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Fallen Star

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Gandalf chuckled to himself as he spied the two boys on the far side of the garden. The younger sat cross-legged and had been gazing at the archway with an impatient look on his face when Gandalf entered, but he dropped his head and tried to pretend he had not been watching. The elder was leaning back against a tree, a model of indifference, but Gandalf had seem him stiffen as he heard the tap of the wizard’s staff on the paving stones.

They were far too polite to ask, of course, but they were here every afternoon when he emerged from the archives to smoke and ponder on what he had read that day. He could have gone elsewhere if they had truly bothered him, but he enjoyed these interludes. He crossed over to them. He saw Faramir nudge Boromir and they scrambled to their feet and bowed.

“I suppose you boys would like another story?” he asked.

Faramir’s head came up quickly, his eyes shining. Boromir answered gravely, “Thank you, Lord Mithrandir, I believe Faramir would enjoy that.”

“You also, I think,” Gandalf answered with a laugh. “We are none of us ever too old for tales.” He settled himself on a nearby bench and pulled out his pipe and tobacco pouch.

“Now, what would like to hear about today?”

Faramir dropped cross-legged to the ground with a grin spreading across his face.  “Please, sir, would you tell us a story about the elves.”

Boromir gave his brother a gentle punch on the arm as he folded up beside him. “Elves. Always elves.” He looked up at Gandalf. “I want to hear about men.”

Gandalf considered the request in silence while he filled his pipe, and lit it, and made sure it was going properly. The boys waited patiently.

“Very well,” he said at last, “I will tell you a story of a man, yet one who was fostered among the elves and whose manner and speech was so like them that they called him Adanedhel. Yet this is not his tale, but the song of a sword, a sword made of star-iron.”

He sucked on his pipe and settled himself more comfortably on the bench. “An age and an age and an age of the world ago,” he began, and heard Faramir give a contented sigh, “the grey elf-king had in his hoard a sword forged of iron from a falling star, that could cleave all earth-drawn iron at will. But the sword of star-iron had been made in evil intent and had a dark heart.”

Gandalf saw Faramir shiver at that and he wondered for a moment if this really was the right tale to tell to one so young. At the same time, those grave grey eyes were drinking in the story and pleading for more. Boromir was fidgeting with the laces on his boots, as if the story bored him, but Gandalf saw his hands still each time the wizard took another draw on his pipe, and he knew the older boy was equally wrapped up in the tale.

“The dark spirit of the sword slept for many and many and many a year until, on a time, the grey elf-king took as foster-son a child of Men. When the boy was near grown to manhood, he killed an elf and was banished from the kingdom. Yet when all was said and searched, it was seen there was no fault in the Man. The king therefore sent out the Captain of his guard to seek out his foster-son and carry his pardon. But the Man was proud and would not return. Then the Captain, who had been the Man’s great friend ere he was banished, came to the king and asked for a sword to guard and defend his companion.”

Boromir gave a snort and Gandalf paused in the story. “Yes, Boromir?” he asked. “You have something to say?”

The wizard saw him go red, but the older boy muttered, “I would not return either if someone had said I had done something I had not!”

“But if everyone said they were truly sorry they were wrong….” Faramir objected. He trailed off as his brother gave him a disdainful look.

Gandalf took another puff on his pipe while he thought about what to say. At last he answered carefully, “Pride can lead a man to do great things, Boromir, but it can also lead him into folly. And sometimes it is hard to tell one from the other.”

“I suppose so,” Boromir shrugged his shoulders.

“Be that as it may,” Gandalf said, “it does not advance our story. Where was I? Ah, yes…. The king bade the Captain choose any sword from his treasury, save his own. There were many fine weapons laid in store, but the sword made of star-iron awoke, and it sang a song to the Captain with a voice as sweet as nightingales and as low as the murmur of a woodland stream.

“Wrought of star-iron is my blade
“All earth-drawn iron to me will yield
“No death in battle need he fear
“Who takes my hilt and will me wield.”

