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A Brave New World  by Bodkin

A Brave New World

I thought I would die defending the White City.

I knew I would die before the Black Gate.

But, somehow, I am here, alive, with a golden sun beating down on me, sweat prickling my back, and the scent of summer greenery in my nostrils.  I am here, alive, when thousands of my countrymen are not, in a world turned – upside-down.

I did not love the Steward – few did, I suspect.  He was a hard man, cut from the black rock that adorns so much of the White City.  A hard man, who paid little heed to those he ruled and demanded service and silence and devotion to duty.  A path he followed himself, it has to be said.  None could claim he indulged himself with pleasure while his people suffered.  He sent his sons, while little more than boys, to feed the maw of war and did not bemoan the need.  Whatever he expected of others, he expected more of himself.  But …  He was served through fear and obligation, not love. 

Until the last years, it made little difference to people like us.  As long as the markets were open and a steady flow of merchants bought what we had to sell … as long as the farmers’ wains brought food into the city … as long as the law was kept and taxes were not too high and the streets were safe, did it matter what happened in the councils of the great?

But then …

When he sent the Captain-General off like that, the rumours flew … that it was only a matter of time.  Well – Lord Boromir’s place was with the army, was it not, not somewhere off north, safe from the fighting?

And bad got worse … and then worse still, until it seemed that the world would end in blood and flame.

And he came out of the smoke and ashes. 

They say he brought Lord Faramir back from the beyond the brink of death, and, if he did, I thank him for it, but he brought Gondor back, too, even more certainly.   The Steward was dead, his son dying, half Gondor’s lords lying on the Pelennor and the rest huddled safe in their boltholes away from the peril we faced, while Dol Amroth took charge of what was left.  And we waited – sitting round the deathbed, holding on for that last gasp.

The Morannon … came as a relief.  Better to challenge death than let it devour us by inches.  And, when we survived it …

Well, who, of those who saw him, could forget it?  A warrior, gleaming with power, before whom great swathes of orcs fell.  A hero, surrounded by creatures out of legend, crushing the forces of darkness – and then turning from death to preserve life.  A judge, to whom justice was more important than the letter of the law.  A grave man, wise, one who listened and did what he thought best without fear or favour.  It is no wonder that those who were there would follow wherever he led … no wonder that we cheered him when Lord Faramir offered him the crown … no wonder that we welcomed the days of the King.

And now …

Here I am, in Ithilien, wearing the Prince’s livery and watching over … Heroes are men, like any other.  They sweat, and scratch themselves, and laugh, and love their wives – they laze in the sun and talk of peace and friends and good food.  But they cannot forget, entirely, who they are.  They wear the knowledge like chains, and it burdens them. 

There are mutterings in the city – well, there would be.  Those who ran and hid and buried their heads in the hope that what they could not see would not hurt them  … they do not like the changes the King has brought with him.  They clutch at their honours and their privileges, and want to shield them from this breath of wind from the north.  They blame him – they blame his wife – they remember that Lord Denethor thought little of his younger son … they say it would be much better if …  If what, I doubt they know.  If the Captain-General had returned, I daresay.  If the days of the Ruling Stewards had continued unchanged.  If Sauron had packed up his armies and turned his attention to growing grapes.  They are fools.  But peace spawns fools and lets them have their say.

Those of us who served – we will have nothing said against him.  He is a man who can be trusted and we will cleave to him without question.  The King, the Steward – they will lead Gondor into a new age, a better age, an age that is not overwhelmed by the looming dark of Mordor.

But we must take care.  Peace is a fragile flower that can be blackened by a single frost.  And, if we want to nurture it, then we cannot leave it entirely in the hands of our rulers – we saw where that left us: in a half-abandoned city, facing the end of the world.  Those who would maintain the old ways forget … it is not just the standard flying over the Citadel that has changed, but the hearts and minds of those who are ruled.

We patrol at a distance.  They cannot be unguarded – that would be folly, and they are not fools.  But neither are they coddled princelings.  The weapons they wear are tools, not ornaments, and their scars are honestly earned.  Even the Princess, who looks so fair and frail, stood up to a horror beyond the capability of most men and dashed it down.  While as for the Queen … for all her beauty, a single look could sober a squad of drunken recruits and she can draw a bow few men could bend.  I would not willingly cross either of them – and any who would should consider that, once they had finished with you, you would still have to face the wrath of their lords.

The day passes – and we leave them their illusion of privacy.  We watch the woods, the water, the whispering grass.  None shall creep past us unawares, not even the wild pigs or the shy deer, the chattering squirrels or the nibbling rabbits.  It is a matter of pride as well as good sense – what kind of guard would we be if those in our care were not safe?  And aye, there is some competition, too.  The White Company would not be disgraced in front of the King’s Guard – nor they before us. 

They do not want to leave.  I cannot blame them.  Just for a moment they can pretend that the load of responsibility is not theirs – but they do not have it in them to ignore for long the millstones that come with rank and the power they have to change the lives of those in their care.  

A whistle from the Prince – and we saddle up his horse, and the King’s and Queen’s, but the Princess’s … well, we know better than to come too close unless he is safely stabled.  She deals with him herself and we are grateful to her for it, for all our wariness makes her laugh and tell us – yet again – that she will have to see to the horsemanship of the Company.

Dusk falls as we ride up to the walls, and the Star of Hope brightens in the sky.  The King reaches out to touch the Queen’s arm and they pause to watch it, their faces gleaming silver and their eyes hooded.  My lord – the Prince – looks on as if he understands, but the Princess urges her horse on to seek his stall. 

Four people – the men, sons of Númenor – tall, dark-haired, grey-eyed, wise – so alike, in some ways; their ladies so different.  And yet, in their hands …    Yes, Gondor is not what it once was.  But that is as it should be.  We, who lived through the end of one world, should build a new one, a better one.  And a brave new world, it will be, that has such people in it.

***

Credit goes to William Shakespeare, of course, for the title and last line. 





        

        

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