Like a Wind in the Meadow...



Like a Wind in the Meadow...
by Andrea Lena DiMaggio


 

A steady but calm breeze whisked across the broad meadow that nestled in safety below the city…a village, really…that sat on the hill above. A solitary figure stood by a large rock; a boy of about fourteen; thin, almost reedy in fact. His clothes were simple and dark against the bright sun which seemed to glisten ever so slightly off his long yellow hair. The boy toiled away at the laundry by the stream that ran behind the city through a rocky cleft in the plain; in spite of a growing threat to his homeland, it was still safe enough outside the walls of the city for the time being, and he finished wringing out the clothes before placing them in a wicker basket.

A moment later he was through a large gap under the wall; too small still, but large enough for a boy of slight stature. He stole in near-silence around the gatepost and up the hill. Further up, an elderly man nodded only slightly as he stared at the burden the boy carried. It was woman’s work, of course, but he didn’t mind at all. His mother was only just that day getting over a fever and his little sister was too small to help.

A few minutes along he saw an imposing figure standing on the wide porch of the Great Hall. The man was a stranger, to be sure, but a man with an air about him; one that nearly matched the regal carriage of boy’s King…everyone’s King of course as well as his family. Standing next to the man was the King’s Sister-Son. Another truly impressive man, the boy thought; one with whom any of the men would ride into battle to face down the fiercest foes. The two seemed animated in discussion; the boy could only guess without much success what might urge them to such serious words. He saw a stocky figure next to the two men; familiar to him with dread and pride and love and wonder as he realized it was his father, the Door Ward of the Great Hall.

“Hello?”

The voice behind him spoke, startling him, though he was already on edge now that he had returned from his task. He turned to come face-to-face with the King’s Sister-daughter. She smiled and stepped closer. He backed up as he took in the sight of a near-halo that shone behind her head from the low, still early sun. Her yellow hair was long and straight as an arrow but with a sheen unlike the unkempt dirty yellow of his own hair.

“You were outside the gates again, weren’t you?” She pointed to the basket in the boy’s arms. He pulled back but only far enough to put it down and bow low before her.

“It is all well, young squire, so long as you don’t get caught, aye?” She looked down the hill toward the city gate and smiled again.

“And you haven’t been caught yet.”

Her laugh was almost medicine for his soul. Between the worries of his mother’s health and the demands brought to him as the son of the Door Ward, the boy was almost overwhelmed. And those were merely the beginnings of his woes; the larger part of his heart was filled with anxious dread over what would become of him if his father discovered the secret he held between his mother and his sister and himself.

The young woman waved him further up the hill, but not before placing her finger to her lip, speaking without sound that she promised to tell no one. Was his secret known to her? He realized she meant his venture without permission outside the city walls. He smiled nervously before turning back up and climbing the final few yards to his doorstep.

“Mother?” He called. No answer at once, but in a few moments his sister poked her head through the rough curtain that divided the roomy if rough-hewn cabin; the curtain intended to give his mother and father some privacy. The little girl surprised him with the same gesture he had seen only moments before as she placed her finger to her lips.

“Mama sleep. Shhh.” She smiled and walked over to him, pointing to the basket of clothes.

“I help!” It wasn’t a question, and he really didn’t mind at all. She would have trouble reaching the rope his father had stretched across the cabin, but she could at least hand him the garments to be hung. He nodded and smiled. In a few minutes they were finished.

“Papa upset. Mama sad….”

The little girl pointed to the curtain. Had his father come home? Of course not; he had only just seen his father standing by the great hall just minutes before. Why would his father be upset? His sister pointed to rough hewn wooden box lying almost hidden in plain sight by the hearth. The usual pile of kindling that normally covered the box was lying instead on the floor, and the lid had been open, exposing its contents for all to see.

“I show Papa. Our game….you know?” The boy’s eyes widened in stricken horror as his glance darted between the offending cache and the view through the door across and further up the hill. Shaking nervously, knelt down in front of his sister.

“You didn’t tell him….Please…tell me he doesn’t know.” She shook her head.

“No? He doesn’t know?”

