My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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Good Man is Hard to Find, A: 3. The Steward's Watch
Faramir paced along the battlements of the White Tower, looking out over the city. He had never thought he would follow in his father's footsteps, had never wanted to, yet here he was, ruling as Steward of Gondor. He would have much preferred to be back in Ithilien, hunting with his own nearly grown sons. He'd never cared much for city life, had always longed for the woods and wild places. He was a Ranger at heart, and always would be.
Though he'd never been particularly interested in politics or statecraft, he was a scholar and he knew enough about Gondor's history to recognize the terrible crisis which now threatened his country. King Elessar's absence left his realm in a precarious position, and any misstep now could result in disaster. Faramir was not naïve enough to believe that the peace which Gondor had enjoyed since the defeat of her Nameless Foe was unshakeable. There were still evil men in distant lands who would rise against them if they saw the opportunity, and there were still evil things lurking here and there in the dark places of Middle Earth who would readily join forces with Gondor's enemies. But what Faramir feared more than this was the threat of civil war.
He remembered that dynastic strife and civil war had helped to extinguish the line of Anarion, leaving Mardil, and his descendents after him, to hold the office of Ruling Steward. If he could be certain that Aragorn was coming back, his responsibility would be clear. He would need only to manage the kingdom until the King's return and then surrender his authority.
But what if the King did not return? What if he were dead, or had decided to abdicate the throne? In that case, he, Faramir, could easily be taken for a usurper unless he made a move to establish a clear line of succession from Elessar to Eldarion. If Elessar wasn't going to return, Faramir had to crown Eldarion King of Gondor. His people needed a King. They had been subjected to the custody of Stewards for generations, and then for a brief season, their dearest hopes had been fulfilled. There was again a King in Gondor. To have that hope dashed away would be a crushing blow to the spirit of his people. He had to assure them that the days of the King were here to stay, that the scepter would pass from father to son, as it ought to do.
Eldarion was a mere boy, nearly three years younger than even Faramir's youngest son. He could not rule the country alone, but if he were the anointed king, Faramir's role would be clear. He would be a Steward-Regent, an advisor and aid to the young King, and not a Ruling Steward. He would not be a power hungry usurper, who was unwilling to bow the knee to his true lord. He would not be like his father.
Faramir's musings were interrupted by the arrival of Bergil, son of Beregond, the young man whom he had dispatched as leader of the search for King Elessar. Beregond, his father, was Faramir's most faithful vassal, the captain of his White Guard, and one who had risked everything to save Faramir's life. He had entrusted to Beregond the management of his own estates and the supervision of his sons while he and Eowyn were in Minas Tirith. Beregond's son, Bergil, had already proved himself to be equally loyal, a young man of intelligence and ability. He expected to entrust him with increasing responsibilities in days to come.
"My Lord Steward," the young man said, bowing.
"Bergil, I'm glad to see you've returned. What news?"
"Alas, there is little to report, my Lord. We searched all the lands between the Ered Nimrais and the Great River Anduin. We found no trace of the King."
Faramir's face fell.
"I'm sorry I have no better news to report, my Lord."
"Yes, so am I," said Faramir, "finding the King would make my job far easier, but he seems to have disappeared without a trace."
"It is most strange."
"Very well, Bergil, you may go." The young man bowed deeply and departed.
Faramir sighed to himself. If only there were a way to know the King's mind. He wished he could see him and know for certain whether he were dead, or being held captive, whether he intended to abdicate the throne or to return.
Suddenly he realized there might just be a way, though his heart quailed at the thought of it. He could attempt to use the Anor stone, Denethor's palantir. He knew he might be taking a terrible risk. It was by means of this stone that the Nameless One had ensnared his father, deceiving him and dragging him down to madness and despair. Faramir did not believe there were any more dark powers lurking in Middle Earth who would seek to manipulate the minds of men through the seeing stones. But he couldn't be absolutely certain. Not all seven of the palantiri had been accounted for.
He was aware of only two that remained. The Orthanc stone which had once belonged to Sauruman was now the property of the King since he had wrested control of it away from the Nameless One. Faramir shuddered at the thought of that ordeal. The King had returned that stone to its original place at the tower of Orthanc.* The other was the palantir of Denethor.
The thought of trying to use it put Faramir's stomach in knots. Apart from the threat of an evil mind which might seek to seduce him, there was a more personal reason behind Faramir's reticence. He could never forget the time years ago when he had tried to look into Denethor's palantir. The horror of that vision made his blood run cold. Though he had exerted every ounce of his strength, he could not make the stone show him anything but flames. His father's aged hands devoured by the flames Denethor himself had ignited. The seared skin, the blackened flesh, and then finally the ash grey bones withering in flames. He shivered. He knew he had very narrowly escaped immolation on that same pyre. Yet it was not for himself but for Denethor that he had grieved when he looked into that stone. His father was immortalized forever in unquenchable fire.
