River of Fallen Stars
1. river of fallen stars
Faramir had spent the morning listening to reports of the sorties that still plagued the area, and looking with a realistic eye at the wound on the river where the city had once stood. It made him want to weep, but he had to admit his dream to rebuild here was not a practical one; there was too much pain here. Life as a city, for Osgiliath, was over. This place might continue as a fort, or a garrison, but the citadel of the stars was gone forever.
After his meetings had ended, he took a rather large woven basket and called for his new aide-de camp, and they had spent time walking in the ruins and quietly telling each other stories of the lands where they grew up.
The sun was westering already when Faramir suddenly thought of the preferences of his companion, and apologizing for making him wait so long for refreshment, he spread a blanket on the ground close to the river where they had been searching for the brightly colored bits of tile that sometimes washed up on the shore.
Cold meat and a loaf were set out, and the first summer fruits, and plates were filled and balanced carefully on their laps. They paused a moment, looking silently West, then smiled and turned their attention to their food. Pippin set-to with a will, but there was nothing strange about that - it would take more than facing the end of the world to damage his appetite. But he was pleased to notice that the Captain, too, was enjoying his food and not just pushing it about. His strength had come swiftly back after his brush with the wings of death, and now his flesh was also beginning to return, the terrible drawn look gone from his face, particularly when he smiled.
“There is so much power in this place,” said Pippin, and the captain looked up and met his eyes. There was a depth to the little one’s soul that would be easy to miss if one forgot to look beyond his stature.
“Yes,” agreed Faramir, “and so many ghosts.”
“Still,” Pip continued “it must have been very beautiful, for it has a great beauty, even in its ruins – and something that feels old, almost beyond time.”
They were sitting in a place where the dome of the old city had been washed some way along the river when it fell in flames. Most of it was completely gone, washed down the great mother river long ago, tumbled along the miles of bank, washing up on the shores of Belfalas, perhaps riding the unseen rivers under the sea in a quest to return to Numenor that was. But in places the old structure lay in clear water and here and there a bit jutted out above, holding on in a place where they could yet be seen.
“What is that? What happened here?” asked Pip reaching for a second helping.
“Poor Osgiliath,” Faramir sighed. “She stood between Gondor and Mordor like someone caught in the middle of a brawl, and both sides fell upon her.” He swallowed and pointed into the water. “These ruins were part of the great observatory that spanned the river long ago. The dome was inlaid with pictures of the constellations, and once you could have stood beneath it and learned all you could wish to know about the stars. Then the city burned, and the stars fell into the water.”
Pippin followed Faramir’s hand and looked at the remains of the bright mosaics that had once represented the pictures in the night sky.
“Once the stars that speak of the turning wheel of the year turned here in their order,” Faramir continued. “Now… they are all jumbled together, and even their stories are broken.”
“Perhaps the river is trying to make up new stories,” said Pip. “That’s what my folks would do – look at the bits and make up a new story to fit the changes.”
A nearly whole picture stood out just above the water where they sat; a man with flowing blond hair, holding a bow painted dark blue with a tracery of waves and aiming a silver tipped arrow. One shoulder had been broken away, and one foot was somewhere in the river, but he had managed through the years to somehow keep his head above water. Once he had aimed his arrow at The Wolf, but now he was pointing straight up, as if for some reason he wanted to shoot down the very stars.
“Who is he?” Pip pointed, and helped himself to more grapes.
“That is the Archer,” said Faramir. He rules our sky in the autumn. See how he uses his bow to defend - but also to hunt, for he has a family to support.” Faramir looked around at the crumbling edge of the ruin, but whatever had once been next to the man on the wall was long gone. “Well, he did have them… they must still be around here somewhere. They wouldn’t just leave him.”
“How do you know so much about him?” mumbled Pippin, chewing.
The captain smiled, his grey eyes far away. “When I was small, my grandsire told me the stories, one by one. And later, my father taught me to see how they all depended on each other.”
Pippin grinned. “We also have stories about the stars. Some big stories, like the wain and the dragon, and some small ones, like the hound and the sisters. I wonder if we see the same pictures.” He peered into Anduin’s clear waters and suddenly pointed at a gleaming flow of color, long drowned but still beautiful. “Oh!!” he cried. “The Swordsman!”
“Yes,” smiled Faramir. “We may have different pictures and different stories for many of the stars - but some things are the same everywhere, I should think. Everyone knows the swordsman, with his golden belt, and everyone greets him when he climbs up the cold winter sky to defend us from the dark.”
