Who Knackered Aragorn's Catamite?
6. The Steward's Dark Secret
I had ridden into the courtyard of Ithil Hall and hitched Bess to the hitching pole. An elderly servant had answered the door, a man of Gondor whom I took to be an old soldier, no doubt one of Faramir’s trusty rangers of old. Bowing deferentially but uttering not a word he ushered me in and closed the door. I had the feeling I was expected, although I’d sent no word on ahead. Old habits die hard. Even in these days of peace doubtless Faramir still kept watch on the boundaries of his country seat and on the roads leading south to Minas Ithil and north to Udûn.
We mounted wide wooden stairs, past walls hung with banners depicting scenes of the hunt, not to mention echoes of Faramir’s more adventurous days. The servant opened the door of the library and announced me correctly, although I’d never met the fellow before and he had not asked my name.
Faramir was sitting at his writing desk, clad in a glistening green cloak with velvet reveres. He let the scroll he was reading snap together in a double roll and rose to his feet.
“My dear Goss! How splendid to see you again!” He grasped my elbows and looked me up and down. “My! But how you’ve grown!” We laughed at that – I had fond memories of Faramir when I was a boy at court. He was one of my favourite uncles and I used to love playing in the orchards and in the autumn leaves behind the hothouses of Ithil Hall.
He let go my arms and gave me a quick pat on the shoulder. “You’re looking more and more like your father – but I’m sure everyone tells you that.”
“You’re looking in good health yourself, my lord,” I said deferentially. Faramir huffed. “Just call me Faramir,” he said, “like you used to. You’d be a lord yourself if you had stayed at court.”
To the servant, still standing at the door, he gave orders to bring afternoon tea to the library. “Make it something substantial, Sternhelm. I’m sure the son of Gandalf is feeling hungry after his ride down from Udûn. And I’m feeling rather peckish myself.”
Since the afternoon was warm, Faramir flung open the double doors leading onto the balcony and brought up two chairs. We sat and gazed out over his lovely garden and my eyes strayed over the tops of pine and maple to the sunny hillside beyond.
“Éowyn tells me she saw you in Minas Tirith the other day.”
“Yes – in stressful circumstances. I wish it had been otherwise. But she very kindly gave me some of her precious time. Did she tell you what it was about?”
Faramir’s eyes were frank and open. “No... unusual for her. She doesn’t usually withhold confidences from me. But this time all she would say was that I’d have to ask you myself, since she was sure you were going to turn up here sooner or later.” He got up to take a deep breath at the window. “I was delighted to hear it, as it happens. I’ve got some new plants growing in the garden. I wanted to ask you about them – they’re from the distant south and I thought you might have come across them in your travels. But here’s me talking as if you have all the time in the world... Éowyn says you’re a busy man these days.”
“King’s business, I’m afraid. But nothing so pressing that I can’t enjoy the countryside of Ithilien for a day. I have to think about some of the things I’ve seen and heard.”
Two servants arrived with tea, a man and a maid, and without a word they swiftly set up the repast on five small tables around us. Faramir was as good as his word. The meal was substantial – one could almost have said the hobbit influence was gaining ground in Ithilien these days. Legs of chicken, game pie, fresh baked bread in simple rolls marked with a cross on top, fresh root vegetables cut into strips, pickles and relishes – nothing hot, but only what could be drawn from a well stocked pantry in the twinkling of an eye.
“They tell me you are much-travelled man.”
“Yes...” I sighed. “I came back to Osgiliath hoping for a rest, but it has been anything but restful recently. Most of my leisure hours I’ve been spending with Legolas and Gimli.”
“Ah yes, we last saw the pair of them here at Yule. They seem to be keeping in good spirits. Legolas’s people have done some wonderful things here in Ithilien. Cleared up all the orc mess. It’s a matter of pride among the wood elves that the place is growing to be as beautiful as Lórien – or should I say, as Lórien was. And hasn’t Gimli done marvels with the Great Gate of Minas Tirith? The inhabitants of Udûn are quite jealous...”
“The cheeky devils! You don’t mean to tell me...?”
