so tempting to reach for the warm flame of his life. We long for it, we need it! But we know that it will extinguish when we touch it. We long for the light, but our touch turns it to darkness. We long for warmth, but our touch turns it to cold ashes. But he… he feels different. Could his flame last? Could he be our beacon, too? We follow him; circle around him like moths driven to the flame. Maybe he can give light to us.…
Out of the caves, we follow him and await our time. There should be stars on the sky, but there are none. They are a vague memory of forgotten times when we yet looked up to the sky. There are no stars for us. Their light does not reach through the veil of death. At midnight, the darkness is strongest. At midnight, he must give us the light, or we will take it ourselves, and maybe it will be different this time, not like with the stars. Now there are just shadows. Shadows of horses to give us speed. Shadows of spears and banners to remember the shadows of battles that we didn’t take. At midnight we will have his light. The hunt is on!
Ride through the darkness! Ride under the stars that only you can see! We follow, and the shadowy land runs under the hooves of shadowy horses. We ride after you like hunters, and your light is our prey. After many centuries, we feel the thrill of pursuit again. Something will change in the eternal emptiness today. The midnight is near.
Their horses stumble with weariness. The riders are exhausted, too, and he the most of them. There is a shadow in his mind that has nothing to do with the path under the mountain - we can feel it because shadows belong to our world. Shadow of a fiery eye and hard battle with its terrible will. They are connected – the eye and our curse, but the memories evade us. And another shadow lies on his heart – the shadow of a maiden in white like a wild thing in a cage. And yet he does not fall under the shadow and weariness, and drives his horse to desperate speed. Foam drips from its muzzle and its flanks glisten with sweat. It should fall, but instead it runs like an arrow, swallowing the miles of night. It follows the will of its master, just like the other men and their horses.
Erech. The weight pressing on the shadowy land, bending it so that there is no escape. It binds us; it anchors us here, in the world of darkness and cold. No escape, no freedom, just its heavy silhouette and the echo of words spoken in this place. Midnight is passing over the land in our heels, but they have reached the stone. We watch and wait.
A horn sounds. What a deep, reverberating sound, reaching like silver spear through the veil of shadow where all sounds are dull and muted! Just like his voice...
“Oathbreakers, why have ye come?”
Why have we come? We came driven by your flame; we came for the promise of light. We followed you because we are cold and strive for warmth...
“To fulfil our oath and have peace.”
Peace.... Peace we ask. Can you give it to us, mortal? Can you break this curse of eternal non-existence? Are you the one that we are waiting for during all these centuries of misery?
“The hour is come at last. Now I go to Pelargir upon Anduin, and ye shall come after me. And when all this land is clean of the servants of Sauron, I will hold the oath fulfilled, and ye shall have peace and depart for ever. For I am Elessar, Isildur’s heir of Gondor.”
A great standard is unfurled. It is dark, but we can see what it depicts. A tree, a crown. Stars. They shine! We can see their light! In the world of shadows, we can see the light of stars! At last... The hour is come at last! You have given us light, heir of Isildur; you have given us the promise of peace and freedom for which we no longer hoped. We will follow you, heir of Sea-Kings, follow you and fulfil our oath! We have been summoned...
Shadows of horses to give us speed. Shadows of spears to clean the land of the servants of Sauron. Shadows of battles that we didn’t fight hangs above us, but we will walk out of that shadow today, and finally take on the battle, like we swore - shadows of forgotten people to find peace at last...
The sun rose and sank in the sky, once, two times... we did not count its circles. Time has small meaning to us. The sun sails the sky, but we do not feel the warmth of her rays. When they stopped, we waited; when they moved, we followed. When they slept, we drank the light from their dreams and replaced it with our darkness, because we are hungry for light. But they did not sleep much. They rode forwards, ever forwards, almost to utter exhaustion, and he was always at the front as if he could never know weariness, his will the only bond that kept them going.
We rode after them, and then we fought. Our last battle, our chance to regain the lost honour. For a moment, we could feel the swords and spears in our hands, and the shadowy banners blew proudly, as if there was a real wind in the motionless air of our world. The echoes of horns blew, and echoes of battle-cries sounded over the field. We could smell the warm blood of our enemies, and for that moment it was like heady wine, and we could almost feel again.... It did not last. It could not give us light. We drank the light of their lives, but it was tainted with black, and turned to darkness as soon as we touched it. But there was a promise of a real light at the end of this battle. We fought until the land was clean from the servants of Sauron again. And then...
He stood on the prow of the mightiest ship. His face was pale and his hands shook with exhaustion, and yet he stood tall and proud like Isildur himself, and a star was on his brow. Behold its light! Is shines through the darkness and shadow, untainted light like a wonder to our blind eyes...
“Hear now the words of the Heir of Isildur! Your oath is fulfilled. Go back and trouble not the valleys ever again! Depart and be at rest!”
Rest.... Sleep.... Find peace.... The oath is fulfilled. The curse is broken. We are free, free at last! You have showed us light in the eternal darkness, Heir of Isildur. You have brought warmth into the cold world of shadows. We paid the price for our treachery with the chains binding us to this world, but you paid the price for our freedom.
I can see the light! It is so bright... and yet it does not hurt my eyes used to darkness – it is inviting.... I remember! I remember the feeling of tree bark under my fingers, and the feeling of fresh wind in my face. The cold thaws. I can feel warmth again. I remember my name... I follow the light.
Rest... sleep... peace...
quotes from: J.R.R.Tolkien: The Return of the King, Book V, Chapter 2: The Passing of the Grey Company and Chapter 9: The Last Debate