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Bronwe Athan Harthad

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August 1945.

My dearest Chris,

 

Is it truly a week and more since I wrote to you? I have no excuse, save perhaps shock at the general events. The papers have been full of the dreadful news out of Japan. One wonders how the Americans ever thought it wise, to build such a device! To think of their lunatic physicists, calmly plotting the destruction of the world! The stories are so horrifying one is stunned. Still, it seems as if the Japanese will fold soon and you may perhaps be back home with us by the end of Michaelmas.

 

Mummy and I had a good laugh at your latest airgraph, which bore a stamp from Delhi. It seems the R.A. sent it on a wild trip all the way to India. I do hope they are being more careful when they send you out than they are with letters. It seems we go weeks without a word from you and then three of your posts arrive on each other's heels. That is not your doing, of course, nor can it be helped. Perhaps. Still, I have half a mind to march right down to the HQ and box someone about the ears, for keeping us so separated. ....

 

The sunflowers are in full bloom here, and P. wonders whether you have them, too. I told her the seasons are different where you are. I do hope things aren't too dismal for you there; I quite remember the August rains in South Africa. Dismally cold, if memory serves. ....

 

I received your notes on the last chapters. Very pleased that Gollum meets with approval; he was not a pleasant chap in The Hobbit, but I find I quite like him in this new volume. I have posted the next several chapters to you in Standerton, though you may well have moved on before it reaches you. Let us hope the army does not re-route it to China. I have added some lines between Frodo and Faramir, where they both hope for a quieter time so they might 'sit by a wall in the sun, laughing at old grief,' and share all their tales without fear of telling too much. Do let me know what you think of them. Would a battle-worn soldier hope for such a thing? Or does it seem unbearably cheeky to think before peace finds him?

 

Your comments are, as always, hoped for and gladly welcomed.

 

Your own dear and loving father.

 

*****************************

Walking like a one man army

Fighting with the shadows in your head

Living up the same old moment

Knowing you'd be better off instead

If you could only say what you need to say

*****************************

 

November 1945.

My dearest Chris,

 

I hardly know where to start. Your Fr. K wrote us, and his letter arrived not a day after I sent my last one. I know that it is beyond hope that you will read whatever words I now write, but I still feel quite compelled to write to you. It is how I have known you these last several years, and I cannot yet give up that tie.

 

Thinking back on my last letter, I am amazed that I thought a letter's trip to India was wasteful. When Fr. K. wrote us that you had been stabbed – had died – well, at first I thought he must be having a laugh at us. Quite unlike a holy man, to be sure, and one so respected by you; but the other choice seemed beyond impossible. Still, when the official word came two days later, there was really no denying the truth of it....

 

Mummy has taken to checking the post herself, which she never did before. I think she hopes that one of your airgraphs might still be bumping around Asia and may yet make its way back to us. She found a few like that in September and would always tuck them into her pocket without a word to me. It would turn up, later, under my teacup or on my pillow. You know Mummy doesn't have a selfish bone in her, and I think she just needed some time with you. But it has been six weeks since your last letter arrived, and even she knows there will be no more.

 

It seems beyond wasteful, how you were taken from us. I once complained to Mr. Unwin that I had 'lost both my chief assistant and his understudy' to the war, meaning you, but I only thought to lose you for a season. Perhaps if you had died in some grand battle things would feel different? I cannot say. But to lose you to a drunken mechanic's knife, simply because you were walking across a field at the wrong time? It seems unbearable.

 

Fr. K. was as good as his word, and he brought the last batch of chapters when he called on us last month. Even he does not trust the army's airmail, it seems. I am thankful for the gesture, but I am not sure that I have the heart to press on with my mad hobby. How can I write an imagined battle, decide who lives and who dies with the stroke of my pen? For I have lost my chief assistant in truth, and it all seems beyond me at present. ....

 

Your own dear and loving father.

 

*****************************

Have no fear for giving in;

Have no fear for giving over

You better know that in the end

It's better to say too much

Than never to say what you need to say again

*****************************

 

March 1946.

