Stargazer Nataku

Húrin of Emyn Arnen left the hall, leaving the sound of weeping behind him, his own face harsh with the ragged lines of grief.  It was never an easy task to tell a woman her husband would never return to her, and the burden curved the man's shoulders as if it pressed there with a great weight Húrin could not remove.  Guilt flooded him as he thought back to battle on the quays of Pelargir, the second he had fought there, and for a moment he stopped, his hand searching for the wall as if for support, and his failure flooded through him anew.

The King was dead.  Minardil, the man whom Húrin had served faithfully for half of a century, had fallen in battle to the cursed Corsairs, and now he, Húrin, the King's Steward, was given the task of organizing the unpleasant arrangements so the Queen and her sons might bear their own grief without worry over the details of an unexpected funeral.

            It was the last way that Húrin could honor his fallen Lord, and as he set tasks for servants and made all the necessary arrangements, he refused to allow himself the luxury of memory and grief.  Sparing the widow these tasks, and supporting the sons of the king, though they were men in their own right, seemed only right for Húrin, and he did it with grim firmness.  However, when his part was done, he went himself to see his Lord, feeling that it was not only his duty, but also his will, to do so.

            He found the King's younger son Minastan there, sitting vigil beside his father as he had since they had brought the king home to Osgiliath, and he feared he would interrupt, but Minastan gave him a grateful look and rose to his feet.

            "Lord Húrin," he said softly, and Húrin could see the unshed tears glimmering in the younger man's eyes. 

            "Lord Minastan," he answered as he stepped into the dimly lit chamber.

            "I…I would ask you a question," the Prince said quietly.

            "Of course," Húrin answered.

            "Did my father suffer?"  The words hit Húrin with a chill, but there was no trace of it in his voice when next he spoke.

            "No, he did not," he answered truthfully.  "The blow was quick, and he died without lingering."

            "Thank you," the young man said, and there was a long pause as both looked at the beloved face of the King, which bore no marks of pain, but only peace.  "Would you stay with him awhile, Lord Húrin?" he continued.  "I would go to my mother, for she suffers greatly."

            "Of course," Húrin answered, and the young man's eyes filled with gratitude as he left the room.

            Húrin sat in the chair the Prince had occupied and, for the first time since the King had fallen, allowed himself to indulge in memories, though they brought tears to his eyes.

Sword clashed against sword, reflecting bright sunlight in the glinting steel as the battle raged on the quays and docks just south of the city of Pelargir.  It was a wild battle, man against man, and the sound of the swords was accompanied by the cries of the dying and the screams of horses.  As an undertone, the hum of the river remained constant even as the noise of battle rose and fell, and she ignored the dead and dying who fell into her calm waters, flowing ever southward towards the sea.

It was this river, Húrin knew, that brought the city into peril, for the Corsairs were brilliant sailors, and occasionally they raided up and down the coastline since the war of the Kin-Strife a century and a half earlier.  However, he did not have time to think on this, for he was directly involved with the combat, and knew that only a second's inattention could mean death.

Húrin was the third and youngest son of Galdor, Lord of Emyn Arnen, and was very young in the count of the Men of the West, having just reached his twenty-fifth summer.  He had followed his older brother west when word came to his father that the king needed them, and they had led a good number of their own men to serve their liege. 

Húrin could not see his brother now, for they had been separated by the tide of battle, and he took moments between opponents to search for him, though he could not find him.  What he did see, however, when he paused a moment to survey the battlefield, was the King and his son and several knights of the king's household fighting where the battle was thickest.  With his sharp eye, Húrin could see that they were slowly being overpowered, for they were outnumbered, and without thinking, Húrin turned and ran towards his King, calling for any of his own men for aid as he fought his way towards where the sovereign was slowly fighting a losing battle.

In a moment, an arrow struck the king's steed just above the knee and the beast fell, pinning the king underneath as his sword flew from his hand.  The Corsair took a step forward, smiling underneath his helm, and quickly raised his sword to strike the killing blow even as the king struggled to free himself.

Raising his sword, Húrin ran the last few steps and, with a cry, threw himself in front of the Corsair and blocked the downswing of the sword with his own.  The strength of the blow nearly knocked him to his knees, but he quickly regained his balance and parried blow after blow that fell down upon him, his focus closing until he was aware of nothing but the enemy before him.  He recognized, from the other warrior's strength and skill, that he was outmatched, so he was not surprised when the other took advantage of his weariness and lesser skills,  bringing his sword up beneath Húrin's defenses.

Húrin had managed to block it partially, so that instead of going straight through his abdomen, it dug deeply into his right side with a jolt of pain as severe as any the young man had ever felt before.  He took a gasping breath, and felt his knees going weak underneath him; he tried to continue the fight, but both he and his opponent knew it was hopeless.  Another blow struck his left shoulder, cutting deeply until it struck bone, and he collapsed to his knees, lightheaded with pain and the loss of blood, and he knew instinctively that the end was coming.

The Corsair raised his sword to strike even as Húrin lost his battle to unconsciousness and collapsed onto the bloody ground.