“Yes,” laughed Faramir. “They want a gate just like it, in a rampart across the Morannon once more. And they’re threatening to build a gate of iron if we don’t give them a mithril one. Or at least with a bit of mithril on it, here and there. Well – you can imagine what the dwarves say about that!”
“Gimli hasn’t mentioned anything about that to me. I’ll have to get him going about it, next time we go out for a drink together. Talking about that, I went out for a drink with the head of GUB last night.”
“Commissary Grishnakh?” Faramir laughed. “A capital fellow, there. A rare specimen – a good orc. And when you recall what a fiend his father was...!”
“Have you met Grishnakh, then?”
“Yes. He actually accepts invitations. Éowyn and I hand out these things at Yule to all the Mandate people we feel we have to. Just to be polite. Not really expecting them to be taken up. But Grishnakh came along. He was the life and soul of the party too.”
“He’ll accept anything you offer him. He’ll smoke all your pipe-weed, if you let him.”
“Ha-ha! And you ought to see the inroads he makes on your wine cellar too! It doesn’t alter him, though.”
“No. He’s always just the same.”
Over his chicken leg, Faramir gave me a frank stare. “Talking of that, I gather you’ve been to see Tom.”
“Yes. Isn’t that a funny business. What d’you make of it?”
Faramir sucked the last of the meat off the bone before replying. “I don’t know what to think. Personally I’m saddened. I’ve had quite a few chats with old Tom since he’d been here with us. He’s very resentful about the way he’s been treated, as you can imagine. What did he say to you?”
“Just that. But I don’t think he’s as senile as he cares to make out.”
We both avoided mentioning Goldberry by name and I said nothing of my encounter with her in Minas Ithil. Whether Faramir was expecting me to talk about her I don’t know. Since it was Éowyn who had put me on to her, perhaps he might have been!
After tea had been cleared away Faramir invited me for a stroll in the garden. He was right about his new plants – they were aloes of some sort. I was of the opinion they wouldn’t take in this northern clime unless we had a really good summer that year. Which however we both agreed was an even chance.
Faramir straightened up from his plants. “I take it you’re going to stay for supper? An excellent haunch of venison is all ready for tonight and if Éowyn is not going to come home today or tomorrow I’m going to have to eat it all myself.”
I said I’d be delighted to stay. Quite apart from the fact that I’m very partial to venison, there were one or two things which Faramir might know the answers to.
“What is more, if you are in no hurry to rush off early tomorrow, how about us riding out together for a morning’s hunting?”
The idea pleased me immensely. I needed time to think and I saw no point in going back home to Osgiliath just yet. And Bergil had been right – the less I saw of Minas Tirith for the present the better.
It was a stupendous dinner that Faramir gave me. Pouring ourselves each a large goblet of the sweet dark wine bottled on Faramir’s own estates in South Ithilien, we retired to the library once more. There Faramir produced some of the choicest pipe-weed which he kept for special visitors. It was dark now and outside the mullioned window the waxing moon glinted off leaves of maple and laurel in the garden, whilst beyond the hedge thick black forest blanketed the hillsides.
I had of course needed to tell Éowyn about Morfindel’s murder and I was curious to know whether the news had got back to Faramir. Or indeed whether he would have admitted it to me if it had.
“Do you see much of Morfindel son of Gollum these days?”
“Rather less than I might possibly do,” answered Faramir, puffing contentedly on his pipe and thus far giving the distinct impression that he had been left in ignorance. So Éowyn had been as good as her word. “Indeed the last time he was here I had occasion to throw him out of the house.”
“Dear me! Was he that objectionable?”
“That I could have tolerated. Or would have done so, for the King’s sake. But the young rascal began to talk in a most disloyal way! Of what was to become of the Realm when the King joined his ancestors. As you well know, the Queen has not yet presented the King with an heir, a matter which had been exercising the mind of Morfindel rather more than I felt comfortable with. I told him I wanted to hear no more of such talk, but persist he would. I received the impression that he would have liked to fill the position of Crown Prince himself. Now if anything should happen to Aragorn – may the stars forbid it! – then the succession would pass first to me, as Steward of Gondor, and after that to Prince Imrahil. It seemed that in the most roundabout way he was trying to gauge which way I would tend to lean, were he to rule instead.”
