THOUGHTS BEFORE AN EXECUTION
Night of May 1, 3020
Vardamir and Ceolwulf sit chained to opposite walls of their cell, the stone cold and hard against their backs. Vardamir fidgets continually, seized with a nervous impulse to do something to rebel against his powelessness, even if it only be to shift his position. He clutches the hand that bears the Ring, for it burns as did the hilt of his cursed sword. The voice of the Ring snakes its way into his mind with alarming potency. Vardamir has difficulty forming his own thoughts around the words that resonate in his head.
"Foolish boy! Had you hearkened to me, you would have many years to live, instead of only a few hours. Had you stayed in the land you considered your oppressor, you would have still had freedom! Are these the friends whom you fought to defend? Is this their repayment for your service in war?"
An old battle wound in Vardamir's side which has long been completely healed begins to ache as though it were fresh. "That is nothing compared to the pain your death will bring! You would have had a long and prosperous life, had you yielded to Me. Now you have no honor, for you die a criminal. You are no soldier, for your sword is gone. You are nothing. And you have done this to yourself!"
Without warning, an image of the minstrel girl Sidhiel singing and dancing appears before Vardamir's eyes, as vivid as a dream. He feels the brush of her fingers against his as she passed the tankard to him in the Blushing Maiden Inn. He feels the warmth of her, smells the sweetness of her hair as he pulled her to him and kissed her forehead. The Ring is silent, allowing the waves of yearning to wash over him unabated. When Vardamir's throat tightens and the veins in his neck stand out with the pounding of his heartbeat, the Ring gloats over its victory.
Next come images of his parents, eating a lonely dinner of meager fare. They keep a chair for their son at the table, always awaiting his return. Nothing is said, but they keep glancing mournfully to the empty chair. When his mother rises to clear the table, her hand caresses the chair back lovingly.
Finally he sees his beloved harp, the instument that was the voice of his soul. He sees himself playing and singing by the sea in the woods of Dol Amroth, and feels an unbearable longing for those joyful days. Then he sees the harp thrown into a river, carried by the current until it splinters against a rocky bank. The strings snap discordantly as they splay in all directions.
"And what of the boy?" the Ring continues, relishing Vardamir's distress. Now Vardamir sees Candon, for whom he has great affection. "In a year or so he will not remember you, and if he does, he will remember only the pain you have caused him. You took him away from his grandfather and risked his life. And though you know it not, you killed the old man," the Ring accuses him. Vardamir gasps at the sight of Berenon lying dead from grieving on the floor of his little hut.
Stars wax and dwindle before Vardamir's eyes. When his vision clears, he sees Adibe and Debanni wandering in the wilderness, cursing his name and Ceolwulf's, calling down justice upon them.
"The women will not be as lucky as the boy," the Ring continues. "They will be lost and weak after they are left at the border. They shall die after long days of pain and hunger. You can blame Ceolwulf for none of this, for he is mad. All these deaths are upon your head."
The Ring falls silent for the moment. Vardamir mops sweat from his forehead. He looks across the cell to Ceolwulf, who sits motionless, his head resting on his chest, obviously in the grip of similar dark dreams. The walls seem to be moving closer, the air growing thin. Vardamir feels that without some distraction, he will lose his reason.
"Our luck seems to have run out," he says quietly, staring at a spot of rust on his chains, then back at the brooding Ceolwulf.
Ceolwulf gives no sign of having heard. His every feature bespeaks such agony that it is painful to behold. "Ceolwulf," Vardamir urges, to no avail. "Ceolwulf! Say something or I shall go mad!" The only sign of life in Ceolwulf is the slow rise and fall of his chest.
"Curse it all, I know you can hear me," Vardamir's voice rises. "You will not sit there ignoring me after bringing me here to my death! Speak! I have always been willing to die in battle, fighting with my comrades, but I will not die alone for a crime I did not commit!" Vardamir stuns himself with the sheer volume of his angry outburst.
They sit in silence for a time, Vardamir panting as he calms himself. "I do not fear death," he says aloud in a soft voice. "It is our passage to the One. It is the Gift of Illuvatar." He looks up at Ceolwulf, now wearing his usual benign expression. "I did not mean what I said. Forgive me," he apologizes. He tries to think of a reassurance for his ailing friend. "We have nothing to..." but he trails off before saying the word "fear."
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