The first thing that Húrin was aware of when he awoke was the sharp pain in his side.  It took him only a moment to remember what had happened, and another moment to realize that moving was completely out of the question.  He laid completely still, feeling worn, staring up at the beige cloth above his head and wondering where he was.  He remembered falling on the field in defense of the king, and preparing himself for certain death, but that was all.

"You're awake," a voice said from his left, and Húrin turned his head to find the King himself sitting by his side.  "I am thankful. You have been ill for many days."

"Sire," he said, aware that this was the first time he had ever met his king face to face, and he wished he could at least have been vertical.

            The fact that he was flat on his back and immobile did not seem to bother the king, who smiled.  "I am told, young man, that you are Húrin, the youngest son of the Lord of Emyn Arnen."

            "I am, sire," he answered.

            "Lord Húrin, I owe you my life.  If not for your bravery, I would surely have been killed."

            "It is my honor to be of service, sire," he replied.

            "Indeed it shall be," the King had answered, before rising and bowing slightly before the young man who lay prostrate on the cot. Then he disappeared into the sunlight outside.

            Húrin sighed, and found that his hand was resting on his side where he bore the scar from that battle years ago.  In the span of one moment, he had decided his own destiny and found himself living in Osgiliath, sitting on the King's council.  That had been something that he, as the third son of a minor lord, though of High Númenórean descent, had never aspired to.  Sitting on the council had not always been easy; there were other nobles there who had objected to his presence, young as he was, but he had done his best out of gratitude to Minardil, and was in turn rewarded as he had grown in the King's esteem.

            Though the King was fifty years older than Húrin, they had been friends, all the long years they had worked together for the good of Gondor and her people.  Now he was dead, and Húrin now paid his last respects, though he hated to do so, hated the thought that the king was dead as he hated those who had murdered him.  He had not had a chance to step in, to interfere this time, for the challenge to single combat had been made and Minardil had agreed.

            The sun was shining, just as it had been the day of the first battle.  This time, rather than standing with the warriors of Emyn Arnen, Húrin stood by the king's side, feeling the weight of his armor and watching as the Corsairs approached, his hand gripping the hilt of his sword.  "There are many of them, m'lord," he said to Minardil.

            "We still outnumber them.  We shall not be defeated.  Not today."  Húrin nodded, having every confidence in his king and their followers.  "Look, the battle has been joined," Minardil said, pointing to a spot further down the river.  "Come!  To battle!" he cried, driving his horse forward.

            Húrin had followed, and fought and tried to come between his King and his challenger, Angamaitë, the great-grandson of the treacherous Castamir.  Yet Minardil himself had placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.  "I will not be called a coward, my Steward," he said.  "I shall face him, man to man."

            "I accept your challenge!" the King had called back, and they had rode at each other with such fierceness that Húrin was astounded.  The battle was violent, but Minardil was the better warrior, and Húrin knew it was only a matter of time before the traitor's descendant was defeated.

            Yet suddenly, he had seen movement out of the corner of his eye.  Sangahyando, the brother of Angamaitë, had seen that his brother's loss was imminent and dove into the fray.

            "My lord!" Húrin had yelled in warning, seeing that there was no time to act; the second brother would be upon his King before he could even kick his horse to movement.  Minardil had turned in surprise and, with sudden realization, wheeled his own horse to meet the oncoming assailant, even as Húrin spurred his steed into motion.  Yet he was too late.  He did not see Angamaitë moving to strike as Minardil defended himself against his second attacker, but he saw the sword come through his King's torso, and the King's own startled eyes as they fell upon his Steward with the horrible look of a man who knew the end had come.

            Try as he would, Húrin could not get the look of the king's eyes out of his mind at that moment the sword cut through him.  He could not close his own eyes but he saw them, blotting out all else, striking him to his core.  He had ridden hard, and wounded the brothers in his rage, and they had fled, but it had been too late to save his King.

            Húrin had dismounted and had run to kneel by his side, to see if anything could be done, but with one look, he knew that there was no hope.  "Húrin…" the King had said.  "Where…is…my son?  Where is Telemnar?"

            "I know not," he had replied, and had sent a page running to find the crown Prince.

            "You must…help him.  He…shall need you."

            "I swear that I shall stand by him, Sire," Húrin had promised, and the king had nodded, and his eyes had fallen closed, before his son could come to him.

            He was glad, at least, to have been at his king's side as he died, and to see the calm that had come into his kind eyes then, once the pain had faded and the shock too was gone.  Rising to his feet, he walked over and looked down into the face of the King, committing the peaceful look he saw there into his memory.  It did a little to aid his grief, though he knew that he would mourn long the man whom he had loved and served with all his heart. 

            Behind him, the door opened, and Húrin turned to look and see who had come in.  It was one of Minardil's squires, and he bowed respectfully as he spoke quietly, reverently.

            "M'lord," he said, "The Pr…The King has need of you, if you will go to him.  I shall sit with our lord."

            "All right," Húrin said, and turned back for a moment to the body.  "Farewell my lord."  He bowed low, and went to seek the new King, for he had a promise to fulfill.

Author's Note: Thanks for reading!  This was written for the August '03 fanfiction challenge at the Tower of Ecthelion fanfic archive.  The link to said archive is in my author profile, if you wish to find a lovely site full of wonderful fanfics about Gondor and our favorite Gondorians.  Read and review if you have the time please!  -Nat