Steward and the King, The
2. The Road South
The many days of walking began. The company set out in darkness and continued by night for five days until far enough from Rivendell, and then they walked carefully during the bright or hazy daylight of deepening winter. Most of the talk as they walked was telling stories of different lands, of friends left behind. In the evenings as they rested more serious questions would be raised.
Ten days from Rivendell, they were approaching the ancient land of Hollin. The day’s clouds were being blown away at evening. Faramir sat with Aragorn, and he spoke of Rohan. He had described at Rivendell how he paused three days with Theoden, in council bringing letters from Denethor. Sensitive news which -- through Wormtongue -- might have gone to Saruman, and perhaps now was on the way to Sauron.
Aragorn shared Faramir’s concern, but there was an oddness to how the younger man spoke. “You have silences, Son of Denethor. Is there something you fear?” Faramir remained reluctant. “If you see a danger, we should speak of it,” Aragorn prompted in a gentle voice.
“I do have a fear. I fear for my lady.” There was a flush in his voice. “She lives in the Golden Hall. Her name is Eowyn, sister-daughter to King Theoden, and she has my heart. Saruman’s treachery is hard news. They are in great danger.”
“Our path is taking us back to whom you worry for.”
“You must think me mad, to declare I know my heart and hers,” Faramir spoke in a rush. “I was with her so short a time, and it was only when she bade me ‘farewell’ when we were out of sight of others that I told her my feelings. I saw her pain, wished her strength. Oh, she has strength, indeed, that she could keep herself free and unyielding when others would have surrendered.”
“Many are the tales that describe such sudden truths.”
“Thank you,” he replied, relieved. “I promised to return and help her set matters right. I only kissed her once, on our parting ... and then she kissed me.” Aragorn’s response was a soft chuckle that was not at all teasing.
There was a thoughtful silence. Faramir considered the merriment with which his brother, Boromir, would likely answer his confession, especially if he told it in such a shy manner. Aragorn’s sympathy seemed something more than politeness from a stranger. So Faramir hazarded a guess. “And you, Aragorn, do you have a lady?”
“Yes,” Aragorn said at length, looking upwards. The word had been spoken with the barest whisper. He did not explain, but let the silence lengthen.
Faramir looked also at the bright stars, thinking back. He had not named her. Did that mean he knew her? But in Imladris he had seen no women but elves. His breath caught. “You -- ” he began. He held back the words. It was too dire to say.
But Aragorn kept his silence, melancholy at his separation and the dangers to come.
Faramir knew enough to solve the riddle, then. That meant only one possibility. He had seen them speaking in the hall. “Arwen?”
“Yes.” Aragorn seemed pleased Faramir had solved the riddle, his voice friendly and less of a whisper. “Our intentions are well known among my people and hers, but it is not spoken of. There are ... obstacles.”
The next day the sun shone bright, and the company was soon walking. Legolas was at the head of the line, choosing the path. Aragorn walked at the end with the pony, Bill, and Faramir was beside him.
In the mid-morning, mind full of the prior evening’s talk, Faramir again spoke of his worry for Rohan. “Wormtongue has become strong, and Saruman’s evil is close. How are you so sure you can break the spell?”
“Theoden knows me and will hear,” Aragorn smiled as if pleased of the memory. “The Mark well remembers Thorongil.”
On the second step forward Faramir stumbled. Aragorn caught his elbow, began to speak his name, but Faramir pulled away and after a look that was both angry and frightened he sprang forward, walking double time up the column of walkers to second place next to Gandalf. Legolas glanced back to see if a message was being sent forward then continued as he was. At the end of the line Aragorn also continued as he had been, but he kept his eyes mostly on the younger man, hoping his mistake was not irreparable. They had shared deep secrets the night before and his heart told him they should trust each other totally, but that did not yet mean he could be careless with his words. Mouth set, he paced.
Faramir’s footsteps were less secure. He was trained as a leader of warriors to keep his mind ordered, alert and ready, set on the task before him lest his life or the lives he had in his care be jeopardized by fear or panic. Unfortunately, it was a bright day, the mountains beautiful, the dangers that had sent him on this task far removed from him. There was no task he could take up in distraction, not tending a fire nor mending travel torn clothing. There was only walking ever on. And his mind whirled.
He walked beside Gandalf, silent except for the sound of his breathing.
“What?” the wizard, at last, asked quietly.
The question unleashed a torrent of words. “I have walked into legend and thought well of myself to not be called the child that I am. I have entered Imladris and spoken with its lord: Elrond, brother of Elros, who began Numenor, forefather of he who founded Gondor. I have seen the sword of Elendil -- Elendil! -- reforged and even touched it. That should have been the largest wonder. But this -- ”
Gandalf continued to wait.
Faramir returned the look then turned forward carefully watching the path that he not misstep. His breathing was uneven, yet the ground was not so rough here as to cause exertion. “He is Thorongil,” he said at last.
Gandalf pondered that long. “You have been talking of heavy matters.”
Faramir still watched the path for several paces. “I have been worried ... and so spoke my mind.”
“There is much in the free lands to be worried about.”
