All the world seems fair and fine today. All foulness and stench of evil has been washed away, and the air rushing into my lungs feels clean, cleaner than the brightest spring tumbling down a mountain, fresher than a lily sprinkled in morning dew. There is no stain, no blot on this perfect day of endless blue sky and spring-scented breeze. Ahead of me, drawing nearer with every stride of my mount, thrusts the perfect white spire of the city, with the banners of the king – the king! -- flapping in the morning breeze, and beside me, even more perfect and unstained, rides a lady. My lady. I can scarce believe it, the glory spread before me and beside me and within me. I would have never believed that so soon after standing within the very jaws of utter destruction I would find myself flying carefree across a meadow full of wildflowers, my hair flying behind me unbound by any helm, my steed beneath me light-footed, unburdened by the weight of armor. Laughter fills the air and with wonder I recognize it as my own. With wonder and surprise. For in all my life, I never expected joy. Mine was always duty – duty and forbearance and discipline were my inheritance; hung on me like a yoke on an ox when I was still too small to shrug it off. Early grief leached out the rest of my hope and chased my joy deep within, where it remained, small and fragile and not easily kindled. In compensation I granted myself small pleasures when I could – a book of poetry, the sight of a newborn fawn resting in a glade, a favorite table at a comfortable inn. But this sheer, exhilarating rush of joy – nay, I never expected this.
"Race me!" she cries, and with laughter tinkling like elven bells in her wake she spurs her mount into a faster gallop. Ahead of me she flies, golden hair streaming behind her, she too laughing with a breathless joy I thought never to see.
I begin to race after her, for this is a lady I intend never to let out of my sight for as long as I live. And if I am to be a proper husband to her, I can hardly let her beat me in a horserace. I am near to catching her – the roan she rides is hardy, but no match for this stallion in a test of speed – when I notice we are passing the mounds.
The grass is beginning to grow over them, but it is sparse. There is still no mistaking what these hills contain. This is as it should be – for as long as Minas Tirith stands, its people will never be able to look out over her fair fields without remembering those who fell to keep it from ruin. There will be grass here, and flowers, and eventually maybe trees, but still, long after my bones lie within the cold walls of Rath Dinen, mothers will stand with their children on the Embrasure, and point to the peaceful fields below, and tell the tale.
I am nearly past the long row of mounds when I notice someone kneeling on the ground, amidst the barrows. By his garb he is one of the Dúnedain who rode with Aragorn. I pull back on the reins, slowing my horse to get a better look. The man appears uninjured, though his head is bowed and his shoulders fallen, and I reckon I should pass him by. Some of these Rangers are leaving in a few days, Aragorn has said, returning to their home in the north. This one, perhaps, is saying a last farewell to a beloved comrade. I am an outsider, and it is not my place to disturb his privacy, and yet I am drawn to this man, lost in his grief. Even as my joy drains from me like water from a broken basin, compassion rises in me even stronger. I cannot leave him here like this.
Ahead of me Eowyn has stopped. The horse beneath her is panting with exertion, his flanks stained with sweat. She sees the Ranger also, and waits to see what I will do. This shield-maiden of mine is no chatterer; she knows the ways of warriors and respects their dark silences. She understands when I meet her eyes gravely and dismiss her with a slight wave of my hand. Watching her slender form diminish in the distance is agony; yet I hold my ground. I dismount and approach him. A cloak is lying on the ground beside him, along with a charcoal drawing of the city. It is not badly done, and I tell him that by way of introduction.
He looks up, revealing a face much like Elessar's, save for the lines of care and long toil. He looks a bit younger than I, though our northern cousins hide their age well. His face, like mine, is marked by slowly lfading signs of battle, and his eyes are older than he is. I have met the Rangers who accompanied Elessar from Dunharrow, but with exception of a few, know not their names. This one looks now at the Citadel with something like longing. "My father waited his whole life to see this city. When I was small, he told me stories about how beautiful it would be. But instead he died watching it burn."
My stomach tightens. I do not want to be reminded of fathers on this day, this perfect day made just for joy. The sun still beats down on me, but my sweat has frozen in the breeze. I do not wish to be reminded of the terror and cruel, soul-crushing despair that had consumed my father, and the city this man's father looked upon while taking his dying breath had been rank with it. "I wish he could have seen it like this, instead," I say.
