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Childhood Ends  by Marnie

Eldarion, King of Arnor and Gondor, sat at his window, quill poised, ink drying on the nib, eyes focussed somewhere out on the Pellenor.

"My Lord," said Beleg, despairing at last of getting the King to attend to tallies of merchanters and the subtle intrigues of Umbar, "If I importune, please forgive me."

Eldarion looked on him then, and the grey gaze, half lit with ancient stars, narrowed on his face. There were times when the King's grace sharply reminded Beleg of Queen Arwen. Her son had inherited her nobility, of a surety, but also her strangeness. Beautiful. Disturbingly so.

"Today my great-grandfather was mistaken for my son," said Eldarion meditatively. An observation that seemed to require only listening silence. "I thought it amusing at first. He did too. But now...now I am not so sure."

Beleg had no need to picture the scene, he had been there in the forefront of a crowd come to watch young Prince Elenion depart for Imladris, where he would be tutored even as Eldarion had been, and his father Elessar, and all the heirs of Isildur before him.

Beleg had breathed in the awe of seeing the fair folk on their pale, clean limbed horses, their faces full of light and their eyes as ancient as the city. The unchanging tradition of fosterage had rooted Gondor in a world enduring since before the rise of the Sun, and that was comforting. Yet it did not take away the deeply unnerving thought that the King's great-grandfather, who stood in the centre of the melee with his hand on Elenion's shoulder, was not even remotely human, and was answerable for his deeds and his thoughts to no one in the realm.

"It made me wonder if I was right to send my son away."

"My Lord?" said Beleg, sympathetically.

"It is a wonderful place," Eldarion's eyes grew distant again, "Rivendell." He picked the circlet from his sable hair - now flecked with grey. "And a place of great bliss and learning for a child. My father, certes, grew to manhood there."

"A testament, my lord, to the tutelage of your mother's kin."

"As you say," Eldarion looked surprised to be interrupted, a man awoken from a pleasant dream. "I remember the sound of rushing water, mingled with song. Scents of sap and woodsmoke. Laughter and the flight of swallows. A good place...a fine place to be a child. I would have Elenion know, once in his life, such bliss."

"But then, sire, what troubles thee?"

Eldarion put the circlet on the table and rose to lean on the window sill. A westerly breeze lifted his hair but stirred not the heavy drape of his robes. "Childhood ends," he said, grimly. "When I am dead and dust in my tomb my great grandfather will not seem a day older.. Will he still be shaping the minds of Gondor's kings? Shall my son's sons each be children in his care? And will that not then make him, in essence, King, unending, while lesser kingdoms change and grow, and Gondor alone remains unwithered, unfruitful, like some elven rose?"

Closing his eyes a moment, the King rested his brow against the smooth stone, at once all human, the eerie light of his gaze quenched. "I remember," Beleg said quietly, "Belecthor, my father, telling me how you returned from Imladris like an elf prince. How you had to be taught again what it was to be a Man."

"Aye," said Eldarion, and grimaced, "And that I do not relish teaching Elenion, painful as it was." He sighed, and Beleg took a pace forward, instinctive comfort thwarted by the great distance there was between them. He could not touch the shoulders so wound with tension beneath the livery of Nimloth.

Even our heraldry we have from them, he thought, surprised by sudden resentment. Yes, it is high time the Followers followed no more - the Second Born proclaimed that they were fully grown. "You are right, my lord, childhood must end," he said, "And Gondor's heirs should know Gondor, not Gondolin. Shall I send messages requesting that Elenion return within the month?"

"Yes," said Eldarion heavily, and then "No...Oh!" and he sat, putting his head in his hands. A shocking thing to see, even in private.

"My Lord," said Beleg, "This is a wise decision and a right one. I do not understand your distress."

Eldarion looked up, and his eyes were mithril hued in the shadow of his unbound hair, and in his face was the alien sweetness of the Eldar, with something of their unassuageable grief. "Do you not?" he said quietly, "Yet he is still the only grandfather I have, though he be of different kind from me. And he has already lost so much."

Then, sighing, the King took up his circlet again and placed it upon his head. "Eldarion I am called," he said, "'Son of the elves', yet behold, I make my mother's choice, not for myself, but for my whole realm. Henceforth Gondor shall be fully a kingdom of Men, mortal and changeable as other men are."

He smiled a thin smile of pain. "I begin to understand now, a little of what it was for her to die."





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