My dearest Chris,

 

We had Fr. K round to tea this afternoon. 'Had him round' seems an understatement, for the man lives in Dublin and so a trip to Oxford is hardly a side-trip. But he was in London on other business and he wanted to look in on us. Lewis came by as well and we had a merry old time arguing over his pamphlet Christian Behaviour, which Fr. K. had only recently found. Mummy sighed in exasperation at us and after a while left us to it. It is a shame he lives so far off, for I think we'd get on famously.

 

I am glad he came by for other reasons as well. Do you know the government still hasn't shipped you home to us? First they had you marked down as a South African national (perhaps because I was born in Bloemfontein?) and then there was some question of who should pay for your return since you weren't killed in combat. Ridiculous!

 

But Fr. K says he knows the right people to talk to, to sort it all out. We placed a grave-marker for you last autumn, of course, and said our prayers beside it, but I still long to have you back with us, or failing that, to have as close to that we are allowed. Some good may come of the timing, for your brother John was ordained last month and so he can see to the proper funeral. How strange it seems to 'write' to you of such things! But you always did want the small news of home. Mummy will rest easier when you are back in Briton and in our town, as is right. ....

 

The oddest thing happened last night. I dreamed of Atalantë again. The same old dream that you and I both shared. Just as I was waking from it I heard the pine-branches rustling against our window, and I half-imagined that I heard a voice: 'Fear nothing! Have peace until the morning! Fear no nightly noises!' Do you remember that line? Frodo thought he heard it on the wind in the house of Tom Bombadil.

 

I hadn't thought of old Tom for six months at least, yet there his words were in my mind, unbidden and as fresh as rain. Sometimes I cannot help thinking about the world we crafted together, though I haven't made any progress on the book. I have tried, to be sure, but when I sit down to the task I find I can only think of you. And the rest of the tale is so dark! How am I to write the grand tragedy of Denethor, or the all-too-sudden passing of Halbarad and the other victims of Mordor who are hardly more than names to my mind? I would not break the world through clumsiness brought on by too much grief, and wonder whether it wouldn't be better to leave the rest unwritten.

 

Still, those blank pages weigh on me. Would that my assistant were still here to advise me. I miss you more than words can say.

 

Your own dear and loving father.

 

*****************************

Even if your hands are shaking

And your faith is broken

Even as the eyes are closing

Do it with a heart wide open

*****************************

 

May 1946.

My dearest Chris,

 

Fr. K came through with the bureaucrats and got you home to us in quick order – quicker than I would have thought possible. He could not make it himself to the funeral, but he sent greetings with Sean O'Brien, the boy from his parish who knew you at Standerton.

 

Sean had nothing but kind words to say of you – to be expected, given the occasion, but they were kind nonetheless. He said that you taught him the Laudate Pueri Dominum while you served together. That in particular touched my heart. I wrote to you, once, how 'if you learned them by heart you never need for words of joy'. Do you remember? I have prayed that psalm myself these last several months, for even when I felt able to pray, whatever praise I once had was torn from me. I like to think that Sean and I both prayed the Laudate together for love of you, though we were miles apart.

 

Standing in the old graveyard, I was struck by the marker we had set there last year. You know I often called Mummy my Lúthien. She and I had long thought to put those names – Lúthien and Beren – on our own gravestones, when that day arrived. It was to be a special secret between us, what those names meant. Well, Mummy had Dior put on your stone. I had forgotten about that, and it touched me deeply to see it there once more. A father should love all his children equally, and I do, but I always thought you my special heir where our Middle-earth was concerned.

 

But I am not so sure about the secret part any more. In truth, I now feel a deep drive to finish off some of the old stories and to share them with others. Last week I found myself rewriting Eärendil, quite unexpectedly. As for the Red Book, that seems more than I can manage. I cannot read over those pages without remembering your part in them, and the hope of 'sitting by a wall in the sun' now seems forever beyond my reach. Still, it is a tale worth telling, and I wonder if I might soon be ready to pick up those pages again.

 

Your own dear and loving father.