Written to celebrate the first anniversary of the LOTR Community discussion group, and dedicated to Soledad on her birthday. So many thanks to RiverOtter for the beta!
In Gondor there was rejoicing on the twenty-fifth of the third month, now officially the start of the new year. Their Lord and Lady were not within the White City, having gone to the wasted lands where the last battle of the War of the Ring had been fought, gone there shining with their shared love and the power it granted them, gone to offer their blessings toward the renewal of the long-cursed earth and the horrors of the Dead Marshes that had been so long marred by the Enemy’s will toward evil.
But gone from Middle Earth now was the one who had sought to twist the elements themselves from the Creator’s intent, seeking to take his mentor’s place when it was proved that he indeed could not of his own power call Morgoth out of the Void. And so, in spite of the absence of King and Queen the people of Minas Tirith made merry--those who’d not followed the royal train on its pilgrimage.
The White Tree now bloomed before the Citadel. The beloved younger son of Denethor might not be the Ruling Steward, yet was of higher rank in his way even than had been his father. And now the arrival of the Steward of Gondor at a function was considered a blessing rather than an added reason for concern. Rohan and Gondor were now further bonded through the marriage of Prince Faramir to the sister of Éomer King, and the threat of the rogue Wizard beyond the northwestern borders had been ended. They had seen with their own eyes that there yet lingered the long-lost races of Elves, Dwarves, and other peoples in the far north, and now such had begun to come openly into Gondor and through the seven Circles of the city, adding their own blessings to this beginning to the new age.
And there was the memory of the stay within their city of the four Pheriannath who’d managed to save so many and bring down the Nameless One himself as well as his greatest servant. The wonder of it still filled their hearts!
In the far north, however, the one they praised more greatly this day even than their new King did not hear the echoes of the songs sung in his honor in Minas Tirith and Dol Amroth, from the seaports on the western shores of Langstrand to the new settlements already being founded ’neath the shadows of the Ephel Dúath. His health did not reflect the wishes offered for it by Rangers from beyond Deadman’s Dike to those who kept their watch in the guarded lands north of the River Poros. No scent of blooms from White Trees or mellyrn lifted his heart--this day he seemed not even to scent the early daffodils and hyacinths blooming in bright blankets all about the farmhouse where he sat, rubbing at the deep ache in his shoulder. The goblet of wine brought to him by his friend’s beloved tasted as sour as vinegar upon his tongue. He knew no vision of the brightness gathered about the Man he loved as a brother and that one’s star-blessed wife that day. He felt no warmth about him, even though his hostess offered the softest, warmest shawl from her blanket chest to him to wrap about his shoulders.
Nay, the day for him was empty, and grey as spent ash, as fair as all others might find it, even those of his own folk who knew not what had happened in fire-cursed caverns in now-fallen mountains that had at last dispelled the brown skies of a year past. His very heart had been scoured out by what he had taken upon himself and that had lain over it for so very long. Hollow and empty he felt. He only rejoiced that Pippin and Merry and Sam were not there this day to see him, to realize how deeply the scars ran.
Of its own volition his hand lifted to clutch through his shirt at what no longer hung from a chain about his neck--nay, a different chain hung there now, lighter but undoubtedly as strong. His questing fingers were at first disappointed, then relieved to find instead the white gem given him by the Queen. He held it almost desperately, and felt at least a slight lightening of the grief. It was not much, but any measure of illumination to make it past the darkened windows of his soul was welcome.
He took his first deep breath of the day. Nay, he would not allow that emptiness to be perceived by the Cottons or any other who might visit them ere the morrow. With an effort he rose, forced a smile, pretended to pay attention to what young Jolly was saying. He would not darken their day if he could help it.