That had been many years ago. Since that time, he had grown in both maturity and wisdom. He had tried to let go of the bitterness he had once harbored toward his father. He was a much stronger man now. Must he be haunted forever by the ghosts of the past? Could he summon the courage to try again, to bend the palantir to his will and then search the stone for the answers he needed? He could be taking a great risk. Yet, he was the Steward of Gondor. The fate of his country rested on his shoulders. He must at least try to find the King and to discern his will. His mind made up, he strode off quickly to find the stone.
Faramir's search had yielded what he sought. The palantir was exactly where he had expected it would be, where he had left it years ago, in the treasury along with the Crown of Gondor in its black cask, the scepter of Annuminas, and Anduril, the sword that was broken and now reforged.
"Odd that he didn't take his sword with him," Faramir mused.
The palantir was carefully wrapped in a covering of black cloth. He lifted a corner of the cloth to confirm that this was indeed what he sought, but he wouldn't try to use it here. Considering his past experience, he wanted to ensure that he would be undisturbed before attempting to look into the seeing stone.
Carefully, he rewrapped the stone, and left the treasury, locking the door behind him. He had carried the palantir to his private study, telling no one of what he planned to do.
Now he sat hunched over the desk where he'd spent so many hours as a young man studying the lore of wizards. He gazed intently into the ball, focusing his mind on it until it filled his field of vision.
At first the shapes and patterns were blurred and indistinct. Gradually the images came into sharper focus. Angry flames danced before his eyes. Tensing his jaw, Faramir pushed against the image.
With his thought, he reached out for something else, something familiar. Beads of sweat began to form on his brow as he commanded the stone with his mind. Ithilien. His sons. No sooner had he thought it than their figures appeared before him; three young men riding through the woods with falcons on their wrists. They were going hawking without him, he realized with a touch of envy.
His body relaxed and he took a deep breath. He had done it. He had bent the palantir to his will. Just as he began to feel confident in his ability to control the ball, he saw the image within it begin to change. A tongue of fire sprouted from a tree above his middle son's head, then another, and another. At first, he thought the woods of Ithilien were bursting into flame! As the fire roared up, engulfing his sons, and hiding them from his view he realized that he was no longer seeing Ithilien. Now he could see the shadow of his father's hands on either side of the ball. Denethor had risen up to haunt him again.
Faramir closed his eyes to shut out the horrible vision. He did not want to see that. He did not have to see that. For an instant, he had made the orb obey him. He was determined to make it obey him again.
The Steward took a deep, slow breath. With his eyes still closed, he tried to picture in his mind's eye the one for whom he sought. He envisioned King Elessar as he had first appeared to him, when he lay dying and delirious, overcome by the Black Breath of the Nazgul. He had appeared then as a great lord, clad in glittering mail and wrapped in a snow white cloak. A brilliant star shone on his brow, and a green elf-stone gleamed upon his breast. The fresh, reviving scent of Athelas hung about him. In one hand he wielded a sword of flame, brandishing it in defiance of the encroaching darkness. With the other hand he had reached out to him, calling his name again and again, "Faramir! Faramir, tolo dan nan galad."** Faramir had taken his extended hand, and the mighty lord had led him out of the blackness, out of the delusion. Though he had never before met him in waking life, Faramir had known him at once. He was the heir of Elendil. The King had returned.
Anchoring his mind on this image of his lord, Faramir summoned all his strength and opening his eyes, he commanded the palantir once more. Show me King Elessar. Instantly a vision appeared in the depths of the seeing stone.
He saw a tall man with his back turned to him. He was splitting wood with a small hatchet. The place where he was working was obviously high in the mountains, a small clearing surrounded by many tall trees. Faramir did not recognize the place.
Again and again, the man set a large piece of wood on a smooth rock in the midst of the clearing, raised his axe and drove it down, cleaving the wood into smaller, more portable pieces. He had laid aside his tunic, and sweat glistened on the muscles of his bare back. Could this be King Elessar?
No sooner had the doubt arisen in his mind, than flames began to encroach on the image. No. Not again. He would not allow this thing to overmaster him. Closing his eyes he again envisioned his rescuer as he had first appeared to him. "Show me King Elessar," he commanded.
The Steward opened his eyes to a restored vision of the man in the glade chopping wood. Faramir could not be certain of the man's identity. He was accustomed to seeing his King fully clothed, in regal attire befitting his rank. The man's height, build and coloring certainly matched the King's. Faramir studied the figure more closely.
He noticed a tracery of white lines, which marked the man's arms and torso. Battle scars. Whoever he was, the man had seen his share of action. Now he laid aside his axe, and began stacking his firewood. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he sat down and drank deeply from a water skin. Now Faramir had no doubt. This was indeed Elessar the King. This was his lord.
