1. Singer by the shore
His brother's hand on his arm urged him down. "Faramir, they are coming this way."
Faramir listened. "They are still some minutes away. If we wait until the bend in the road hides us from their eyes, we can still go on."
As they strained their ears, the rustle of Boromir's hair when he shook his head seemed as loud as a shout. "Is this truly worth it?"
"The books of lore do not lie. The Singer by the Shore is said to be older than the mountains, and to know all."
"I have never held with portents and omens. This is more your province, or Father's."
Faramir's eyes glinted as he listened to the approaching steps. "Yet you are here with me."
"Always, little brother. Now!"
They ran across the road as light as elves, disappearing from view just as the first of the guardians of that road turned across the corner. The torches' light passed over them, and they held their breath as they prayed that the footsteps echoed louder than their heartbeats. Boromir tucked himself behind the trunk of a felled tree, but Faramir chose a bush. It was not a prime specimen of plant; whipped by cruel winds from the sea and nurtured with its salty water, it would never grow large or thick enough to hide a grown man.
It was fortunate then that Faramir was only eight years old.
As the last of the guards of Dol Amroth disappeared behind another bend in the river, the heirs to the Steward of Gondor continued towards the sea. The tall trees barred what little starlight did shine, so they had to feel for obstacles with their hands.
"Do you think it is this dark in Mordor?" Boromir muttered once they were a safe distance from the road.
"It is not that bad," Faramir objected. "Only like an inner corridor in the Citadel when a torch goes out."
"In a corridor - ugh!" The older boy tripped on a root and fell to the ground. "In a corridor, this would not happen," he pointed out as he stood up.
Even in almost absolute darkness, his brother's eyes managed to shine. "There is magic here. Can you not imagine elves in these woods, or warriors of old?"
"Or orcs." Boromir shuddered. The darkness and the distant waves were waking strange things in his mind, things he did not care for. He remembered his mother, and wondered how she could have missed this place so much. For him it was but strangeness and something he refused to acknowledge as fear.
Soon the voice of the sea rang loudly in their ears, and they came upon the high cliff that guarded this part of the coast. This was the place mentioned by the guardsman who reported a sighting of the elusive and half-legendary Singer to prince Imrahil - unwisely doing so within reach of Faramir's ears.
Naught but wind and waves sang in the night as the moon rose.
"It seems our trip was for nothing," the older boy said. "Whoever the Singer is, he is gone from this shore."
"Do not be too sure of that." Faramir kept looking into shadows thrown by moonlit rocks and bushes. "His comings may be decades apart, but once he is sighted in Dol Amroth, he can stay here for a season or more."
"And while he may join men at a campfire, singing songs of truth in exchange for news of Men and Elves, he will never be found when one seeks to meet him. I listened to Barahir's story as well."
"But I want to meet him!"
"He's just a story! Stories aren't good for anything!" Boromir kicked at a loose stone on the edge of the cliff, sending it bouncing into the abyss.
He kicked again and again, and the stones crumbled and fell. A fey mood seized him, and he lashed out as if the armies of Mordor lay beneath his feet, the same orcs and corsairs that necessitated the patrols on the roads of Dol Amroth.
The cliff edge broke under his weight.
For the space of a heartbeat Boromir felt the air rush around him just as fast as it went out of his lungs in a cry of surprise. Then Faramir's small fingers locked around his wrist.
But with five years over his brother, Boromir was easily half again his size. Even with desperate strength, the eight-year-old was not able to pull them both to safety. Slowly they slid towards the edge, and the pebbles of the cliff face moved upwards in front of Boromir's frightened eyes.
"Let go!" he shouted with sudden courage. "Let go, or we will both perish!"
Yet Faramir's ears seemed just as closed as his eyes, while he whimpered one thing over and over again. "No, no, no, no, no..."
The toes of Faramir's boots were brushing the edge now. Boromir readied himself for one desperate struggle to throw off his brother's grip and thus save at least one of them.
Then another hand seized him. He was lifted upwards by a great strength, while his rescuer's other hand pulled Faramir away from the cliff edge. It happened so fast that the boys lost their balance once their feet touched firm ground, and they would have fallen, had their rescuer not held them and pulled them to himself as he knelt down beside them.
Caught by a violent shiver, Boromir forgot all dignity of a Steward's heir at thirteen years of age. Faramir was still too young for such reservations, so both sons of Denethor buried their faces in their rescuer's chest. His hands moved over their backs, soothing them like two wild birds.
