1. A Wizard Returns
The guards at the gate looked surprised when Mithrandir answered their questions about his business in Minas Tirith.
"You're here to see the Steward?" the shorter man said doubtfully.
Mithrandir glanced down at himself. He had to admit that his grey robes were especially shabby just now, and that his recent stay with Radagast and his fellow wizard's assorted animal companions had not been kind to his hat, either. Drawing himself up to his full height, he replied, "I am. I have news of lands to the north that he will doubtless wish to hear as soon as he may." Which, if not precisely true, was not entirely false, either.
The two men looked each other and shrugged. "If he's lying, the Steward will be sure he regrets it, and he seems harmless enough. All right. Go on, then."
The wizard set off through the crowds that filled the streets and market squares of the first level of the city. It was nearing sundown, and some of the shopkeepers were beginning to carry their wares inside for the night, closing and barring their shutters. He passed through the gates to the Second Circle and continued trudging upwards. As he climbed, Mithrandir noted that more dwellings had the over-tidy look that told they were unoccupied than had been the case even three years before, when last he had been in the White City.
By the time he reached the tunnel from the sixth level up to the Citadel, the last light was fading from the sky, and stars had begun to appear on the eastern horizon. Mithrandir quickened his pace, though he suspected that the evening meal would have already begun in the Great Hall before he reached the Steward's House. In the circumstances that might be for the best. He could take a place at one of the lower tables, and seek out Denethor afterward. If, of course, he was recognized by the servants and allowed to do so.
Luck was with him. The first hurrying figure he saw in the Steward's House was one he recognized; Serindë, whom he remembered from his visit of seven years ago. As he recalled, Boromir had sponsored her brother into his own company.
She recognized him as well. "Master Mithrandir, what a surprise. I expect you'll be wanting to see Lord Denethor? He's not here."
"Not here?" Mithrandir's first reaction was annoyance, that the gate guards had not told him that the Steward was away from the city. His frown smoothed out when Serindë continued.
"He's still in the White Tower, sir. Of late he's taken to staying there longer and longer hours. But the household folk are at meat, if you wish to join the meal, and the lord Faramir is expected soon. He's in charge of the city guard, these days, and makes his last round in the evening, so he'll come in on the tail end of dinner," Serindë's chatter continued as she led the white-bearded old man down the corridor to the Great Hall. "Between you and me, sir, he'll be glad to see you. With the lord Boromir here no more than a double handful of days in the year, there's no one to make peace between Faramir and his father in their misunderstandings, though I say it as shouldn't, and I hope you won't repeat me, sir. Here you are – move down a bit, Rodnor, and make space for Master Mithrandir. He's just arrived and says he needs no ceremony, being long on the road and preferring a hot meal to cold courtesy."
"Thank you, Serindë," said Mithrandir gravely, as he sat down. The absence of the Steward did not stop his household from dining well. Mithrandir noted that the roasted pigeons might be confined to the guests of honor eating without their host at the high table, but even the lesser tables had platters of roast and boiled meat and fowl, as well as bread, cheeses, and assorted root vegetables and greens, though the latter were scant at this season, when winter's stores were depleted and the new crops barely sown in the fields.
He ate leisurely, observing the bustle of the household around him. The tables were mostly empty when Faramir came in, the firmness of his stride belied by the hand that ran worriedly through his dark hair. Clearly no one had told him that the wizard had arrived, for he walked past the lower tables without speaking. Mithrandir watched him seat himself at the end of the high table and choose his meal from what was left on the platters, rather than calling for something fresh and hot.
He is his father's son in that. I doubt Denethor ever cares what is set before him, though he bids his servants prepare that which is proper to his estate.
Pushing his bench back from the table, Mithrandir made his way up to the end of the hall and stood near Faramir until his presence made the young man look, then leap up. Faramir's face split into a grin that made him look much younger than his twenty years.
"Mithrandir! When did you arrive, my old friend?"
"Less than two hours ago," said Mithrandir, returning Faramir's enthusiastic embrace with somewhat more dignity. "I once again require to consult the records of Gondor, and to speak to the Steward, so here I am."
"It is good to see you. Here, sit by me. Have a glass of wine and tell me of your travels. I have been trying to keep up with my study of Quenya, but I find it difficult alone." Faramir glanced along the table and spotted a clean glass, which he brought for Mithrandir. "Where did you go? What adventures did you have?"
The storyteller in Mithrandir urged him to respond at length, but he did not think this the best time or place. "Later," he said. "You tell me first – how fare yourself and your family, the city and the kingdom?"
