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Now he was listening with a pleasure because she was singing again, but this was quickly altered by the way she sang. Not the passion of her at sixteen but echoing the tentative circle of light around her in the darkness. She was singing it as if it was something scarred, as if one couldn’t ever again bring all the hope of the song together. It had been altered by the five years leading to this night of her twenty-first birthday in the forty-fifth year of the twentieth century. Singing in the voice of a tired traveller, alone against everything. A new testament. There was no certainty to the song anymore, the singer could only be one voice against all the mountains of power. That was the only sureness. The one voice was the single unspoiled thing.
Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient


What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket.
Mrs. Lintott, The History Boys by Alan Bennett


The woman stands outside the Great Gate and secures her belongings on the wooden cart, one of hundreds set to depart this morning. Horses stamp impatiently, and soldiers patrol the lines. Only a few days ago, the Steward’s edict went out: Minas Tirith is no longer safe. The City will be readied for war, and therefore emptied of its women and children, its old men. Exceptions will be made for the young boys who serve as message-lads, and for those women who serve in the Houses of Healing. They may keep to their posts if they wish, though they are by no means bound to them. Today, the woman will leave the only home she has ever known, dutifully taking with her the minimal amount of provisions and belongings refugees are allowed. She also takes with her a young nephew, who is as good as a son to her, as well as one of her two natural-born children.

Long have we given of our sons, she thinks, for all the good it’s done us. Now it seems only meet that they ask us for our daughters, as well. Of course, her own daughter has made the choice of her own, and though she is several months short of her twentieth birthday she is nevertheless a woman under the law.

The mother regards her only girl, who is standing to the side. Beneath her smock she wears a plain blue dress, and on her upper right arm is the dark blue band that marks her for a healer. Her dark hair is bound up beneath a white cap. She is solemn and pale, with a wide-eyed and watchful look about her that bespeaks a whole roster of cares beyond her years. She stands up very straight. No one, her mother thinks with fierce pride and heartsick dismay, could ever mistake her for anything but a Minas Tirith girl, born under the darkening skies of the Third Age.

They are almost ready to go. The woman can tell that her daughter is struggling to keep the calm look on her face. Before this she has never spent so much as a night away from her family, as indeed the mother had never done before she got married. The mother smiles at her, and then inclines her head slightly to the side, indicating the two young boys waiting behind her, her son and her nephew. For the children, that smile says, and the girl gives an almost imperceptible nod in return: For the children. She stoops and enfolds her brother and her cousin in tight hugs, giving them all of the expected admonishments to do as they are told, to help their mother and aunt. That she will miss them and await their return.

They’ll miss her too, they assure her. Do well in the Houses. They will bring her back a seashell.

And then her mother hugs her, for what, as both know, may be the last time. The mother thinks she can feel her daughter’s heart beating urgently and painfully against her, matching her own. She kisses her, and whispers something in her ear. The girl finally forces herself to draw away, nodding. And then it’s time for them to go.

The girl watches as the line of horses and wains and people departs, and lingers at the gate even after she cannot see them anymore. Then she turns and goes back inside, up to the City where she is needed.