“Didn’t you disabuse him of that likelihood?”
“Don’t get me wrong. He wasn’t proposing to rule as Aragorn’s adopted son (although at one time there was even talk of that at court!) but as regent for a child which Queen Arwen might bear. Whose child? – that was the obvious question. But he refused to be drawn. He would only say that if it were the son of the Queen then it would of course be accepted as the King’s offspring by all loyal subjects.”
I leaned forward with a frown. “I can see why you found such talk so distasteful,” I said. “But weren’t you taking a risk, making an enemy of one so close to the King?”
“Enemies are not hard to make at court. As you know full well. The only thing I would regret is to incur the enmity of a man I respected.” He laid careful stress on the last word.
I spoke lightly as though I were changing the subject, though really I was not.
“Tell me something. In my younger day, you were commonly held to be a lore-master, of no mean attainment. Particularly in ring-lore.” Smilingly, Faramir demurred, but only out of modesty, not conviction. “Now Morfindel,” I continued, “has been developing an enormous interest in rings of late. What is your opinion of that?”
Some of the mirth went out of Faramir’s smile. “Really, Goss, it comes to the point where you must declare yourself. For all I know you might be a friend of Morfindel. An agent of his. Though Éowyn urges me to trust you...”
“The Lady Éowyn is indeed a remarkable person, my lord Faramir.”
He nodded. “Just what I say myself – and it is pleasing to find people who agree with me.” But he was obviously puzzled by what I had said. I hastened to make myself clear.
“She conceals even from her own husband something which I told her in confidence. And that was less out of regard for me, whom she considers a young tearaway at best – than out of respect for the honour of her own word.”
I could see that Faramir was really puzzled by now. Being an artful showman I was relishing the effect my words were having. And about to have.
“You see, as Lady Éowyn could easily have told you, Morfindel is dead. Murdered.”
The pipe dropped from Faramir’s mouth. He slapped his knees and actually rose to his feet. I smiled and held up my palms. When he had settled down again in sufficient comfort I continued.
“In order to keep the matter secret, at the King’s special behest, it was necessary to embroil her in a shameful subterfuge. The story for public consumption is that Morfindel lies confined in the Houses of Healing. But it was a dummy I caused to be admitted. In reality Morfindel lies at this moment in the mortuary close by Rath Dínen.”
Faramir’s voice was hoarse. “How did he die?”
“Horribly, my lord. I would rather not go into it. He died in his own bedroom, at the hands of someone unknown.”
“At some time in the evening of Thursday the 27th of April. His body was discovered by Captain Bergil at the midnight hour.”
“Indeed! What was Captain Bergil doing in Morfindel’s bedroom at the midnight hour? It’s the sort of question we contrive not to ask at court these days.”
“Between you and me I wonder about it myself. But Bergil seems not at all ashamed to declare it and so I’m inclined to accept that his visit was purely a matter of business. He himself maintains that it was business and entirely his own. Which of course he has a perfect right to do, and indeed a duty.”
Faramir pursed his lips for a moment, but soon his features made it clear that he saw no reason to suspect Bergil of anything worse than a habitual lack of consideration.
“He is a man who retires to bed late and gets up early. Such men are often noted for their absence of imagination. He thinks that because he is up and about, everyone else should be too.”
To that I assented heartily. I told Faramir how the Rangers of the North had got me out of bed to answer Bergil’s summons by break of day. He laughed long and heartily at that.
“I can well imagine how you had good cause to thank him for that! Especially had you been quaffing ale in Osgiliath with Legolas and Gimli the night before!” (As indeed I had!)
Faramir’s face grew grave again and he shook his head to himself slowly. “But – dead! Morfindel son of Gollum! Long will it be before the rumour of this matter dies down. How is the King taking it?”
