A quiet drift of petals by sian22

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My tears are like the quiet drift
Of petals from some magic rose;
And all my grief flows from the rift
Of unremembered skies and snows.

-Dylan Thomas

 

 

Imrahil let out a long slow sigh and looked upon the tree's dark bark, its twinning branches trimmed short as a fruit tree should. The pride of every cool and shaded courtyard in far Harad, by Yavanna's grace, apricot trees flourished also in the warm, sultry winds about his seaside home.

The flowers and the herbs, the showy centrepiece of Dol Amroth's famous gardens, had always been his elder sister's desmesne. Under Ivriniel's tutelage prize specimens from every land thrived and multiplied; the herbs improved in their efficacy and vigor. But the trees, the trees by mutual agreement were his consideration. They had been his father's too, and the foundation of a long and lasting friendly rivalry between Prince Adrahil and his cousin Morwen of Lossarnach, mistress of Imloth Melui's vaunted cherry trees. His desk still held the precious colour sketches they had exchanged, and his bookcase the treatises both had penned on husbandry. Even Ivriniel could not fault the effort her little brother (a famously indifferent student) had put into learning the care and management of the trees.

Delicate in their pale blossom and their form, how ironic it was that the trees made him smile and think of Aglamir, his long-departed, decidedly undelicate, rakehell of an uncle. He remembered well the pleasure to have sat below their branches upon the young sea captain's lap, listening wide-eyed with sleepiness and wonder to the latest of his exploits. How curious was the way one's memory worked. That the sweet and heady scent of apricot should be, for him, the smell of excitement and possibility; to bring to mind the tang of salt and tar and spice that clung always to the dashing Prince's braids.

Aglamir, so many years before, had sailed far beyond even Umbar's quays, searching always for a thunder and a shore he could not name. Imrahil, exuberant and two years old by Ivriniel's recollection, had been all but bouncing with delight at the sight of the brilliant green, many-toed lizard kept safe within a bottle. There had been gifts for all of them, of course. Presented with the greatest flourish to his delighted grandmother were the first sprouting pits of apricot.

Her roving youngest son had brought her shoots and seeds and saplings from every port of call. Delicate apologies for his wanderlust that pained her so.

The grand gardens of Dol Amroth that grew from those exotic refugees had been the Dowager Princess' life's work: her proudest achievement and her greatest joy. So much so that his father Adrahil had often joked that his own mother loved her plants more than she did each one of her five boisterous and noisy brood. An exaggeration. But only just.

Four generations later the apricot trees still prospered in Dol Amroth's sheltered, great-walled garden. They were the scions of those first trees, a novelty and rightly famous. The King and Queen, enchanted by their beauty, now kept one potted in their solar. It did not fruit, but it pleased Arwen to have a memory of such abundance within a city ringed by elegant but unyielding stone.

A lone hardy specimen Imrahil understood to brave the foggy rank and damp of Pelargir on the River. That was an utter marvel.

But Emyn Arnen, perhaps, had been too much to ask. For a few short years the tree gifted to his nephew had thrived and even fruited once or twice. He remembered well the taste of its sweet and luscious bounty; the delight of the Ambassador to see such a familiar plant in an exotic and far off land; the tart the cook had, blushing, brought out for his Excellency's approval.

For all that Ithilien was a green and lovely land, its lower slopes fragrant with berry and blossom, sharply musky in the higher groves of pine: it was not the Bay. Anduin brought life and plenty about the flats but also channeled dry winter winds from down the northern vales. Though his nephew had wrapped it carefully, pruned it gently, fed and watered it by hand, the cold had sapped the fruit tree's strength. Canker, thrown out by the struggling tree in desperate hope of life, now smothered the cracking bark. Its branches were bare of leaf and life.

Called in as expert and in fading hope of treatment, it had taken the Prince several weeks to clear his schedule and make the trip north to his nephew's country home. Now rested from his journey, Imrahil surveyed the patient and walked slowly round.

He took his time. It felt wrong to be too hasty.

Faramir strode beside in anxious silence, nervously running a tanned and workworn hand through his long black hair. With his rolled up sleeves and bare, scratched arms he looked more like the chief gardener's aide than the Prince and Lord of the domain. Indeed labourer was exactly what he was in these late, lingering days of summer. Eowyn, anxious to harvest the best of Emyn Arnen's garden at its peak, had unapologetically pressed every able-bodied soul into her service.

