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What the Thunder Said
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Chapter III

I have perceived much beauty
In the hoarse oaths that kept our courage straight;
Heard music in the silentness of duty;
Found peace where shell-storms spouted reddest spate.

It was only a little while after we abandoned the Causeway Forts to the enemy that I felt my mind begin its last disintegration. The only sense that I could make of all around me was to believe that I had indeed at last wandered from the waking world, and entered entirely the lands of my dreaming. All about me was turned upon itself. For although we fought hard and unstintingly, still all we did was fall back, and die. And at the end of it I knew there would be no victory worthy of song; for all we hoped for was a less worse defeat.

The world about became absurd; all beauty lost in terror. I watched men that I knew to be gentle slash at the bodies and the bones of the enemy, and laugh as they did it; and this, it seemed to me, was the true triumph of our Enemy, to turn us, in our desperation, into the very image of his cruelty and remorselessness. Or else it was that all that was of worth counted as naught. I saw courage and valour rewarded only with extinction; the young man, no older than his twentieth year, running back, stopping at whiles to turn and fight, ever dragging beside him the friend who had taken an arrow just after the retreat began. I would have bowed my head and bent down on both knees to honour them in the Great Hall of the White Tower itself, save they were hewed down not a mile from the city.

Again and again, on the faces of all those I slew, I would catch a glimpse of the face of the first man I ever killed, when I was seventeen years old and stationed near Poros, and we were attacked at night by the Haradrim. I had looked upon his strange features for only a moment before turning to defend myself from another, but I have ever wondered about him, and who had grieved to learn of his death, as I now grieved for Boromir. And this parade of faces, old and new, flickered past me in shades of red and black; lit up in the gloom which hung upon us by the fiery flashes of the torches our enemies bore, and the flames that charred the homesteads of the Pelennor.

I longed for the sight of pure white light, and for a drink of clean clear water. Worst of all, there was no stillness here, only noise, for hour upon hour. I could pick out no sense in the cacophony - it was as if it were the very clamour of Morgoth, sowing the seeds of discord into the music of making. One moment I would catch a voice I knew cry out in anguish, as another of my friends fell; and then I was listening to the triumph in the yells and the shouts of the Southrons in their harsh and grating tongue. Now and again, struggling to be heard above the rout, there came back to me my own voice, growing hoarser as the day declined, shouting out commands and what encouragements I could. But accompanying all, a dire disharmony, there was the steady beat of the wings of the terror above, and the sudden shrill piercing of their shrieks. And as the hours went on, it was this that seemed most real to me, while all else became muffled.

There came a point where speech failed me, for I had grasped at last that despite all our toil, and how close we were, we would not reach the city. Thus it was that speaking no longer served any purpose, and all that remained was the brute act of raising my arm to kill, until I was killed in my turn. And then, half a mile and an age from the gate, I heard something else rising above the noise of battle. A voice was singing, faint and forlorn at first; and then the tune was picked up by all those of the out-companies that could still summon the will and, as I fought, I found I could sing too, through my tears. And then the song was taken up strongly by the men watching on the walls, as if by the sound of their voices they might carry us home to them safely. The words were clumsy, but they told of our love for Gondor, of the courage and persistence of our people, of our steadfast rejection of the Enemy.

Brought from the west a star still shines,
Undaunted in these darkened times,
Although besieged by battle lines -
Gondor still abides.

From Belfalas to Rauros tall,
The grace of Gondor gifts us all
With strength to stand and not to fall;
Fair Gondor shall abide.

Though shadows all about us press,
No darkness has devised a test
To fell the men of Westernesse,
And Gondor will abide.

We fearless face the battle lines,
For in the west a star still shines
Triumphant in these troubled times,
Brave Gondor still abides.

It was not until many weeks later, sitting in peace with friends and able at last to talk of that day, that I learned that that first voice had been mine. I have no memory of that at all.

As the song ended I heard, on the very edge of my awareness, what seemed to be the silver sound of a trumpet, and I thought I caught a cry go up: 'Amroth for Gondor! Amroth to Faramir!' But, in truth, I was no longer listening, for ere we had reached the final verse, a thunderbolt had struck me, and I had welcomed it, because it meant the end. All at last was falling quiet, save for a thin whisper that promised me what I most desperately desired. Silence.


Author's notes: The story continues in The Fire Sermon

Although I appropriated the thunder as a symbol of something less than nice in this story, in The Waste Land what the thunder says is, 'Giving, sympathy, self-control.' Which I think is very Faramir.

Quotation attribution:
Chapter I: from Boromir and Faramir's dream
Chapter II: from 'What the Thunder Said', part V of The Waste Land by TS Eliot
Chapter III: fromApologia Pro Poemate Meo by Wilfred Owen,1893-1918.

February 8-11, 2002


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