I saw the love in his eyes. Faramir, last of the hereditary Stewards of Gondor, loyal to his lord and master to the end. “He grieves, my Lord,” I said. “And he has vowed vengeance on the murderer. It will be Death at the Stake...”
“About that he has no choice!” said Faramir gruffly. Then he lowered his chin into his hand. “Yet when you stop to think just who it might be...” He puffed out his chest. “It might even be me! Why, if animosity alone were the touchstone of guilt...”
He paused and his eyes phrased a silent question. I smiled and shook my head. “I have already formed my opinion about that. If I really thought it was you, Lord Faramir, or your well-regarded wife, I wouldn’t be talking to you now like this.”
Faramir picked his pipe up and lit it once more. “No, I imagine not.” He blew out a cloud of smoke. “Can you blow smoke rings, like your father?”
“Nobody can blow smoke rings like my father,” I said. “But please – don’t let me stop you. I won’t pour scorn upon your efforts.”
“And, in talking to me, is this the King’s business you’re on now? There are many people you will have to talk to. I’m relieved you don’t think it was I who did it. But I’m sure you feel there is much I can tell you all the same.”
“There’s much I have heard, from people at court with much to say. But it is the quality of the words, not the quantity, that counts with me,” I replied and we both laughed. Quietly he murmured, “And what choice words should I let fall?”
We had come to the point, I knew it. “Rings,” I breathed. “What have you to say about Morfindel’s interest in rings?”
It was only then that he appeared to notice my elf-rings. “A lore-master, did you call me? Versed in the lore of rings? Well, I’d say this. Morfindel would have been very interested in the rings you wear on your own hands.”
We exchanged a knowing smile. “I’m quite sure he would,” I said. “But do you think he would have noticed them?”
“That’s a good question. Let me ask you one in return. Do you think that the rings hide themselves? Do they ever hide you?”
“In answer to the first, they are always there when I look at them, and they are always very obvious to me. But as for the second question, I must answer – how would I know?”
“Well, right at this moment, I can see you clearly. But that might be because you choose to be seen by me. Were you possessed of a lesser intellect, the rings might serve merely to make you invisible, whether you willed it or no.”
“Do the rings still have the power to do that? Even after the unmaking of the Ruling Ring?”
“I don’t know the answer to that. Not even your father knew the answer to that. Not even your...” Faramir checked himself. He gazed at me like a child who had just been caught out saying something forbidden. But I smiled in reassurance. “Your father... and your mother,” he continued, “might have said that although they may have lost their bodily power, there is still some power they exert over the mind. Over the imagination. I see you – yes – but I do not see where you’re coming from, nor where you are going to. Not unless it’s your own good pleasure to reveal it to me. Such can rarely be said of lesser men.”
He paused to knock the ash out of his pipe and to fill it afresh. Silently he offered the jar of rich pipe-weed smelling to me of cherry and almonds. I took it and filled my pipe, then we lit up and stared at each other through curls of blue smoke.
Presently Faramir spoke again. “Such could not be said of the son of Gollum. For a thief and a cheat and a liar he was as crystal clear as a mountain stream. In view of all that, it was amazing the success he had. Though perhaps only over weaker minds. A magic ring would have made him totally transparent.”
I puffed thoughtfully upon my pipe. “That’s a remarkably profound statement,” I said. “And was it magic rings – rings of Power, he was on the lookout for?”
I started forward in my seat. “How come? There must be few enough rings of that nature to be had. How can you speak with such assurance?”
“Why, you yourself called me a lore-master, well versed in ring-lore. Well then, hear what I have to say. Recite the Lay of the Rings...”
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky, ...
“And what has become of the Three?”
I carefully made no answer. He didn’t need me to. It was a rhetorical question. “One of the Three is almost certainly on the hand of Queen Arwen. I have never seen it there, but nor would I, unless she herself were to reveal it to me.”
I nodded, recalling my meeting with her.
“And as of tonight I know the whereabouts of the other two.”
I made my face into stone, but he kept his eyes cast downwards. “Please carry on reciting,” he said.
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone, ...