The two Princes both ducked to survey the bottom of the branches, the joints where the canker clung most thickly. Taking out a small and fiercely sharp, curved pruning blade, he cut away the bark to expose the cambium below. It was grey and brittle as he had feared. Carefully, he checked a number of other branches and last: the trunk. All looked the same. There was no sign of life.

Imrahil shook his grey head sadly. "I am sorry lad, you are correct. It is well and truly gone."

A muscle jumped in Faramir's cheek. He reached up and stroked the flaking bark upon one lifeless branch. When at last he spoke, his voice was low and strained.

"I was foolish Uncle. Foolish to think that such a delicate species could thrive here so far from its normal home. It was a poor choice."

Imrahil winced at the words of self-reproach. As if his nephew needed another reason to be too hard upon himself. "No. It was worth the effort for such beauty. You had hope."

Faramir sighed softly, rubbed the back of one hand across his brow, leaving behind a smudge of dirt. For a time it had been a wonder. The tree, the one that his mother also had loved best, had been a wonder with its pale pink blossoms and soft orange fruit, tightly packed around the kernels that Ithilien's bold and bountiful squirrels loved to chew.

Bitter words scribed the bitterness that welled up within his heart. "A foolish hope. And because of it I will have brought the hurt to her needlessly once again."

Imrahil laid a warm and steady hand upon the younger man's shoulder, stung by the certainty that lay behind the words. "Nay lad, do not think so. That you hold to hope so naturally is one of the things she loves about you best. As do we all." He felt the moist tickle of scattered soil across his fingers, as his nephew's hand in thankfulness squeezed hard upon his own.

The sound of clinking glasses, a clear sweet chime, made both men look toward the house. Eowyn walked across the lawn, carrying a tray laden with cool tea and treats. She too was dressed for harvest in breeches and a linen shirt; her glorious hair swinging in its plait about her waist, gleaming like the yellow daisies that turned their faces to the last of late summer's vibrant sun. She smiled, buoyed by her certainty that Imrahil would know what they could do. He would tell them of some poultice, or powder, or trim that could bring the precious thing back next season.

As she neared the two men standing by the garden's edge, Eowyn was struck again by how alike they both had grown: their features merging with the passing of the years. Imrahil had thinned. His face was sharper and body leaner now with age, so that he and his sister's son shared a lighter, fine-boned handsomeness that spoke tellingly of their elven blood.

Coming closer, admiring unabashedly her husband's tanned and wiry form, she found something in his posture that made her slow. The glasses chimed erratically as she bent and quickly set the tray upon the bench beside.

As a warrior does, ignoring the ranks stretching far behind to focus on the van, the Lady of Ithilien evaded the lines of sadness about her husband's mouth that had not been there that morn. She took in instead the salt- and sun-kissed wrinkles of Dol Amroth's prince.

"What do you think Uncle? What should we do?" Her low and smoky voice was over bright and high, as much a sign of anxiousness as the strand of corn-silk hair that she twisted and untwisted unconsciously about her index finger.

Swiftly, Imrahil looked to his nephew standing rigid by his side. There was no pleading or dissembling in those clear grey eyes. He was thankful, for though there was much that Imrahil would do to spare his family any hurt, especially his niece of whom he was very fond, he had no wish to lie.

Awkwardly, he cleared his throat and gently as he could ground out the words. "I am so sorry, dear heart. There is no treatment now that can be done. I fear the tree is dead."

Faramir watched, heart aching, as his wife's hard fought composure dissolved like so much silkweed borne upon the wind. Oh my love. Sometimes the smaller hurts are all too very much.

He reached out to pull her near, to ease with touch the swift pain that stole through them both. Sudden tears clouded her proud grey eyes. An elegant hand raised to cover a now quivering mouth.

This was a blow. She had never wavered in her certainty that the tree could be saved, so much so that he had wondered that summer long if they saw the same plant before them. He had feared while she had hoped; reversed in their familiar roles. She was the practical one; used to looking on each problem and each obstacle with honesty, wondering how best to surmount the challenge and move on. He was supposed to be the dreamer; thinking always of what could and should be, building white and shining cities in the air.

It was the habit that had sustained him through long years of war.

Faramir stroked her hair, heedless of the dirt and green his fingers left behind. Held fast within the warm, strong arms, she let the tears at last course silently down her pale and ashen cheeks.