As the boys calmed down, the first thing they noticed was the warmth surrounding them. The stranger fairly burned with an inner fire. His dark cloak was torn and tattered, but smelled cleanly of the sea and woodland herbs. Surrounded by it, they stopped trembling and only hung on for the warmth.
When the fear left them, they heard his song, or realized they had been hearing it all along. The language was strange, but somehow they understood the images painted by the music: a warm hearth and a blazing fire waiting in a strange twilight of gold and silver, bright boyish voices arguing over cooking, a mother's warm smile...
The song stopped, and the stranger pulled away a little to look at each of them in turn. "If you are looking for a path to the sea," he said in accented but understandable Westron, "I can show you a safer one."
Boromir found himself unwilling to look in the stranger's eyes, and any words he might have said died in his throat.
"We were looking for you," Faramir blurted out. "You're the Singer, aren't you? The one who sings the truth?"
This elicited a sigh. "That name I have heard before. Would you have me sing for you, then?"
With the Singer's attention diverted, Boromir lifted his eyes. Immediately he noted that while the tales praised the mysterious wanderer's voice, they did him a great injustice by not mentioning how fair his face was. His pale skin was made almost ghostlike next to long dark hair that looked like naught but fingers had combed for years, but still managed to appear as if it would be silky to the touch. Boromir had not thought that a living man could resemble the idealized pictures of Numenor's kings of old, yet the Singer was that and fairer still. And no picture or tapestry could capture the wondrous light in those grey eyes.
Faramir seemed similarly enchanted, and no sign remained of either their recent brush with death, nor his straightforwardness of a few moments before. "Can we just walk with you? Only tonight?"
The Singer's laugh was as melodious as his song. "Children. Will your parents not worry?"
"Father is away, and our uncle thinks us asleep in our beds," the younger boy offered.
"And your mother?"
"She is..." Faramir averted his eyes.
"I see. Then you can walk with me - if you care to face the way down to the sea, for that is where I am going."
The path was not arduous at all, for the rocks formed a natural slope that wound down the cliff face. Still the Singer went first, and Faramir followed closely with his hand twisted in the stranger's cloak. Boromir kept his pace steady and his eyes fixed ahead, but he was glad that he could walk straight behind his brother, while his hand rested on the smaller boy's shoulder.
The waves had turned the debris from the cliffs into a strip of fine white sand at its feet. A chill rose from the water, and the boys shivered in their thin clothes. Sneaking out after supper, they had not been able to change into something more suitable for the weather. They sat beside the Singer on the sand, and the younger boy did not need much of an invitation to share his warm cloak.
"My name is Faramir, and my brother's called Boromir," the eight-year-old volunteered as he snuggled into the arm wrapped around his back. "And our father's Denethor son of Ecthelion, Steward of Gondor."
The rising moon threw a silver shadow on the Singer's face. "The two of you are princes, then."
"No, we are not." Boromir shivered in the cold, but deemed his thirteen years too dignified to snuggle up to a virtual stranger. "You need to be of royal blood to be a prince."
"Are you not?" The Singer's fingers seized Boromir's chin and turned his face, and with it his whole body, with gentle but unyielding strength. "You have the eyes of Elros Tar-Minyatur. And his stubbornness, I would wager."
Boromir shrugged and stayed as he was, leaning against the Singer's bent knees. When the Singer drew the edge of the cloak over the boy's shoulders, he did not acknowledge it, but spoke instead. "Through our mother, perhaps."
"Father, too, and quite a lot," Faramir piped up. "The family trees trace our line to the kings of Numenor. I checked."
Boromir huffed. "Just because you bury yourself in books-"
"I'm still too small for a sword! Father says I still have time-"
"Father will not humour you forever-"
"Children." The Singer shook his head. "I think both books and weapons have their uses."
"I guess so," Boromir conceded. "Who needs kings anyway? To rule you need to be able to do it. If people follow you and you care for them, you are a good ruler. Not someone with a crown."
"And that is how kings are made." The Singer's voice turned distant and melodious. "Fire of spirit, gold under dirt, though crownless and alone, you shall know him, you shall see him, and your words come back to haunt you.."
Faramir shivered and stared at the Singer with wide eyes, as if he had seen a ghost.
"What do you mean?" Boromir demanded. His face was pale in the moonlight.
A tight smile answered him. "Forgive me. It was your brother who asked me to sing the truth to him. My mind wanders."
"It wanders on strange paths." Boromir pulled his legs and arms closer to his body, leaning against the Singer's knees. "I do not know if I care to know the future."
"Hearing your doom pronounced is frightful." The bright eyes slid shut, and without them the beautiful face looked gaunt and tired. "The only thing worse is to pronounce it yourself. But fear not: the fate of Man is tied to their Gift, and thus unknown to all who walk the Earth. All that can be seen are glimpses and warnings."
