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Written for the LOTR Community White Tree challenge. Thanks as ever to RiverOtter for the beta.
Grace and Memory
The Sign of Grace
“And why would you, the appointed Lord and King of us all, wish to plant this yourself?” demanded Elros’s friend and advisor. “After all, it is only a tree when all is said and done,” he said firmly.
Elros’s brow rose in a manner his brother could have advised indicated he was most displeased. “Only a tree? Only a tree?” He shook his head in disbelief and rose to his full, impressive height. “That is like saying that the Sun is only a light in the sky, of no more importance to those of us who dwell within Arda than the least of stars.”
He turned to look at the small sapling that had just been gifted to his house by Elves from Tol Eressëa. “I have spoken with the Lady Galadriel Artanis, who was born beneath the Light of the Two Trees, and with Círdan the Shipwright, who was born even earlier, when only the stars lit the world. Few of the fruits of Telperion came to full ripeness, and of those few fruits fewer have given rise to viable offspring. That we are honored by being given one of the White Trees of the Valar----”
He turned again to face the Adan who had stood by his side since the day he’d declared himself one with the mortals. “Today, at least, we have found favor with the Valar and the Eldar. Today we are seen as worthy of being counted among the Children of Ilúvatar. I would have that remembered here, in this land that we are now founding. I have lived longer than you, and know that even among the Elves there have been betrayals and murders most foul. Let all be reminded that faithfulness to the Powers that guide the world is of more value than rubies or pearls, as faithfulness is, in the end, beyond all price.”
He moved to kneel by the pot in which the Tree had been brought. “Faithfulness must grow, even as the Tree must grow. It must be nurtured and husbanded. I fear that without such reminders as this our people must fail in the end; and my blessings will ever be on those who are faithful to the Tree and the covenant it symbolizes.”
“And why do you hold your hand from the desired sacrifice to the Destroyer of Death?” whispered Zigur. “It is only a tree, when all is said and done,” he added firmly.
But Ar-Pharazôn was not as certain of that as his dread advisor would have him be.
“Let it burn upon the altar within the Temple,” Zigur continued. “When you prove yourself faithful to Him, our Lord will teach you how it is you can wrest immortality from the Powers.”
The King of Númenor felt his resolve waver once more. He grew older, after all, and the day must come when he must face dissolution at last.
But yet he held his hand, still unwilling to raise such a challenge toward the Belain.
“Not yet,” he murmured aloud to himself.
He who had once been known as Annatar and Sauron hissed under his breath, growing impatient with this mortal’s lack of resolution.
“He is awake, and asks for you,” the healer told Elendil. The tall Númenorian gave a great sigh of relief before going to give word to his father. Together with Amandil he approached the guarded room where his son Isildur had lain since he’d been brought back to Romenna but a hair’s breadth from death.
“And why did you go to Armenelos?” he asked his son.
“To fetch a fruit of Nimloth from the King’s courts,” the younger Man whispered. “We cannot let the memory of the White Tree die!”
“And for this you were willing to hazard yourself?” Elendil demanded. “You would allow yourself to die for the sake of a tree? For it is wise to remember it is only a tree, when all is said and done!”
But Isildur was shaking his head. “More than a tree!” he gasped, his sincerity overcoming the pain he knew from his terrible wound. “Much more—than merely a tree! And Nimloth—she begged me to take this one, even as the women chosen by accursed Zigur beg us to spirit away their children that they do not also die upon his altar. I could hear her pleading in my heart! And had I been able—had I been able to save her, I would have—I swear it!”
“And your brother—where is Anárion?” asked his grandfather.
The wounded Man’s smile might be somewhat twisted by the agony he knew, yet it clearly showed his relief and pride. “He—he took the fruit to see it planted and take root. He has been guarding it—for the sake of the grace shown us ever by the Powers.”
Meneldil watched as his uncle, now High King of the Dúnedain, himself lifted out the paving stones from the Court of Gathering before the King’s House at the top of the city of Minas Anor, entrusting each to one of his sons to lay neatly nearby. One of the groundskeepers had brought a spade as requested, and once the earth was sufficiently cleared, Isildur took it and began to dig a hole.
