I had a disturbing dream last night…if dream it were. It felt more like my vision of Boromir’s spirit in the House of Healing. But it did answer a question that has been pestering me ever since the night Raven spoke, about a week ago….
I am looking upon a landscape not unlike that of Mordor…not quite so bleak or so poisonous, but still grim, rocky and barren, ashy, very little vegetation. The charred remnants of a large building smolder in the background. Dead bodies lie here and there, mostly orcs, but some Men also, many in the uniforms of soldiers. I see them as through a sad and dusty mist, standing alone with my newly filled glass in my hand, and I wonder whether to go and help them. But my feet seem rooted to the spot.
More soldiers come, some on foot, some on horseback. I see other men approaching, all in rags, their hair and beards wild and tangled, their bodies and what is left of their clothing filthy and smelly. One wears no shirt at all. He is young, and his features are regular and might be handsome if they were clean and his dark hair and beard washed and trimmed and combed. I can see a few whip scars on his back, and I shudder.
He and another prisoner appear to be looking for someone. The soldiers assist some of the wounded. I turn my eyes away as one of them stabs an orc who appears to have some life still in him. Then I see the young shirtless prisoner and another one bending over one of the fallen prisoners, who has an arrow embedded in his side. He appears older than the others, his hair and beard nearly all grey, his head mostly bald on top. He lies on his front, his face turned to one side, and I can see it is grimaced in great pain. It would be an uncomely face even in peace, yet I feel a wish to go and ease him. The two prisoners stoop over him and very slowly turn him over. He groans, and the shirtless man admonishes the other to be more careful.
The wounded man murmurs something I cannot hear, and the shirtless man bends over to listen. He nods, and takes something from a bag lying nearby. It is a dark-colored flask. I cannot see if there is anything in it. The shirtless man uncorks it, and holds it to the wounded man’s lips.
Drink, I can hear him say. The wounded man tells him, Give it to the others. I’ll not last long.
No, Hathol, says the shirtless man. You eased the pain of others, now let us ease yours. There’s but one swallow left anyway.
And he supports the wounded man’s head and pours what is left in the flask into his mouth, and he does not protest. The shirtless man smoothes back a lock of the grey hair, then caresses his forehead.
When it starts to take effect we will pull out this arrow, he says.
Nay, leave it, lad, says the wounded man. I can feel the life leaving me even as I speak.
No, Hathol, we’re going to save you if we can, says the shirtless man, his voice breaking a little. And we’re not leaving you in this godforsaken place. If you’re to die, it will be among friends at least.
Then the other man speaks: I’m going to pull out this arrow now. We must not delay. He breaks off part of the shaft, which is a thick one, and puts it between the wounded man’s teeth. Bite down on this, he says. Then very slowly and carefully, he begins pulling the arrow out. The wounded man does not cry aloud, but his face goes grey, and I wince, wondering if he will bite through the piece of shaft. The shirtless man holds to the wounded one’s hands, and his face clenches a little at the pressure of the older man’s fingers on his own. Then the contents of the flask begin to take effect, and the lines of pain in the wounded man’s face begin to relax as a soldier comes along and begins dressing his wound.
Two more men carrying a ragged blanket approach, and lay the blanket on the ground beside the wounded man. They fold it in half, then again, and speak to the others to lift the wounded man onto it. They slide their hands underneath him, then very gently, almost tenderly, they lift him onto the blanket. Then each of them take a corner of it and carefully lift it and begin to carry the wounded man into the mist. I cannot see where they are going, and I begin to follow. I must not lose sight of them. I am frightened, yet I plod through the dust, past the dead orcs, whose stench I can smell distinctly, and I try not to be sick, despite the entrails I narrowly miss stepping on. Sam, are you with me, I whisper, but I cannot see you anywhere. Then I remind myself that you are not here, that I went off and left you, and I feel a twinge of despair and terror, yet I move on. I must not let the wounded man out of my sight. But where have they gone? I call, Hathol, Hathol, but cannot see anyone about. Then I remember my glass, and I murmur the words to make it light, and it does so. Ah, now I can see….