“Alas, we don’t know what became of the Seven. All of them were said to have fallen into the hands of the Dark Lord and were in all likelihood destroyed in the wreck of Barad-Dûr. But we don’t know. They may be in circulation. The dwarves almost certainly would hunt them down, buy then back, and never let them out of their possession again. But what goes on in the Mandate is something I can’t vouch for. Pray continue...”
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die, ...
One for ...
“Never mind about the One, we know what happened to that.”
“And we know what happened to the Nine. They too perished in the fire of Mount Doom when the One was destroyed.”
Faramir slowly raised his eyes to mine in a burning stare. His voice was so quiet I nearly didn’t catch what he said.
I breathed in sharply and my hand went up to grasp my beard. “By Elbereth! I was forgetting! And in the company of you, of all people! How thoughtless of me!”
Faramir shut his eyes and pursed his lips in a wry smile. “No – it’s very easy to forget. Everybody forgets. My wife and I don’t want it remembered particularly. In fact, that may be the heart of the trouble...”
In a voice low and trembling I asked, “What... really happened, that day?”
“What really happened? Oh, for that you need to ask a certain hobbit called Meriadoc Brandybuck. The Lady Éowyn, bless her, was lying senseless at the time. Merry remembers nothing of it either. But Prince Imrahil, who came upon her lying there, was certain that he saw Merry pick the thing up as he stooped to retrieve his pack.”
“Merry!” I gasped.
“Yes, Merry. But of this you can be quite sure. Somebody would have picked it up. We can only be grateful that it didn’t fall into lesser hands.”
“What did Merry do with it?”
“Can you imagine? Three years later, when we were enjoying the fruits of peace, a fine young knight of the Mark, albeit a diminutive one, came riding out to us here in Ithilien. He begged to speak to me in private and as you can imagine I was mighty glad to see him. But it wasn’t a social call he was intending, although in later years he was to make many of those, as one of our most welcome guests. But on that occasion there was a stark urgency in his face. He had a gift for me. Or rather for the Lady Éowyn, but he thought it were better coming from me.”
Faramir topped up his pipe before he would continue. This time I refused the jar.
“It was a trophy of battle. Black forgetfulness had been upon him, he said, and for nigh on two years he had given no heed to it. It was only in reminiscence with King Éomer that it had come to mind again.
“As you can imagine I felt greatly honoured by the trouble Merry had taken to bring that trophy to me and I felt bound to show nothing but gratitude, to his face. But it was a gift I was utterly horrified to receive! Once upon a time... in another age...” (and here Faramir’s voice grew faint) “...Frodo himself came to Henneth Annûn, as you probably know, and for one night he was my guest, a brief respite from his cruel journey. I could have had the One Ring for the taking! But as I told him then, had I come across the thing lying in the street – I would have passed it by.”
In the light of the log fire, Faramir’s face grew haggard as his thoughts sank back into the shadows of fifty years ago.
“Can you imagine how I felt, Goss? Having resisted that terrible trial over Frodo and the One Ring, and been touched myself by the Black Breath, another hobbit comes along and places into my hand another ring of Power – the last of the Nine!”
A horrid fascination overcame me. I leaned forward. “What was it like – to hold?”
“Do you mean – did it tingle, did it feel tainted by the Black Breath? Strange to say, no. At least you wouldn’t say so in the cold light of day. Not to start with. When the One was destroyed, the rings lost all their power. Or nearly all. It was just a ring. Just a piece of jewellery, albeit antique and venerable to the last degree. The rings, after all, were once benign. Even when they fell under the Shadow they didn’t change their shape. It was, to my eyes, exactly as it must have looked to the High King of Angmar, when it was first placed on his finger.”
“What did you do with it?”
“What could I do with it? It had been presented to me by a splendid young hero I didn’t want to offend, as a gift for my darling wife. I did indeed present it to her – and touched she was to receive it! She wore it proudly on several social occasions. But no-one can face down such terrible memories. Whether it was a vestige of the Black Breath, or just a shadow of its memory in the mind, Éowyn took to wearing it less and less, and finally put it away altogether.