The swordsman’s long hair was tied back behind his noble head. He held his sword aloft in his strong right hand, and with his left he reached behind to something that was no longer there. The water flowed across his handsome face, his firm grim eyes awash with the river’s tears.
They were quiet then. They had become quite comfortable together, these two brave men who until very recently were used to being thought of as youngest and most unprepared.
After a while, Pippin spoke again. “Captain... this place makes you sad. Why did you want to come here?”
The captain hesitated for a moment. “This place… is very important to me. I have many memories that are rooted here, and there is much history that I hoped would not be lost. I thought that there might be a way to rebuild here – to make Osgiliath once more what she had been. I wanted to give her back to Ithilien, to thank Ithilien for all she has given me. But now I have come to accept that some things cannot be remade. And that sometimes it is no bad thing to see the scar that reminds us we are still alive, and healing.” He smiled and sighed. “It is a new world, my friend. I will go to Emyn Arnen and make a new life.
They shared the end of the bread, warmed by the sun almost as if it has just come from the oven, and they smiled and enjoyed the last gifts of the woven basket. Then Pip leaned back and lit his pipe, and Faramir unwrapped a small tablet of bound pages and drew with quick firm lines some sketches of the place where the dome of the stars lay drowned.
Faramir broke the silence next, calmly, with no preamble or explanation. “There is something I never asked you,” he said without looking up from his sketching. "Whatever possessed you to do it?” He did not elaborate, nor did he need to do so.
Pip continued to smoke quietly as he thought and dismissed a dozen reasons that said nothing at all of what the Raven of Ithilien really wanted to know. He tasted his pipe and smelled the river water and in his own mind, he was now far away – a campsite on the banks of the Anduin as they traveled south and where he had sat an early evening watch with a man who had become his friend and was now gone.
Pippin had asked him that night how he could be spared for the journey he had undertaken. He had replied he could not be spared, but that there was no other answer.
“Might not your brother have come?” Pip had inquired. “I thought that he was the dreamer in your family.”
“No Pip,” the warrior had replied. “Faramir could not be sent. You see… I think he believed that I came north in his place to shelter him – or because I felt I was stronger, or perhaps even because I no longer had any hope and could not bear to watch my city fall. But the truth is, I came because I do have hope – or I want to. Many men stand on the line for Gondor’s defense, and they are brave and true. But Faramir’s gifts will be most needed after this terrible shadow. I will be at odds with myself when the war is over, for war is what I know. At home, they call me The Blade of Gondor, but I am a broadsword, swung in her defense. Faramir – he is a sharp knife in a healer’s hand, and I would not take him away from the place where he will be needed.”
Remembering, Pippin felt a tightness close his throat.
Faramir had said nothing all this time. He had just about decided his friend was not going to answer when Pip took his pipe from his lips and sighed. Later they would speak to each other of many things, but for now, he quietly told Faramir only this: “I could not bear to lose you both.”
Neither looked up or acknowledged for the moment the power in the small exchange.
After a while, Faramir put down his sketching and took two glasses and a bottle from the bottom of the basket and poured them each a glass of wine, a pale shimmering gold color with a taste that itself spoke of cold fresh water and of stars.
“This is the last of my hoard,” he smiled, “the gift of Ithilien. They raised their glasses to each other and drank. “I once thought it might be the last bottle forever. But Ithilien wines will someday be traveling by messenger to you in your home, and remind you that you have planted a vine of friendship in the hills of Emyn Arnen.
As the sun crept down to kiss Anduin goodnight, Faramir packed up their things and Pippin, who could not resist, wandered down to the water’s edge for a last glimpse of the colored tiles that still revealed their stories and their beauty to the eye that took the time to see. Then he and the captain took a last deep breath of the river’s scent in the cool night air and walked companionably back to the rangers camp
Behind them the sun set on the clear water of the river, making the surface gleam. Anduin sang for her cold sweet life and she rushed forward in swirling joy, anxious to kiss the fire of the setting sun.
Illuminated by the glow, the swordsman lay transfigured below the water as he had now for years uncounted. Still he guarded, still he endured, as he reached back with longing to grasp the archer’s hand.
Note: When the city of Osgiliath falls, it is described as burning, even though it was a city of stone. We know there was an observatory there, under the great dome. And the only reason we can see falling stars is because they are burning as they fall....
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.