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 the gardens.
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 with him.
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 mind overmuch.
“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 his father.
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