“No…I tole him. Papa upset…Mama sad.” The boy would have died of fright right then and there but for the loud sound of a horn; one he knew whose purpose was to rally men in the service of the King. He dare not step outside the cabin to look over to see what was going on. He had to make use of what time he might have before his father returned home…maybe his only time. He stood before the curtain and called softly.

“Mother?” His mother stirred in bed before answering.

“Come…” Her voice was raspy but not as weak as in days past. He poked his head through the opening and saw her sitting up. Her smile was dimmer than usual but much brighter with the fever finally gone. She motioned to him.

“Your father knows, my sweet child.” She lowered her head and shook it gently side to side; an argument against that which could no longer be denied.

“What …Mother? What can I do?”

“Leave it to me. He’ll come around. He always does. You know he loves you, right?” The boy closed his eyes. His father was a strong man…a man of good will, and a good father. But even good fathers can only bear so much disappointment from boys like him. He sighed as tears began to fall. Life was filled with wondrous things; magical and brave and valiant against evil and hardship. His father would understand. He had to, hadn’t he?

“…bear only what you can carry.” His father’s steady voice loudly but calmly split the hush of the morning.

“…you have one hour.” That strong authoritative tone across the hill and beyond. In a few moments he heard scurrying and loud shouts up and down the hill. A few minutes after that his father rushed through the door; even in the haste of the moment, a calmness seemed to envelop him, which was sufficient for the moment. The little girl ran to her father. Barely through the front door, he still stooped low and picked her up. The boy went to speak but thought better of it. His father glared at him before his gaze fell upon the box in the corner.

“We will speak of this, but not now.” His voice seemed almost conciliatory where a dismissive tone had been expected. His father turned and pushed the curtain open enough to speak.

“I am sorry, but the King has ordered us to leave the city. We have little time.” He turned his face toward his daughter and pointed to the small cloth doll that lay on the table.

“Some clothes and her,” he said, pointing to the doll.” He turned to the boy.

“Clothes. I must go. Grab the cart behind the cabin. You’ll have to help your mother.” They no longer had another horse; the big sorrel had been drafted for battle only weeks before. He went to walk out when he felt a small hand tug at his tunic under his mail.

“I go with Papa?”

“No, my baby. You go with Mama and your brother.” He stooped down and kissed her and hugged her before running out the door. The boy stood in the middle of the cabin and looked around. If he had his way, there would be no secret, but his heart told him otherwise. A long conversation leading to disappointment promised to fill their day upon their reunion.


“I think I can walk.” The woman spoke calmly, but the tremor in her voice told her son everything he needed to know.

“Father says that I must bear you, so bear you I shall.” He said as he turned his head back just enough to speak. The straps of the cart, never intended for a boy, were digging into his shoulders; not a burden to him at all, but his mother and his sister both rode as they plodded along the wide path. He could hear voices from neighbors in front and back of the long procession.

“How much further?”

“Why did we have to leave the city?”

“I left everything I own!”

“I’m afraid.”

“The Lad of Stealth,” a soft voice spoke from behind. The boy turned to find himself walking alongside the Sister-Daughter of the King. In safer places like the meeting only hours before the boy might smile, but the young woman was accompanied by the brave-looking stranger that he had seen with the King’s Sister-Son earlier that day. He paused in mid-stride and tried to bow, but the straps of the barrow kept him upright and awkward.

“You are a good soul,” the man said; a kindness peered past a worried look as the man’s attention seemed to dart back and forth between the long line of refugees and the woman beside him.

“A good soul indeed.” The young woman echoed with a soft laugh.

It felt like she was teasing; her acquaintance was only in moments of embarrassed surprise. He thought back to the meeting and he could not get out of his mind the basket of clothes. Woman’s work indeed, which was shameful and rewarding all in one moment. She smiled at him; the warmth behind her eyes showed him her kind intent and the tilt of her head seemed to convey a knowing of some sort of something else.

As much as he enjoyed the kindness extended to him by the man and the young woman, nevertheless he felt exposed and almost ashamed. His face grew hot and red, but their attention lie between them and whatever distraction held the man’s thoughts. In a few moments they had walked further up the road and he was alone with his own thoughts.

A half-hour or so later a familiar figure on horseback rode up to him and his charges. His father leaned forward in the saddle and spoke.

