2. Faramir Decides
"Yes, what is it?" Denethor pulled a leaf of parchment across the polished surface of the table, glanced over it, and set it on the stack of items approved. "You are early to bring your report, Faramir."
"Indeed, sir." Faramir bowed. He had learned early that when he dealt with Denethor as liege to Steward, it was best to be formal and not presume on the ties of kinship. "I wished to ask something of you as well, after telling you how matters stand in the city."
"Go on," said Denethor, and Faramir launched into his account, listing the numbers of miscreants apprehended – mostly petty thieves, or traders accused of misrepresenting their goods, but there was a case of attempted rape in the fourth level of the city as well. One man had been drunk on watch four nights previously, and had been reprimanded and fined; his partner had been fined a lesser amount for having failed to report the matter. Faramir passed the written report over to the Steward for his seal; it would then be sent down to Master Ulbar and filed appropriately in the archives under the old King's House.
"And what did you want to ask of me?"
Faramir kept his expression carefully neutral. "I wished to ask if I might study with the wizard Mithrandir, sir, as you permitted me to do some years ago."
Denethor raised his eyebrows. "Study with Mithrandir? I think your time would be better spent in other ways. If you wish to study with a wizard, Curunir would be the one I would recommend."
"Curunir?" said Faramir blankly. "Why, sir?"
"He understands power and the necessities of governance," said Denethor. "He could teach you far more that would be of use to you than that wandering fool Mithrandir. Why, he has no real home, he merely wanders from place to place, sponging off others' hospitality for his livelihood.
"Now, Curunir not only understands power, he has it, and uses it. I was only a stripling at the time, but I remember hearing from my grandfather Turgon how Curunir led the assault on Dol Guldur, and thrust the Necromancer out of that stronghold. Curunir has held the keys to Orthanc since the time of the nineteenth steward and often both consulted and aided the rulers of this land. You would be far better advised to seek his instruction and counsel than that of the wanderer Mithrandir."
Faramir listened to his father's speech with a dismay that he concealed. He had met the white wizard more than once, most recently some eighteen months before when Curunir had visited Minas Tirith briefly. The wizard had never been more than coolly polite to the Steward's younger son; certainly he had not the personal interest that Mithrandir had expressed. In Faramir's mind, too, though Curunir might indeed have power of his own sort, all he did was sit in Orthanc, whereas Mithrandir in his wanderings had his finger on the pulse of the people, and what they thought and did.
"I understand your point, sir, but Curunir has never appeared to be interested in teaching others," Faramir began, "whereas Mithrandir is, and is here now and prepared to do so. Would it not be sensible to take advantage of that?"
"If I were certain that he would not cozen you into disloyalty – oh, don't protest to me that you would not do anything disloyal, you do not know his ways as I do. You are not aware as I am, from Curunir and from elsewhere, of whither Mithrandir goes when he is not in Gondor and to whom he speaks. No. I forbid you to study with him. Indeed I do not wish you to even speak to him except as courtesy demands; were he not who he is I would ban him from the city, but as it is I must tolerate his presence," Denethor said in flat tones.
Denethor cut off his son's protest with a sweeping gesture. "No, I said. You see? Already you are showing greater respect to this vagabond than to your own lord and father. Do I need to make myself plainer?"
Faramir had turned white at the accusation that he would be disloyal to the Steward. Now he shook his head mutely and bowed his head.
"Very well, then. Be off about your duties, and allow me to tend to mine." Denethor gave a curt nod and returned his attention to the stack of documents before him.
Closing the door of the Steward's chamber behind him, Faramir repressed a grimace. It would not do to let his father's secretary Malbeth know of the discord between them. That man gossiped worse than any alewife. He had often wondered why the Steward kept Malbeth in a position of such responsibility; he had to presume that Malbeth must report all the news of the city to Denethor and yet keep sensitive matters away from common ears. So he forced a cheerful smile and walked out of the White Tower with a purposeful stride, but once in the open air his pace slowed and his smile faded.
Forbidden to study with Mithrandir? Not even to speak with him unless I must do so in courtesy, as for any guest? Father has never been a foolish man, but this is uncalled-for. What can he be thinking?
