This is different - the is the story that will neither Fly nor Die.
I wrote the basic straight-ahead version for this the night the “monster” challenge was announced at HASA, and then I put it down, because although I thought it was done, I didn’t think it was a story. But something about it got to Chris, and she asked about it. So, I expanded it, and then, later, once again. I considered it done each one of those times - but the more I work on it, the more questions and suggestions my beta's had. The more I add to it to answer those questions, the less I recognize what i was originally trying to do.
There are a lot of notes that go with this, but I decided tonight to leave them all out. That doesn't mean I won't answer questions, just that if it won't fly anyway, it may as well stand alone. I envision this as a journal entry, but I was trying for the flavor of a folk tale.
Field of Flags
Elenya, 20th Narquelië 2510.
Last night, I stood at the cross roads, watching the sun try to burn the path before me into a river of flame.
My life, too, had come to a fork in the road - a parting of old life and new that comes, that must come, into a life so long if it is lived with any amount of introspection.
My eyes, as always were drawn to the north, to the cold empty stretches that seem to make my vision limitless, though the landscape I was trying to peer at was inside my head and my heart.
I was thinking about another time and place; a river that ran like a twist of silver and tears through fields of flags, their sword-sharp leaves reaching to pierce the sky, their bright blue petals the banners of the sea, and a man who followed the wings of swans looking for a place that could bring them solace and hope… Gone. All gone, long before I was born. Except, perhaps, the hope.
I made a sudden decision, and turned and followed the gleam of my river, wondering what it was that called to me in the water’s song. I felt detached, but once caught in the current, I flowed south without a plan except to see if the water would take me home.
I have heard it said that Ulmo breathes in every drop of water that flows anywhere in Arda. I hoped that that was true, and that he would know me through the salt water my tears. I gave myself to Anduin, and found her comforting in a way I could not define, and let her take me South in a way I knew she would someday do again.
I rode until I came to a place where the ground fell away, and where, as in the fields of the Sirion, flags and swords raised to the sky. These were larger than the blue flags of the north, their tall yellow heads nodding in the last heat haze of the day. I felt that I had ridden into a story, so I stopped and made a small dry camp, little more than a fire and a place for my horse to rest in comfort, and there I waited.
When it was fully dark. A man came and stood just inside the ring of light that encompassed all I had kept of my life. Neither my horse nor I had heard him come - he was just there one moment in the place that had been a flame’s flicker the moment before. He stood patiently at the edge of the firelight and waited, asking nothing, until I asked him to sit and share what was mine, though I had little enough at the moment to offer anyone.
He accepted neither bread nor tea, but settled across from me, saying he would, if I meant it, take my gift of light and warmth. And so we sat quietly together in our clearing among the flags, and listened to the rustling of the wind in their leaves; the whispering secrets of the river, the hissing song that fire sings and the crackle of its feet as it danced in the heart of the flame. We watched the wheeling stars turn above us and wondered why they should bring us to this time, this place, together.
“Where are you from?” he asked at last, and I looked up to meet his eyes, but saw in them only the dancing gleam of the reflected river.
I thought about it for a long time. I cannot call anywhere home at the moment; all my ties are severed.
“I am from nowhere,” I replied at last. “I do not even understand why I came in this direction, unless it is that I have drowned and now I am floating down the river to the sea.”
His shoulders relaxed and his mouth turned up in something that approximated a smile. “Me too. I belong nowhere. But I often follow the river, or sleep by the silent pools and let her bring me news of those like you that seek her solace.”
“And does she bring you solace and sleep?” I inquired
“No,” he replied. “Neither solace, nor sleep. That is not what I seek.” He settled a little more comfortably, and questioned me again. “What is your name?”
He must have though me some kind of fool, that these simple questions took so much consideration.
“I have no name, either. I gave it up when I went out the door. I have borrowed a name from an old mythology, and I call myself Eriol.”