An aching sigh brushed her brow. He knew he could not feel the lack as intensely as she did, but still he knew the pain it brought her and her pain was always his. Even so he was unprepared for the fierceness of her reaction.

"Take it down! Please. Now. I cannot bear to see it anymore." Trembling hands raised, as the desperate flow of words bubbled up like a bitter spring.

Now? Would it not be better wait a while, accept that its time had come? Faramir looked down and whispered softly to the fair head tucked beneath his chin. "Are you sure love that is what you want?"

He felt Eowyn's emphatic, silent nod against his chest. He caught his uncle's questioning gaze and nodded once.

Imrahil, resignation in every limb, walked slowly to the house to find an axe. Faramir wished fruitlessly that he had not been a Ranger, that he could not make out his uncle's footfalls across the lawn.

It was Fin who first ran out at the unaccustomed sound of her mother's weeping. Faramir, Eowyn pressed safely in his arms, was grateful that for once their intense and high strung daughter simply stood, held her mother's hand, and quietly stroked her hair. He tried to weakly smile and ease the anxiety on his daughter's face.

With a sudden pang, he thought of Bron and how grieved his eldest would be to find the change when next he was home from Edoras. He had loved the apricots and had helped his father with the planting.

Lost for a moment in his thoughts, the Lord of Emyn Arnen did not see its smallest Prince walk out carefully across the grass. Theomund nestled his own fair, blond head against his mother's back and reached around as far as the two small arms would go.

Looking down upon his youngest, Faramir thought painfully of the little girl who might have been. The hoped-for sun after the gray and worried time when Theo had first been ill. The healer had sought to give them comfort. Told them how common it truly was to lose a child before its time; that another family in the village grieved that very day. Niena, lady of mercy,none of that was wrong. But Faramir thought again with a flash of sudden anger: How could it ever be a comfort to know that others suffered too?

He kissed Eowyn's hair and held her close, murmured soft words of comfort, willing his warmth and strength to wash gently at her anguish.

Slowly it ebbed, until the tears were dry upon her cheeks.

All too quickly his uncle was back, a question in his clear grey eyes, the tool upraised. Faramir shook his head, knowing he had not the heart to do the deed himself.

Eowyn, exhausted, thankful that her family held her up, shivered in her husband's arms, each time a blow sounded dully on the air.

