Daughter of Kings

by Evermind

Chapter Thirteen: A Tale of the Steward's Son

The day after her sixteenth birthday, Eowyn was seated once more upon the outthrust spur of the mountainside. From her posture, a watcher might have thought that the girl was weeping, but this Eowyn refused to do. No matter what the others thought, she was and would always be a shieldmaiden. Lifting her gaze, Eowyn thought that she saw an eagle flying high above the courts of Meduseld. The sun was high and it's pale gleams caught the feathers of the great bird, kindling it's wings to flame. Eowyn followed it with her eyes as it floated in ever widening circles above the golden plains.

Vague and distant, Eowyn remembered a tale she had heard once about a boy and an eagle. It must have been the aed faeder who told it she thought, remembering back. It seemed so long ago when she had been a girl and had listened with Grima to tales of far off lands. Slowly, strands of the tale came back to her, told in the gravelly voice of the aed faeder that had spun magic beyond her thought or imagining.

At the time, the aed feader had been a guest of the steward of Gondor, and the steward's two sons had come to him eagerly for tales. Boromir the elder son would hear the aed faeder's tales of wars and battles and glorious deeds, and then he would run off again laughing to practice his swordsmanship or his archery. The younger son remained behind. He had a thirst for tales of the great lands, and listened eagerly to the lore of elder days. Tales of the elves he loved, for the boy loved the eldar people, and yet feared them. Tales of birds and beasts and strange peoples of far off lands the boy heard, and he listened ever, for he was fond of learning, and sought ever to find the truth behind the fanciful legends.

The boy spent long hours with the wizard and learnt from him whatever lore he could, when the aed faeder would teach. But the steward had become angry at his son, and chided him for what he had perceived to be a weakness.

"All that is past!" Denethor had told his son furiously. "There is nothing to be gained from listening to ancient lore! A time is coming when our country will need warriors, and there must needs be captains to lead them! Thou art the son of the steward of Gondor, and thy people will have need of thee! Why canst thou be not more like to thy brother? Boromir is bold and courageous and one day will be as great a war leader even as Isildur himself!"

So the steward had told his son, banishing him from the tales of the eldar and demanding instead that the boy practiced fencing with his brother.

But though the younger son was more fond of lore and of peace than his brother, his courage and determination were no less, and the boy had resolved that he would become an exile indeed if his father wished to deny to him the lore that was his own people.

The son had armed himself with a great bow, and set his sword about his waist, and had gone forth from the city by night, though he was at that time but eight years old. From afar, the boy had seen the great eagles that built their eyries in the highest peaks of the white mountains, and it came into his mind to follow them, and to ascend the high places where few save the Kings of old had ever trod. But the boy had become lost in the treacherous passes of the mountains and at the last, all the food that he had brought was gone. At last by good fortune the boy had gained the peak, and found himself stranded, lost amidst the swirling mists which his eyes could not pierce.

It was bitter cold, and the boy shivered beneath his cloak with neither food nor fire to sustain him. The boy had thought that his death was certain, when suddenly out of the mists he had seen an eagle, it's wings spread wide as it flew towards him. It came into the boy's mind then to shoot the eagle, for it would feed him well if he could but bring it down. Swiftly, the boy drew an arrow from his quiver. He set it to the string of his bow and drew it. The child was a good marksman. He watched as the eagle circled ever lower, waiting until he could be sure of his aim. The early sun rising now above the mists seemed to catch in the air, kindling each of the eagle's feathers alight so that the great bird had seemed to glow with golden fire.

The boy watched the great bird as it flew, sailing in the still air. The eagle sent forth a cry which echoed about the mountains, and folding it's wings, flew steadily down towards the bowman. The boy lifted his head, gazing at the splendour of this most blessed of creatures. Then, slowly, not taking his eyes from the great bird, he lowered his arm, letting the great bow fall useless to his side. He could not slay the bird. He watched as the eagle circled once more, climbing higher and higher until the golden light of it's wings was lost in the grey mist.

The boy lay still upon his back in the snow. He knew that he had made his choice. His father or his bother would have felled the bird. In doing so, they would have survived. But the boy knew that his path was separate from theirs. His own death now seemed a trifling thing. Nothing else was important, as long as the mountain king still flew in his pure and unsullied glory.

Eowyn raised her head, still watching the eagle as it flew. The boy had not died, she remembered. The eagle that he had spared had come to the aed faeder, and bourne the wizard to where the child lay. And so the boy had been saved by his own mercy. Eowyn had not understood the tale when first the wizard had told it to her, yet somehow, she understood now. She smiled slightly, trying to recall the boy's name. He was somewhere in age between Eomer and Theodred, she remembered, and she smiled again, wondering at how this fireside tale of a boy she had never met could give to her so much peace and understanding.

Far aloft, the eagle cried out, and it seemed to Eowyn that it called out a name. Faramir.