Summary: The funeral of the High King.
Notes: Thanks to Meri, once again, for beta reading. Feedback is welcome at the above email address.
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Ereinion always disliked formalities. He understood the reason for them and bore them gracefully, but now... Now, for once, I shall see things done his way.
Cirdan and Glorfindel had been worried for me, because I insisted on making the preparations myself. Neither of them got any sleep that night, I know. And I suspect they had prepared themselves to deal with two bodies come the morrow.
But I couldn't follow him, as much as I wanted to. I was numb, and yet I'd found myself unable to leave the world he had died to defend. I hadn't died when I felt him torn from me, nor had I when I was informed of what I already knew, when I'd been led to his remains, when I'd followed the stretcher that bore him away, after I'd finished preparing his body for burial, as I'd kept the vigil until sunrise.
For once, I shall see things done his way.
I knew the soldiers expected to see him dressed in full regalia, their High King, their Star of Radiance. But I saw him consigned to the flame as I knew him, as all his confidants knew him. Simply as Ereinion. Glorfindel had seemed surprised to see me alive, and I'd had to chuckle at the expression of surprised relief on his face. It wasn't a warm sound; my throat had been tight since the evening prior. I wasn't able to eat a thing for a three days after.
Cirdan had looked as I should have been: despairing, lost, torn apart. Ereinion had been a son to him, and he was gone. I could only hope to grieve as openly as he did, as the others did. But for me, the shock was still too fresh. I saw him lying there, and I knew he was dead, but my heart still hoped he will awaken and tell me it was just a joke.
A stretcher had been decorated during the night, dressed in royal blue velvet and gold embroidery to make a proper bier. It would have been difficult to miss the tear-spots on the cloth. There were flowers also, braided with ribbons and hanging from the four corners. I wanted to laugh at that -- the ridiculous notion of flowers in Mordor, but I couldn't. It hurt to know what those flowers symbolized. Many of the soldiers, Ereinion included, lovingly tended a few precious pots of earth. The sight of the flowers gave them hope.
There was no hope that day.
We arranged him on the bier, speaking nothing to one another. No words had been needed. Tears began to fall from Cirdan's eyes once more, and Glorfindel took him aside and let him regain his composure. I occupied myself with Ereinion. The Crown Imperial had been melted to his skull, making hairstyling impossible but keeping the dark strands attached to his scalp. He'd always liked his hair unstyled, anyway. And I'd made no attempt to hide the burned and blackened skin on his neck and chest. What the loose, long-sleeved shirt hadn't covered, didn't need covering, in my opinion. The burns had blanketed his body almost to his wrists and past his knees, and yet his face remained largely undamaged. Only the blackened eye-sockets, hidden by immaculate lids, spoke to the cause of his death.
He'd been charred from the inside out.
My only solace is that he did not suffer long.
Mordor had seemed strangely brighter that morning as the honor guard bore his body to the unlit pyre, but it was cold comfort to me. I'd followed behind the bier, wearing the robes of the High Prince. Cirdan and Glorfindel had still been in armor. More flowers had decorated the pyre, tied with strips of blue fabric from the uniforms of enlisted elves, and other tributes had been offered as well. Paper swanboats, water-clear crystals, silver prayer stars, and other heartfelt memorials from elves and men alike lay in a circle around the royal pyre.
Ereinion's body had lain in state until midmorning. I'd stood by his side as the soldiers passed by, mourning their king. If anyone had noticed the glint of mithril on our right index fingers, they'd said nothing then. But Ereinion had longed for us to be able to wear our betrothal rings openly, and I'd wanted to grant him that wish.
At noontide, Ereinion's body had been draped with the royal standard and Aeglos had been cradled in his arms. I spoke words I cannot now remember, though Cirdan had told me later that they were hauntingly eloquent.
Then the horns sounded.
I threaded the stem of one of Ereinion's precious snowthorn blossoms between his fingers and kissed him goodbye.
And I lit my beloved's funeral pyre.
And now I am here, standing on the Cliffs of Lindon, gazing out to sea. A simple wooden urn, cradled in my arms, carries all that remains of Ereinion Gil-galad. The wind blows into the west, out to the sea that my betrothed loved so much and yet never longed for as elves should.
It is time.
I open the urn and spread the ashes to the wind to be carried out to sea. The mithril ring falls to the grass at my feet, and I pick it up, holding it close to my heart.
I put the ring back in the empty urn and twist the lid closed.
Cirdan hands me the head of Aeglos, wrapped in canvas, and a thick leather-bound journal. These I will bear back to Imladris, to store until I sail into the West or until Ereinion returns to me.
For I've heard his voice in dreams and my heart knows I will see him again.
I do not need to grieve.
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