“For though Sauron had passed, the hatreds and evils that he bred had not died, and the King of the West had many enemies to subdue... beyond the Sea of Rhûn and on the far fields of the South...”
LotR, Appendix A, II, ‘The House of Eorl’.
That morning, I rode north, beyond the ordered fields and lanes, to a part of the country where the woods still wandered wild, and swift falling streams ran as yet unwatched. I walked for a while beneath the trees, where the air was warm and damp and fertile, and the ground was thick with the fallen leaves and branches. I tracked and marked each tree in turn, and soon I was following a path now seldom trodden.
I came in time to the heart of the forest: a grove of culumalda trees, hidden deep within. Tall they were, and thin, and standing sentry. Their leaves were red upon the green; they lay thick upon the branches, they lay thick upon the ground. I sat for a while, and watched; and listened for the beat of the heart, the beat of the drum. The forest was quiet; the forest remembered.
I ride home through green fields and quiet lanes; past orchards full and vineyards laden; past wheat-fields golden and pasture rich. When at last I crest the hill before home, the sky has bruised to purple, the moon and stars are slanting light like spears. In the valleys below me, all the lamps are being lit across Ithilien.
At home, my wife draws me to her. “All is ready,” she says. We stand before our window, hand in hand, and look ahead, south, to the camp fires, to the flags flying – White Horse, White Tree – to the ranks and lines ordered from the garden of Gondor. “We have fought many times,” she comforts me.
Aye, but – the great battle of our time, ‘twas said. Gondor at her knees before her gates, wept and bled near dry. All given to destroy the destroyer of all; all given for the promise of the new Age that might blossom.
Culumalda, simbelmynë – flowers of Ithilien, flowers of Rohan – may the Valar guard and guide you on your way. And may we in turn remain worthy of you, we stewards and forgers of this new Age. May the West remain loved, not feared – for its light, its beauty, its wisdom, and its pity. We fought before, we shall fight again – but this time, for the first time, we send our sons.
“Well, the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame,
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
For, Willie McBride – it’s all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.”
Eric Bogle, No-Man’s Land.
The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.
9th May 2004