Faramir fit his reply in around quick bites. The speed with which his heaped plate was emptied would have astonished the wizard, had he not many times seen much smaller bodies consume with even greater gusto.
"You probably know the kingdom as well as I; oh, I hear both rumor and report, of course, but I have not been out of Minas Tirith, except to the river docks, since the autumn before last. Our borders to the east are hard-pressed, but that is no different from ever. Rohan is under pressure too; I think it was the same year as your last brief visit that the lord Éomund of Rohan was slain by Orcs on the Emyn Muil. In much of the rest of Gondor all has been well enough, though in the west the harvest was not good." Faramir frowned. "There's always a certain amount of small troubles, sheep-stealing, banditry, and the like, and that seems to have been greater these past few years; not that I remember for myself, but so I hear from Duinhir of Morthond and others of the lords that it is so."
He stretched to reach the platter of sliced meats, and Mithrandir obligingly pushed it closer to him.
"Thank you," Faramir said, spearing several more pieces with his knife and transferring them to his plate. "Now, in the city we have not had an increase in crime, though I would attribute that as much to the watchfulness of the guard as anything else."
"I understand that you are now in command of the city watch?" said Mithrandir.
"Yes." Faramir's face colored. "Boromir is Captain of the White Tower, of course."
Mithrandir understood without any need for further explanation. The Steward's Heir traditionally commanded the White Guard – an honorary company, whose primary duty was to guard the ruler, it harked back to the days of the kings. They were also the last defense of the city. Though their usual duties were ceremonial, their training was strict. Although Boromir spent most of his time on the eastern borders, he retained his title as their captain, even if effective control devolved to his official second-in-command – who was not, evidently, his brother. It did not surprise Mithrandir that Faramir's part was to supervise the far more quotidian, and far less prestigious, city guard. To himself, he considered it a good duty for the lad; Faramir knew much of the theory of rule, through his studies, but needed to learn something of its practice. Whatever the future might hold for the sons of Denethor, he felt sure that an ability to organize and command would serve Faramir well, and he said as much.
"That's what Boromir told me, too," Faramir said, "but I wish that I had a chance to serve with one of the fighting units, as he did well before he had reached my age."
"This serves your people as well," said Mithrandir. And I wonder if you really wish to fight.
"Oh, I know that," said Faramir, now looking at least as much older than his years as he had looked younger before. "Rest assured, Mithrandir, I do not forget my responsibilities to my lord and my people." He swallowed the last bite of mutton and shoved his plate away. "Of which I have a pleasant one to carry out at the moment. Since my father is not yet informed of your presence, may I offer in his stead to direct rooms to be prepared for you? There are several empty apartments on the walls, I know, though perhaps not those as you have had before."
"I should be delighted. Do you know when your father might be available, Faramir? Your hospitality is generous, but I do need to speak with the Steward himself and ask his permission to search through his records once again."
"The Lord Steward has not made known to me his plans for this day," began Faramir formally, then dropped back into his usual tones. "But I would expect him to come back within an hour, two at most. He used to at least stop for the evening meal, though sometimes he had to return again later, but now he claims that he has not the time to waste. And he goes back to the White Tower almost every night. I often see lights flickering from his window until the middle night. But as I say, he should be here for a time first."
"Good. I would like to begin my studies tomorrow, if possible, for I too have no time to waste," said Mithrandir.
"I'll send to have your rooms readied, but in the meantime, come up to the family quarters; Father will be most likely to come there, since it's now well past mealtime," Faramir offered.
Walking up the stairs behind Faramir, Mithrandir considered the changes that the past three years had wrought. The lad was taller, if perhaps not yet to his full man-height, and had put on some muscle – closer to man than boy. Not the strong build of Boromir, but he would make a passable warrior, if that should be his destiny. Mithrandir hoped not. Faramir's quick intellect might make him a good tactician and strategist on the field, but it would be wasted there, compared with what he might do in the larger arenas of political maneuvering. Oh, he was his father's true child, in more ways than one.
"Will you be here long?" inquired Faramir, when he had given his guest a glass of wine, gleaming blood-red in the crystal. "Your last visit was far too brief. I should very much like to learn again from you, if you are willing, as I did seven years ago, when you first taught me some Quenya."
"I do not know how long I will stay," said Mithrandir. He started to pull his pipe from its pouch, then reconsidered. Denethor was not fond of the aroma of pipeweed, and he could have an evening smoke later in his own quarters. "There are matters beyond Gondor that I must attend to, as well." He spared a fleeting thought for the Hobbit, Frodo Baggins, back in the Shire, now master of Bag End and heir to all his cousin had had – books, furniture, and a plain gold ring. The ring worried him. It might be one of the lesser Elf-rings; he hoped to find out, here, if he could. Galadriel in Lothlórien might also know something, since she had been close to Celebrimbor, maker of many such rings. "But I imagine I could spare a few evenings to you, at least, if you have time then."