“I see you are caring well for your sister and your mother. See that you continue…” The man’s voice was almost monotone and his face was wet with sweat from the sun even in the breeze coming off the bluffs ahead. He seemed to falter, as if he was about to dismount but pulled back.

“I will see you when we all get safely behind the walls of the old castle.” He nodded and there was a twinkle in his eye that seemed just for the little girl and her mother, but he turned once again to the boy.

“We will talk. When we return home.” The man half-smiled before he shook the reins of his mount and he rode off.


“We must run as swiftly as we can!”

That sweet voice he had heard only an hour previous was fraught with near-panic. The people both in front and behind him started running and soon he found himself further back, but he redoubled his efforts, giving both his mother and sister a quick if bumpy ride. It felt like hours as the pace never relented, but he kept up for the most part and soon they were standing in front of a tall fortress which looked as if it had grown out from the rocky crags and sheer rock face at the end of the valley. Minutes later they were safely inside the walls of the castle, but the ordeal they would face was just beginning….

The boy sat on a stone wall, resting after their haste. Noises and loud shouts came from all around him.

“There they are…” A voice cried out. He followed the pointing hand of an old woman to the stone ramp leading up to the castle. Men on horses entered in haste followed by a rude slam of the portcullis.

“So few. There are so few...”

He thought he heard a familiar voice, but when he turned he looked up into the face of his father’s best friend. The man looked at him quickly before stepping close to the boy’s mother. Without a word, the man shook his head and his mother fell into the man’s arms, sobbing enough to shake.

“Mama sad…Why Mama sad?” The boy’s sister pulled at the man’s sleeve. He turned to the boy and shook his head before speaking.

“I am sorry.” No other word was spoken; the tears in the brave man’s eyes spoke without a sound. The boy choked back a sob before kneeling down to face his sister. He half smiled.

“Oh…she’s just tired from the journey and the fever.” He breathed deep and stood up. A strong hand clapped his back. Expecting his father, he turned with a relieved smile only to find himself facing two strangers in even stranger garb unlike anything he’d ever seen.

“I am sorry,” the shorter of the two spoke in a thick unfamiliar accent. The taller one appeared old and young at the same time. He nodded with a half-smile and spoke in an unfamiliar tongue before he leaned close and placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder. A strong squeeze was followed by a nod and then they were gone.


“Look…he’s alive!”

Shouts and waves as the portcullis rose to welcome a man on horseback. The boy hoped but his heart broke at the sight of the brave kind man he had met on the road. The two who had consoled him only hours before stepped up as the man alit from his mount. They embraced and laughed as if nothing had happened. They disappeared into the castle and he turned to his mother. A woman who lived near them had been sitting along with the boy’s mother on a low stone wall as she comforted her.

He sighed in relief. His sister had already gained the helpful attention of some of the other women whom they knew. He wanted to cry. First for his mother; she was bearing up as well as could be expected, but the loss would reach deep into her soul even more as the shock wore off. He held back his own tears even as he anguished over how he would tell his sister that their father was dead.

But try as he might, it was a heavy struggle to keep from crying for himself. His father was gone forever. Before they had the chance at least to speak one last time. He bit his lip over the undeniable fact that there would always be doubt in his heart; tears flowing freely even as no sound came from his mouth.

Did his father really love him? Was he ever proud of him? And did his father despise him because of that secret that likely would have torn his family asunder. His sadness was interrupted with loud murmurs followed by rude shoves and helpful glances as he found himself being ushered inside the castle even as his mother and her consolers were led up a stone ramp toward another part of the castle.

Soon he found himself standing in the midst of a slow moving line. A robe-like garment made of chains was draped over his body and he was handed a sword. He looked at it in nervous recognition. For whatever fate his father had met seemed to be beckoning him and the men around him as well. The brave kind man seemed to be arguing with one of his friends and he stormed off in anger.

The boy felt lost and alone in the crowded hall; both in fear and in shame over the secret that threatened to tear his heart apart. Bravery had never called his name before, but he was bound and determined that no matter what dwelt in his heart, whatever shouted after each of the men would find him willing if unsure and filled with doubt. What he could never seem to do in his father’s lifetime with him he would surely do in honor of his father’s death.

