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Light Lingering: 1. Presentiments
The two teenage boys, one his own son Elboron, the other his son’s sworn friend, had been at their most enthusiastic, full of tales about their triumphs at the arms school and in the adolescent circles of Minas Tirith. Young voices and hands spoke of new manoeuvres learnt, of old rivals defeated, triumph and loss. Little traditions were already being established within their inexperienced, eager groups, traditions that Faramir knew would endure up to and beyond their lives as Rangers, and in Elboron’s case, as commander of a larger body of troops across the land than anyone other than the King himself.
Faramir and Éowyn watched the youngsters, smiling now and then at each other across the table, happy to be reunited with their eldest boy, and simply glad to be once more in the presence of youth and freshness and pulsing energy. Faramir took in his son’s appearance with some pride, even as he noted with interest how it was to Éowyn that young Hador, Elboron’s friend, turned to describe a particularly difficult move they had been practising.
"…and we took turns at it, and Elboron got it right the first time. No one else did! It was quite impressive."
Elboron glanced at his father to see if he had heard, and smiled shyly. Faramir smiled back, though he said nothing. Éowyn and the taller boy were laughing about something.
“What about Eldarion?” Faramir interjected.
An uncharacteristic silence fell on the two boys. Elboron suddenly looked down into his plate. That was not good, the lord of Ithilien thought. The seventeen-year old heir to Gondor had only recently returned home from a long sojourn with his mother’s people – an eleven-year stay that seemed strange beyond words to everyone except, to all appearances, the young man’s parents. Faramir remembered the one brief meeting he had had with the prince in the week since his own arrival in the city. He remembered a small, brooding boy, hardly moving, not speaking at all, the wish that he might be elsewhere writ large on his pale little face.
He looked back to his Elboron, who was tall, naturally amiable, and always forthright. Perhaps it would be too much to expect that there would be friendship between the heirs of the most powerful men in Gondor, much like there was between himself and Elessar, beyond their political association. But –
“He was in the yard today, sir. He is supposed to join us, but he just came to watch.” Hador could not stop his lip from curling. “Elboron won the last round, and he asked, as usual, if anyone remained to challenge him, and there was no one else left except Eldarion. So we all looked at him – “
Hador paused, and looked around to make sure his audience was hooked, and lifted a hand in triumph, “ – and he just stood there.”
“So?” queried Faramir mildly.
“Nay, ‘twas not just that, sir,” said Hador, even more dramatically, “but the Master asked him to try a round, after that. And he refused even then. Outright.”
“That is not so surprising,” Éowyn spoke. “I am told he does not – fight.”
So it was true, then, Faramir thought quickly. Elessar’s son did not know how to use a sword.
“That in itself is a surprising thing, is it not?” Elboron said. “A breach of discipline. The Master was very displeased. And if he does not fight with us, how will he be a Ranger? And how will we ever get to know him? And he was not very polite about it, either. His bow when he stood, Mother – " and Elboron stopped there, struck by a loss for words, and the growing realisation that his father was not listening.
Faramir was listening, but barely. In his mind was another boy, silent and troubled, torn between a hatred of spilt blood and loud company and the compelling sense of duty that had driven him to learn to defend the land he loved.
Faramir for Gondor.
A sudden compassion, borne of understanding, filled him. Who were his son and that cheeky comrade-in-arms of his to condemn what they did not understand? Did Gondor not need men of peace, too? It was rude, nay, downright wrong, that a misunderstood child be thought ill of for having the courage not to fight. Yes, for that was true courage. That was nobility. That was truth.
“Perhaps you have mistaken him, Elboron,” he said to his son. “Perhaps there are -- other things that he has felt obliged to pursue.”
“Yes, Elboron,” Hador nodded. “Perhaps we have reckoned without his knitting needles.”
Éowyn bowed her head quickly, but Faramir stared blankly at the young misdoer. “Do not forget of whom you speak,” he said deliberately, “dúnadan.”
Hador, suitably chastised, fell back to his meal, and they finished eating in silence. Faramir formed himself an errand for the morrow.
Something did not quite add up there, the Steward mused. What was it about young Eldarion that caused Faramir’s otherwise temperate son to react to him with instant dislike? How, when the King and Queen were loved by all Gondor, and their daughters almost universally adored, could the son be so silent, so distant, so unfriendly? He was half an elf, Faramir thought. He must feel out of place. But then, the Queen was of elvish birth, and Arwen was a happy woman, despite all that she had had to leave behind. Then again, she had the wisdom of her long life, and her great love to anchor her.
It was reasonable, Faramir decided. A boy brought up almost exclusively by elves would take his time to settle into a place like the White City, prince or no prince.
