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Ships Passing
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
Ships Passing

Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness:
So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.


(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Tales of a Wayside Inn)


~~~

I never knew you, I say aloud, though I have heard the stories. The attendants who brought me from the Houses to this chamber of the Citadel look up at the sound of my voice, though they quickly avert their eyes. I know it is against custom to break the silence in a place such as this, but I cannot help myself. And it is strange for us to share these words that you can no longer hear, dead as you are upon the bed of state before me. But words build in my chest and beg a voice, whether I would willingly give them one or not.

I have always been good at waiting patiently, whether the trap be a snare for a coney or an ambush for orcs. In Ithilien one learned the virtue of patience quickly; without it you would survive. So often of late I have convalesced in the gardens, leaning against some bench and soaking up the sun's warmth and listening to all that was said about you. Can you imagine what your injured brothers-in-arms have to say about you? Not all of it meant for mothers' ears! It seems that you have quite a way with the women of Bree, and in the towns along Rohan's borders.

Not that I blame you for seeking what comfort could be found in a warm bed. My own men often did likewise. I myself have never loved any woman saved much as the lady I have spied of late, sitting by her window in the Houses. Beside her all others pale, and even before I first saw her I never desired any other, both those who I might have hoped to marry, and those whose services I could have bought with coin. I always found more comfort in the company of my father and brother, and in the pages of my favourite books. But just because I never sought another's bed, that does not mean I think of less of you for doing so.

I have heard other stories of you, how you eased the weariness of your fellow rangers both with bawdy ditties and with weightier songs out of Rivendell. How our two peoples' fought at each others' sides so often in the days before Pelendur's folly. You reminded them of Annúminas' strong walls and beautiful gardens, did you not? I hear how your rangers liken Minas Tirith to that ancient city by the lake, and know that they have learned to love it from somewhere. I like to imagine it was you who told them of it, whether or not that is true.

So patience has brought me word of you, augmented perhaps by fancy. I feel a bond between us, Halbarad uin-Dúnedain, which is strange as we have never spoken. The patience of Ithilien has also taught me never to be harsh in my judgments. Much more than orcs would have fallen at my arrows if it were otherwise! Do the wilds of Eriador also teach you this patience that tempers harsh actions? If so, then you of all men would wonder at my instant sense of brotherhood with you.

For we are not brothers, though we have laboured to the same ends. Your comrades-in-arms tell me how you ruled the Angle in our king's absence, when greater matters and a need for secrecy kept him from deciding the day-to-day matters. Did you know my forefathers have done the same here in the South? We have had no king for nigh a thousand years, yet we still hold rod and rule in the king's name, awaiting the day when he will return.

And now he has come to Gondor. Though he refuses to wear the crown until he marches to the Black Gate and all is either lost or won, I know he is the one for whom we Stewards have waited. I recongnised him when he first woke me just a week ago. Many may fight against his claim yet, but in my heart I have accepted him. My father would have felt otherwise, but I am not...

Halbarad, do you Dúnedain of the North feel sorrow and pain as bitterly as we do in the South? Even the thought of the old steward, the one who would have denied our king's right to rule -- the one whom I can barely name as father -- that thought makes my blood run cold. When I wake in cold sweat, a scream ripping itself from my chest and shattering the quiet of the night, remembering dreams of the dawnless day... have you ever felt such terror? Such pain, such regret, such rage? The scream of a Nazgûl does not pierce to the marrow as such night-phantoms do.

What would you say, Halbarad, if I admitted the truth: that I often wish it was I and not you who laid upon this bed of state, dulled to all future pain? Would you think less of me? I know my duty, but in a strange way I cannot help envying your peace.

Mayhap you do not have the same terrors in your past as I do, but your face is etched with years. I think that you were no innocent. Your pain was of a different sort, perhaps, but it was pain nevertheless. Pain is pain.

Where does this leave us, Halbarad? The West's freedom is not yet won. Aragorn shall lead the company's from here in two days' time, and I have heard the whispers questioning whether they shall return. I barely have the heart to hope, but something stronger than that tells me we shall survive this night. What is it? Faith? If so, faith in what? I cannot give this strength a name, yet there it is. I believe our king shall return, and I shall place a crown on his head, and perhaps -- dare I say it? -- perhaps the Tree shall bloom again.

But what then? When our people survive the night there shall be a new world to rule. Aragorn shall sit in the throne, but any good king needs good councillors. I never expected this yoke to be cast on my shoulders, but I shall bear it as best I can. Shall I bear it in the North as well, or do you have kinsmen who can help our king in those far-away lands? I hope you do, for I am not as tireless as an elf. One kingdom is quite enough!

In a kinder world we would have known each other. We would have drank wine together and shared meat. You would have taught me your wisdom, and I would have shared mine in turn. Since you too are taken from me, I shall find what strength I can in myself and in those around me who still draw breath. I have long dreamt of peace in Gondor, a king upon the throne, and children in Osgiliath, but now I shall work for the day when Annúminas too will be rebuilt.

Rest well, Halbarad uin-Dúnedain, and know that you have an ally in these southern lands. An ally and a friend.

~~~

Notes
Pelendur's folly -- It was the council of Pelendur that decided that Arvedui's claim as Isildur's heir did not give him a right to rule in Gondor.

Halbarad uin-Dúnedain -- My attempt at a smidgen of Sindarin. It should mean "Halbarad of the Dúnedain". If my translation is wrong I am open to correction.


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