To Tell of a Boy
2. The Story
I do not know.
The sea was misty. Ever the birthplace of legends, from whence many had gone and few has returned, trying to find the Mountains of Eternal Youth, and immortality.
The boy smiled.
“You are lonely.”
He reached out with a longing hand, and gently attempted to pull the stranger from the edge of the cliff, where he had been looking east into the fog. The stranger looked at him, and saw something in the youth’s face. He stepped back. Kneeling upon the newly green grass, he took the boy’s face in his scarred, scorched hand.
He often sang to the youth. The boy would listen to him with his unfathomable eyes wide, and sometimes, just sometimes, he would be confused. The boy was never confused, or if he was, he hid it well. The stranger knew that the boy would not understand a word of what he sang.
The boy was not happy. His emotions were never as simple as a normal child’s, and could not be defined so easily. The stranger could think of a million words to describe him, then suddenly he would be reminded of two other boys, and all he wanted to say to the boy would fail him.
He had not traveled long in this country, so foreign compared to his own lands, and he was not familiar with its people. The boy did nothing to help with this, for although he had a father, his father was too unhappy to be happy for anyone else. He loved his son, but not in the way the son would have himself loved. The boy’s mother was dead. The boy’s uncle was responsible, quiet, and kind, but he can never reach with his mind, what or who the stranger was. The boy’s elder brother liked to study by the mountains, and did not understand. The boy’s sisters were wise, in their own ways , but they were not permitted to roam along the shores. The boy’s younger brother loved not strangers with strange eyes, who comes when the wind brought salty tidings from the sea.
The boy taught the stranger his language. He found it queer, with all the complicated characters, which the boy printed elegantly on paper, and the monosyllabic words, which he always found another deeper, more inexpressive side to.
Then war broke out. The boy told him of his own plans of moving away, away from the conflicts of mankind, which were so pointless he did not want even to see them with his own eyes, and the stranger knew it was not death and destruction that he feared. The boy said to him, he would never come back if he was to go away, never again see the sea, with all its terrible beauty and mysteries. The boy did not say ‘may’, but ‘will’, and the stranger knew that he knew partly, if not all, what destiny he would fulfill.
One day, when the stranger came to the boy’s house, he found it broken and aflame, bearing no trace of the life he should have learnt to cherish. He backed away and ran, all through the mayhem men had brought against themselves, tossing aside the garments the boy had given him to make him stand out less, and threw himself into the ever cleansing waters of the sea.
Time flies even in the eyes of mortals, especially when they were not aware of it. The stranger wandered no longer by the shoreline, but came inland to seek something he could not quite place. He was always alone, for the common people feared his strange grey eyes and pale skin, some rumouring him to be a demon or an exiled criminal from another nation, and he would hear them with his sensitive ears, and thought how right they were.
Then he went to a part of this land where the fragile peace still reigned. It was an intellectual center, as well as a haven for scholars and loremasters of the day. He did not go to the city, where dwelt most of the people, but sought the gentle hills. He came to the wilderness where he thought no one would be, but then he saw the thatched roof, then the brown gate, and by instinct he came before it, and waited. Soon the door was opened to him, and he saw again the boy who was no longer a boy, and the boy saw again the stranger who was no longer a stranger to him.
He was still as pallid as before, but now he was tall, taller than the wandering bard. His eyes were still as deep and dark, as ever confident. The stranger could sense a change in the mortal, but he could not tell himself if he liked or dislike the change. The boy greeted him as before, never surprised at his sudden appearance, nor at his perpetual youth.
“You are lonely.”
And as before he lead the bard into his house, where they dined.
The boy told him that his father was dead, and his uncle had died, and his elder brother had gone to godknowswhere. He told him that he was now married, and his sisters were married and his younger brother was married. He showed him his wife, a woman not beautiful by mortal standards, but with an intelligent mind. And the singer remembered before everything, everything that he had done and was recorded, he had loved. He saw the same love in the boy’s eyes. But still the boy smiled, and thought it didn’t matter, didn’t matter at all, and knew that the singer knew too.
The singer stayed with the boy and his wife for many days. The singer sang for the boy as he had before, and the boy played for him the guqin. It was not music as the singer knew it. All the passion and the beauty and the horror was hidden, buried deep inside the calm steady notes. It was not meant for others to hear, or even to listen. It was meant for others to live. The singer heard, and the singer understood all that the boy would not tell in speech, and was sad.
The boy showed him his paintings, paintings of tall mountains, of the woman he loved, of barren landscapes, and most of all, the seashore where he had lived his childhood that was not a childhood. The boy showed him the scrolls of parchment he kept around his house, saying that he did not care for them at all, but only putting them there for show. The singer did not read the texts. He knew what they were about, and their knowledge he had once learnt, though in another language, in another land, to fight another enemy, and not his own kin.
Then one day, a general came for the boy, who hid from him once, and hid from him twice, but on the third time he left, bringing with him all the parchment which he did not read, and the guqin that spoke what he would not speak. The singer bid him farewell. In the boy’s hand was a white feather fan, as pure and sincere as anything can be, making up for the blind innocence he never had.
As the boy rode off into the distance and his future, the bard could almost swear that there was something in his eyes, a mixture of determination, confidence…and guilt?
The singer heard, as he went from mountain to mountain, valley to valley, that there was a man, rising in power. This man was a queer sort: he was a bringer of war, and a bringer of peace. Some said he was wise, other were convinced that he was foolish, doing what cannot be done. But no one ever agreed on whether he was proud or not, cold or not, loving or not. He was a mystery. But the singer still waited for him, and amidst his wanderings sometimes he would pick out a melody from the torrents of music that was his life, and sing it for him.
The swift wind blew apart the cloths soldiers used for the doors of their tents, sweeping aside the fallen leaves which had somehow gathered there. It was autumn. The flame in the oil lamp flickered slightly, producing dancing shadows on the tent wall, and a sigh was heard.
“I knew you would come.”
The speaker was lying on the bed, his shrunken hands resting lightly on his once proud chest. His hair was shot with grey. He had all the appearances of a dying man, except for his eyes, seemingly immortal, but too large for his face. Never surprised.
“Yes.” The stranger came in through the door, young always as he was young, with a terribly old soul underneath terribly old eyes. He looked at the boy who was an old man. The boy had always known what he had to do, although he had never wanted to do it. He had been trapped in a paradigm of what he believed was fate. But he had come closer to a lot of things than any man ever had, in these few thousand years.
The stranger knelt before the boy, and took the boy’s face in his scarred, scorched hand.
“Let us go and see the stars.”
Yes. It is my time to go where you cannot go. But before that we can still look at the stars, to wish it was otherwise, or to wish it would always be the same, or to wish that it would follow its own course.
The stranger took the dying boy in his arms, and went out of the tent, to gaze at the multitudes of pinpoints of light, that gave the stranger’s people their name.
“I have told them to bury me upon the hill, so that they will remember me not as what I am, but as what they think I am,” said the boy. His voice was cracked and fading.
The stranger laid the boy on the ground, pillowed by layers upon layers of dead leaves, and gently kissed him on the brow. Then he turned, and singing his song, he walked away, never turning back.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.