The question gnawed at him for the rest of the day, even as he went through his usual routines. Meeting with the Steward meant only an hour or so that he could spend with Master Golasgil, and then there was the necessary sword-training which he practiced with the White Guard under the eye of Swordmaster Hallas. A hasty bite when the sun was high, and then the tedious task of assigning the new watch-lists for the city guard. Faramir stretched when he rose to go to dinner in the Hall, shaking the cramp out of ink-stained fingers and hearing the muscles of his back creak in protest at the change to motion from inactivity.
He caught Mithrandir's eye as he entered the great room, and shook his head slightly to indicate that he could not talk just then. It would insult him if I told him that the Steward has forbidden me to learn from him. And I do wish to learn, he thought rebelliously. What harm can it possibly do? My father thinks Mithrandir would persuade me to forget my loyalty to my lord and to Gondor, but he is wrong. My oath to my brother, seven years ago, bids me to learn all that I can, however I can, in order to serve him to the best of my ability. That must take precedence over all else, even the command of the Steward, must it not? Or do I merely search for ways to justify my own desire? I wish Boromir were here, so that I might ask his advice, but he is not. I must make this decision myself.
He rose reflexively for the Standing Silence with the rest, his thoughts whirling. The food on his plate disappeared without his tasting it, and he responded to the conversation around him automatically, having heard it with only a small part of his attention.
If I go to Mithrandir, I cannot tell him that Denethor has given permission, for that would be to lie. I can choose to disobey, but I should not ask the wizard to; and besides, he might then refuse, and I could not bear that. If I am careful, my father will never know to be angry at my failure to comply with his orders. But what if he does learn of it? I will simply have to convince him that he was wrong in his decision, that my studying with Mithrandir was for the good of Gondor and in no way disloyal. Surely he will see reason once the thing is done.
Faramir made up his mind. After the meal was over, he slipped through the shadows of the early spring evening to the rooms he had assigned to Mithrandir, and knocked at the door.
"Come in," he heard the wizard call.
As he entered he could smell the scent of Mithrandir's pipe from the balcony, the fragrant smoke wafting in through the open doors.
"It's a delightful evening," Mithrandir said without turning around. "I would offer you a pipeful, but you do not smoke, do you, Faramir?"
"I never have, but I will try it, if you have a spare pipe I might use," Faramir responded. He listened carefully to Mithrandir's explanation of how to fill the bowl properly and light the tamped-down weed with a taper, but coughed mightily as he sucked in the first lungful of smoke.
"How can you do this?" he choked out, his eyes watering so that everything appeared through a red mist. He tried again, more cautiously.
"Years of practice, my lad," said Mithrandir, propping his feet against the balcony rail. "Don't try to inhale the whole of it at once. Let a little fresh air in too."
Faramir puffed again. "I suppose it's all right, but goodness, whoever first thought of doing this?"
"Ah, a small folk who dwell in Eriador. I believe I mentioned them to you once before; the Periannath, they are called. They have been smoking this particular weed for several centuries now, according to their own lore and legends." Mithrandir smiled into his beard, and Faramir wondered if perhaps the wizard had not instigated the idea; but when he inquired, the wizard denied it.
"No, the plant came first from Númenor, and has flourished here in Gondor in the wild since your folk came hence – you may know it as sweet galenas. I am no herbalist and I had nothing to do with its spread into the north as a garden plant, nor did I suggest this use for it to anyone. The Periannath invented that all on their own, though I confess to acquiring the habit soon thereafter, and to having shared it with more than one young man since," Mithrandir said. "But you did not come here to hear me discourse on pipe-weed, I think?"
Faramir shook his head, saying, "No, I wished to ask again if you would be willing to teach me, perhaps every other evening or so, for an hour or three?" He looked through the railing rather than meet Mithrandir's too-penetrating gaze.
"Can you find the time?" the wizard asked. "It will not interfere with your other responsibilities, given by the Steward?"
"I will spend no time with you that I cannot spare from my duties," said Faramir, now looking directly back. He caught a flicker of doubt in Mithrandir's expression.
