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Yet Beloved

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It was in my ninth year that first he came to Rohan. Only nine, and young though that may seem to find a hero, he became mine. StarEagle, as we called him, was a mighty man, a valiant man, who taught me first to hold shield, to wield blade, and who also taught me one thing other, ere he departed.

He remained with us eight years. Those years were bright with happiness, a fair sunrise for the day of my life that would so quickly become grim.

Long and glorious were the days I spent with him, traveling far afield on small errands or great, both of us on one horse. As the sun swept over the sky in the last heat of the dying day, we would sit upon the banks of the Entwash or another stream, staring into the West.

And then he would tell me tales. Tales of Elves and Elvish wars. Tales of the mortal man that loved an elf maiden and brought her a Silmaril from the Enemy's crown to be her bride-price. Tales of the ancient city Gondolin, and of the lands that lay under the wave. Tales, finally, of the glory and sorrow of mortal man, ever reaching for immortality.

The words were strange. Long had I been taught that man's life had no purpose but to do great deeds and leave the country safe for those after him. Thus it was to my people, and though I was born in Gondor, still I felt more tied to my own land than many who had never set foot outside its borders.

His words hinted that there was glory beyond the grave, and deeply they sank into my soul, to be forgotten only in the whisperings of Wormtongue, and then only for a little while.

Eight years, and all sped too short. And now I look back, and those years were the best of my life.

StarEagle won glory in Rohan not as a fighter, but as a guardian. Though he would not hesitate to draw sword at need, he preferred to watch the borders, and keep the land safe.

He had given loyalty to my father at a time when many doubted him. My father did not wish to rule Rohan, but to stay in Gondor, yet custom demanded and he obeyed. And StarEagle came to swear him fealty, riding up to Edoras on a white horse, then placing his hands and head on my father's knees, swearing honor and service. After he took the oath, he raised his head, breaking tradition, looked into my father's eyes and simply said, "For a time, my lord. Not forever. Other lands will call me hence."

That was startling to all, but he always said that he did not belong in Rohan. "I belong to no country," he had whispered to me one day. In the agony of being twelve years old then, I had whispered back that I felt the same.

And yet my father trusted him utterly. So did all the people. There was a look of truth and justice in his face that gave the lie to any who would slander him. He looked young, but there was age in his eyes that gave him far more than the twenty-odd years he claimed.

My father trusted him, but I loved him. I had loved him ever since we first watched the sunset together, on the Hill of the Hall. He gave my fragile childish dreams substance. It was later that I learned to love him in a way far more intimate.

When I was fifteen, and finally given charge of my own time to use as I should choose, I decided to travel with StarEagle on a mission south of Edoras to Dunharrow. It was a simple message we had to take, no hurry about it, and little danger. Though we could have reached our destination in a day, we did not. The quiet lands were lazy and beautiful, and the day was warm. We rode on separate horses, now, but close together, sometimes racing across the meadows, sometimes walking.

We made camp before sunset fell upon us, by a small stream that issued from the White Mountains and was icy cold. A small pond formed by a waterfall beckoned me, and I stripped off my garments, stepping into the water.

The water was little better than melted snow, but was delightful. Smiling, I beckoned with my hand for my friend to come nearer.

"The water is perfect!" I exclaimed. "And we are in no danger here. Will you not?"

"Indeed I will," he laughed, and unselfconsciously stripped away his own clothing, but lay his bare sword near the water's edge for use on unexpected visitors.

I looked away, trying not to stare, deeming it impolite to so look upon a man disrobing, but then looked back again, unable to tear my eyes away.

And that was when I knew for certain that my love for him was far greater than his ability to tell tales, and far greater than even I had suspected.

For he was beautiful. Not beautiful as already I knew the beauty of women, but beautiful as a man is beautiful, all long lines and angles and muscles.

I caught my breath and dived into the water, quickly, to cool the fire that had leaped up in me at the sight of him.

He slipped into the water himself, and laughing, sent a splash in my direction.

It became a battle. We laughed and splashed in the water until the sun went down.

When we finally left the water, which now seemed all too warm, StarEagle lit a fire while wrapped in a blanket.

"That was a daring deed!" I told him, laughing.

"Nay," he laughed again. "The true brave deed would have been to light the fire with nothing on at all."

"Aye, that would have been no difficult task," I whispered to myself, "if you spoke of the fire inside my body."

Dressed again, we lay near the fire on our blankets and spoke of many things. Sweet sensation swept through me when he touched me, however brief.

And at last I could not bear not to speak. I was unafraid that he would despise me; we knew each other too well for that. My only fear was that he would reject me.

I turned to look at him in the firelight, the simple words lingering long in my mouth.

"I love thee, StarEagle," was the form they last chose to take.

He looked at me in the light of the dying fire, and smiled, slow and soft. "And I love thee, prince," he answered.

"Love indeed," I said, and put my arms around him, just waiting.

And when, after an agony of dreadful silence, he bent to take my lips, all my world narrowed to him and the wonder of his kiss.

"Come," I whispered. "Let this be a love that will be worth a song."

----

I am old now, and have seen many joys, but that, the first awakening of love in my heart, was the best of all things. Two years later he departed, and though we both grieved, he smiled and whispered only three words in the midst of our last farewell kiss. "I shall return."

"I shall return." And the years have come and gone, and he has not returned, and I am near my last hours. Surely he is dead by now, for he was older than I.

But yet, in the face of Aragorn son of Arathorn, Ranger of the North, I see lineaments like to those of StarEagle, in a face older than the one I remember, but so like to it, so like.

And I see the way he looks at me, the small tricks in his voice that I remember as though they were graven on my heart, and I, I am doubtful. Who is this man? And why does he stir these memories so vividly?

Is Aragorn StarEagle, and are there yet more mysteries to be unraveled? And have I time enough to learn the answers?

I hear the sounds of battle outside the windows of the Hornburg, and I turn as Aragorn comes in, closing the door behind him. A few words about the battle, and my decision is made.

"Will you ride with me then, son of Arathorn?" I say. "Maybe we shall cleave a road, or make such an end as will be worth a song, if any be left to sing of us hereafter."

He starts at my familiar words, and I step toward him, hand held out. He takes it, and kisses it. His words, when he finally speaks, are spoken in the tone of the young man he once was.

"I will ride with you," he says.

That is all I need to know, but his next whispered words give him away. "Theoden, yet beloved," he says, letting go of my hand. He turns away, leaving the room, and I stare quietly after him, heart beating loud in my breast.

I may now die in blessedness, with the sword of StarEagle at my side.