Here was a side of the King which Faramir had not seen before. He realized that he had always thought of his lord as a kind of almighty hero, immune to weariness, sorrow or pain. Now he saw that his King was an ordinary Man, like himself. A great Man, to be sure, but a Man, nonetheless.
The King looked about him contentedly. It was obvious from the expression on his face that he was intoxicated by the wilderness. He breathed in the mountain air like a rare perfume.
For the first time Faramir felt a deep kinship with Aragorn. The Steward had known his lord as a great warrior, a mighty and regal leader of men. Somehow he had nearly forgotten that Aragorn had spent long years as a Ranger, living alone in the wilds. His lord was a Ranger at heart, just as he was. They might have taken the King out of the wilderness but they could never take the wilderness out of the King.
Faramir was moved with sympathy for the plight of his sovereign. After having led his people to victory in the most horrific war they had ever known, he had worked tirelessly to rebuild, to ensure his country's continued security, to establish a lasting peace. But the war of the Ring had surely taken a toll on him. The scars on his body bore testimony that he had not escaped unscathed. Who could guess what scars he might bear on his soul? Many of the others who had led the fight against the Nameless One had already sought peace beyond the Western Sea. Not only the Elves, but the stout-hearted perian, Frodo Nine Fingers, who had carried the ring to Orodruin, and even the mighty wizard, Mithrandir had taken ship and found rest from their labors. But the King could not follow them. That way was barred to him.
Others might criticize the King for abandoning his responsibilities, but Faramir could empathize with his desire to seek rest in the wilds. What's more, it was not Faramir's place to judge his lord's conduct, but to carry out his will. The King's domestic problems were regrettable, but they were hardly Faramir's business. If the King's bed had grown cold and his home was no longer a refuge, could he be blamed for seeking rest in the solitude of the wilderness? After all he had endured, after all he had accomplished, why shouldn't he be allowed to retire from public life in peace?
Faramir owed King Elessar not only his fealty, but his very life. The King had called him forth from the torments of the shadow world as he lay dying. He would not repay that kindness by forcibly dragging his lord back from paradise.
As the King's Steward, it was Faramir's responsibility to act in the King's interest, to obey his orders and carry out his bidding. And now he knew without a doubt what his lord would want of him.
The King yawned and stretched his arms. Gathering his clothing into a bundle, he laid his head upon it, folded his hands on his chest, and closed his eyes. Faramir could not begrudge his lord the repose he sought. The king had stood watch over him and his people through their darkest hour, his Steward could surely stand guard awhile so that his lord might at last find rest. Eldarion was young, but in twenty years or less he would have achieved his full manhood and would be able to rule on his own.
"Sleep awhile, my lord," he thought to himself, "I will take the second watch."
The king's breathing slowed and his chest rose and fell in an even rhythm. Almost as if in response to his Steward's reassurance, the King had fallen asleep.
"Faramir!" a voice called to him from what seemed a great distance away. "Faramir, what are you doing?"
Disoriented, Faramir looked about him. He had been so captivated by the vision in the palantir that he hadn't heard Eowyn let herself in to the room. Her eyes were wide with alarm as she glanced from his face to the palantir in his hand. The fear reflected there told him that she had not forgotten his previous attempt to use Denethor's seeing stone, nor the weeks of black depression which had seized him afterward.
"It is all right. It did not overwhelm me. This time, I was able to beat back the flames," he said to reassure her.
"What in the world could possess you to look into that thing again?" asked Eowyn, her voice quavering.
Faramir reached out his hand and gently drew her to his side. Looking into her eyes he said, "I'm all right, Eowyn. Do not be troubled. I was using it to look for the King."
"Have you seen him?"
"Yes, I have. But, I wouldn't tell the Queen."
"Why not? She's been worried sick about him."
"Because I don't think he'll be coming back."
"O, my poor lady. That could very well kill her," said Eowyn.
"But she's an Elf. I thought they could only be slain by the sword."
"No, indeed. Though I have never seen such a case myself, it is well established in ancient lore that an Elf may be slain by grief."
"And you really think the Queen may be in such danger?" asked Faramir incredulously.
"All I know is this: despair preys upon abandoned women," she paused for a moment, weighing her words. "When he left me behind, I laid aside every vestige of my womanhood, and in the guise of a man, I rode out looking for death!"
"And instead, you found the Steward of Gondor," said Faramir, tenderly stroking her hair.
"Yes, and you made me glad to be alive, again," Eowyn said earnestly, "And for the first time in my life, glad to be a woman."
"How blessed I am to be the man who tamed the wild shield-maiden of Rohan!" Faramir exclaimed. Eowyn pulled away from him, a mischievous gleam in her eye.
"Who says I'm tame?"
