In the dark times, will we be singing?
Yes, we’ll be singing of the dark times.
Minas Tirith, Autumn 3017
At the fall of the year, I found myself in the City, waiting for my father’s summons. Throughout the afternoon, then, I stood high upon the walls, looking down on the gardens beneath, watching the brown leaves sadly drift, and waiting. At length, my father’s secretary – a pale young man, and a good one, if harried – came and told me that some urgent business had arisen, and the Steward said I might consider myself free for the rest of the afternoon.
It was rare in these days for me to find myself with time upon my hands, and I pondered for a while what I might do. In the end, I took myself to the library, for many years a favourite haunt, there to seek the peace of its still halls. Old Parmandil greeted me – frailer now, perhaps, silver-haired – but otherwise unchanged, a fixture as permanent as the scrolls and the papers to which he was devoted.
Time, it seemed to me, touched this place but slowly, as if within the walls the pulses of men slowed, their breathing steadied. Throughout my youth this had made the place a refuge, free from disturbance. But today... Today the weight of history hung heavy, it seemed, and the heart did not settle, like as to when a patient on a sickbed gasps and labours for breath. I prowled the halls restlessly, listlessly, finding little in the way of solace.
I came in the end to the oldest part of this house: four small dim rooms, low-ceilinged, and packed with strange scrolls in strange hands, many untouched for years, I would venture, not since I had searched them, or perhaps even my father before me. Here, I had often found the will to work. Clearing a space at a cluttered table, I sat and took out pen and parchment. I had thought to take advantage of this rare free time to scratch some words – but none came, or none that I cared for. Abandoning the labour as futile, I closed my eyes instead and slept. These last months in Ithilien had been hard-fought, and my time was surely better used in rest.
Mercifully, I did not dream.
Sunset woke me, bright and purposeful, that last radiant gold with which the day oft departs, as if triumphant in the knowledge of its inevitable return. Across the table from me, buried deep in scrolls and muttering, muttering, muttering as he worked, sat Mithrandir.
“You seem in haste, lord,” I said at last, and quietly. “Might I be of aid?”
He raised his head, and his face, worn with care, was transfigured by a smile. “Do not trouble yourself with my business, lord!” he said, and his glance, ever-keen, fell briefly on my papers before returning to his own. “What is it that brings you here?”
I shuffled the pages before me. “An old work,” I said, with a sigh. “A fancy I had at one time, to write in verse of the founding of this city...” A city founded in sorrow, by exiles. For years now I had been struggling with the matter, and in truth had made little advance for several summers. No doubt it would be better set aside. “Some would say,” and, indeed, my father liked to say, “that I waste my time during war with poetry. War calls for history, some say, from the reading of which we may learn.”
Mithrandir stopped. Looking up, he said (and his voice was sharp), “And what do you say to that, Númenorean?”
To that question, so put, a true answer must be given, and so I searched my heart. Old dreams resounded through the chambers of my mind, the voices of those long dead who cried out to be heard, to be known, to be remembered – those sad lost souls, snared by that same Adversary who now sought to extinguish my City and her people for ever. Again I sighed, and gave the only answer that I had.
“I would say that beauty is its own end. Nay, more than that – for the extinction of all that is beautiful is the Enemy’s goal. And thus when we make or speak or act beautifully, for its own sake, we contradict Him. We oppose Him.”
“And?” prompted the wizard, softly.
In my mind’s eye, I saw the city ruined, the lands brown, the river black. Not one blade of green grass nor glimpse of radiant sun remained, all trace of beauty gone from the world, save in memory. “And I will not fall silent.”
Thus spoke conviction – if not hope. Grimly, the wizard turned back to his work.
“Sleep, lord,” he said. “Sleep while the chance remains. Dark days – darker – are close at hand.”
And I would have done as he bid, had not a messenger come then from my father, instructing me to join him. When at last our meeting was finished, I returned to the library, but Parmandil told me that Mithrandir, having found what he sought, had departed, in great haste.
I returned to the little chamber, and indeed found no sign that the wizard had ever been there. My own papers sat unloved upon the table. Whatever evening light had graced this room was now gone. Outside, the city darkened. Lighting the candles, I sat down again in my chair, and waited. But no vision came to me: no call from the past, no summons to the future. I picked up my pen nonetheless. What else was to be done?
Parmandil belongs to Azalais, from her lovely story After Such Knowledge:
Altariel, 24th March 2011
Altariel, 24th March 2011