The murmurs seemed to rise and fall in volume for minutes until the brave man stood in the midst of them. While he spoke softly to his friend, his demeanor spoke for him to all the men there. They seemed to take huge courage in the man’s countenance; a strength only seen in very few others, but especially in the King himself. The boy took no courage at all in any of the words he heard the men shout, and he wandered around; finally finding himself out the door of the hall and into the open air; grown cold and damp from a misty night’s rain.

“Let me see your sword,” he heard off to his side. He moved timidly toward the man, holding out the sword. The man took it and waved it about in confidence before returning the sword to the boy.

“It is a good sword.” The boy thought he heard his own name; had he even spoken it? Whatever took place in that moment seemed to buttress the boy’s flagging courage and he smiled back at the man. The man nodded before walking around, clapping his hand on backs and shoulders. The man mussed the hair of a few youths even younger than the boy; a good display to hearten those already skilled for the battle at hand and those like himself who would be tested for the first and ultimate time all in the same heartbeat.


The rain was still misting when a horn sounded; unfamiliar but strangely friendly, it seemed to bring even more courage to the men. The portcullis opened once again and a horde of men marched into the courtyard; men similar in carriage and image as the tall lithe man but different in a way; like cousins or kin. The one who appeared to be the leader spoke words with both the King and the kind brave man, and everyone seemed heartened.

The boy sighed deeply. He had never once in his life thought of his own death, but the death of his father and the battle facing them all brought sad tears to his eyes. He strangely felt no fear, but rather a deep, almost irreconcilable regret that he hadn’t had a chance to speak his mind and heart to his father. And an even deeper regret that he would never realize any of the dreams which only his mother and his sister knew.


The battle felt like it had gone on for hours even in the first few minutes. Dread attacked him almost as much as the foes that seemed to increase for every one that was felled by sword or axe or bow. The boy had never seen so much blood; too much blood for a lifetime. And the sounds. Crashes and slashes. Groans and yells. Unearthly sounds that came forth from the horde that spilled over the walls like ants at a picnic. Screams of terror and even screams of bravery. And shouts of joy. And wails of inconsolable sadness that pierced even the bravest of hearts but left them undaunted and even more determined than ever to overcome….

The boy rested against a wall inside the castle. It had grown very cold and he was wet from all the rain. He noticed blood on the sleeves of his mail. The blood on his left arm was from a man who had fallen from an axe blow. The blood on his right arm was his own, wiped away from a rude gash on his temple. He breathed in and out; a heavy panting driven by a new urge to live. No matter what happened, if he survived he would do whatever it took to live his dream.


Off somewhere he heard a loud horn. And from the depths of the castle he heard another horn echoing even louder. Light …sunlight streamed through a hole in the oaken door that stood between him and whatever eternity held for him and his fellows. He heard the sound of hoof beats on stone and in an instant the men next to him pulled the barricade from the door and opened it just in time for a tall figure in armor raced by on horseback followed by other men on horses. They scurried down the stone ramp, pushing the enemy to the side with swift hacks from sharp steel.

He pushed away from the wall and stepped out into the sunlight. The tide was turning and he breathed a sigh of relief. As he stood watching the battle he heard a whooshing sound to his left and turned just in time to feel the blow of a rude fist. He fell back and hit his head and fell into darkness.


Upon waking, the boy found he was alive, if blessed with a headache and sore cheek. He had been carried back to the city while he slept, but nervous sounds and murmurs filled the air around him. He sat up and found he was sitting on a rough blanket outdoors next to other men who were alive but not as fortunate as him; nursing wounds that would only heal in time and with much effort. He breathed out a relieved sigh, thankful for his minor wound. Where his sister and mother might be he did not know, but he felt assured somehow that they were safe.


Days seemed to drag on for the boy; almost too hard to bear for such one so young. Friends and kin helped ease his mother’s sadness, but no one had the heart to tell his sister of their father’s death; that task would be left soon enough to him and his mother if and when they enjoyed the peace for which his father and others paid so dear a price. He stood in the doorway of their cabin, wondering how to speak to his sister when he heard yet another call to arms. He turned back into the cabin where his mother sat with her sister. Rushing to her side he knelt at her feet and placed his head against her knees.

