3. Father, Epilogue
I woke shivering, sweat-soaked linen clutched in my fingers chill against my skin. Background turns to foreground, shadow to bright sun. Retched, straining for the basin beneath the bed, eyes squeezed tight shut. The world turns about its axis while I am still. No more need I seek for pages missing, meanings hidden -- the pieces of this puzzle lay in my memory, in my very blood.
I sat up, kicked the tangled sheets from my limbs. Spied the traitorous little brooch on the chest beside the bed -- my father’s bed -- the wisp of dark-blue wool still clinging to the pin. Crushed it in my fist, as if that might somehow alter the messages from the dead it bore.
My uncle had spoken true when he had called Sarothos a master jewel-smith: the piece that he had delivered into my hand this evening for a betrothal gift was most cunningly fashioned. So lifelike were the paired swans that almost they seemed about to fly away, and they fixed each other with a gaze both proud and fierce. The leftmost bird bore upon its wing the White Tree worked in diamonds, while the rightmost was emblazoned with the device of the running horse, so that the brooch represented an alliance between all three Houses.
No emblem this, the White Tree that flowered before me in this ancient courtyard. Though it stood no higher than a child of five or six summers, fair indeed was the sapling of the line of Nimloth that derived, so stories told, from a fruit of Telperion of Valinor itself. Its long leaves seemed dipped in mithril-silver, and its snowy petals outshone by far the choice pearls glistening in my hand in the lamplight. And even here, in the tranquil haven of the Court of the Fountain, was there no respite from the roar of the revelry in the Great Hall of Merethrond: I suspected that the sound echoed throughout the upper circles of the City.
I had done my part this day. I had stood by while King Elessar had planted the new sapling, and cheered with the crowd when he had spoken of hope renewed. I had followed the funeral bier of the uprooted tree along the Rath Dínen, past the fire-blackened ruins of the House of Stewards, to the very end, to the mansion of the Kings. I had spoken fitting words as the tree that had withered and died above a century before my birth was at last laid to rest. I had organised a feast whose magnificence even the two younger halflings had praised, and partaken of it, especially of the fine wines of Lebennin and Lamedon from the Steward’s cellars. I had ordered the musicians for the dancing, flutes, viols and tambours, and danced one measure with my cousin Lothíriel and another with the prettiest of Lord Valanthor’s granddaughters. I had watched the King, as merry and carefree as one of the stable-lads, sup and drink and dance.
And now I sat alone by the edge of the pool, the grass damp with the plash from the fountain, chill seeping through my fine wool mantle.
Those few who had noted my mood that evening had laughed and clapped me upon the back, saying with sympathy, or with knowing looks, that I must be missing my lady. I recalled the latest note from her, which had arrived this morning, and her words chiding me for making no reply to her earlier letter. ‘For my brother tells that men are always poor at writing letters in proportion to their skill in feats of arms,’ she had written, ‘yet I thought in you that saying would be disproved.’
What words could I send to my lady when my heart was so full of shame? The White Lady of Rohan was as pure as the melt-waters of Ered Nimrais that had nurtured the sapling of Nimloth, as unstained as the heroes of ages past whose valiant deeds the bards of the City recounted on feast days. And I -- my brother a traitor, my sister a whore, my father---
What right had any son of Denethor to sully that pure flame? The very thought of touching her seemed loathsome -- made my flesh crawl, the bile rise in my throat till again I retched like a dog that had wolfed down tainted meat. I tried, as I had tried all week, to construct the phrases to write to the Lady Éowyn that I was not worthy of her, that her hopes must lie elsewhere, that I could not marry her---but, coward that I was, the words would not come.
Then came a splash, louder than the incessant gentle tinkle of the fountain spray falling into the pool, and I realised that the betrothal token must have slipped from my fingers into the water---and thoughtless I reached for it, the pure water icy on my forearm. I felt rather than observed the shadow fall across me, and I knew, as if my action in daring to touch that hallowed water had summoned him, that it was the King who stood beside me. I did not look up.
‘My Lord Steward,’ said the King, and he squatted down close by me beside the pool, so that I could scarce evade his gaze. And I saw now, by the light of the lanterns, that the weight and wisdom of many decades lay in those dark eyes. Whether Elessar, King of Gondor and Arnor, or Aragorn, Chieftain of the North, or Thorongil, Captain of Gondor, this man was older by far than I had first thought -- and for the first time, the proud cast of his features reminded me of my father, though he was clad in white, a colour that my father never wore.
‘What brings you here alone and grave, when all are feasting and making merry?’ he asked, and at his inoffensive, light-spoken words, something seemed to crack within me.
‘Why did you not tell me?’ I said, and I rose to my feet and walked a little apart, turning my back upon fountain, Tree and King alike.
‘Ah,’ he said, and I heard his joints creak as he too rose. ‘I wondered if you might have heard that -- but you said naught.’
‘What could I say? If the King chooses not to trust his counsellor---’
He laid his hand on my arm. ‘It was never that.’
I shook off his grasp. ‘Then what?’