Still, and Faramir felt a little guilty for thinking it, it was passing strange that the heir to Andúril did not know how to wield it.
He quickened his pace and made for the library, where, he had been informed, the prince would be. Faramir was a little heartened by the fact. The library was home ground, and almost deserted on account of it being work hours for most city people. Faramir was going to solve the princely conundrum as best as he could.
He nodded a greeting to the assistants, and began looking for Eldarion in earnest. Quenya – the royal family’s first language. There was no Eldarion among the old scrolls. Fiction – thank the stars, he was not there either. Nor was he among the works of the great dramatists. The pure sciences were occupied only by a group of pale, over-serious young students, and one fierce-looking old woman sat alone in the music section.
He circled back to the great entrance hall, seemingly casual. All at once, a discreet flash of black and silver caught his eye. It was a guard, hanging around by the desk of records. He was pretending to read. Faramir recognised him from among the Tower personnel.
The man saw him and made as if to bow, a little uncomfortably. Faramir received the salute with a smile, at which the guard relaxed a little and looked around. He looked back to Faramir and shrugged eloquently.
Faramir raised a brow.
The guard looked around once more, and shot his eyes high, up and sideways. The topmost level, to the right. Númenorean Adûnaic. Faramir bit his lip. There was one place even he would never have thought to look into. He nodded to the guard and made for the stairway. The other man looked faintly alarmed. The Steward smiled at him again and went past him briskly.
It had actually been his favourite part of the library for many years. As a boy, Faramir had spent long hours in that section. It contained some of Men’s oldest extant writing, the genuine black-and-red letters of Westernesse that almost none were allowed access to. He remembered those days of joyous discovery, of dizzy pride and burning shame as he read through triumph upon triumph, followed by folly upon folly, recorded carefully in those bright, brittle pages. He had always had an active imagination, and the stories – and their meanings – imprinted themselves upon his mind. Those were some lessons Faramir had never forgotten.
He had learnt his dreams from them.
As he climbed the stairs noiselessly, half-remembered fragments of those images that visited him in sleep came back. They had troubled him since he was a boy, vague and disturbing sights of angry seas, of waves rising in hideous might as if to fill the void between sea and sky itself. He had always known that he had been granted the terrible sight of Númenor, beloved land of the highest race of Men, destroyed by divine wrath. It had troubled him for longer than he cared to remember, although the dreams had become more and more infrequent in the last years. So infrequent, in fact, that he could now look back on them with an almost detached sort of interest. Like someone else’s troubles.
He became aware of sound issuing from within the dim passages of the archive. Soft feet whirling on the stone floor, sharp, rushing air, and if he strained all his senses, an occasional quick breath. There it was again – the unmistakable soft whoosh.
He hurried forward, wondering if he were horribly deceived. For unless the prince was perpetuating most unusual violence upon the dark writings, he knew what was happening.
He came quickly to the landing, and peered past the shelves and passageways to the single large window at the other end that lit this part of the library, where no one ever came now, and there, in the clearing by the light, was a young boy, small for his age, thick black hair escaping it’s neat queue, framing a thin, delicate face, alight now with wild joy. In his left hand was a sword, and he was dancing.
That, or it was something else that Faramir had no words to describe. Thrust, parry, thrust, parry; strong, sure movements that could have been borne of nothing short of endless hours of practice. A graceful spin, a flick of his wrist, a quick sidestep. Suddenly, catlike, he slid down on to his haunches. A lock of hair fell into the over-large eyes. Without missing a beat, he sent the sword into the air, brushed the offending locks away, and leaned out to catch the falling blade in his right hand. Up. Thrust, parry. He was smiling as he whirled faster and faster in his dance, to a rhythm Faramir could hear just by looking at the patterns of his feet on the dusty floor, until he almost blurred against the light, a dark little flame of grey and black amid the sunlit storm of dust he was disturbing.
He held his breath as he watched, torn between fascination and something a little like fear. What was this being into whose presence he had literally stumbled, much too tall and graceless? Other boys fenced well, with precision and strength, even elegance. But one could not watch this - this virtual ceremony of grace and speed and liken it to anything else, much as a flash of lightning could not be adequately described to one who had never seen it.
The sounds stopped abruptly. The fact did not dawn on Faramir, deep in thought, until he realised that those unblinking eyes were fixed on him. He could not escape a twinge of embarrassment.
“Your Highness,” he said, stepping forward.
The flash of lightning bowed back gravely. “Your Highness,” he said also.
“I did not wish to cause a distraction,” Faramir explained, a little awkwardly, gesturing to the shadows from whence he came forth.
Believe this, Faramir. You are explaining yourself to a slip of a lad.
No, no mere slip of a lad. Eldarion. Son of your liege-lord.