And the next thing I see appears to be the soldiers’ encampment, with a tent in the midst. It is dusk, but I hold my glass high, and walk among the ones who are making their beds outside the tent, which I approach, and no one seems to be able to see me. I enter the tent, in which several wounded men are lying on pallets, some of them unconscious. And I find Hathol quickly enough. I stood down beside him. Hullo, Ringbearer, I’m glad you’ve come at last, he says, just as if he were expecting me. Involuntarily I touch myself on the place where It was wont to hang, but of course It is not there. And I remember, I gave the Evenstar to Anemone, and I wear no chain now, and I am the father of Northlight and Raven. I hold up the Light to look at Hathol’s face, and he smiles sweetly at me, and I take his hand with my good one. His eyes, I can see, are golden-brown in color, and large, and full of their own special light. And he says, Tell the Puss I go to a fairer land.
Puss? I think, taking this to be a pet-name for his wife. How would I ever find his wife? Then I nod in understanding, and I uncork the glass, dip my fingers into the water, and brush his forehead with them, and profound peace comes over his craggy features, until he is indeed beautiful. I kiss his bald head, and his eyes close in sleep, and I sit beside him until he draws his final breath. I take his hands and fold them over his breast, then take the blanket that lies over him and gently cover his face.
I do not know how long I sit beside him. A couple of tears escape my eyes. No one else seems aware of my presence. Finally I rise, and walk among the other wounded ones, and I uncork my glass once more and dip my fingers in the water and brush them across each forehead, and each face becomes peaceful, the tent full of a soft silvery light, and I know that those who are to die will sleep in peace, and those who will survive will come to walk in the Light. And I step out into the night, and the mist is gone and the sky is full of stars. And I am sitting once more on the beach, and I turn to go back to the cottage before Anemone can come out looking for me....
All next day I waited for Raven to come home from school, wondering when the right time would be to tell her. And as her many siblings gathered chattering in the garden, I drew Raven away and walked with her to the beach, where I told her of my dream.
“Puss,” she said as we sat watching the evening sky draw out its multi-colored scarves and its lone gem, “that was his name for me. He could not say my right name either. He always called me Puss. But I think I did not tell you that. Did I?”
“No, and yet I knew whom he meant,” I said. “I think the glass contains water from the Fountain of Irmo now, in part. I shall ask Lady Elwing; she would know. Something tells me that all the Valar have had a part in the refilling of my glass, and not just Lord Ulmo. And I have found myself thinking of Hathol often, and wondering what became of him. Perhaps the glass heard me, and decided to tell me. I am wondering about Guilin, why it is he should have become Hathol. Whether or not it is that his spirit possessed him for a while, to give him peace…or if he were just remembering the healer in some remote chamber of his mind, and took on his name in order to give himself peace and healing of some sort.”
“But Guilin said his Hathol was dull,” Raven said, “and mine was not. One of the soldiers said that outside of the prison, he often cheered everyone with his jokes and witty remarks. It cannot have been the same one.”
“Maybe the glass will explain that someday, as well,” I said. “I am thankful that it did not let me see the battle. It is wise, and knows what to show me and what not.”
“The soldier without the shirt is the one who gave me his,” she said. “I do not even know his name. What color was his hair?”
“Why--black,” I said puzzled as to why she would ask this. “Or very dark brown. I did not really notice.”
She nodded with a hint of a smile. “His eyes, then?”
“Blue--I think. I did not really see them.”
“Yes, they were blue. I am glad he got out alive.”
“So am I,” I said. “I think I know why you would not be erased now. I think you have been sustained by the memory of Hathol and the soldier, and the others, who risked their lives to save you, and took care of you and your brother and eased your pain for a time. It is as Lord Elrond said—one finds unexpected friendships along the way, and to do so may turn great evil to great good. Which does not mean that the horrific memories ever completely go away, but we can keep them at bay when we live in the Light, which we can find only through those who bear it themselves.”
“I am glad for him,” she said, although her eyes were very bright. “His wife and daughter will go to where he is someday. But I am sad for them.”
“So am I,” I said. “A fine and loving husband and father he must have been. But I'm glad they will not be left to wonder about his fate.”
“I want to make a monument for him,” she said. “Right here on the beach, where I can always see it. Can we, Ada?”
“I don’t see why not,” I said smiling.