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Stone Gods: 1. The Winning of Eldarion
It was all Barahir could do to stop himself from shaking. He clenched his fists hard and walked out of the White Tower as quickly as he could, not stopping until he had reached his rooms. He waved his man away, shut the door, and sagged against it, breathing deeply, half-angry with himself for behaving like a peevish child.
He had never felt so insulted in his life.
No matter, it was only Eldarion after all, he said to himself. It did not help. His anger rose again, this time against the older man. He sat at his desk and glowered. He was disappointed, above anything else. He had expected more good sense from Eldarion than this.
Barahir, quite rightly, was apt to think of himself as the foremost scholar in Gondorian circles, a fairly modest way of judging that he was probably the cleverest man in Middle-earth. There was one other person whom he acknowledged, grudgingly and in secret, as somewhat his equal. This was Calwen. Queen Calwen now, of course. He allowed himself the privilege of her first name as a throwback to the days when they had been students and competitors in Dol Amroth. He had told her of his hopeful project first, and received her enthusiastic approval of it.
So it had been irritating that Eldarion refused to come round to his considered point of view, namely that it was a fine idea to set the tale of the old King and Queen - the titles would persist - down in writing, and that it was all the better a task to embark upon at once.
"No, I cannot allow this," he had shaken his head resolutely.
"Why?" Barahir had asked plaintively. "With all due respect, your Majesty, can you not or will you not allow it?"
"It is the same thing," Eldarion shrugged serenely. "They were Elessar and Undómiel to the world, but my father and mother before all else to me. My memories of them are very dear, and I would not have them shared with every man and his neighbour. Not even," - pointedly - "for the sake of posterity."
They had played so back and forth for a while, he asking, the other refusing. Then Barahir had lost his temper. It was a terrible thing to do, and worse before such an audience. He made a rough remark about the royal lack of judgement.
Eldarion smiled and murmured, "My dear boy, I wish you would not call attention to my failings - particularly when I am not the one among us that seeks fame from the purveying of other's secrets."
He gulped now, trying to trap cooler air in his lungs. What a low slur that had been. And how completely he had failed to retort.
It was a changing world. No, he corrected himself. The world had changed. A year ago, he had looked to a benevolent silver-haired man as his monarch and mentor, a sort of stern but kindly grandfather king. And now - Barahir shook his head. He had had his first Quenya and first sword from Eldarion, but there was no denying the man was mad. He was a loner, which was a bad thing for a king in the first place. And unpredictable, which was even worse. No one ever knew where his attention was, so everyone had to be on guard all the time, just in case it happened to be on them. His secretaries lived in abject terror of making so much as a single error in spelling. What could you make of him? How could one explain anything to another who seemed easier with the sound of river and sea than with human voices, who smiled more and more as he got angrier, who - at the formidable age of a hundred and twenty - had the bad grace to look as young as a wife half his age?
Barahir sighed. He had found his first grey hair that morning.
Grey hair was the furthest thing from Calwen's mind - or head - as she took her husband's hand in the hallway. "I hear you have spoken with lord Barahir," she said.
He inclined his head. "I gather you have not been deprived of the pleasure yourself."
They walked down the corridor. "So you refused him?" she asked.
He nodded abstractedly.
"Was that - wise?"
He turned to her and smiled. "Beyond all doubt."
They waited for the privacy of their chambers before they began the argument.
Eldarion sparked it off. "Before you say a word, my lady, I must warn you that any reasoning on your part will be a futile effort. I have no intention of changing my mind."
She waved her fingertips at him and said grandly, "My dear, you have no sense of history."
"You academicians seem to bring up the same arguments over and over again. Rather tiresome of you, my lady. Let me repeat what I said to our young lord - do not invoke posterity. You know I care nothing for it."
She gazed at him disapprovingly. "I said history, not posterity. And you have no sense of it."
He frowned. A maid came in just then with warm water and linens, and they fell silent. He walked to the window and stood watching the stars.
The girl retreated, and Calwen said, "Well?"
