Way of the World|
Summary: A story of fathers and sons and of gifts given, told
in five double drabbles and one drabble.
Disclaimer: “The Lord of the Rings”, its characters and settings
are J.R.R. Tolkien’s marvellous idea. No harm is intended.
Author's Note: I’ve wanted to write one of these “Five Times...”
stories for ages now, but never managed. And even this one went away
with me a little. Still, if you squint just so, it could also be titled
“Five Times Aragorn Takes up a Sword and One Time He Doesn’t”.
The idea for this vignette comes from Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s novel
“El maestro de esgrima”“ (“The Fencing Master”). Written for
the June 2010 Teitho Contest, The Student Surpasses the Teacher.
Eldarion remembers the first
time he held a sword. He cannot be sure of his age; certainly he was
no older than four or five at the time, but this one memory is the clearest
he has of his early childhood. When he closes his eyes, he can still
feel the summer breeze on his skin and hear the busy chatter of birds
coming from the small garden tucked away in a corner of the citadel.
His father knelt by his side
and gave him a wooden sword and even without one of his father’s grand
speeches, Eldarion felt the weight of the moment. His father helped
him familiarize himself with the new toy, adjusting his clumsy grip
on the handle with a fond expression and endless patience. Eldarion,
however, became petulant because his progress was not fast enough in
his own mind. He tried copying the moves he had seen his father use
and failed miserably.
He stomped his foot and pouted,
but this only increased his father’s good mood.
“You will get there,” Aragorn
said with a smile that made his eyes crinkle in mirth. Eldarion wondered
how many days it would take to be a perfect swordsman.
Eldarion remembers that the
wooden sword eventually became his constant companion. It went wherever
he went – it was present at mealtime and during his lessons.
And at night it was right next to his bed. Uncle Faramir had told him
once that a good soldier never parted with his sword. And so Eldarion
would not, whatever objections his mother had to the wooden stick,
as she called it.
At his tender age, swordplay
was just that to him: play. He had seen his father swing his blade with
a precision and swiftness that made him gape. He wanted to achieve the
same skill, wanted to be like his father, even though he lacked the
understanding of what the reason of it all was besides the exercise
it provided. He never wondered why a sword had to be sharp.
To him it was play when his
father took him to the clipped lawn and showed him how to move his
sword. His ada would pretend to attack, thus forcing him to defend himself
with the moves he had just learned. Still, it was all in good fun and
his mother commented afterward that their laughter could be heard throughout
Eldarion remembers when the
innocence of those early years vanished. At some point, he realized
the seriousness of the practice and the intent behind it. He learnt
that a blade was sharp for a reason. It was meant to kill an enemy and
Eldarion was meant to be better than his opponent. His father praised
him whenever he perfected an attack, whenever he got behind his father’s
defences. But it stopped being play. Instead, he worked on his skill
with serious determination.
By now, his tutor had taught
him that his own freedom had been bought at a cost. His father –
and many more besides – had paid for it with their blood. His freedom
had been bought with the stroke of a sword. Sometimes, his father told
him stories about the quest. Sometimes, his tutor showed him pictures
of the siege. And everyone around him had lost someone in the war. All
to ensure that the future would be brighter.
Such courage humbled him. He
wanted to be like that: Able to defend not only his life but his people,
their freedom, their families. To guard what his father had built for
them in Minas Tirith.
And so he practiced.
Eldarion remembers the many
hours he spent swordfighting, practicing to perfect his skill. Over
the years, he had many tutors. However, the best moments were when he
could convince his father to leave matters of state and cross swords
Only with the passage of time
and the growth of his own skill came the realization of what a gifted
swordsman his father truly was. Certainly, he had heard stories about
his time as a ranger, about his travels. About his years living by the
sword. But those stories did nothing to prepare him for actually having
to put his skill against his father’s.
He always enjoyed those hours,
because training with his father taught him much. It did not matter
that they were not an even match, that Eldarion’s schoolbook techniques
did nothing to stop his father’s attacks. He rarely won, but did not
“You are simply lacking experience,”
his father would always say when he had once again won and Eldarion
was on the ground, sweating and panting. His father said those words
when Eldarion was twenty. He still said them when he was sixty. It was
his way of saying that Eldarion was improving.
Eldarion remembers the last
time he crossed swords with his father. Back then he did not know there
was anything special about the day, because the significance of a certain
moment only reveals itself after the fact. It is years later, when his
father is long dead, that Eldarion thinks back to this day and finds
it profoundly important.
He did not think his father
old, but maybe his own perception was tainted by the fact that children
never see the age of their parents. If anything, his father took up
his sword with the same offhand elegance he had always displayed. And
yet, after the customary greeting and the first clash of steel against
steel, Eldarion suddenly knew things would be different today. He won
and then he won again, with an ease he had never felt before when fighting
The afternoon came and went,
and when evening approached, his father had not once been able to best
him. “It is the way of the world,” he said with a wistful smile,
but Eldarion found his victory to be bitter. He made no reply, but they
never crossed blades again for as long as Aragorn still lived.
Eldarion remembers that moment
clearly now, because he feels time is repeating itself. The roles are
reversed, for he has a son of his own now, a better swordsman than any
of them, at least in Eldarion’s estimation. Years ago, Eldarion gave
him a wooden sword. They played and practiced. It feels like yesterday
in some ways, but in other ways much time has passed.
Eldarion knows he will not
best his son today. It is the way of the world, he hears his
own father say, and finally understands the words: Losing this fight
will be his ultimate victory.
- The End