Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "The Psalm of Life"
War comes at last to Minas Tirith, or so I am told: I have scarce left these walls for the past two days.
Prepare, we are told, and so I do. I stand in this quiet room and set my knives upon the table, one by one. I move down the line, from the smallest scalpel to the largest saw; the weight of each handle against my palm is like a verse in an old song. This was not the craft I would have chosen so many years ago, had that decision been mine. I once wished to be an archivist, to sort books instead of blades.
“That is mine to do, sir,” my apprentice says as he comes through the doorway, embarrassed to catch his master at such a menial task. He stands there, all large eyes and nervous hands, and I wish for the hundredth time that he were not so young. In half a day’s time we will both be up to our wrists in blood.
Prepare, they tell us. Settle your accounts and your affairs: It would seem we go to war as if going to our graves.
I was far from being my father’s favorite son, nor for my part did I love him as much as I might have. He sent me to this city when I was seventeen, and since then I have been breathing the scent of old stone. At times my lungs still ache for want of the sea air: I suppose that that is the most persistent of my afflictions.
I test the knife-blades lightly against my fingertips. I know full well that these edges are keen enough, but such is the force of habit. I turn to face the boy.
“It is well, Laeron,” I smile to him. “Go and rest.”
So I will prepare, as they tell me. I will settle my affairs and accounts. My father sent me from my books and from the ocean, but at the last I am not unsatisfied. I have discovered that the body has its own stories; the unraveling of skin and sinew tells its own tale, as real as any ink and parchment. Death has its own secrets, as well; if indeed it finds us in these Houses, we, too, will learn them quickly enough. After twenty years I am too weary to hold a grudge; all the steps that brought me here were laid down for me by others. From that, at least, I can take some comfort. I set the last of the knives before me.
Prepare. So I have.