3. The Bookseller
I lift my head and peer around me, trying to see who calls for me. These rheumy eyes grow dimmer day by day. I cannot help but wonder how long I can continue to ply my trade; soon I shall not be able to read a single word in any book or manuscript.
“Over here, my old friend.” The young man hovers into focus, and my mouth stretches into a wide grin. He embraces me, thumps my back, and steps away with a smile.
“Lord Faramir! It’s wonderful to see you again, my boy. I bestirred my aching bones from my daughter’s sunny fireside in Linhir because I wanted to speak to you once more.”
“Come, Mardilin, you sound as if you already have a foot in the grave—you appear hale and hearty still to me.”
“Seventy-four is a great age, made greater by the years the journey to Minas Tirith added. The caravan I traveled with arrived safely, but ‘twas a nerve-wracking road. My apologies for not paying an immediate call on you at the Steward’s House, but we arrived with little time to prepare our booths, I fear.” I wave my hand along the group of my fellow caravaners spread out in this section of the Rath Celerdain.
“No apology is needed, Mardilin—duty always comes first, for us both. Now, do tell me—what did you bring that might beguile an eternal student like me?”
“Here you are, my dear Faramir—a boxful of my most uncommon books and maps. I daresay even you will find unknown gems of knowledge in its depths.” He grins happily as I give him the crate.
While he rummages enthusiastically, pride swells in my breast at how the young boy I constantly sold books to transformed himself into the noblest of men, a fitting leader of the White City and of Gondor. I have heard high praise of the new King, but he must be a paragon to surpass Faramir; I regret the Steward will not reach the pinnacle of power his father enjoyed, for he would wield it wisely, far more than Denethor chose to. I ought not to speak ill of the dead, but I gained far too much knowledge, during the years I kept my small shop here, of Denethor’s cruel treatment of his younger son to view him with favor, or even respect.
Faramir first began visiting me when he was a stripling and recently motherless. He would race in, dragging a reluctant Boromir behind him, demanding to see the newest manuscripts and maps. Our friendship flourished as he grew up, for Faramir cared nothing for the difference in our stations and I fed his diamond-bright mind with a stream of books while we conversed endlessly. Once, when he was still quite young, Lord Denethor accompanied him and cross-questioned me in detail, his eyes glittering with disdain. His disapproval was obvious, and I doubted I would see Faramir again.
I underestimated Faramir’s strong will, however, for he continued to patronize my shop as he reached adulthood. He sometimes brought Mithrandir with him; many an hour I spent discussing the history and lore of Middle Earth with them both as we sipped wine. My life became emptier when Faramir departed to Ithilien to command the Rangers and Mithrandir ceased to come to Minas Tirith, unwilling to further confront Denethor’s enmity.
My disappointment that my only son chose not to follow my trade was softened by his decision to become a Ranger. He served Faramir and Gondor bravely and well, falling two years ago to a stray arrow when orcs ambushed his patrol before they reached Henneth Annun. Crushed, I closed my shutters upon receiving the news, for it happened too soon after my wife’s death. I resolved to turn my back on Minas Tirith and join my married daughter on the coast in Linhir. The one comfort in those dark days was the letter of condolence Faramir sent me before I moved. He spoke of my son’s courage and his faithfulness to his sword brothers; I reread it over and over, until it was too fragile to handle.
I slowly picked up the broken threads of my life, and began to work once more, but my joins stiffened and my eyes clouded, so I no longer traveled to the White City for the spring and autumn fairs. I watched with horror as the Shadow thickened over the land, despairing for Gondor’s fate. When scattered reports reached me a month ago that the spring fair was still planned, even in the teeth of the war swirling around us, I disregarded my age and infirm health and persuaded some of the other merchants in Linhir to form a caravan and journey to Minas Tirith. When my daughter objected, I told her calmly that if the Dark Lord won, the blackness would find us all no matter where we lived, so it was all of a piece to me. I did not admit how much I wanted to see Faramir, for my daughter foolishly blamed him still for her brother’s death.
“You are in quite a brown study, Mardilin,” says Faramir gently.
