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The Eagle and the Swan
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The Eagle of the Stars

‘That may be so, but I can’t see it,’ the older boy said, with finality.

‘But it’s easy...’ His younger brother pointed up again. ‘See the three bright stars there?’

‘Of course I can see them—’

‘But that means you’re almost there!’ Faramir cried out in frustration. ‘The very bright one, on the far right, that’s the eagle’s eye—’ He grabbed his brother’s hand and made him draw the picture with him. ‘And then look away from the other bright stars, and you can see its wings, and then its tail and there’s even a tail feather... can’t you see?’

‘I can see the stars, but I’ve seen pictures of eagles and that doesn’t look anything like one!’

Faramir dropped his brother’s hand and turned in exasperation to the man sitting on the bench behind them. ‘Grandfather!’

‘What can I do?’ said the Prince of Dol Amroth. ‘If he can’t see it, he can’t see it.’

‘He’s not trying—’

‘Why does it have to be an eagle anyway?’ continued Boromir. ‘It could be a sword. Look, there’s the blade, and the bits that stick out are the guard, and then that could be the hilt, and that bright star there could be a jewel in the hilt...’

Faramir looked hard at him, his eyes narrowing slightly and a frown spreading across his brow, as the thought came to him that perhaps his brother was not in fact as obtuse as he appeared to be. ‘You can see it, can’t you?’

Boromir grinned at him. ‘Of course I can. But I still think it’s more like a sword.’

‘It wouldn’t be much use as a sword with that bit at the end,’ Faramir shot back. ‘If it is a sword, it’s broken—’

‘Perhaps,’ their grandfather said, calmly but firmly, ‘since generations of our forebears have preferred to see those stars as an eagle, we might for this evening proceed on that basis? Faramir?’

The boy nodded his full agreement.

‘Boromir, you are still in disgrace, and therefore I can discount your opinion on this matter entirely.’

The boy stretched out easily on his back and gave a good-natured laugh. ‘Then an eagle it is, sir!’

‘Good.’ His grandfather suppressed a smile.‘Do either of you know the Elvish word for eagle?’

Boromir raised an eyebrow back at him. Adrahil took this to mean, unlikely. Faramir, however, had creased his brow once more, this time in concentration.

‘There was something I read in a history book...’ he muttered. Boromir rolled his eyes. ‘Someone with a name that meant eagle...’ He looked up suddenly at his grandfather. ‘One of the stewards!’ he said in triumph. ‘He was called Thorondir – it means eagle... eagle-something... So thoron must be eagle.’

‘Well done!’ said his grandfather, just as Boromir said, ‘Isn’t it part of father’s name too?’ Then he shrugged. ‘Did Thorondir do anything interesting, Faramir?’

‘Well, he was steward...’ his brother replied.

‘Yes, but there are stewards and there are stewards. Was he just steward, or did he... did he make any alliances? Did he win any battles? Did he... I don’t know, did he do anything at all?’

‘No,’ said Faramir, looking at his brother with deep pity, ‘I think he was just steward.’

‘Is that not something you should know for yourself, Boromir?’ his grandfather said.

‘What do I need to know it for?’ Denethor’s heir said cheerfully. ‘I have Faramir.’ He sat up and made a grab for the younger boy, who dodged him with practised ease, and then allowed his older brother to drape an arm around his shoulder.

‘You’d better go on, grandfather,’ Boromir said, pulling his brother closer. ‘He won’t be happy until he’s heard everything about the Eagle.’

‘Thank you for your permission to continue.’ Adrahil inclined his head gracefully. ‘Thoron, then, is the word for eagle in Sindarin, but we call the stars by their names in Quenya. And so that set of stars is named Soronúmë. Can you hear how the words are almost the same?’

Thoron... soron...’ Faramir muttered the words to himself, trying them out. Boromir looked down at him and Adrahil saw a smile play across his face. And then, very gently, Boromir began to blow at the hair on the top of his brother’s head.

‘Is there a story about the Eagle, sir?’ Faramir said at last, brushing absently at his hair. ‘Like there was about the Swan?’

‘Not as such – but Eagles are very important. They are messengers, not just from the Valar,’ he dropped his voice, ‘but from the Elder King himself, from Manwë.’ Adrahil looked down at the two boys sitting before him – so alike, so unalike – saw that he had even Boromir’s full attention, and so continued.

‘Whenever Men and Elves have most needed aid, the Eagles have come to help them. Their king, Thorondor, scarred the face of Morgoth himself, and Eagles bore Beren and Lúthien from Angband, his stronghold in the North. Eagles guarded Gondolin, and they fought in the Great Battle when the world was broken for the first time, and Morgoth defeated. And on Númenor, when Men turned away from the Valar, and listened instead to the deceits of the Enemy, the Eagles came, to warn them of their peril, to try to bring them back. Eagles are not just birds or messengers. They are kings.’

‘Kings...’ repeated Faramir softly, looking back up at the bright star above, where it hung in the eastern sky, like a promise.

‘Are you happy now?’ Boromir asked him gently, after a moment or two. ‘Heard everything you want to? Because I found a spot on the walls where you can look right down into the harbour, and I want to see what the boats are like when they’re lit up. Do you want to come?’

Faramir looked up at his grandfather and the chance of more tales, and then longingly towards the far end of the garden. He bit his lip.

‘Go on,’ said Adrahil, releasing him with a smile. ‘Go with your brother. But I want you both back here in fifteen minutes – and, Boromir, I am holding you responsible if you are not.’

Boromir gave him a dazzling smile. ‘Grandfather,’ he said, ‘you know I’m always responsible.’


Written as part of the Stargazers challenge at HASA, with love to Starlight. You can read the other stories in this challenge here.

Thank you so much to Ithilwen for teaching me about the heavens! Also thank you to Isabeau for the loan of Mayneth, to Nath for Quenya suggestions, and to Alawa for stern beta-reading.

The story of Mithrellas and Imrazôr is from UT, The History of Galadriel and Celeborn, and HoMe XII, The Peoples of Middle-earth. Alquatelpë is my own Quenya word – which I hope works, having decided not to use Nath’s suggestions! – and is our own constellation Cygnus. The star Mithrellas is our own star Deneb. Soronúmë is Tolkien's, and is probably Aquila (which is what I have made it here).

Altariel, 13-15 May 2003


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