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The Jewel in the Crown

I don't hold with embalming much myself. Personally, I think that nature should simply be left to take its own inevitable course. Just as well, really, as I was never going to be able to afford such an extravagance anyway. At least, that always used to be the case. Now if I really wanted to be preserved uncorrupted for all eternity, I suppose I could have it done - in another part of the country where nobody knows me. But I still don't think I would. Good old-fashioned burial has always seemed to me the most fitting conclusion to a life, even apart from any monetary considerations. For instance, it was certainly good enough for my Uncle after he had his accident a few winters ago. Not that we didn't do things very properly, mind you. He has a decent spot in the burial grounds under the shade of the oaks and the casket was definitely nothing to be ashamed of, even if it did mean that my cousin, already a little past the time when maidens were wont to wed, would not have been getting quite the bride price she'd always come to expect she would. And the ritual itself was all he would have wished for as we saw him off on his voyage beyond the stars. And later, at the wake, the relatives, some of whom, now I come to think about it, I don't actually recall ever seeing before that occasion, all went out of their way to compliment us on the quantity of the funeral meats.

My Aunt, not surprisingly, came to stay with us for a while straight after the ceremony, so it was not until a good few weeks later, when she finally returned to her own home, that we discovered it sitting on the shelf above the hearth. Aunt was very upset, of course, said it was as if he had gone to his grave without the proper undergarments - it is such an intimate sort of an item isn't it? There was even some talk, as I recall, of digging him up again so that it could be replaced. But, after that accident, there was a reason why the casket had to be a closed one, and that was why the omission wasn't noticed in the first place. And, well, it had been at least three weeks since the interment - and as I said before, no embalming. So there it remained just staring at me every time I visited, and every time I saw it I had the strangest feeling that it was familiar to me somehow.

Did I tell you that me and my forefathers have always been Keepers in the Houses of the Dead here in Minas Tirith? Well we have, its hereditary; someone in our family has always been Keeper as far back as anybody can remember - always has and always will. And I must say I'm proud to hold the post - it's considered to be an honourable one, if sometimes a little macabre, but you get used to anything don't you when you see it every day? The work's not really very hard, just a bit of sweeping and cleaning and keeping the lamps in good order. And looking after the families that come to pay their respects to their ancestors, of course. I get to see a lot of highborn lords and ladies right up close, sometimes when they are in less than perfect control of themselves, and that can be very illuminating - although discretion has always been one of the more important requirements of the position. And then of course, there is my most prestigious task, to keep the Crown of Eärnur in a clean and respectable condition. Just stop to consider for a moment. If there had never been one of us Keepers always here in Rath Dínen, for all those long centuries, don't you think it would have started to get a bit worse for wear by now? Like, to be perfectly honest, some of the bodies around here. Strangely enough it is the oldest ones that have stayed the best preserved, it's some of the more recent ones that need to be re-done from time to time. But they do say we are living in fading times and I suppose this is all just part and parcel of the self same thing. Mind you, now the Shadow is defeated and we are about to have a King again perhaps the embalmers will feel they have more incentive to mend their ways a bit and put a little more enthusiasm back into their work.

Anyway, to get back to the matter in hand, it was one day when I was attending to the Crown, dusting it and polishing it, that I finally realised what Uncle's glass eye reminded me so much of. It is such a wonderful piece of work, that Helm I mean, not the eye, that it fills you with awe, even when you are as familiar with it as I am. Not that the eye is inferior in quality or anything like that either, mind. My Uncle paid good money for it, very good money, to a merchant who always swore that it had been specially crafted for him by the Dwarves of the Iron Hills, wherever they are. I've always had my doubts, glass spheres always seemed to me more of an elvish thing than a dwarvish, but nonetheless it did give him excellent service for the rest of his life, remaining surprisingly clean and unblemished for all that time. Not like this here Crown, which takes some cleaning, I can tell you, not meaning any disrespect. It has these silver seabird's wings, you see, and very impressive they are, but they are set about with pearls of every shape and size and this makes it awkward to get at the dust and dirt, not to mention, in recent days, that persistent ashy residue, that manages to work its way into every nook and cranny. So generations of my forefathers have spent a fair bit of their lives polishing up the royal Helm, and that is probably half the reason why the setting of one of the gems had gradually worked its way loose, until the stone was in real danger of falling out. I kept reminding myself to approach the Lord Steward about getting it repaired but he was always much occupied with something else and, somehow, it always seemed to slip my mind. The Shadow was growing darker in those days, remember, and it just didn't seem so important anymore. I mean, it had become perfectly plain to me years ago anyway, that the King was never going to come again, however much we all hoped he would, and it was obvious that even the Lord Denethor himself had despaired of that ever happening. Oh yes, he would faithfully officiate at the Ceremony of Remembrance and Hope every year, but I could tell that his heart wasn't really in it by the way that he stared straight ahead and avoided having to look at poor King Eärnil where he lay, Crown in hand, on his eternal death bed.