 

~~~000~~~

 

Imrahil started up, eyes heavy-lidded, limbs weighted with fatigue when the unexpected knock sounded softly on his bedroom door.

He had lain down after dinner and promptly fallen straight to sleep, wearier than he had wanted to admit. Ruefully, he shook his head. When had he last swung an axe, or ridden quite so far? Old man, you are getting soft. The quiet nights with a brandy bottle for company are likely catching up. Oh, he had to be honest with himself: he was becoming old. That eve he felt every one of his two and eighty summers.

Stiffly he rose, threw on breeches and a shirt and padded to the door, cracked it slightly open.

He blinked, seeing no one there, but then looked down at the sound of a soft shuffling. Theomund stood quietly in the hushed and empty hall, a look of hopeful expectation upon his tired little face.

Imrahil rubbed blearily at the dust of sleep within his eyes and blinked again. "Lad, what are doing up at this late hour? Should you not be in your bed?" And I in mine? Had the boy not been put to bed shortly after supper? The Prince looked, but no mother or nanny hastened down the hall to retrieve the wanderer. They were, it seemed, the only two awake.

"Uncle will you help me? I cannot manage on my own." Manage? Whatever did the boy mean?

No sooner had he opened his mouth to ask, then Theo had grabbed him by the hand and pulled him through the doorway. His look of surprise had been swiftly taken for assent.

Out into the hushed and pillow-soft air of night the two walked, quickly and silently, bare feet leaving dark marks upon the dew laden grass. Already in the cooling air a mist was coming down. Ithil had risen and was nearly full. His silver light made the white flowers of the garden glow eerily in the dim.

Theo led them unerringly towards the fallen tree. Some distance from the haphazard pile of wood two of the largest logs lay. Only then did Imrahil notice by the moon's pale glow the scratches that graced the small, thin hands. The boy had obviously tried to drag the larger logs but had not made it very far.

"The dew is coming down and there was not enough light to work. I need to take the logs into the stable, Uncle. Mama and Papa must not see what I am doing." Theo's great grey eyes within the soft-featured, childish face looked up, earnest and unwavering. They were Hurin eyes, a stormier gray than his, but as the young boy bent to grasp the heavy log, something in their fierce determination echoed in his blood.

Giggling helplessly he was thrown by scarred and sinewed arms high into the air beside the quay. Grey eyes flashed, bright as the sword upon his uncle's hip. 'Oh ho my little lad. Shall you join my crew upon the deck? How many Corsairs can you take?"

Aglamir. It was Aglamir he saw for just a moment looking back; his beloved uncle taken swiftly by a fever so long ago with no children of his own. The Prince's startled heart thudded quickly in his chest. He had never thought to look again for him; to find him in these latter days in a young boy's focus and resolve.

Wordlessly they pulled the two largest logs across the grass and into an empty stall. With a little scrounging Imrahil found a lamp and a pair of stools to sit upon. They worked companionably. Night sounds rose all around. The horses shifted restlessly, whinnying or blowing great huffing breaths. A curlew called once. Imrahil shifted his piece of wood to rest more comfortably against his knees. Old man, more muscles will be sore upon the morrow.

"What will yours be, Theomund?" he asked, shaving away the tough outer bark to release the smooth pale core. Of its own accord a leaf was emerging from the wood.

"An apricot."

Of course. Simple and perfect. He let out a quiet sigh, thinking of the endless acrimonious debates in council; the ironic bitter arguments about how best to honour the War and those who served. Most who grieved had wanted something grand and solid left behind, writ large in stone for the passing of an age, before their world and memory slowly faded.

The King, he thought, had been right to remind them that nothing of Arda's Middle-earth was permanent. Not men and most assuredly not their works. Even Yavanna's fruits and Aule's stone withered in the face of Manwe's air and Ulmo's water. But dreams and hope and memory, these could be passed, and in the passing, endure more.

Fingers flexed, a knife whispered, and another curl of precious wood fell gently to the floor. It was palest cream with streaks of pinkish gold. Shaped almost exactly like a petal.

A dream of a little girl. Spice and tar and sun upon the salt-kissed air. Both he would now remember each time the first petals of the blooming apricots drifted down upon the wind.

With the wood warm beneath his fingertips, Imrahil thought wistfully of his nephew's dream. Faramir had longed to create their own large and loud and laughing tangle of a family, akin to his and Leylin's in Dol Amroth. The place where he had been happiest as a child; carefree, away from the cage of decorum and brooding silence that had been the Steward's palace. To his nephew, the shrieks and pranks and sibling fights meant a surety he had rarely known. How blissfully banal to have to mediate a pigtail dipped in ink or a frog dropped down a dress. How blissful for a child to know that they can be themselves and be loved without condition for it.

Faramir, composed, even solemn at times when the darker dreams harrowed hard his heart, was another man when chased by the horde of shrieking cousins, extended as if by magic on Midsummer's eve. Fifteen, if you counted Aragorn and Arwen's son and daughters who were always there. How many would cling and still he walked, arms and legs laden with laughing little ones? By what eldar instinct did they sense the dreaming little boy inside the man and bring him, shrieking with abandon, out to play?

As the two shaved, and turned, and shaved again Imrahil listened quietly to another composed and thoughtful little boy.

"It will mean something to Mama." Theomund explained, as small and nimble fingers began to work a stronger curve upon the softer core. "It was special and is still special."

"That is a good thought, my lad." A tired but determined smile met his own. Seven, Theo is only seven. Imrahil shook his head. How could the boy be so very wise and wondering at his tender age? How had he known how best to catch a dream and keep its memory?

Born of a family blessed and cursed at once with foresight, Imrahil knew all too well how rare it was that we dream true. 'Our dreams are nets.' His father had explained, eyes dark and wide, catching starlight on the waves. 'Nets with which we try to catch the real world.'

Sometimes, he thought, reaching out to ruffle a small blond head beside, sometimes by the Valar's grace the gift we get to catch is so much greater than the dream.

 


Chapter End Notes:


For NW who catches me when I leap and holds our dreams tenderly in hands as great and strong as the northern sky.

To the ladies of the Garden who supported and encouraged me while this piece came to being, my deepest, heartfelt thanks and gratitude.

Thank you also to those who voted at Teitho. It means so very much.



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