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nor dies the mighty by the spear

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You did not sing for your mother, nor your father, when they fell.  You were only seven and your voice was cracked and thin, your head full of a grey sort of cotton and the sun in your eyes.  You remember your brother beside you, grim and stiff and all of eleven, and your cousin before you with a strange line to his jaw.  You remember not so much the voice that sang as you do the way you likened it to rain, to the thudding of hammers, to the clashing of steel.  You fixed your fingers on Éomer's belt and your gaze on the haze of blue behind Théodred's ear and counted the blows from the voice on the air - and the air was too still, and the barrow too small, and the world all of a sudden too big.

It was not until weeks later that you wept, cross-legged under the wide, hollow sky - holding the better part of a wreath of chicory and clover, blue and white like the clouds father said your head was always stuck in - overcome with an emptiness that you did not know how to fill.


You sang for a pretty dark-haired girl whom you loved, Iviriel of Dol Amroth whose kisses always tasted of apricot, as you held hands and twirled beneath the great sky which beside her seemed to hold all the Riddermark in its arms.  You were fifteen, and you walked together barefoot past the Whispering Wood so as to make no sound.  The summer was dry, and the dust rose around your toes like wraiths out of that wood, and the trees were much too quiet.  She blew a kiss back to them when you had crossed into the plains, and you hid your face in her neck and giggled; and if the Whispering Wood blew any kisses back, you did not see.

You sang to Iviriel of Dol Amroth beneath a cloudless sky and shooed honeybees away from your face; and she sang to you, twisting little braids into your hair, of wind blown through great old boulders in the sand, and swift white ships on the foam.  In parting she gave you a strange bit of corral, black as the sea at sunset when the mermaids stir, smooth and ancient and weighing nothing at all in your hand.  You gave her a polished stone from the bottom of the stream, green as her eyes against the grey sky and the fields in July.


You did not sing for the fields when you took a horse and ran out to them, to the top of the hill your mother would bring you when you were small and the halls of Edoras too dark for summer.  You were twelve, and you could only just reach the stirrups, but the old mare was sweet and the road well-worn.  Perhaps the great empty sky would fall on you, perhaps the big rolling plains would swallow you, at the top of this hill you knew was full of ghosts - but instead there was a vast ocean of grey-gold-green dotted with the whites and reds of flowers whose names you could not recall, and whatever scream or song you had prepared stuck in your throat.

You sat too long atop that old sweet mare, staring out into the Mark, and when you rode back finally your nose and cheeks were red and smarting; and when Éomer laughed at your little sunburnt scowl, sullen beneath your golden fringe, you had to bite your cheeks to keep from laughing, too.


You sang for the Whispering Wood, curled up under the rock-face under the old hill to keep from the rain.  You were twenty and delighted at the mud between your toes but feared for your shoes, so you waited by the road and peeked your face out into the rain and hummed an old sad song to the dark cliffside atop which you could almost see Halifirien, far enough away that no dirge could disturb its peace.  Something about the rain stirred a feeling of a thing not quite remembered, and you lay with your fingers cold against your scalp and your face warm against your arm, and in a half-doze hummed a half-song.

When the sun came out again you hitched your skirt up to your knee and your boots up to your pack, and barefoot climbed back onto the road gouged deep with glittering veins of water, taking care to step between them.  You almost did not look back toward the Wood, and after that almost remembered looking - and if the Wood sang any song back to you as you minced and slid laughing down the hill, you did not hear.


You did not sing for Théodred your cousin, who was still young when you were small and who helped you with the first horse you ever rode; Théodred tall and fair who beamed at you in your crown of chicory and clover and said, now, you are Lady of the Mark; Théodred pale and silent and the safest shadow in the world.  You did not sing, though it was your throat that made the sounds and your mouth that shaped the words, your tongue cold and leaden that you did not expect to move.  Is that what it felt like, you thought, when I first heard, and thought it like rain?  How can a voice so heavy be raised on its own?

No: if a song is like hammers and rain and horseshoes and swords, it must be that you do not sing alone - it is the Mark that mourns, and without a mouth of its own it must borrow yours.  You were not there, solemn and black-clad under a dark sky; you were only watching from tall grasses only you could see, almost not weeping, as the tall golden grasses hid your face and took your words and sang them for you.  You could not reach for Éomer's sleeve.  He was not there.

Years ago your blue-and-white crown went grey and dry, and it was Théodred who took you to cast it into the fire beneath the light of the Moon, telling you to call the smoke sorrow and watch it be dispersed; and once you had the air became light again and you let out a breath you had held for far too long.  The air was thick when he was put in his grave, and on the back of your scalp you felt the gaze of something to the south.  Perhaps the song came from there.


You sing for your husband whose hair is as black as that strange old corral you still keep somewhere only you and the Wood know.  You are ankle-deep in waters unlike any you have ever known and the wind like his kisses tastes of salt and sometimes your hair, and you wrap your arms around him and laugh.  You earned a sister today, and when you kissed her hair and whispered her welcome Éomer remembered every toad he ever caught and let into your room, and paled.  Faramir saw, and laughed his soft moonlit laugh that only reached your ears, and his fingers were cool in yours as the waters of the Mering.

You sing to the captain of Ithilien whom you found grey and dry as you in a house too full of light to be either of yours and you laugh, both of you, sinking slowly but never entirely into the sand.  It is warm and it is safe but it is not home, and when he rides with you to Rohan you will take him to that tall old hill on the road that stares dreamily out into the trees, and perhaps it will rain, and perhaps he will understand.

When he sings back to you it is in another language, though every word is familiar to you.  In his voice you hear deep canyons where the stone never dries and the forest sprawls into the water, burbling and rustling and wild, a wood bright and full of hope - full of secrets, also, but living ones.  The rains in Gondor have no concern for what they may disturb, and Osgiliath broken but proud and shining against the storms has no whispers to keep to herself, and the river roars like a merry charge.

Perhaps you will take him to that place where the plains become wood and all cries become murmurs and no secrets are told.  Perhaps he will understand.