“And then he, perhaps incautiously ... there are matters I should have remembered that I did not yet think on!” He paced on, searching his memory and searching for words. “My father Denethor has a strong sword-arm, though his hair has lost its color.” When he spoke the name his face softened briefly in loving memory. “Were some foolish man or creature to raise a blade against him, he could still defend himself and those he would protect. But what Aragorn, the halflings, described of the wraith attacks on Amon Sur, at the Ford -- all these days of walking and sleeping in the open air -- my father could not hope to equal.”
He swallowed, coming to the core of his distress. “When Thorongil made his legend in Gondor, Ecthelion still ruled and I was not yet born. Aragorn must be my father’s age at the least.”
“He is older than he looks.”
Faramir choked a laugh, still reeling.
Gandalf spoke gently, “If the word of Elrond was not proof enough, so he shows that the blood of Numenor runs true in him. He is Isildur’s heir.”
Faramir thought back at how his dream leapt in his heart when he first saw an unknown man in a hall of the Eldar, grimly dressed but not out of place. “I know that in my heart. My father knew also, but he refused? Where is his honor? What of his oath? He swore it, until the return of the King, and he had already met him, knew him?”
Gandalf frowned; these were heavy matters indeed. He chose his next words carefully. “Forty years ago. You are certain of this, that your father must have known Thorongil’s true nature which he hid by using an assumed name? Would not your father have asked, ‘Where is the proof?’”
“Here,” Faramir put a hand on his heart and his voice broke in confusion. “I know. We are Stewards. I am a younger son, he was Heir and soon to rule when his heart hardened against Thorongil. If the Oath sang in my heart on first sight it should have been stronger yet for my father.”
“Perhaps, perhaps not. Of the Steward and his sons, only you dreamed the prophecy.”
Faramir looked away, trying to keep the pain he felt from showing on his face. “Gondor has diminished these many years so close to the shadow. Yet we remain proud of our history. Many are the times that one man or another will at meal or before the fire tell a tale of past days to strengthen our purpose in darker times. Aragorn spoke true: the name of Thorongil is well remembered in Rohan. In Minas Tirith it is only whispered.”
“You should be speaking with Aragorn of this, not me.”
The passion in Faramir’s voice drained out, and his words wandered. “When I was young I remember old men speaking -- men now dead -- comparing the strength of Gondor before and after Thorongil came and they were angry at my father that he treated Thorongil as enemy and caused him to leave before sent, and the city was now less safe and for this cause they moved their families out and south and west. They did not know I was anywhere close to hear their complaints, nor did they know who I was. One of these men died of age two summers ago. His daughter came back as the wife of ... I can’t remember his name. He was patrolling in Ithilien.” The words finally ended and Faramir walked long in silence, troubled at his display.
“Am I the youngest of this company?” he asked suddenly, attempting to lift the mood.
Gandalf laughed. “You would have been, if Elrond had convinced Pippin to return to the Shire.”
“Shall we line ourselves up at the dinner table?” Gandalf continued. “Pippin shall sit first, the youngest, and Legolas last. Frodo is the middle at fifty. Take heart! I think Meriadoc is but a single year your elder, and you, he and Sam should be grouped together. I do not know Gimli’s age, nor do I think he would tell me, so I cannot place him in relation to Aragorn or Bilbo.”
“And yourself? You are not before Legolas?”
“I am as I arrived on these shores, many hundreds of years, but within this age.”
“You are not going to tell me.”
“Did you realize Bilbo may have seen Aragorn as a child in Rivendell when he passed through on the way to his adventure in Erebor? He has no memory of it. Aragorn was ten at the time, and called Estel. He remembers looking at Bilbo and the dwarves, but he asked no questions.”
“He has many names.”
At the mid-day meal Aragorn approached Faramir, and Faramir, in the bright sunlight, waved away the older man's concern. “You surprised me,” he assured. But he was silent and sat apart that evening. Even so, he answered Aragorn’s greeting when he approached and sat beside him.
Eventually, Faramir spoke, unshed tears in his voice. “I know the story, the histories. Elendil died. His two sons, born in Numenor. Isildur founded Arnor; Anarion, Gondor. The jewel of Gondor was Osgiliath. I have walked its ruins. Elrond could have seen it in its glory, if he had not removed himself from affairs of men in his disappointment. We now try to make that right. Those who caused the ruin of Osgiliath were not the enemy, but ourselves, in civil war, when the succession was disputed -- ”
“Faramir -- ”
“What are we to do? My blood wars with itself. Denethor will refuse you; Boromir will stand with him. I fear this. What am I to do?”
“We have a long road yet to travel. I said it at the Council: I will not make any claim until Sauron is defeated.”
“My family is lost to me.” Faramir covered his face, no longer wanting company. “I did not want to learn this of my father, I did not.”
Faramir spent the next day walking alone in the line, and the day after with Pippin. Then, as before, he walked and ate sometimes with one and sometimes another. He listened again to Gimli, Legolas and the hobbits speak of their peoples. He asked Aragorn to tell him of the Northmen and his family; he answered Aragorn’s questions about Denethor, Boromir, Gondor and Rohan, for Aragorn’s recent travel had been on the edges while Faramir had been in the centers of power.
But they could not stay on their path, once the crebain showed the land was watched, and they turned East at the pass of Caradhras.
== end chapter ==
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.