That is almost too much for him. He averts his face and holds himself rigid to hide the quaking of his shoulders. My hand twitches but I restrain myself from reaching to comfort him. It would undo him. "It comforts me that King Elessar ordered that he lie here, beside his comrades, under the warmth of the sun and within sight of the king's banners," he says, "instead of in a dark tomb of stone. I think it will be long before I enter under stone without feeling the chill of the Dead around me."
I was not given the reason for the king's order to bury his noble dead here, among the common soldiers instead of in our hall of honor, but maybe that dread route from Dunharrow was on Elessar's mind when he knelt beside the body of his fallen standard-bearer and ordered that he be buried on the spot, before the sun fell. On this very spot, I realize, or near enough to it, having toured this ground before with the sons of Elrond. I regard my companion with more interest. "What is your name?" I ask.
"Húrin, son of Halbarad," he says.
So I had guessed. This is the son of the man, whose name, it is said, Elessar still finds it difficult to utter, whose loss brings him at times to stare with melancholy over these fields where we stand. One like a brother to him, Mithrandir told me; whose loyalty never waved throughout Aragorn's long years of waiting. A man who lost an elder son to the Nazgul in Eriador, but still risked this one on the Paths of the Dead out of love for an uncrowned king and his city. So here we stand, Húrin and Faramir, sharing the loss of fathers and brothers. "I am sorry for your loss, Húrin son of Halbarad."
"And I for yours."
Mine. Mine is more bitter, and still too sharp. I nod gravely in acceptance of his comfort, knowing not what to say. Surely Aragorn has kept his silence about my brother's last defeat, but there is not a soul in Minas Tirith who does not know of my father's. If not for Elessar's generosity and acceptance I would have slunk away, into the mountains, losing myself in wicked memories and crushing guilt. For a moment I envy this man whose father died a beloved hero instead of a madman.
Seeming to realize he has upset me, Hurin stuffs his pencils into a leather pouch and picks up his drawing. "I should go back to my quarters. We are getting an early start tomorrow." He stands up, towering over me by at least four inches and moving stiffly with the healing wounds that most of us still bear.
"Why don't you stay here in the city? You could study art if you wish. The king would be glad to have some familiar kinsmen around him."
He looks down at the drawing. "There are a few who plan to stay," he says. "At first, I thought I might, but it is strange - when I was younger, I loved to hear tales of the city. I dreamed that I might come here someday, to study literature, art, maybe architecture. Aragorn told me of your vast libraries and magnificent sculptures lining the gardens. You have not seen our land, but you can believe it all sounded like a dream to me!" He looks across the field toward the white spire, brilliant with afternoon light, then down at the fresh soil beneath his feet. "But now that I am here, amidst all this magnificence, I find that all I want to do is go home."
"Your grief is young. Give it time," I say, noting how wise I sound for one who feels incomprehensibly foolish. I nod at the drawing. "The city will always be here, if you choose to return. And at least you'll have your drawing to remember it by."
"It is a gift for my mother," Húrin says. "I want her to see my father's dream realized. I want her to see the city of the king from this very spot, where he saw it before he fell."
For a moment I envy him again, who can still hope to feel the comfort of a mother's arms around him when he rides through the familiar gate of whatever windswept village he calls home, but an instant later I repent, grateful for the first time in my life that my mother did not live to see her son buried and her husband fall from nobility to madness. For a moment, my heart breaks for a Dúnadan woman standing in her dooryard, eyes swept to the western horizon, hoping for a familiar face that would never return. I swing back up into my saddle. "I hope that you'll return to Minas Tirith someday, Húrin."
Húrin smiles as shrugs into his cloak and fastens it with the silver brooch they all wear. "I will. I could not forsake a city my father loved so much."
For the first time since my father's death, I capture a flicker of memory that comforts instead of torments – an image of a tall, sturdy man, standing with me at the prow of the Embrasure and lifting me easily in his big hands high above his head as he pronounces me the highest lord of Minas Tirith as my brother giggles helplessly. A moment later, the fragment slips away. I do not fight to hold it. It will come back in its own time, maybe; but for now, I have this day. It is enough.
"Nor could I," I reply, and ride to catch up with Eowyn.