"O beautiful for heroes proved / In liberating strife/ Who more than self their country loved/ And mercy more than life!" Katharine Lee Bates
"No!" cried Eldarion, running forward to collapse by his friend's side, dismay on his face.
Beren lay stricken in the dust, his fair face twisted with the agony of his death wounds. He smiled grimly up at Eldarion, as his face grew paler by the second. "I am sorry, my friend, but these foul beasts have claimed me at last."
Eldarion's grief bit at his heart, for he was not only too late, but at fault. Had he but stayed close to his companion, had he but kept near to his friend, and the orcs would not have found the hero unguarded. But even so, there lay many carcases around Beren, testament to his strong and valiant arm. Alas that Gondor should be deprived both of her Steward and her greatest captain! Eldarion felt like weeping.
Beren stirred, and said: "My eyes grow dark. Where is Turion? Now that I am to join Elboron among the slain, he must be Steward after me."
"He comes," said Eldarion sadly, looking up. "He will be here soon. But my friend, I had hoped that we would be King and Steward together all our days."
"It is not to be," said Beren with a sigh, and he lay back limply. Eldarion took one of his hands and bowed his head, knowing that the end was near.
"Can you forgive me for leaving you?"
Beren laughed grimly. "I forgive you? You are my king, and my friend; there is nothing to forgive."
Eldarion smiled through tears and kissed the hand of his friend in farewell. Then Turion ran up, his face full of sudden concern for his brother. "What has happened here?" he cried.
"Your brother is dying," said Eldarion softly. "The orcs came before we were ready."
"But, he cannot die!" said Turion, his voice breaking. He knelt on the other side of Beren, holding Beren's face between his hands. "No, Beren, I will not let you die!"
"I must," said Beren, gasping it out. "And you must leave me, before they return with many more."
"No! You shall not die!" Turion's voice was frantic, and tears were coming in his eyes.
"You must leave me to die," said Beren through clenched teeth, his voice surprisingly firm.
"Don't die, please don't die," choked Turion tragically, and he buried his face in Beren's tunic.
"You have to leave me to die, Turion!" said Beren fiercely.
But Turion only wept.
Eldarion sighed, and sat back on the balls of his feet. "I guess he doesn't know how to play," he said in a calm voice.
Beren's eyes rolled, and he sat up, pushing Turion off. "What is wrong with you?" he asked frustratedly.
"I thought you were dead," said Turion, lower lip trembling.
"I was—in the game!" said Beren, shaking his head as if this should have been obvious. "Weren't you playing?"
"But you looked so real," protested Turion, wiping his nose on his tunic.
Beren patted his face, and white dust came off. "It's just chalk, Turion." He sighed and Eldarion shook his head.
At that moment, Aragorn came swiftly around the corner. "Why is there crying?" he asked.
Turion's usual apprehension around the King vanished in his distress. "Beren was dead," he said, tear streaks still fresh on his cheeks.
Aragorn paused, and looked to Beren. "Oh, he was? Did Eldarion raise him back to life?"
"It was a game, Ada," said Eldarion.
"And Turion ruined it," muttered Beren glumly, sitting squat-legged and plucking broodingly at the small daisies in the grass.
"Ah, make-believe," said Aragorn with a smile that had a touch of fond memory in it. "You must have done well for Turion to be so convinced—Beren, is that chalk on your face?"
"You are quite serious about this," said Aragorn with a bit of surprise. "Be careful. If that gets on your tunic, I am sure that your mother will not be pleased. Why are your faces so long, if Beren is not really dead?"
"Well, the scene is ruined," explained Eldarion. "We lost the mood."
Aragorn smiled. "Well, my little actors, can you not do some other scene?"
"Maybe," said Beren in a little brighter tone. "I could do Turin's death scene from the Quenta."
"No, don't die!" said Turion, waving his hands frantically.
"No one is going to die," assured Aragorn wryly, patting Faramir's youngest son on the shoulder. "Perhaps, Beren, Eldarion, you can act a scene with no dying. Turion is only four, and does not understand make-believe well enough yet."
"But they wouldn't be heroes if they didn't die dramatically," argued Beren. "That's the whole point."
Aragorn eyed him for a moment contemplatively. "Is that what your father tells you about heroes, Beren?" he asked.
"No," answered Beren. "Ada says that anyone who fought in the War was a hero. But I don't believe it."
"Why do you think heroes have to die?"
"Because," answered Beren, opening his hands wide in a gesture that plainly showed how clear he thought this issue to be. "They all do it! Beren the One-Handed, Fingolfin, Finrod, Glorfindel, Turin, Gil-Galad, Elendil, Isildur, even my uncle Boromir and great-uncle Theoden!"
Aragorn seated himself on the grass, becoming amazingly less impressive when he was not seven feet of kingliness towering above one. "You make some fair points, Beren. Eldarion, my son? What do you think?"
Eldarion looked up from where he was braiding grass together. "I cannot think of a hero who did not die like that."
Aragorn frowned. "Then, I suppose I will be left out of all history books, since I have no intention of dying dramatically."
"Not you, Ada," said Eldarion with a laugh. "Just everyone else."
"Well then," continued Aragorn, "what about your mother, Beren? Do you not think what she and Meriadoc did was heroic? There is a statue set up to her on the Pelennor Fields."
"Mama doesn't count," said Beren firmly.
"Why ever not?" asked Aragorn, puzzled.
"She's a girl. Girls are called heroines."
"Oh," said Aragorn. "Pardon my ignorance. But what about your father?"
"Ada?" said Beren, and then scoffed. "When was Ada a hero?"