Slip of a lad.
“It is a difficult dance,” Eldarion said. He spoke with a quaint accent, soft and rolling. The words were formed slowly, thoughtfully. “Thank you.”
“For not distracting me.”
Faramir nodded. “I have not seen it before.”
“Oh,” The boy looked mildly surprised. “It is very old. From Doriath, and before. Grandfather taught me it – lord Celeborn,” he clarified.
Of course. He had no other grandfathers left in Middle-Earth.
“My grandfather gave me my sword too,” Faramir said. Does he need to know?
The pale brow creased. “Lord – Turgon? No, no; forgive me. Lord Ecthelion, of course.” He flushed a little.
“Difficult to remember, are they not? And no, it was the lord Adrahil. My other grandfather.” Faramir said, a little too casually.
“Of Dol Amroth,” the brow cleared. “Forgive me, again. I am not very well acquainted with these lines yet. I should be, but – there was much else to learn.”
“Oh?” Faramir queried politely. Redundant it may have become, but the lore of the House of Mardil was still considered an essential portion of Gondor’s history. Faramir was not a vain man – far from it – but he had never yet met a seventeen-year-old who did not know his grandfather’s name off-hand.
Again, the delicate, all-too-human flush. “No. In the North, you see, we learn much of Arnor. And my kinsmen instructed me in the lore of my elven fathers.” There was reverence in every one of those last syllables. “There is no one there from Gondor to remind us of the South, though the Seat of Kings has shifted.”
“That ought to be remedied,” Faramir mused. “Things have changed, after all, as your Highness says.”
The blush intensified. Faramir idly thought of asking him his opinion of the geocultural problems that confounded the politics of Gondor and Arnor, but decided that the boy had been disconcerted enough. And it had not even been his intention. Well, I hardly expected to find my apostle of peace with a sword in his hand.
“This – dance,” Faramir motioned toward the sword that dangled limp from the boy’s fingers. “Older than Doriath?”
Eldarion nodded seriously, not in the least overwhelmed at the thought. The hand tightened around the sword. “It began among Elwë’s followers, as a test of skill and strength. He passed it on to my grandfather Celeborn.”
That did not seem to overwhelm him either, calling the oldest and most powerful elf who remained on the eastern shores his own. His expression softened marvellously as he spoke, and for a minute he looked longingly out of the window.
“So it is ceremonial,” Faramir said, almost to himself.
The boy looked mildly surprised again. “Yes, I suppose one could look at it so.”
“Surely one does not fight in this way?”
Eldarion frowned. “It has been used to kill,” he said. “Many times, but that is not its purpose. It is a dance.” He hefted the sword up gracefully. “It should not be used to fight. It – defiles.”
Faramir was almost amused. “A sword is a tool of defence,” he pointed out. “That is a fact difficult to ignore. A swordsman must eventually fight.”
“Or he is a swordsman no longer.” The eyes flashed. “I have heard that before. I hate it,” he said. “I hate fighting. Or competing. It is all folly.”
“Yet the King himself must commit the folly, time and again, as must I, and all the men who look to us. As must your Highness, someday, if fortune fails. War will come again, eventually. Even now it brews – the hatred of the Destroyer lingers in the earth long after he has passed from it.”
“I hate war.” The words came through clenched teeth.
Empathy flooded Faramir. He knew that tone and those words well. And he knew what he would have to say.
“War must be,” he said gently, “even for those who love not the sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. We love only that which we defend.”
“Yes,” the boy’s voice came softly. It trembled. “yes, my lord. And I am certain our enemy commanders tell their soldiers the same thing. That they fight to save their homes and families and lives.” He looked up into Faramir’s face, demanding a response. “Is that not so?”
Faramir nodded silently, remembering, remembering all the time.
“So,” he almost snarled, “it is my family, or the other’s. Is that it?”
They looked at each other silently for a while.
“When it comes down to it,” Faramir said calmly, “yes.”
A sudden change came over Eldarion, like a candle extinguished. “No,” he whispered, and bowed his head. “I wish it was not so. I wish I did never have to spill blood.”
Some more old walls in Faramir’s mind crumbled at the boy’s words and his tone. He seemed so lonely, so desolate in his conflict. Pity took hold of him, and a strange feeling of fellowship with the king’s son, who suffered now as he himself had once done.
“I wish you never had to spill blood either,” he said, half to himself.
Silence again. Absently, Faramir moved to pick up the fallen weapon, a sword worthy of a full-grown elf-warrior. His fingers touched the steel.
Crash. A wave of green water.
He almost dropped the sword at the power of the split-second vision. He looked at it in some shock, feeling nothing now. Then he looked back at Eldarion.