“The queen also heard the song and she was afraid. ‘Beware!’ she warned the Captain. ‘The dark heart of the elf who made this sword dwells within it and it will not love the hand that wields it, nor serve it long.’ But the Captain was bewitched by the song of the sword made of star-iron, and he would have no other, and he took it for his own.

“Then the Captain returned to the Man where he now dwelt with outlaws and, with the power of the sword made of star-iron, they freed that land of much evil. Yet on a time, they were betrayed and the Man was taken prisoner by orcs. Then the Captain followed after and, greatly daring, freed the Man.

“Yet as the Captain took the sword of star-iron and cut the earth-drawn iron of the fetters that bound the Man, the sword grew strangely heavy in his hand, and it slipped and pricked the foot of the Man. He was roused from the swoon of his wounds and, thinking his captors meant to torment him again, he seized the sword of star-iron and slew the one who wielded it. And there came a flash of lightning and the Man saw the face of his friend, the Captain, and he knew what he had done.”

“No!” Faramir’s mouth was a round “O” of horror.

“Yes,” Gandalf shook his head sadly. “Too often do we hurt those we love, through fear or haste or because we do not see who they are until it is too late. So it was with the Man. Unmoving and unweeping he sat for a time. Then the sword sang a song to the Man with a voice as warm as summer sun and as soft as the fall of snowflakes.

“Wrought of star-iron is my blade
“All earth-drawn iron to me will yield
“No death in battle need he fear
“Who takes my hilt and will me wield.”

“The Man was bewitched by the song of the sword made of star-iron and he took it for his own. Burying his friend, he travelled on until he came to the elf-kingdom of the guarded plain. There, armed with the sword of star-iron, he did great deeds and rose high in the counsels of the elf-king. In that time, the heart of the elf-king’s daughter was turned to him, but he knew it not.”

Faramir pulled a face. “Girls!” he exclaimed.

“I am sure you will like girls well enough in a few years’ time, Faramir,” Gandalf said with a laugh.

“Still,” Boromir broke in, in defence of his brother, “to love someone who does not love you is silly.”

“No, not silly,” Gandalf smiled wearily, wondering whether time would add that particular pain to the hurts these boys had already suffered. “We do not always choose where out hearts lead us and we cannot demand that those we love will love us in return in the way we wish. So it was for the elf-maid.”

Finduilas. He did not speak the name that elf-maid and steward’s wife shared across the ages. Nor did he give voice to the other thought that came to him, as he looked at the boys before him and called to mind the stern face of their father, unchanged since the wizard’s last visit and yet – different. And how do we tame our hearts when those we love are gone?

He waved his pipe to dismiss the question and went on, “Be that as it may, news of the Man’s deeds came to the ears of the Great Worm, an evil beast whose sudden fire was like lightning and whose cunning mind was as sharp as pine needles. The Worm served the Dark Lord and, seeking to please his master, he brought a host of orcs in battle to the elves. Fierce as the rays of the noon sun was the valour of the elves but numberless as the leaves of autumn were the enemy and they clustered as thickly as flies around a dunghill. Fell and brave were the deeds of the Man that day, as he wielded the sword of star-iron that could cleave all earth-drawn iron, and no blow could fall on him. Yet still the elves were defeated.”

As Gandalf gave this account of battle, he saw Boromir finally lose his pretence of indifference and shift position so that he was leaning forward as eagerly as his brother. The wizard dropped his voice lower to draw them further into the tale, revelling in the simple pleasure of telling a story and telling it well.

“Then the Great Worm came to where the battle raged. The Man sprang against him and raised the sword of star-iron to strike him down, but the Worm opened wide his eyes, red as rubies, and cast a spell upon the Man, and he stood unmoving while the captives were driven away.

“The Great Worm mocked the Man, saying, ‘Where are your true kin? They go in rags while you are arrayed as a prince; they starve in the ruins of your home, while you live easily; they call for you, but you heed them not.’