The smile, again. “Well chosen. At least you still dream. I gave away my name as well. I did it long ago - without so much thought as you seem to have taken, though. Why did you leave you name behind?”
That was easier. “I do not wish to be that person any longer. I left my name behind me with my old life and heart. And you?”
He toyed with a small silver ring on his left hand. “There was nothing left for me to be.”
We both seemed caught in dreams, trapped in a circle of fire and moonlight, somewhere outside of time. I reached over to prod the fire back into life, and watched how he moved to keep the flame between us.
“Time does not wait,” he sighed at last, “even for the immortal. You must decide where you belong, dreamer. Decide while you are still warm, or someone may make your decision for you.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. I am both always and never warm. I am never at home but in the motion of the moment. I am caught between the stars and the sea. It is this I have come south to examine.
“What drew you to stop here?” he asked.
“The flags,” I laughed, and he nodded for me to go on. “I was thinking about another river, and how its waters sprang from an inexhaustible supply of tears.”
“Where is this river?”
“Gone. It flowed into the sea.” He raised an eyebrow, and I wondered if he had understood my implications. “But once it flowed through a field of flags. Does it not seem fitting, that the place where so many fell should be remembered as a field of flags? But the last thing that flowed down that river was hope. It is too bad it follows only after so many tears…”
“They say all rivers run with the same waters,” he said, and slid his cape from his shoulders, exposing his tunic, dark green with the fleur-de lie blaze of a butter-yellow flag blossom. “They call the blossoms flags, but the leaves swords. There was a battle here as well, long ago. Fewer men, and shorter lives – but perhaps as many tears. Brave hearts stood together, and swore they would not leave.” He tossed a pebble at the stream, and we saw the ripples echo the phases of the moon. “Three, they say, escaped before the end. The others…” he shrugged back into his cape “stayed. And lie in this field of swords.”
I watched the shadows move across his face as he spoke. The silver of the river reflecting in his eyes was like the flickering of a candle. It was as though the shades of many years spelled out their story on his own serious face.
He stopped when he realized I was lost in thoughts of my own. “You offered me your light and heat, of your own free will,” he continued. “Though it will pain me to take it from you, since you have no use for it, take it I shall.”
I stood as though mesmerized as he crossed through the fire. His eyes were ablaze, and yet held never any more light or warmth than you would get from a single candle, guttering in the wind, sputtering, but unable to go out.
He reached toward my heart, but I did not flinch, and for a moment he lost his resolve, unsure of what he had read in me.
“You do not fear me?”
“No,” I replied quietly. “Why should I fear the shades of men, just because our destinies are divided. I do not believe that a trick of language will really allow you to take from me unwilling what is not freely given.”
“But - do you not long for the gift of Men?” His hand hovered between us, steady, but without resolve. “I think you do… I can give it to you…”
“I long to understand the gift that is my own. And I don’t believe that you can give me a gift you have refused to accept yourself...”
His arm darted suddenly forward and reached into my chest, his fingers wrapped like the bars of a cage about the beating of my heart. “Still you do not fear me?”
I was almost sorry for him. I made a most disappointing victim.
“Taking my heart from me would be a waste. If you can see to do what you have done, you can see that my light would not sustain you. I came south to face my own darkness. I have given myself away; I do not have what you want. But, maybe I can help you…”
I cupped my hands about his disembodied face. “Maybe, I can help us both. Do not fear me.” I whispered, and I blew gently into his eyes and put the candles out.
Rain burst over us in a sudden brief shower, and the silver ash around the fire swirled in a rivulet and ran along the bank, parting the sword-shaped leaves and joining the river’s star-dappled waters. In my hands, I held only the golden petals of a flag.
For now, I sit beside the fire and watched it ebb away to embers. In the morning, when it is nothing but small pockets of remembered light and warmth, I will find it light and warmth within myself. Tears flow, but the hope remains.
In the morning, I will turn north.