If you haven't ever seen the Crown, and few common people have up til now, let me tell you that those gems of adamant are glorious great big stones but they are not all the same. Four of them are crystal which glitters like the starlight even when viewed by the dull light of these lamps. But the other three are of a milky sort of sheen, opaque and creamy, designed, no doubt, to blend in tastefully with all those pearls on the wings. It just so happened that it was one of these pearly gems that had worked its way loose. When I finally became aware, with a bit of a lurch in my stomach, of the uncanny resemblance between my Uncle's erstwhile eye and that particular jewel, in size and shape and colour, it really was as if Fate, itself, had decreed the inevitable chain of events that did, indeed, finally come to pass - but not, as is only natural, without a fair amount of careful planning and anxious self-examination on my part. You see, it did mean that I had to practise that little bit of a deceit on my Aunt, something that I was really loath to do. But when I thought about it harder, my telling her that I would find a suitable resting place for that much loved artefact wasn't really so very far from the truth. I mean, she might have thought that I was going to bury it up by his grave, but I can't really see that its final location is any less fitting, especially considering that my Uncle's real eye met its end in the service of the King, nominally at least. So, to cut a long story short, once I brought myself to follow the Lord Steward's example and accept the unpalatable truth that there was really no hope of a return of the King, it seemed increasingly obvious to me, that there would be no harm in taking my opportunity to help that gem finally work its way free of its setting and then to replace it with that convenient globe of dwarven glass. And that is what I did, taking the greatest care to fasten the eye in place so that the coloured parts of it would not be visible to the observer. Although it did give me a certain pang of regret at the time to think that such exquisite craftsmanship would now be hidden away from sight for ever more.

I am not a greedy man, far from it, but given the general feeling of desperation that tended to permeate Gondor at that time, it seemed a sort of a waste to pass up the chance of having a little enjoyment before the end. All I wanted in life was to see my cousin happily settled with the man of her choice and my wife and myself able to plan a tranquil period of retirement together, hopefully sometime before the West met its final defeat at the hands of the Nameless One. A modest cottage in Dol Amroth is the sort of place we have in mind. The southern climate is so much milder and kinder to my wife's aching bones and joints. And, I have to say, proud though I am to wear the token of the Tombs, it will be very nice to leave this plain black uniform behind me, and try on something with a bit more colour in it. They're very fond of blue and yellow in Dol Amroth, or so I'm told, matches the sun, the sea and the sky I suppose, and I always thought I might look quite good in blue. So the upshot of all this is, that I was not really that much concerned when I suspected the merchant I approached was offering me somewhat less than a fair price for the gem. At least I could feel absolutely certain of his discretion - as I said before, the shock of grief can be a great unlocker of people's tongues. No doubt he went on to sell it, in Harad or in Rhûn where, I have heard, there are men of taste willing to pay a substantial sum for a stone of that impressive quality and size, with no questions asked.

So here I am, in the happy position of having enough ready money to make life easy, but not enough as to make people suspicious. And I do honestly believe that the soon-to-be King Elessar would not really begrudge it me in the unlikely event that these matters should ever come to his notice. After all he still has so many other gems in his possession, those others in the Crown, for instance, and that Elfstone that he wears. And then, of course, there is that Star of Elendil fillet that looked so good on him when he first unfurled his jewel-encrusted banner at the Pelennor. With all the other great matters that must require his attention day and night what does he need to know or care about one missing gem of adamant, however large? And, anyway, I've heard that he is a generous man, simple in his tastes - wouldn't he want to show his appreciation to the family that has always kept his Crown spick and span for him for a little short of a thousand years, not to mention being the main reason why the dust of ages has failed to completely engulf the bodies of his predecessors?

So it is with a clear conscience that I give the Crown of Eärnur one last polish on this truly momentous morning. The new Lord Steward will be here any moment now to carry it away to play its part in the ceremony. I have to say that, in the dim light of the tombs, my Uncle's eye shines as bright as any other gem and I really think that nobody, not even Lord Faramir, who I've noticed is never keen to linger here too long anyway, will see anything amiss. Of course out in the bright sunshine it might not have quite the same lustre as its fellows but I think it will pass muster even there. And even if someone should notice something slightly out of place they are hardly going to say anything now, are they? I mean not in the middle of the first Coronation for something like nine hundred and seventy odd years. So I think I am safe. Anyway, even if the whole thing were discovered there would be nothing to link it back to me, I've been very careful, and, let's face it, this sort of exchange could have taken place in any one of those many intervening centuries with nobody ever the wiser.

And as for my Uncle - I sometimes wonder what he thinks of it all, as his body slowly crumbles to dust in his humble grave beneath the trees. He has, of course, no use for such vanities now, but I think he would be pleased to see his most treasured possession preserved to play such a starry role in the dawning of a new Age. I know I most certainly am.