“After a while, the Great Worm released the Man from his gaze. He, still half-spellbound and with the malice of the Worm in his ears, sped back to the land of his birth. There he found that his mother and sister, that he had not seen for many and many and many a year, since he was sent to be fostered by the grey elf-king, were gone and none could tell him where.

“He wandered alone, weeping, until the sword sang a song to the Man with a voice as gentle as the touch of a mother’s hand and as quiet as a nurse singing a lullaby.

“Wrought of star-iron is my blade
“All earth-drawn iron to me will yield
“No death in battle need he fear
“Who takes my hilt and will me wield.”

“Then the veil of malice that the Great Worm had cast across his mind was lifted. The Man remembered the elves who had been taken captive. He turned away from the land of his birth and his grief at his kin and went to save the elves.

“But he was too late. They had all been slain as the orcs drove them through a kingdom of men. The men had buried the daughter of the elf-king in a high, green grave and when they led the Man there, he fell into a darkness of grief. But the king saw the sword of star-iron that he bore and knew him, and honoured him. The men bore him away to their homes and, when he was healed, he aided them in their wars with the orcs.”

The sounds of merchants calling their wares and the rumbling of carts drifted up from the circles below; above them, the bell rang for the change of the hour; beyond the gate to the garden, soldiers ground pikes and gave challenge and return as the guard was changed. The two boys before Gandalf seemed to hear none of it, absorbed as they were in the unfolding story.

“Passing the grave of the king’s daughter one day, the Man found a beautiful enchanted maiden, mute and without memory of her past and her kin. Her hair was like yellow lilies in the grass and her eyes were bluer than forget-me-nots. The Man took her in and taught her to speak. and before many moons had passed, they were wed and all the people of the kingdom rejoiced.

“Before long, the Great Worm came forth from his lair to attack the kingdom of men, for the sword of star-iron had defeated all the armies of orcs that had been sent against it. The Worm laid his path straight for the castle of the king of men and came to a high gorge, where he cast himself across the narrows. But the Man, hearing of the approach of the worm, greatly daring, scaled the cliffs so that he might come underneath the beast, and there he thrust the sword made of star-iron deep into the soft belly of the Great Worm.

“The death pangs of the Worm wrenched the sword from Man’s hand and he went to reclaim it. As he drew the sword from the belly of the beast, the Worm spoke his dying words. ‘Hail, child of men! We meet again ere the end. I salute you: murderer, deserter, a curse unto your kin. Happy should you be now that you have found your sister at last and made her your wife!’

“The Man knew that the Great Worm could not speak false with his dying breath. A veil was lifted from his eyes and the Man knew of a sudden all the evil he himself had wrought. Then he drew forth the sword of star-iron one last time, and the sword shrieked a curse with a voice as cold as the grinding ice and as loud as the roar of a winter storm.

“Wrought of star-iron is my blade
“All earth-drawn iron to me will yield
“No death in battle need he fear
“Who takes my hilt and will me wield.”

“Then the Man cast himself upon the point of the sword made of star-iron and so died. And when they bore his body away, they found that the sword of star-iron was broken. Then they laid the shards of the sword made of star-iron beside the Man, and still the grave stands, they say, high and lonely, though all the world is changed, holding the dust of the fallen star.”

As Gandalf finished the tale, he looked up and saw that they were being watched. The Steward of Gondor stood at the entrance to the garden. His face was guarded, yet Gandalf could read that he was displeased. Perhaps it was time to be moving on. He had learned much in his time in the archives, and there were other tasks at hand

“Your father is here, boys,” he said, “Run along and greet him.”

The two boys shook themselves as if coming out of a deep dream. Boromir leapt to his feet and quickly crossed the lawn, but Faramir paused and gave Gandalf a salute in Elven fashion in thanks for the tale before he turned towards his father. Gandalf saw Denethor’s frown deepen.