“To escape the feeling of dread that it started to emanate, I had a copy made – and it is this she wears to royal functions, whenever there’s a need to do so. Afterwards she always gives it back into my safekeeping. Whenever she needs it for such occasions (not for a long time now) she asks me for it.”
Faramir rose to his feet and went to his writing desk. He slid tenons and bevels to and fro until a secret compartment was revealed. Coming back, he held out his hand and placed something in my open palm.
As I looked at it I felt myself beginning to tremble with horror.
There, nestling in the palm of my hand, was a ring of Power. The last of the Nine. Or it might be truer to say: the First of the Nine – the ring from the hand of the High Nazgûl, leader of the Ringwraiths. He who had met his end in battle against no man, as had long ago been prophesied... but a woman! Éowyn, sister-daughter of Théoden King. Inert though it was, its dread memory darkened my mind with long shadows.
It was a silver ring, bearing a polished black stone with a metallic sheen, which I knew to be haematite. The silver-work was delicate, consisting of intertwined brambles wrought in the finest detail, through which at intervals tiny roses peered. Only when I looked closer, the brambles turned to spiked chains, and the roses to skulls.
Imalad could not have described it to me more exactly.
Next morning, bright and early, Faramir himself roused me with breakfast in bed and when I’d got dressed we rode out hunting. We didn’t shoot anything. Since Lady Éowyn disapproved of killing animals just for sport, when they were not needed for food, we reminded ourselves that we’d feasted well on venison the night before and simply got as close as we could to the beasts, drawing beads on their graceful necks.
Back at the house by lunchtime, it was Faramir who broached the subject of the ring once more.
“We spoke of many things last night, but in the hours of darkness there are some matters it is wise to leave till daylight. I couldn’t help but notice the light of recognition in your eyes when you beheld the copy I’d had made of the Angrennan.”
“What did you call it? Angrennan? Sounds like something made of iron!”
Faramir explained the Sindarin derivation to me.
“It’s The Angrennan.” He stressed the definite article. “Ang-ren-adan. Iron – wrought – man. The Ironman. The foremost of the Nine.”
“I never imagined it had a name!”
“All the rings had names. Even the One. Though nobody dared utter that.”
“And – copy, did you say?”
“Yes, I told you I’d had a copy made.”
“What was it you showed me last night?”
Faramir rose to his feet, went to his writing desk and extracted the ring again. “It is only a copy,” he declared. “The original is kept concealed by my dear wife in the Houses of Healing – and don’t ask me where.”
He gazed down at the ring in his hand. “Just as surgeons and other healers have sharp blades to cleave the flesh and apothecaries have violent poisons to strike a man dead, so the Houses of Healing keep safe this deadly thing, as a palladian against the dreadful ailments of man. Particularly those of gnawing regret, despair and loss of heart. For, as you know, a tiny dose of what induces a malady is sovereign against that same malady. Opposites inflame each other, but like disarms like. That fell ring of Power, in Éowyn’s hands, has healed many a poor soul.”
He shook his head as if emerging from a reverie. “But tell me. Have you perchance seen it before?”
“No, not exactly... but I’ve had it accurately described to me. In circumstances so suspicious that I have a mind to go back and ask Lady Éowyn if she still has the original in her possession. Or whether, unbeknownst, somebody might not have stolen it.”
Faramir stared at me open-mouthed. “That is an astounding thing to say! Who might have stooped to such a deed?”
“I’m not altogether sure. But let us say, for the sake of argument... Morfindel. I’m in the course of enquiries which are shedding a very strange light on the matter.”
I said it would help me enormously in my investigation if I could purchase his copy from him, but without a word he placed it in my hand and folded my fingers over it. He would take no payment, declaring that the object in itself was of scant value and he could always get another copy made.
That afternoon I returned to Minas Ithil with this ominous thing in my possession. As I approached the City so long associated with it and its monstrous bearer I felt as though it were growing heavier and heavier in my pocket, fake though I knew it to be. Or to be cruelly precise – supposed it to be.
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.