The large eyes looked back at him, wondering.
They considered each other thus for a while. Eldarion spoke after a pause, a measure of strength now back in his voice. “My grandfather would agree with you -- about one’s duty, I mean, and protection, and so. Yes?”
“Yes,” Faramir nodded, shivering inwardly at the remembrance of the horrific lessons he had read of the elven kinslayings. “I daresay that, your Highness.”
“Please call me Eldarion,” he said then. His eyes were ever so slightly beseeching, those strange, stormy eyes, isolate in their half-humanity.
The Steward smiled. “As my lord wishes.”
“Eldarion,” the boy half-smiled. “Please, sir. No one calls me by name here but for my mother. And my father, when he is here. It is very unlike home.”
“Is this not home?” Faramir asked, cautiously. The boy shrugged. “It has not been for too long now,” he said carelessly. “I shall have to change my ideas about many things now.”
He looked out of the window once more, but turned quickly this time, and to Faramir’s surprise, grinned at him. His moods seemed like spring showers, Faramir thought, as he watched the little face change, brighten, become wholly different from the dark, brooding aspect he had previously displayed.
He looked around at the shelves curiously. “Can you read them?” he asked Faramir, gesturing towards the shelves. Faramir decided to be careless. “Why, can you not?”
The boy shook his head. “I learnt some letters,” he said, “but not enough.” His brow creased. “Adûnaic is necessary to learn too, is it not?”
“Well, you can always get someone else to read it for you,” Faramir said.
Eldarion smiled again. “That must be what my father does.”
“Only every now and then,” Faramir said with a straight face. It was little known that Aragorn’s grasp of Adûnaic was somewhat rudimentary, but it was more or less public knowledge that Faramir’s was anything but.
“I should like to learn it,” Eldarion said, looking at the fiery beauty of the work as he raised the dusty covering sheets in wonder. “It must say great things.”
“It does,” Faramir said softly, pulses thrilling at the sight of the long-missed pages. “This one that you look at, it is of the Line of Kings.” He did not need to read them to know what they were. Time and the library assistants had conspired to keep this corner of history constant. “And that next one – that tells of the queens of Númenor, only the four of them. And that – that is the record of a nîmruzîr, what you would call an elendil in the High-Tongue.”
“Elf-friend,” Eldarion re-translated absently. He lifted more sheets, on his face a look similar to Faramir’s, one of longing, but wilder, less gentle. Suddenly he stopped at one, and went still, eyes wide and fixed.
Then just as suddenly, he blinked. “This one here – this one is about the Sea.”
Faramir started. “How can you tell?”
Eldarion suddenly looked bewildered. “I just – knew,” he stammered, eyes returning to the dark parchment. “I do not know how. It seemed as if I saw – " He stopped there, and shook his head.
“A great wave,” Faramir said in a strange voice. Suddenly the wall of water loomed again. He half-closed his eyes. “A great wave, beyond the shore –" He slipped an entirely familiar vision.
Yet, somehow different this time. “Ships. Ships – not nine. One ship. Comes out of the wave - the wave of the West. And – a light,” he whispered, caught in the vision, “white light – shining.”
Abruptly he stopped, and shook off the image. The boy was watching him unblinkingly out of those boundless grey eyes.
“It must be a good sign,” he told Faramir, shyly.
Faramir smiled hesitantly, suddenly sharing the boy’s shyness. “Let us hope so,” he said, and then tried to laugh. “But it is likely that I simply read too much.”
The boy did not laugh either. “Glorfindel tells me I do too.”
He turned back to the sheets. “I wish I could read them,” he said suddenly. “I want to see the light, too.”
“I could teach you,” Faramir said, in the impulse of the lifelong linguist, eager to share knowledge, excited at the prospect of someone one new to share it with. The boy’s eyes shone.
“Thank you!” he said, just as enthusiastically. Then, excited, “May we begin right away?”
Faramir smiled, “That,” he said, “would be the best thing to do. Îdô.”
“Îdô. Meaning ‘now’."
“My son tells me he is learning languages from you, Faramir,” the king turned the famous grey gaze on his advisor some days later.
Faramir looked up from the sheets on the table. “But one language,” he said, “and that very rapidly.”
Aragorn smiled. “Even one, lord, takes time to teach, and I would not have you inconvenienced upon a whim.”
“If there is any whim at all, Sire, then I assure you it is not on his part. Besides, he is an excellent learner, quick in the extreme. It is nothing but a pleasure, truthfully.”
Aragorn leaned forward, seeking Faramir’s eyes. He held them briefly, and then spoke quietly. “I thank you.”
Faramir blinked away a thought that came to him, unbidden. “Keep him close, my lord,” he said, half-absently, “keep him close.”
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