Shards of Time
3. Chapter Three
His grandmother Éowyn carved out his path in life without his even knowing it, by some irony of fate in the very year the Red Book of the Periannath had come to Minas Tirith. Whether or not she was aware of her doing, he knew not. He was only a child, and she had been such a great lady – he had drunk the tale of her greatness with his nurse’s milk, and the songs of her legend had been his lullabies. She was like an idol, and even when, later on, he had begun to ponder her possible feet of clay, she was still an idol, full of a whole, unbreakable significance. You did not write about idols. It did not matter if they were mere stone or the very mouthpiece of the Valar. Either way, they were idols, and that was the source entire of their power.
And yet, when he was seven, she appeared to be no more than an old woman always sat in front of a warm fire, her hair a cloud of white, her wrinkled, blue-veined hands resting all day on her lap. It was after the time in which he had started to mutely notice the end of everything, and he sat on a fur rug on the floor in front of her, no servants about, as was her wont, watching her as patiently as a cat watching a mouse hole. He had a vague notion that this was somehow undignified, but it was an awareness much like a moth banging against the outside of a window, and thus irrelevant.
It seemed incredible to him that this woman shrunk by age, this woman who was nodding off with a shaggy shawl draped around her shoulders, had slain the Lord of the Nazgûl. He did not know what a Nazgûl was, but it sounded like something tremendously difficult to kill. Surely it could not be true? Surely it was some other woman the songs spoke of?
She looked at him suddenly, awake, her eyes like an unsheathed sword. He felt himself drawing back. You did not doubt the idol.
“Young Barahir,” she said flatly. “No doors to listen at today?” He blushed in embarrassment. She had once caught him trying to listen at his mother’s chamber door, and she had never quite allowed him to forget about the incident.
“I am sorry, lady, I did not mean to pry,” he said feebly.
To his surprise, she laughed. It was a raspy sort of laugh, tired, but a laugh nonetheless.
“Forgive me, child,” she said, and there was – incredibly – a touch of tenderness to her voice. “I have jested far too much about that. You’ll have to forgive an old woman who takes her pastimes in the few places where she can find them. I know you did not mean to pry. You simply wished to know, and there is no evil in that.” She paused for a moment, as if to regain her breath, a set of gnarled fingers adjusting the shawl. “And as you like to know, I will tell you a few things. Have you something you can write this on?”
“I… I will call for—“
She made an impatient gesture of dismissal. “Have you, or have you not?”
He was roused now, her steady voice like a wind that brought a scent through a wood, for twitching noses and ready paws. It was a striped excitement, black and gold, waiting in a dark branch; he barely comprehended it.
“Not on me, lady. But I have something in my bedchamber,” he added hurriedly.
“Go and fetch it, then,” she ordered.
He got up, swept up in the old woman’s aura, and in moments he was back, shaking with hurry and awe, a small book in one hand, a quill and inkwell in the other. The little book was where he wrote down the meanings of new words he came across in his readings, or elsewhere. It was half-full by now, but it did not matter.
“Sit, sit,” she said, gesturing with one hand. He sat down on the rug once more, his widened eyes focused upon her. She adjusted the ends of her shawl once more, slowly and deliberately.
“I’m certain you’ve heard a great many things about me, child, if my pride does not deceive me,” she began at last, “ and a great many of them made up for a better rhyme. I like those songs, in any case, perhaps because I grew up with others that were much the same, and yet I thought there would never be one sung about myself. Are you writing this down?”
She spoke for a long time, and Barahir did not have any chance of disappointment at the fact that all her words were about songs of Rohan from her childhood, memories of her young days with her brother and their cousin, childhood memories of childhood times and childhood aches. He was too busy writing it down, following her intermittent commands, trapped in the silver thread of time she worded as forcefully as a prophecy, writing it as though each unimportant word was a monolith of revelation. Finally, she fell silent and closed her eyes.
He placed the quill in the inkwell, trying not to upend both onto the rug. He blew on the pages he had covered with words lopsided in his rush; it was an almost pointless gesture, as most of what could smudge had smudged already, but it was, he knew, necessary. He felt curiously drained. He could not understand it – no more he could understand that impermanence he had realised – but he could sense some peculiar magic at work here. The words were there, like coals upon a floor, or shiny black beetles on a road pale with dust. They told of no more than the childhood recollections of an old woman who had once been the sister-daughter of the King of Rohan. He did not know why she had felt such an urge to share them. They were confused, jumbled, like shards of broken glass. But they were there, and would still be there when she was gone into her grave. No one would remember those simple stories after that, but the words might. He sensed something deep there, like a swimmer might feel a drop in the riverbed, a transformation performed through himself. He felt his skin prickle, as though it was not enough to hold both himself and that knowledge. He let the book slide onto the rug, pages up, as he was, foremost and always, a careful boy, and got up very slowly, his eyes fixed upon the silent, close-eyed woman, who sat like a house recently emptied.
She opened one eye a mere fraction.
“I am not dead yet, boy,” she said. “Soon enough, but not yet.”