“Go, my child. Be well and safe. I love you dearly.” She placed her hand on his head in blessing. Rising to his feet, he leaned and kissed her on both cheeks as she began to sob. Her sister nodded to him while drawing her into a comforting embrace. As he turned to leave, his sister grabbed his hand, pulling him to her face.

“Go? Mama sad. You stay….” She began to cry. He picked her up and kissed her, speaking slowly in a near reverence.

“I must go, but I promise I will come home. Take care of Mama?” He said, kissing her. She nodded as she wiped her tears with her sleeve. He put her down and went to turn go but felt a tug on his sleeve once again. He looked down and found her holding up her doll.

“You take? Yours…” He choked back a sob, realizing both how important her gesture meant to her and the deep if hidden meaning it meant for him. He knelt down and first went to urge her to keep it. But the gesture was too important to both of them, and he placed it carefully in the leather bag slung over his shoulder. Kissing her again, he rose and ran out the door, hoping none of the men would see his sad dreadful tears. As the men assembled in the road bisecting the town, the boy realized that none would hold him childish as many women and children had gathered to bade their men fare well….

In what seemed like hours but in mere minutes he had been caught up onto the back of a dapple horse, sitting behind the lithe young man he had met the day previous. He heard shouts from the long line of horsemen in front of him. Encampment after a long ride promised only a brief respite as the men of the city would gather with other men from all around the realm before leaving on several days of riding to a place far away. Another battle in another place putting upon his shoulders yet another challenge to be something he wasn’t.


At dawn all of the men gathered once again for travel. Fearful tones had been replaced with almost boisterous bravado; steeling the men for the dreaded task at hand; a battle they were destined to lose, by some accounts, but hearts were marshaled by strong, true words from the King and his aides and his Sister-Son as they had passed throughout the camp in the hours before sunrise. A long ride to a fate no one welcomed but none would deny if honor be theirs and their descendants…..


More days passed until they reached a wide plain at the morning’s twilight. Hushed whispers and the sounds of horses’ snorts and whinnies broke through the still air. As the sun rose, the men had formed wide long lines as they faced a tall city that sat embedded in the tall mountain that backed up to the plain. The boy had been given his own horse…someone yielded his father’s sorrel to him in deference to the departed hero. He shook; more from the morning chill but also in dread of the unknown as he heard the screams and shouts across the plain of fell beasts and foes. The boy looked left and saw the line of horsemen that seemed to stretch forever.

Turning to his right, he saw a young man sitting on a roan; a boy sat ahead of the saddle against the neck of the horse. The young man peered out from underneath a tarnished helmet with a familiar grin; a smile not lost on the boy as his eyes widened in recognition. A shake of the head was followed by finger held against lips urging hush and secrecy. The boy nodded nervously and would have said something but for the sound of hoof beats and a voice that split the noise from the battle before them with calm words. The men behind and beside and near and far from the boy began to shout and a loud horn blasted as the rays of the sun shone from behind them, lighting up the field of battle.

Mayhem ensued as the boy found himself more carried along by the sorrel than his own control of the reins. He looked up to see large creatures towering over the fray. After riding between the legs of one he turned back to watch the young man cutting the animal as the horse galloped underneath the beast. The distracting wonder of the moment left him completely helpless as he was swept off his own horse and onto the ground.

He went to stand up and nearly had his head taken off by a tall ugly looking man with a rudely-formed sword. The boy kept dodging as much as he could, but the next swing of the sword carved a shallow path through the front of his right thigh and he felt a terrible pain. As he fell back he barely managed to dodge another blow of the sword before an arrow struck the creature in the left eye. The boy tried to rise up but fell back in a swoon as darkness closed around him…


The boy woke as from a long restful dream. As his eyes began to flutter open he heard the sound of songbirds outside. He went to sit up but an ache below hit him so hard as to wrench a cry and tears from him. A kind looking woman wiped his brow with a cool wet cloth.

“Mustn’t move, child.” She stroked the boy’s hair and turned to the young woman standing off to the side of the bed.

“Only for a few moments. She must rest.” The older woman stood up, giving her place by the bedside to the young woman. A nice looking man stood over her shoulder, smiling. The boy went to speak but the same shushing gesture once again presented itself.