“Yes, I am,” I reply, blinking at him. “A great joy it is to find you recovered from your wounds, and raised to your rightful standing in the world, though I regret you gained it by your brother’s demise. Boromir was a noble man, and I know how much you miss him.”
Sadness invades Faramir’s expression, but before he can speak, a voice calls his name.
“Faramir, Faramir! We’re here—I found Eowyn.”
I stare in amazement. Long have I read about the halflings, their customs and country, but never did I imagine I would meet one. His round face radiates good humor, and two finely pointed ears protrude from his curly brown hair. A willowy human woman stands behind the halfling, her cool blond beauty glistening in the sunlight.
“Mardilin, let me introduce you to my friends. This is Master Meriadoc Brandybuck, of the Shire.”
“Just Merry, Master Mardilin, if you please,” says the halfling—no, I remind myself, hobbit—as he shakes my hand cheerfully.
“And the Lady Eowyn of Rohan,” Faramir adds warmly. I bow to her, ignoring the twinges in my back, and she returns my salute with a graceful curtsey, gravely inclining her head.
“I am honored, Master Mardilin. Please, do not let Merry and I interrupt your conversation.”
“You do not, my lady. Here is a book that may interest you, of the history of the Mark. The calligraphy and illuminations are by one of the best scriveners in the city.” She takes it and opens it carefully, a nostalgic look on her face. I suspect she is homesick.
“Do you have any volumes of herb-lore, good Master Mardilin? I want one on pipeweed in particular.”
“You are in luck, my obsessed puffer—I think there’s a herbal in this crate that mentions the Shire’s chief vice,” says Faramir, slyly taunting. The small hobbit rises to the bait like a fish to a hook.
“It is not a vice, it’s an art, I tell you. See, read this—”
Faramir, Merry and I spend the next twenty minutes absorbed in talk, as the pile of books in the crate grows larger and I soak up the news of the war. I can see Merry is a good friend for the Steward, for the hobbit’s book hunger matches Faramir’s. But I am not so preoccupied that I cannot spare an occasional glance for the Lady Eowyn.
I am impressed by her aura of quiet strength as much as by her loveliness. I heard the rumors regarding her and Faramir soon after I arrived in Minas Tirith, but find they did not do her justice. She is no mannish warrior; rather, she possesses a watchful self-containment that suggests a deeply buried sorrow silently endured. I note the small smile she bestows upon Faramir when she looks at him—a smile full of affectionate understanding as he gives his passion for learning full rein. That smile speaks of love, but a love not yet ready to reveal itself—I am sure of it. She reminds me vividly of a small child who dares not touch an expensive toy for fear of breaking it.
At last, Faramir places his last selection on top of the wobbly stack and says regretfully, “We must move on, Mardilin, loath as I am to say it. You have other customers to tend and we have other sights to see, though none as welcoming as your countenance, my friend.” He clasps my hand, his eyes shining.
“And I feel the same, my dear lord and friend.” I survey the crate. “Shall I deliver these to you later this evening at the Steward’s House? There is too much to carry.”
“Can you manage it, Mardilin?” asks Faramir in concern.
“Oh yes—one of the boys hereabouts will lend me a hand, I daresay. And then we shall converse more, if you wish.”
“I do wish. Thank you, and take care of yourself.”
“Have no fear of that.” I turn to Merry and the Lady Eowyn. “It has been a true honor to meet you both. Perhaps we too shall speak again tonight, and I will learn of your deeds from your own lips.”
“That would be wonderful,” enthused Merry, while Lady Eowyn finally permits herself a complete smile.
“Yes, I would like that very much. Merry and I shall attend you at the Steward’s House, if Lord Faramir does not object.”
“Not at all. Goodbye for now, Mardilin.”
They move off through the mass of folk; Faramir waves in farewell, and I wave back. I watch them as long as I can with my weak eyes, struck by their affection for one another as Faramir and Lady Eowyn bend their heads down to a chattering Merry. An unlikely trio they may be at first blush, but one that is heartwarming to see. May the golden lady stay by the side of my lord and friend, and give him the love and support he so richly deserves.
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.