He stood aimlessly. Then he pointed at the fallen book and mouthed “why?”
She seemed to bristle at the question, her head suddenly risen proud and stern, and for all the sigils of old age upon her face, he suddenly had a glimpse of how she must have been, fair and fearsome like a thorny flower. “I would think I do not have to justify my actions in my own house,” she said.
He blushed again. “I am sorry, lady. I did not wish to presume.”
Her expression mellowed at that, like a rough stone smoothed by a careful hand. “Come here, dearest,” she asked, and he obeyed unthinkingly, kneeled down next to her at a gesture, letting her welcome his head on her lap, her fingers stroking his hair. “You have to forgive your old grandmother’s sharp tongue. I was ever ungentle, even with those I have loved. But for those my harshness was rarely meant to hurt. No excuse, I know,” she added. She felt hard and warm against him, and the wool of her dress was itchy against his face. “You are my son’s son, and I love you. And, Barahir…” She drew his face up gently, holding his chin in her hand.
“Yes, grandmother?” he asked softly.
“Those songs that sing of my deeds… there will be foolish people who will tell you that I rode to war because I was slighted by one who would not return my love. They will tell you that I wished to be loved by the Lord Aragorn—”
His face betrayed some wide-eyed surprise. “Is that—?”
“King Elessar? Yes. But those who speak thus presume to know my heart when I did not know it myself.”
“But… did you love him?” He regretted the words as soon as they were out of his mouth. His grandmother, however, did not lash out at him; somehow, her face was almost kindly as she answered.
“I have loved many people,” she said gnomically. “Yes, I love him dearly, perhaps only really loved him properly afterwards… but not that way. Do you know the light of the Moon is not his own, but rather a reflection of the light of the Sun? Or so I have been told, at least, by someone who should know. Loved in the manner you speak of, I think there was only one. I hope I have been worthy of him. Of all that I won. Am I worthy of this honour, and of this house, do you think? I must say it makes the Meduseld I knew look like a thatched barn.” She laughed at this, as though she had made a joke that was both very amusing and inexpressibly bitter. Then her face fell serious once more. “And all of this is but to say: be true to yourself, Barahir. Now pick up your things, stop playing truant to your studies and let an old woman enjoy a good fire.”
He gathered his things, got up and obeyed her hurriedly, running out of the room with ink staining his hands, rushing as though he had touched a dead white coldness and wished to run back to sunlight and heat and life. That night, he had a dream. He was standing in a great darkened room the size of cities, and in its vastness there were rows upon rows of shelves and each shelf was full of books. And then the shelves wavered and vanished, like a reflection on a pond shattering with a thrown stone. Now the room was bare, and its limits were lost in a darkness like a void night without a star. Under a single solitary beam of light a young, dark-haired woman sat on a chair next to a spinning wheel. She held a great book in her hands, and as his sleeping body lay in the stillness of dream, Barahir was almost certain he knew what was written upon it, like a thing seen through a veil, a hair’s breadth away from touch, and the realisation made him shiver.
Then she raised her eyes to him, eyes that looked as though they had seen empires rise and fall, and nations vanish, and prophecies broken and fulfilled, and remembered it all, and had felt it all as no more than a moment, the day of a mayfly. Her eyes were full of meaning, and he felt it touching him in some deep, inscrutable level. Presently, she spoke, and with each word, ringing like a silver bell in the depths of a lake, came the knowledge that this was a dream, and it would drift instantly into forgetfulness.
And then he woke up.
Not long afterward, he began writing down things. In the precociousness of his childhood, he realised that writing was what he did, that was what he must do. In the dullness of his teenaged days, he traced out his mission with the peculiar certainty, the peculiar sullenness of his years. He would write down a history of everything, or at least everything that mattered. Politics, geography, finance, all that he studied long into the night, a stack of books in front of him, his handwriting dry and meticulous. But he would write history with dialogue, a truth to be read and enjoyed and remembered. Songs were made for rhyme, not reason, and full of passion he mistrusted. The truth in songs tumbled away like dead leaves in the wind. And even the statues of kings crumbled under the unforgiving hand of Time. Only the written word lived, and it lived in its unspoken power, eternal even as cities burned and nations fell, a life discreet but undimmed. He could feel almost enthusiastic about it.
He was pleased with himself. He thought in centuries, while others were content with a handful of years. There was something monumental about it, something almost coolly divine; he felt no particular vanity about it, despite that, except perhaps only in the fact that it was fleshless. There would be no base sweat and blood in this creation. That pleased him even more than the knowledge that, were he to record it, there would be a remembrance of the fall of every sparrow.
He was halfway through it, now. He read old records, but old records made for dusty pages. So he spoke to people, or rather, had people speak to him. His silence unnerved them. His stare loosened their tongues as surely as a trickle of water carved a furrow in the hardest stone. He searched for the truth in their words like a gold-digger sifting with stony concentration though a pile of rubble in search of the noble metal, and as he wrote down his findings he often lamented the fact that there were so few living who could remember.
There was a quality to the Truth. And yet, now that he wished, needed to write of his grandmother the legend, he could not find it.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.