“Shhhh, brave one. Our time of rest is at hand.” She held up her arm slightly; it was wrapped in cloth and supported by a sling. As she did so she winced with her own pain. The man placed his hand on her shoulder.

“Time enough to talk, dear one.” She leaned close and bestowed a kiss on the forehead, holding his hand. The boy was barely able to speak, but managed to whisper the words,

“What did the woman say…what did she mean….’she must rest?’”

“Rest! Now! We will talk.” With that she rose and her hand slowly let go of his; a reluctant but temporary farewell. In a moment he was alone with sleepy thoughts.

“Oh no…we can do nothing?” A woman’s voice was heard in a foggy dream.

“Let the child be what fate has allowed.” A wizened voice proclaimed. “Perhaps a path always destined to follow? Who can say? But she will be, and that is a good thing.” The deep tones were accompanied by a hazy vision of tall kind-looking old man; clad in white that matched his long flowing beard. A welcoming smile was followed quickly by a fall back into restful sleep….

“A good soul preserved for her mother and sister,’ a familiar voice both cried and laughed at the same time. “A very good soul indeed.”

The dreams faded into welcome slumber even as the birds resumed their happy song from the tree just outside the room….


The young woman visited the girl once again, but now accompanied by two familiar figures. A little girl with a broad smile and hearty laugh. And the girl's mother, a woman all-too acquainted with loss but showing signs of renewed strength and peace. All three drew close and the girl's mother knelt at the bedside; kissing the hand of her child. A moment later the little girl had hopped up into the bed with something in her right hand.

"Somebody found her in the field out there," her mother said as her little sister placed a very well-worn but newly-cleaned doll in the crook of her right arm.

"Mama said it's alright for you to have her. The girl looked at her sister and would have cried right then but for her worry that the little girl might take it the wrong way. A few moments later she felt something small being placed in her hand. She looked down and discovered it was a necklace made of silver with a tiny almost star-like stone that glowed a bright light blue.

"It was his mother's....your grandmother." The girl looked into her own mother's eyes and saw such a joy that she had never beheld in her life.

"We got to spend so little time, my sweet girl, but he wanted you to have this and to know that he loved you so much." In an instant all the doubt and worry and pain of the past vanished , leaving the girl with long sought knowledge that her father knew and it made no difference. She tried not to, but soon all three women and the little girl were holding each other tight as they wept tears of joy....


“Then it is done? Shall I have no say?” The figure looked into the mirror and suppressed a happy sigh. The young woman sitting by her side combed her long hair; straight and finally well-kempt. Almost like an older sister, the young woman was a Lady of the Realm and soon to be wed to the Steward of the City. And the girl beside her was her newly appointed Lady-in-Waiting.

“You have had every say since you were born, and you were heard. I cannot imagine a more circuitous route to your destiny, but it is a fine destiny.” She smiled and the reflection in the mirror displayed two happy women; both young and free and finally content. One had only begun to want what she always had while the other was at last able to have what she always wanted.

“Have you finally chosen a name,” the Lady teased.

“Your mother shared the same name as my grandmother,” the girl said.

“Theodwyn?” The Lady’s hand went to her mouth as she gasped in happy surprise.

“It is a good name?” The younger woman asked with a smile. The Lady…Lady Eowyn of Rohan…wiped her tears from her face with her sleeve; not at all Lady-like but just like herself, so to speak, as she smiled back.

“It is a good name.”


And so it happened that in the fifth day of the fifth month in the year three thousand and nineteen of the Third Age that the family of Haleth, son of Hama and Elwyn wept for the loss of the boy who showed his quality in his death. And exactly one year to the day, Thedowyn, daughter of Hama and Elwyn stood in witness and kinship to the Lady Eowyn of Rohan as she wed Faramir of Gondor. There was much rejoicing throughout both Gondor and Rohan as joy ruled the heart of the Shield Maiden who finally realized a long-sought contentment and peace. And there was great joy in the heart of a girl who finally realized the dream of a lifetime. May it be so for all of us.

~ // ~
Where now are the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the harp on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the deadwood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?
All characters based on the books of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien




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