"Most evenings I do, although part of my duties include checking on the night-watchmen; not every night, however. And once a week I spend an evening with Beleg the smith. I spent the best part of a year learning smithcraft from him, just the rudiments but enough to be able to shoe a horse or mend a sword at need. He's old now, but a good man, and I like to visit with his family," said Faramir.
Mithrandir saw a flush of red on Faramir's cheek, and guessed, "And he has a pretty daughter or granddaughter, does he not?"
"You have found me out," said Faramir, ducking his head but smiling. "Yes, he does. But I would not take advantage of Níniel, you know. I simply enjoy being with them, where I can forget some of my responsibilities just for a while."
"As we all must, from time to time; as long as we return to them willingly." Mithrandir sipped his wine.
"I still spend a few hours with Master Golasgil each week as well. There is always more to learn of Gondor's past. But that I do in the mornings," said Faramir, and stretched out his legs. "Along with sword-practice. You can guess which I prefer, I imagine, but it is all necessary."
"In these times, it is indeed," Mithrandir said.
They sat for a time in comfortable silence, waiting for the Steward to appear. Mithrandir was nearly ready to give the man up for the night, and hope to see him in the early morning, when the heavy door swung open and Denethor stepped into the room.
His hair was still dark, his face had few lines, but for all that he had the bearing of a man older than his years, weighed by some burden not visible to the eye. Perhaps it is only the cares of his Stewardship. Perhaps. Mithrandir rose and greeted Denethor with a phrase of formal respect.
"Yes, Mithrandir, I heard you had come. Thank you, Faramir, I will not need you further tonight," Denethor dismissed his son. "What is it you want of me now, wizard? For you are ever readier to seek aid than give it."
Mithrandir held onto his patience. "Merely to look through your records again, Lord Denethor, as I have done before."
"Indeed." Denethor fixed him with a cold eye. "Your colleague Curunir has spent much time in my libraries as well. What can be the attraction of Gondor's history to such as yourselves?"
"Would you have us look to Rohan for ancient lore?" Mithrandir's voice was light. "To the lost north-kingdoms? Gondor, my lord, is the sole repository for such things; the Elves have their own histories, but they reck little of your people."
"True. Well, I suppose if you must, you must. Let it not be said that Denethor of the line of Mardil hindered any who wished to learn more of this land. But confine yourself to that, to the archive and these halls. I do not want to hear that you have been spreading miscontent or doubts among my people," said Denethor.
"I would never deliberately do so," Mithrandir said quietly, "but if you wish, I will keep to the Citadel while I am here."
"That would be my wish," said Denethor. "I am told that my son has ordered quarters to be readied for you. They are yours as long as you stay, and you shall dine in my hall." He rose. "The hour is late, and I have much yet to do this night."
Recognizing his dismissal, Mithrandir thanked the Steward for his hospitality, and made his way downstairs towards the Great Hall, where he was sure he could find someone to ask where he was to be lodged. Faramir met him at the foot of the stairs. "Well?"
"I have permission to use the records," said Mithrandir, "but I am to limit myself to the boundaries of the Citadel while I remain in the city."
"That is without doubt the most ri-," Faramir cut himself short. "Father always has reasons for what he does, but I cannot imagine what he is thinking this time. Perhaps he will be in a more gracious mood tomorrow."
"It is to be hoped, but it does not really matter. I will be able to carry out my task here. Now, Faramir, if you would be so good as to show me where I am to sleep, I would be very thankful."
"You are to have one of the apartments on the wall, overlooking the rest of the city. There is even a balcony with a chair where you can sit and smoke to your heart's content," said Faramir.
"Ah, you know my habits all too well," said the wizard. "Would you care to join me?"
"Not tonight, I'm afraid. It is one of my nights to inspect. Perhaps tomorrow?"
"Well enough," said Mithrandir. "Is Master Ulbar still the archivist, by the way?"
"He certainly is. I do not think he will ever give it up; he will wither away in there until they carry him out like a dried-up beetle," said Faramir. "He will be as delighted to see you as I am." Shyly, he embraced Mithrandir. "Until tomorrow."
Mithrandir looked after him as he strode away, then made his way out to the promised balcony. He sat down heavily in the chair and tamped weed into his pipe, sending a thin stream of smoke gusting from his lips, in no mood to play at smoke-rings as he so often had done. There may be more to be done here in Minas Tirith than I had thought.
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.