"So if we know them, we can heed them and so change our fate?" Faramir asked.
"Stop announcing how smart you are," Boromir hissed.
"You stop it! You do nothing but argue." Faramir tugged on the Singer's arm. "We are not like this all the time."
This earned him another melodious laugh. "I know. I have memories of quarrels with my own brothers."
"You have brothers?" Faramir leaned forward. "Are they all singers like you?"
"No, I am the only one. The will of the One chose different talents for them. Still, we... were close."
"It is as I and Boromir are. We like each other, though he prefers the sword and I have my books."
"You will not be able to stay buried in them for much longer." Boromir reached over and pushed lightly at his brother. "A Steward's son needs must be a warrior."
Faramir wrinkled his nose. "But I do not wish to..."
"You do not have a choice." Boromir sighed. "Father is already arranging your lessons and says he cannot allow you to grow up a mere scholar."
"Perhaps it will be to your liking," the Singer offered. "Though I cannot but doubt the wisdom of forcing someone to be what they want not."
"It is different when it comes to the ruling house," Boromir said.
"And yet. My father, though he did not care much for the hunt, did not forbid several of my brothers to engage in it as their first occupation and excel at it. He but made sure that each of us tried his hand at every trade to find one that suited us the most. He was wise in that way."
"Denethor is wise!" Boromir protested. "In times of war, with darkness rising in the East, Gondor needs every sword. He sees far."
"Far indeed," the Singer whispered. "And when do eyes reach too far?"
Faramir made a small noise of distress. The Singer's eyes were closed again, his face drawn tight.
It was a song, not a tale, the rhythm broken and the melody haunting. "The turns have passed in the lands so marred, and Gorthaur's eye falls upon the Tower of the Guard. All has changed, yet the curse remains, the works of He who was Fire hold the keys to the fates of Men... Denethor, Denethor, blinded by the fire, your eyes will lie, listen to them not. Few can face whom you face, and you are the lord of towers, not caves. You walk on two legs, not four, and two hands hold your sceptre, if not the crown. When you believe you shall fail, fail you shall into the deepest dark..."
The song faded into a wordless note, meandering up into the sky.
Boromir jumped to his feet. "I shall not listen to those lies!" he cried.
The Singer's gaze followed the boy as he walked away along the shore.
"Was... was that the truth?" Faramir's eyes were wide.
The Singer turned towards him. "A warning. I cannot tell whence my foresight comes, yet some of what I sang rings true to my ears. The Firstborn have not yet passed from these shores, and neither have the jewels wrought by their greatest craftsman. They can bring both hope and despair, just as my songs."
"It makes me afraid."
Some distance away, Boromir picked up a broken fragment of the white wall of the cliff and sent it skipping over the waves. It bounced but two times and sank into the calm waves. The next stone seized by the Steward's heir arced high in the moonlight and vanished underwater with a splash.
The Singer's fingers closed tightly over Faramir's shoulder. "A warning only, but to be heeded."
"I do not think I could withstand that. What you said - sang - about Boromir and Father..."
"Hold on to them, little one. Even if they err, they are of the same blood as you. In the end, it is all that is left."
Faramir seemed to ponder that for a while. Then he reached up and wrapped his fingers over the hand that held him. "I like you," he announced seriously. "Though your words bring me fear sometimes."
The light in those strange eyes was warm now. "Thank you, child. And I am fond of you, for you remind me of a boy I knew once. Perhaps you will grow up like him - a great loremaster of Men."
The boy cocked his head. "Was that a prophecy?"
"Nay." Now there was true mirth in the Singer's eyes; his moods seemed to change faster than the waves. "Guesswork."
They laughed then, and such it was that Boromir came upon them, his hands wet with seawater. He laid his finds at their feet: three strangely wrought shells. One twisted into a horn, another spiked like a comb, still another simple but inlaid with a pearly mass that seemed to shine with its own light.
"Those are magical!" Faramir fairly laughed with delight. "Where did you find them?"
"There are many a little way down the shore," Boromir explained. "Yesterday's storm must have blown them from the south."
Faramir sprung up, then looked down at the Singer.
"Run, and see what treasures Ulmo's waves brought you," the stranger urged him as he rose himself.
Faramir did not need to be told twice. Hastily he ran in the direction his brother had come from. The Singer made to follow him, but Boromir stood in his path.
"I am sorry," the older of the brothers blurted out. "I... should not have said what I said."
"You spoke from the heart." Though the Singer's face was impassive, his voice remained warm. "I could never fault that."