He looked at her again, and there was real sorrow in his eyes this time. "Calwen," he said, troubled, "I did not think you would misunderstand."
"Nay, but I believe I do understand," she said quickly, torn between the desire to comfort him and the anxiety of making her stand. "You think it disrespectful to their memory and their love to make it known to strangers and others. I do not."
She walked around the bed, warming to her subject. "There are none now to sing a great lay for them. The music of Beleriand but echoes in our time. But we are a literary people. We like and require our records, our documents. The libraries, the red and black scrolls - so much that was lost when Númenor fell - that tradition is one we can, and must carry forth. And their story was worthy of their own forbears. Does something of it not deserve to be salvaged from time, my lord?"
He had turned back to the window. Going up to his side, she said softly, "This is our kind of remembrance. Our way of immortality, if you will. Surely you believe them worthy of it?"
He leaned into the window frame. Quietly, slowly, he said, "Forgive me, little one. It is - it has been not a year since we rode to Lothlórien."
They both looked away, each feeling terribly small in the face of the other's reason. Presently, she moved back to rest her cheek on his shoulder.
"I know," she said. "Son you were to them, but as father and mother they were to me, too, and I do not wish them to be gone when we have gone. Our children will remember them, Eldarion, but not their children, nor yet the ones to come."
"Why does it matter so much?" he asked. "Calwen, which one of us is not going to be made dust with the passing of days? What does it all come down to?"
She smothered a sigh.
"Eldarion," she said earnestly, "this last year has wearied you a little, love. Do not let it warp you also. Surely you do not feel - you cannot believe that death cancels out life? They were so happy while they lived. We know this. We felt their joy in every look and word to each other.” Her breath seemed to catch in her throat before she went on. “Is it not a tremendous love, dearest, that can make other hearts lighter to simply know of it? That is what we must look to keep. That others may know that joy, and believe it worthwhile - to love like that."
Wordlessly, he put an arm around her and drew her close. She held herself stiff for a moment, then relented and sank into an embrace.
"Beren and Lúthien," he murmured. "Tuor and Idril. Elessar and Undómiel. No, wait. There is something not quite right with that."
"They certainly went back a long way before he was Elessar," she agreed.
"Aragorn and Arwen, then," he said. "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen it shall be. Although," his forehead creased, "I am not entirely certain about it's authorship."
"Who else could do it?"
He moved and sat down wearily on the couch. "I do not know. Findegil might, were he older. Although the idea would never occur to him. You. Why do you not write it?"
"You know where my skills lie. Translations, reasoning, the logical, the fancy-free - I could never do justice to such a tale. And there is so little time on my hands now. Barahir is the only one I know worthy of such a work. Of course, you will be so kind as to never tell him I said that."
Eldarion sighed and leaned back, wearily. "Oh, he is Lord Faramir’s grandson, well enough. And I am fond of the boy, for all his – anyway, let us see where this takes us. Have him called back tomorrow with my apologies."
She smiled and took up one of his braids, beginning to unwork it deftly.
"Sense of history, indeed," he growled at her. "My dear Calwen, I would have you know I was reading Adûnaic before you were born."
"But of course, my lord."
Moonlight flooded the room, mingling with the warm glow of the lamps.
"When you said I had been weary all year, you really meant - well, ill-tempered, did you not?"
Her lips curved. "A little fractious, perhaps, yes."
He groaned. "Do not tell me I have become a chronic drone."
"It is your Noldor ancestry," she told him. His hair fell loose from its bounds. "They had a talent for restiveness, which you seem to have inherited along with some of their better gifts."
"Scandalous generalisations," he grinned. "Now I know why you are held in such high regard at the university."
He regretted his words the next minute after receiving a particularly vicious bite to his ear.
Barahir saw Calwen first as he came half-running into the White Tower the next morning. "What did you say to him?" he asked her incredulously.
She smiled at him. "Merely what you could not, sir."
He exhaled as he slowed down a pace. "Well," he muttered, "I am grateful enough that someone could make him see sense."
Her smile did not fade. "It is the wisest that doubt the most," she said coldly, and swept past him.
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