Aragorn frowned again. "Do you not know the stories? About how your father risked death to help the Ringbearer on his way through Ithilien?"
"But that doesn't make him a hero," protested Beren. "He was just doing what he thought was right, he didn't think it was that special."
"And does that make him less a hero?" asked Aragorn. "Glorfindel, when he was protecting Tuor and Idril, did not think that he would be saving the life of a future star; he just did what he thought was right. And Elendil: he was only fighting to protect Middle-earth. Did they think they would be remembered in history? Probably not. Some heroes do, but many true heroes do not, and some are not even remembered."
"Like who?" asked Beren, with just a hint of challenge in his voice.
"Halbarad," responded Aragorn immediately. "Halbarad of the Dunedain will never be the hero of any ballads, but if it were not for him, I would have died, starving and lost in the wilderness, many times. Did he think he was protecting the future king? Yes, he knew who I was. Did he do it for fame? No, he did not. He just did his duty, what he thought was right, disregarding his own safety to protect others, and that is why he is a hero. Not because he is remembered in song, and not because he died dramatically."
"What happened to him?" asked Beren curiously.
"He died fighting the Mumakil on Pelennor Fields," said Aragorn.
Beren gave the King a smug grin.
Aragorn sighed. "Dying did not make him a hero, though! You are a very frustrating child. It is good that your father is so patient."
"I know," said Beren. "But you still haven't told me of a real hero who didn't die."
"Do you not believe me when I say that heroism has nothing to do with dying?"
"Maybe," said Beren carefully. "But I don't believe anything for certain before asking my Ada and Mama. I just want to know if there is one."
Aragorn shook his head. "Well, we can discuss your misguided views on heroism more fully another time. As for a hero who did not die—of course! Why did I not think of it before? Earendil."
Beren sighed. "All right, you win."
Aragorn grinned at the boy. "I always win, young man. That is why I am King."
"Is that so?" came another voice, and Aragorn turned around to see Faramir smiling down at them. "What sort of things are you telling my sons, highness?"
"Very useful things," said Aragorn cryptically, rising to his feet.
"Surprising," said Faramir in a tone that made Aragorn glance at him to see how much teasing was implied. But, as usual, Faramir's face was unreadable, and Aragorn was left in mystery.
"Ada, Ada," said Turion, tugging at Faramir's tunic.
"What is it, little one?" asked Faramir, looking down.
"Beren died, and I cried," said Turion seriously, and then he stuck his thumb in his mouth.
"Oh," said Faramir. "Is that so?"
"Who died?" asked Eowyn, who had followed closely behind Faramir.
"Beren," said Turion.
"He does not look dead," said Eowyn.
Beren, who was scowling at these reminders of their ruined play, burst out at this: "All right, we won't play any more games with dying! I didn't think it would be so much trouble. Come on, Eldarion, let's play Helm's Deep again by the old stone wall."
"Good idea," said Eldarion, jumping up to follow him.
"Can I play?" asked Turion, running hastily after his longer-legged brother and his friend.
"Only if you don't go hysterical," answered Beren.
"What was this all about?" asked Eowyn, looking after her children with a puzzled look.
Faramir shrugged and they both looked to Aragorn.
Aragorn had a strange, almost wistful look on his face as he watched the boys run off across the lawn, and then he said: "Oh, it was just a little discussion about heroes, that is all. Did you know, Faramir, that your son is very frustrating?"
"Which one?" laughed Faramir.
Aragorn chuckled, and Eowyn began to talk to Faramir as they walked off, leaving the King alone. The King stood for a moment, gazing down the path that the boys had gone on. It was not strange that they associated heroism with such drama—they were only children—and he felt that he had made an impression on young Beren, so his duty should be done here. He could now go on to the tasks scheduled for him that day. And yet—hmm. Aragorn looked over his shoulder and, as soon as Faramir and Eowyn were beyond sight, moved quickly across the lawn.
"Hold the gate!" cried Eldarion from the Deeping Coomb. "We must not let them get in! Turion, your archers!"
Turion turned, and shouted: "Fire at will!"
Beren called back from the gate: "They are too many! We will never hold!"
"May I join?"
The battle suddenly stopped, and the boys turned around to see Aragorn standing expectantly near.
"Of course, Ada," said Eldarion, after only a little gap of slightly stunned silence from them all.
"Yes, he can be Theoden!" said Beren gleefully. "He is the only one old enough, and then I can be Eomer at last!"
Aragorn grinned, and said: "Very well, then." Of what purpose would it be if his children only listened to what he said because he was the King? Things would be much easier if they knew he was able to play like one of them. And besides—this would be quite enjoyable. He rubbed his hands together, glancing at the fortifications, and said, "Now, tell me what are we up against?"
And so Eldarion explained the battle plan, and it was not long before the battle was again in earnest. It was long and bloody conflict, even with the two halts for lemonade and for supper, and valiant deeds were performed, so many that all participants were worn out in the end when the bedtime bell rang for the young defenders. And if Aragorn noticed that day that Beren snuck in a dramatic scene where he almost died, he merely smiled inwardly, knowing that as the children grew older they would begin to understand more completely what he had said. However, he also decided to ask Faramir the next day about heroes who did not die. There had to be more of them somewhere...
A/N: Eldarion, Aragorn's son, belongs to Tolkien, but Faramir's sons, Beren and Turion, belong to me. In my universe, they are the third and fourth in Faramir's family. This story takes place in Fourth Age 16 (TA 3037), and Eldarion is seven, Beren six, Turion four.