"It is only..." Boromir turned to look at the sea. "Father is all we have left. And he has only us, now."
"I understand that." Out of the corner of his eye, Boromir saw the Singer looking at his hands; the right one had splotches of darker skin, as if it had once been burned. "I understand that well indeed. Yet though you may see him as such now, no-one's father is infallible."
"I know that. Mother... when Finduilas lived, he was at peace by her side. Now nothing draws him from plans of war."
"Finduilas?" The Singer started. "That name... it was not a good omen. Though this land is rife with them. But yes, deprived of a woman's guidance... one's spirit can burn far too brightly."
"Is it wrong, though?" Emboldened, Boromir laid a hand on the Singer's sleeve, feeling the warmth of the arm beneath the cloth. "If he burns, it is with hatred for the Dark Enemy, as we all do. He looks into the darkness to protect us, to protect his people, to give us freedom from thralldom to the Dark."
"Through sorrow to find joy; or freedom, at the least." The Singer shook his head. "The years turn, but the same forces govern the fate of the world. Heed my words, son of Denethor: lay your faith not in trinkets and the works of others' hands. It is in people that salvation will be found, in faith and hope and sacrifice. Do not covet jewels, no matter their beauty or power."
Boromir searched the Singer's face. "Was that a prophecy?"
"Nay." The bright eyes seemed dulled, as if their fire had all but burned out. "Experience."
The youth bit his lip and twisted his fingers into the dark cloth of the Singer's sleeve. "Such dark things you speak of. I fear when I think that darkness comes and I can do nothing." Though he swallowed his tears, they seared his throat. "Nothing but watch everyone fall."
Then the Singer's arms were around him, and the dark cloak would not show tears even if he chose to shed them. "Do not say that," that beautiful voice urged him. "There is always something you can do, not sit idle in grief. That is what endures in memory and song, even..."
And the Singer's shoulders shook now with the selfsame sadness and despair, as he lowered his head to Boromir's ear.
"Even if the road leads to perdition, even if the fire burns you in the end," he whispered. "Though you may walk in grief then, you will know that your deeds endure. The bright and the dark."
They stood thus entwined for the space of several breaths, each clutching at the other and buried in his private sorrow. Faramir's young voice broke their trance as he cried in awe, looking out at the sea.
In the West, the brightest star was rising.
Boromir felt the change in the Singer's stance. As the arms around the boy's back slid away, he sank to his knees and sat at the stranger's feet. Faramir came beside him and they looked up, half in fear and half in hope.
But the Singer's face did not hold the blank expression they had seen before as he had pronounced his prophecies. Instead it spoke of sorrow and grief, and still a fierce pride. He seemed as one who had gone beyond fear, beyond hope, who would follow his path into Mordor and the Everlasting Darkness itself.
And then he sang.
Though Boromir heard the song but once, it came to him in dreams and in times of need until death claimed him and he passed beyond the confines of the world. Sorrow was there, and black despair, though not all images it brought were grim. For while the words themselves were of an unknown language, their melody painted bright tapestries in the air. White stone and red blood, the cry of seagulls in the air. Fire and pain, and victory, and tears. Beauty and loss. Light indescribable and the Eternal Dark. A flame, falling.
Falling like the tears from Boromir's eyes, for his sobs were unchecked now. He leaned against the Singer's legs, and his eyes were fixed in the brightest star of the West.
Beside him Faramir sat calmly.
That was the last thing Boromir remembered clearly from that night. The tears and the star, and that fey and beautiful song.
Everything else was muted and blurred at the edges of sleep and waking. There were fragmented images of the forest in the grey hour before dawn. The feeling of being carried in strong arms. The herb-like scent of dark hair falling over his face. In the end, cool lips pressed against his forehead. Or had he dreamt that, too?
Faramir is precocious (as Boromir is quick to note) and due to all his reading, as well as inherited Numenorean intelligence, has an amazing vocabulary. The fact he's hiding himself away in his books and trying to seem older than he is isn't helping.
"Through sorrow to find joy; or freedom, at the least" and "not sit idle in grief" are direct quotes from Feanor's speeches in Chapter 9 of the Silmarillion.
Yes, the sign of office of the Steward of Gondor is a white rod, not a sceptre. Three guesses for how Denethor-in-my-head thinks of it.
The works of Feanor that Maglor speaks of are the palantiri and the stone Elessar; perhaps also indirectly the rings of power, in the creation of which Feanor's grandson took part.
Bad omens: between Finduilas, Denethor and Minas Tirith itself, it's a wonder some scholar hasn't caught the theme yet.
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.