Many Guises and Many Names
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Protector of Horses: 2. Secrets and Names
"Estel," a voice said softly. He blinked, and turned his head in confusion. Rivendell?
The speaker was a small blond boy, watching him with curiosity and hope. "Eomund," he said, returning to himself. Aldburg. Rohan. Thorongil. He was Thorongil. He was most certainly not Estel here. His eyes widened and he stared at the boy, a cold bolt shooting through his midsection. "Why do you call me that?"
"Is that really your name?" Eomund asked. "Estel?"
Thorongil closed his eyes. He remembered how he had come here now. He had been injured. He remembered the feeling of the fever descending upon him. He must have been delirious. "What did I say?" he asked, worry gripping him. "What did I tell you?"
"Thorongil's not really your name," Eomund said. He sounded hurt, and a little sulky. "Why did you tell me it was?" Thorongil felt a pang of guilt. The child thought of him as a friend and co-conspirator, and they shared many secrets together. It must feel like betrayal to the boy to realize just how many secrets Thorongil was keeping from him. The adults knew Thorongil wasn't his real name, but the boy couldn't remember a time before Thorongil's arrival, and had never questioned his presence there.
"Eomund," Thorongil said, "Eomund, I have many different names. What did I say?"
Eomund regarded him, and Thorongil knew his distress was showing. The boy's cold expression softened, and he relented. "You spoke in Sindarin," he said.
"So only you understood," Thorongil said. In an ill-starred bid to calm the boy down and interest him in more scholarly pursuits, he had taught Eomund Sindarin during a particularly dull blizzard. The lessons had accomplished little beyond giving them a secret code, which frustrated Eomund's mother immensely, but Eomund now spoke Sindarin better than most of the nobles of Gondor, and it at least provided variety when he ran at high speed around the hall conjugating the verb "to run" in three different languages instead of simply making horsey noises. Thorongil had comforted the boy's mother with the thought that it would stand him in good stead someday with the king's family, who all spoke the language like Gondorian nobles.
"I translated some for my father," Eomund said. "But not very much."
"What did I tell you?" Thorongil asked, the anxiety gnawing at his stomach alongside hunger. He had been out for several days, certainly. He was weak, very weak. But the fever had broken, and he could feel that his injuries were healing now.
Eomund sighed. "You were calling for your papa," he said, "and you asked him to take something away from you that you didn't want, but you didn't say what."
"Did I say anything else about my papa?" Thorongil asked, a little nervous.
"Later," Eomund said, and regarded him oddly. "I was talking to you and you could hear me, but you weren't really awake. You said that your father wasn't your father, but that was all I could get out of you about that."
Thorongil sighed quietly, relieved. Eomund was just a child, but he would not always be just a child, and if he knew who Thorongil was, it could cause difficulties. Eomund looked troubled.
"What does that mean?" he asked. "Thorongil, are you-- are you a bastard?"
Thorongil smiled wryly. He shouldn't explain, but Eomund seemed distressed. "No," he said. "No, Eomund. An orphan. The man I was raised calling Ada was not my father."
"Oh," Eomund said. He reflected on this a moment. "My father was calling to you, by the name Thorongil, and you rejected the name. Papa told me it isn't your real name anyway-- the Queen called you that when you refused to supply a name. I didn't know that." Eomund was aggrieved.
"It is not important, Eomund," Thorongil said.
"So I asked you what your name really was and you told me your mother called you Estel," Eomund went on. "But that's still not your real name, is it?"
"No," Thorongil said. "Eomund, I have no real name. I have not yet earned the name that was given to me at my birth." He closed his eyes, relief dissipating the anxiety at his stomach but not the hunger.
"Why were you talking about Tinuviel?" Eomund asked. Thorongil opened his eyes again.
"Tinuviel," he said, surprised. "What did I say about Tinuviel?"
Eomund shrugged. "You didn't say much," he said. "You said another name. I think it was a name. Ar-something. Arwen?"
"Arwen," Thorongil said, worry twisting him again. "But I didn't say any more?"
"Is it a name, then?" Eomund asked. "It sounds like a woman's name. Is she your wife?"
Thorongil chuckled quietly. "No," he said. "No, she is not. I will not speak of her and if you do not wish to hurt me, you will not either. Not to me, and not to anyone else."
Eomund blinked at him in surprise. "All right," he said.
"Thank you," Thorongil said. "Please, Eomund, I am a man of many secrets and there is a reason for them. I would ask you not to discuss the things I said to you with anyone. I cannot speak of my name or my parents or my past. Do you understand? If I were at liberty I would gladly tell you all about them. I do not want to hurt you with my secrecy but it must be this way. Thorongil is my name for now. Perhaps someday you will know me by another name."
Eomund looked at him somberly. Finally he nodded.
Thorongil's arms ached dully, his back hurt, and his head was splitting. The weight in his arms was terrible, and the weight in his breast was worse. He had been hit on the head, hard, and in a flash he had seen a great many things. Grimly humorous, he found it, that he should only experience the foresightedness of his line at the mercy of a sword-hilt.
He had to leave Rohan. He had to leave Rohan as soon as possible. Gondor needed him, and it needed him immediately. He knew what he had to do. The black sails were the strongest vision, and even thinking of them left him breathless with panic. But that was not what clutched at his heart the most painfully, and what dragged at his arms made the pain worse.
Eothain was dripping blood from his mouth. He had not stirred in hours. The eored could ride no faster. Thorongil had some skill as a healer but he could do nothing more for the man here. He had seen the little blond boy standing in Aldburg's courtyard, weeping over his father, but the vision had shifted and the little blond boy was not Eomund. Eothain's bloody homecoming was not the last of its sort that Aldburg would witness, and Thorongil knew with a cold certainty that Eomund himself would one day be laid out upon the flagstones for his own son to weep over.
It was enough to wear a man down, Thorongil thought. No matter how hard he fought against the darkness he could not save all. The question, he thought, was not only whether he could triumph at all, but whether he could save enough that the triumph not ring completely hollow.
The world was hazy through a fog of pain by the time Thorongil dismounted, exhausted, and released Eothain.
Eomund was still sitting by the low mound, his legs folded under him. He was not weeping; he had done most of that before his father had died, and Thorongil recognized the weary posture of numbness. He squatted beside the kneeling boy, folding his long legs under him, and put his hand on the child's shoulder.
Eomund turned his head slightly. He wasn't a child now. He was thirteen. He was only a few inches shorter than his father had been, awkward and coltish but long of limb. He was big enough now to carry a sword, to ride a war-horse, to use a spear. How long did he have, Thorongil wondered, before he would join his father here? His face, numb now, bore the marks of his grief and his anger. Anger. He would become a warrior, and he would fight the same foes that had killed his father.
Suddenly Thorongil put his arms around the boy and pulled him close. He had come to give the boy his father's sword. But he could not bring himself to do it now. It would not save him. It would lead him as it had led his father. The sword was not to blame, but it was the agent by which he would be destroyed. Thorongil wept then, silent bitter tears dropping into the yellow hair.
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