"If you are certain," said Mithrandir. "Every other evening, you said? Since I am not to leave the Citadel and go roaming about the city, I am likely to be about whenever you choose. Though I might look up Master Ulbar on occasion, if I can pry him away from his beloved scrolls. I don't expect to see much of him during the days, he is far too busy."
"Wonderful," said Faramir, relieved. "I was hoping that you might be willing to work with me on my Quenya; I have found it difficult to make much progress on my own, and languages are not Master Golasgil's strong point. And if there is anything more you can tell me about the lands outside Gondor – the Elvish realms, for instance – I would love to learn all I could of those from someone who has been there, and recently. Few of our histories say much of what lies beyond the southlands, with perhaps a little of Rohan, since the fall of the northern kingdoms."
"And what do you propose to do with such knowledge? Your brother will be the next Steward, not you."
Faramir hesitated. Mithrandir had learned seven years before that the sons of Denethor had agreed that while Boromir might be the ruling Steward, Faramir would be his right hand and advisor. So much was only to be expected. But none except Faramir and Boromir themselves knew that they had gone so far as to take oath on it; and the brothers had agreed that it was to be kept secret.
"Oh, well, when Boromir is Steward I shall have to find something to occupy my time, shall I not?" he said lightly, though this second deception of the wizard weighed on him. I wish I did not have to keep silent, but it must be done. "Better to turn to dusty manuscripts than to kick my heels hoping for a fight."
"That would depend on the fight," said the wizard gravely. "Stopping needless disputes is always worth doing. But if you mean hoping for an attack by Gondor's enemies, then I must agree with you. Battle is never something one should hope for, not when other alternatives are possible." He scratched at one white-haired cheek. "Of course, sometimes the alternatives may be worse. But we can speak of that another time. After conferring with Master Ulbar and hearing what he has squirreled away in some of his cupboards, I think I shall be here for several months. Unless the Steward changes his mind and demands that I leave before then, that is," he concluded with a wry smile. "I confess myself surprised that he was willing to permit you to study with me, given that he considers me one likely to provoke discontent among the good people of this city."
"He did say that he felt my time could be spent better," said Faramir. Which is true, it is simply not the whole of what he said.
"Well, as long as he agreed in the end, no matter." Mithrandir relit his pipe and drew on it in evident pleasure. "I'll expect to see you two nights from now, then. Bring whatever bit of Quenya you've been working on and we'll begin with that, shall we?"
"All right." Faramir set down his borrowed pipe with a certain relief. He had not wholly disliked it, but was glad that Mithrandir had suggested he take a second pipeful. "Rest well, Mithrandir. I hope your researches are fruitful."
"Thank you, Faramir. Leave the balcony door open when you go, if you will."
Faramir left the wizard's rooms as quietly as he had come, keeping to the shadow of the walls until he was close to the great bronze doors into the Steward's House. Nodding to the doorkeeper, he headed up to his own chambers on the third floor. He had no fear that Denethor would see him; he had seen light flickering at the top of the White Tower, a sure indication that the Steward was still working at this hour. It occurred to Faramir that Denethor only seemed to work in the topmost chambers at night; their meeting that morning had been in the usual room, which was on the first floor above the courtyard. He supposed that was because many of the Steward's visitors would be unwilling or unable to climb the many flights of stairs to the top.
Kicking off his shoes, Faramir took up the candlestick from the table and lighted it from the sconce in the corridor before shutting the door to his room. He took a handful of raisins from the bowl that he kept on the table – it was too far to run down to the kitchens every time he needed a bite to eat – and ate them one by one, mulling over what he had done that day.
I don't think I've ever deliberately disobeyed Father like that before. Done foolish things that I knew, or should have known, he would disapprove of, yes. He remembered with embarrassment a certain day when he had followed Boromir and some other older boys up into the mountains without permission, only to fall and knock himself senseless. He had had to be carried back to Minas Tirith, and his father had given the ultimate criticism – that he had acted dishonorably. But he had not before then forbidden me. This time I cannot claim in any way that I thought it would be acceptable; Father left me in no doubt of his decision. But it was a wrong decision, and I cannot abide by it. I will not. Whatever the consequences may be, I must do as my conscience bids, and I feel that to serve myself and my brother best, to serve Gondor best, I must learn from Mithrandir whatever he can teach.
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