‘To be honest, the comings and goings of over forty years past never truly seemed relevant! But I forgot that men of Gondor bear long memories -- and even longer grudges. The Lord Valanthor was never my friend.’
‘I wonder that you retain him in your High Council when he insults you so publicly.’
‘A man of such seniority who is also the uncle by marriage of my Lord Steward? I have no desire to find another war upon my hands!’
And it came into my head to ask the question that had defeated me since first I had understood the import of Lord Valanthor’s whispered words. ‘Why did you not claim the throne of Gondor then?’ I said, my tongue no doubt loosened by the wine I had taken earlier -- and I reflected that all the bitternesses of my life might be traced to that one choice. For if my father had never become the Ruling Steward, then would he never have looked into the palantír, and all my family might yet be living.
‘The time was not right. Mithrandir and Master Elrond both counselled me sternly against it.’
‘The time was not right. The time was not right! If you had taken the White Crown forty years ago, then would none of this have happened.’
‘That may be so, but other things yet worse might have come to pass. If one takes council with the Wise, it is ever wise to listen to what they say.’
‘You don’t understand,’ I said, and my words were pregnant with all the putrid shame of the past week, a pus-filled wound ripe for the leech’s lancing.
‘I understand,’ he said, as if comforting a child.
His calm infuriated me more than any angry words could have done. ‘You cannot understand! The Lord Denethor, my father---’
The King placed one hand upon my shoulder, though still I turned away from him. ‘Do not speak of it, Faramir,’ he said, and though his words were quiet, still they bore the tone of a command. ‘Before ever I came to the City, at the Hornburg, I looked into the palantír of Orthanc, for I deemed that I was the lawful master of the Stone. A grave struggle for mastery I had with the Lord of Barad-dûr himself -- yet I was the victor, and I learned many things, some useful, like the unforeseen attack of the fleet of Umbar upon Pelargir. And some… not so useful.’
And I began to understand, for it was written that the seven Stones ever called to one another. Might perhaps he who mastered one see even into the secret thoughts of he who looked into another? For the heir of Elendil would be the rightful lord of the palantír of the White Tower, also. And I fell silent.
‘Do you not think that dissension within the Steward’s family met Sauron’s purposes rather well?’ said the King. ‘Ever loved the Enemy to pervert those things that are by nature right and honourable, and to twist them to his own foul ends.’
And somehow, at that thought, the chill hand that clenched over my heart relaxed its hold a fraction. For even the proudest of sailing ships would o’erturn in a tempest, even the brightest of gold might be melted in a hot enough furnace, and even the mightiest of oaks could be felled by an axe.
‘I struggled in thought with the Lord of Barad-dûr but once, and it was a struggle grimmer by far than any of the battles in which I have fought.’ He dropped his hand from my shoulder, and without willing so, I turned to face him.
‘If Thorongil had claimed the Kingship back in your grandfather’s time,’ he said, his voice harsh, sardonic even, ‘then think you that the Lords Denethor and Valanthor, and their like, would have sworn allegiance?’ He laughed, and the harsh note melted away. ‘To an upstart from the North with manners better suited to a tavern in Bree than to the Hall of the Kings? The Lords of Minas Tirith would have been looking inwards, weak and divided, when the Lord of Barad-dûr sent out his Wraiths to seek the Ring---so counselled Mithrandir and Master Elrond. And I hearkened to them, though bitter indeed it was to turn my back on the fair City that I had come to love.’ He paused, as if caught up in some memory, though from his face it seemed more joyous than sorrowful, and turned back to the pool, to the sapling that gleamed in the lamplight, and he knelt and ran his finger along the top of one of the leaves, as gentle as a lover’s caress.
‘Mithrandir said to me once,’ continued Aragorn, his voice so soft that I had to strain to catch his words, ‘when I despaired of this day ever dawning, that I am not Isildur, though his blood flows in my veins. Oft may history repeat the theme, but sometimes the pattern is inverted, like the ricercare that they love to play in Imladris.’
And though I knew not the word, the message was clear. You are not your father.
I wake as the morning sun bathes the bed, our bed, bright strands of gold spread across the pillow, your body slumbering still stretches warm against mine, and again I feel that familiar--unfamiliar ache that starts in my groin but seeps out to encompass my all, from the tips of my fingers to my head and my heart.
Love, I name it, my love.
You stir, open clear grey eyes. This is the hand that struck the Witch King, here, stroking my cheek. I capture the fingers, press them to my lips. You are fairer by far than the City in the first morning light, more precious than any Ring of the Enemy’s devising, more terrible than an army with banners, be it headed by the heir of Isildur himself.
Wife, I name you, my wife, and at the unfamiliar name you laugh, glimpse of coral tongue and pearl teeth.
Husband, you name me, my husband, and you poke out that coral tongue, add And what wouldst thou do about it?
I straddle you swiftly in answer. I love thee, Éowyn, I say.
I love thee too, Faramir, you say, and all that I am melts like wax in the flame of your smile, and all my absences are filled.
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.