The younger Man looked at the small sapling that had been brought from Osgiliath, there to the east on the river. “I do not understand,” he said, “why you appear to think this so important, Uncle. Why does this need to be planted here, and now? It is only a tree, when all is said and done,” he added.
His uncle paused in his labor to look at his nephew, whom he’d only yesterday confirmed as King of Gondor. “It is far more than only a tree, Meneldil,” he said, shaking his head. “I almost died to bring a fruit of Nimloth the Fair from the Courts of the King in Armenelos, and your father himself hid with it for weeks to see it planted and sprouted and safely growing that the honor showed to our ancestor Elros Tar-Minyatur by the Belain and the Eldar not be forgotten. For I was not the only one who sacrificed to see to it that sign of grace not be lost to the plots of the Father of Lies we defeated so short a time ago at such great cost. Had Anárion been found with a fruit of the White Tree, he would not even have been given the dubious honor of being dragged to the accursed temple and burnt there. Nay, they would have killed him as painfully as could be contrived at short notice, there on the spot, and the fruit hacked to pieces. So deeply did the Nameless One hate the Tree and all it symbolized.
“Nay,” he continued, “even as your father hid to nurture the fruit as it quickened and sprang into a vigorous sapling, so I now plant this to his memory, that the Kings of Gondor never forget all that was lost when we accounted among the Faithful left the island of our birth. It was the Land of Gift, the Land of Promise to us while its folk remained true in heart. Now we dwell once more in Ennor, the Mortal Lands, and our realms of Gondor and Arnor are the lands where we seek to keep alive the memory of the good that came of that promise.”
He looked up toward the top of Mindolluin, shining in the light of the midday Sun. “Your father was faithful to me and to the White Tree, there after I was wounded by Sauron himself,” he said as he lifted the spade once more. “Now I will return the honor.” His spade dug into the earth, preparing it to hold a symbol of grace memorialized.
A Promise of Ancient Glory
“I am not certain why you continue to worry about it, Little Brother,” Boromir said as he slapped his hand against the barkless trunk. “After all, when all is said and done, it is only a tree,” he said firmly.
So saying, he gave Faramir a sardonic grin and walked away, headed for the ramp down to the lower city.
Still speechless, Faramir watched after the Warden of the White Tower and Captain-General of Gondor’s forces, and shook his head. Only a tree? How could anyone consider the White Tree of Gondor nothing better than only a tree?
“It is our life—our promise that we are not only a people!” Faramir said aloud at last. “There are many peoples within Middle Earth. Are we no better than any other? No better than the folk of Khand, or the oathbreakers who were cursed by Isildur for not having honored their vow to fight for him? Does it mean nothing to you, Brother, that we are the last of the Dúnedain in these reaches of the mortal lands?”
He caught a glimpse of a sympathetic nod from one of the four Guardsmen who stood, clad in ancient armor, as Guard of Honor to this, the symbol of their ancient ties to Númenor and the Undying Lands beyond its former guard. “I would see the White Tree blooming anew, here in the Courts of the Kings!” he said defiantly to the Guardsman and his fellows. “I would see our realm renewed, its honor clear for all to discern!”
As he turned to go back to the Citadel, the four he left behind stood straighter, reminded of why they were honored to serve in this capacity, guarding the sanctity of a symbol of what appeared to be fading glory.
Far to the north, a shapely hand used silver thread to embroider another branch for the White Tree, blooming with gemmed flowers, which took shape upon the black banner she wrought even now for the one she loved. And that one wandered through the Dead Marshes, following the trail of one who should prove to hold answers to questions that plagued the Wise—answers that must be found if there was to ever be a chance for a living scion of Nimloth the Fair to bloom once more within Gondor.
Meanwhile, high upon the flanks of Mindolluin, a small sapling lifted its chaplet of silvered leaves beneath the filtered sunlight. Its time was now approaching….
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