Smiling, Faramir lunged for her, grasping her by the wrist. She gave a gleeful shriek as he pulled her into his lap, kissing her again and again with an intensity that took her breath away. A gentle knock abruptly banished the intimate mood. In an instant, Eowyn was on her feet, shaking her skirts into place, and smoothing her hair. Faramir had quickly hidden the palantir in the drawer of his desk.
"Come in," he said, shooting a nervous glance at Eowyn.
It was Queen Undomiel. Considering her appearance, Faramir found Eowyn's concerns for her health far more believable. She did not look well. Not well at all.
"I heard that Bergil and the search party had returned. I wondered if there was any news."
"Unfortunately not, my lady. They were unable to find any trace of the King." Arwen's face fell. Eowyn thought she might break into tears.
As she turned to leave, the Queen said, "You will inform me as soon as you hear any news of him, won't you?"
"Yes, of course, my lady. As soon as we hear any news," said Faramir. In his mind he was weighing whether or not he should tell the Queen of what he'd seen in the stone. He hastily decided that he shouldn't. It would only make matters worse.
As the door closed he turned to Eowyn. "I think perhaps you should encourage Queen Undomiel to make that trip to Rivendell, after all," he said.
"Nana, is Ada ever coming home?" Arwen's three year old daughter had voiced the fear which all of the older children had lacked the courage to speak aloud.
"I hope so, Idril." Though she knew this wasn't very comforting, Arwen didn't want to give her daughters false hope. It had been more than a month since Aragorn's disappearance, and still they had heard nothing.
"He doesn't love us anymore, does he?" asked Celbrian, who was eight.
"Your father will always love you."
"But what if he never comes back?" now that they were speaking openly about it, her quiet twin sister, Gilraen, wanted reassurance as well.
"Fathers never stop loving their daughters. Even when they are far away, even if they never see one another again," Arwen declared with firm conviction. This was not empty reassurance, this she knew from her own experience, and believed with all her heart.
Her daughters seemed to find comfort in this, at least for the moment. For Arwen herself, though, there was no such assurance. Though fathers might never stop loving their daughters, husbands did stop loving their wives.
Their father's absence had affected each of her children, but in different ways. Gilraen and Celebrian, who had been outgoing and vivacious, had become pensive and irritable. Idril cried at night and refused to be comforted. Though she knew she might regret it later, Arwen often took the child to bed with her, just to quiet her down.
While the girls had become more emotionally dependant on her, Eldarion had become withdrawn. This would have caused her greater concern if it hadn't been for Faramir. The Steward seemed to intuitively understand the boy's plight and had taken him under his wing, involving him in the day to day business of the kingdom as much as was possible. In place of his father, at least he had a compassionate and capable mentor. But Faramir's investment in Eldarion was motivated by more than sympathy, as she would soon learn.
The Steward requested an audience with her to discuss the current state of affairs. Eldarion escorted her to a seat beside the Steward's chair in the throne room, and then to her surprise, sat down along with them.
"My lady," Faramir began, "I know that these past weeks have placed a great strain upon you, and it is not my intention to add to your distress. However, I feel we must discuss the future of Gondor. I have a responsibility, not only to you, but to the people of this country, to ensure that the Heir of Elendil is restored to the throne."
Arwen nodded her agreement. This seemed obvious enough.
"In the month since the King's disappearance, we have had search parties scouring the countryside. We have sent messages to every conceivable habitation where the King might have gone. They have turned up nothing.
I don't need to tell you that the King is an excellent woodsman, a Ranger of vast experience who could likely live off the land indefinitely. The point being that if King Elessar doesn't want to be found, then we will never find him.
It is my belief that the King left deliberately and has deliberately continued to remain in hiding. This coupled with the fact that he left behind all symbols of his office, including Anduril, the sword of his forefathers, and the ring of Barahir, leads me to conclude that he has abdicated the throne."
Arwen couldn't argue with his reasoning. She had certainly thought the same when Aragorn first disappeared.
"The people of Gondor spent too many generations waiting for the return of Elendil's heir to be permanently subjected once more to the care of a Steward. Therefore I feel it is my responsibility to crown the heir of Elendil as the new King of Gondor."
It took Arwen a moment to grasp what Faramir meant. When she did, it came as a crushing blow. If he crowned Eldarion king, it would be an admission that her husband was never coming back. It would be like giving him up for dead.
"No. I won't allow it!"
"My lady, please try to understand, I need to do what's best for the good of this country. While your personal loss is grievous, I need to look toward the future."
"You must give me more time to find him."
"Very well, but I will not put this off indefinitely. I will give you six weeks, after which point, if King Elessar has not returned, I will crown Eldarion king of Gondor."
Arwen had no choice but to agree. Yet finding Aragorn in the vast wildernesses of Middle Earth within six weeks seemed an impossible task. She knew of only one person who could help her now.
*see Unfinished Tales, "The Sources of the Legend of Isildur's Death"
**Come back to the light.
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