A Man's a Man
2. What Ellë didn't know
“My lord?” he said, to the long expanse of black cloak. “What is it you see?”
Faramir looked, out at the milling of the streets in the August summer evening- the western sky golden with a dying sun, the eastern sky blue with a fresh silver moon, the violet light on the plaza of the citadel, the tree’s blossoms falling in the fountain, Alasse and Éona strolling arm in arm, having some lively talk by the looks of things, two small boys playing jacks, it looked from here most like jacks, on the flagstones, the White Guard officers outside with their wine-
Only the Guard officers, though- only the Guard officers, the others, all away, away in Harandor, around a campfire- around the campfire, yes, that was where they would be now, Elboron set to telling some absurd tale or another if Faramir knew his heir, quite untroubled of course, well he would be, no message would have reached him even if it had been sent, and the King had said, no message to him, not yet, it was too close- too close-
A shout from the boys as their marbles, that was what they were doing, ran out of control, they scrabbled to catch them all, causing a figure in a flapping black cloak and hood- on this warm night!- to have to skirt out of their way, and suddenly, as suddenly as a cloud can suddenly become a ship or a horse or the face of a man, as the figure continued across the plaza as fast as if fired from a bow, Faramir saw what the king was seeing, as she rushed past his daughter and his niece-by-marriage, causing them to stop their talk, and to turn, then turn back and carry on with even more animation than before.
“’Tis Ellë,” he said.
“What do you think she is doing?” the King asked. “Running away, perhaps?”
“If she is, she has clearly not thought much about it, and as such will not get very far without turning back,” Faramir replied. “She’s hardly arrayed to travel. Let alone… blessed with the ability to pass herself off as a boy. Even temporarily, let alone... in the long term.”
“Indeed.” Elessar was silent for a while, before saying: “I see your daughter and niece have heard about it already.”
“I would hesitate to draw that conclusion, my lord. They know she has not left her room all day, and has emerged not properly dressed, by the look of things. They could have guessed anything. ‘Tis only because it is Ellë, and she is not often in trouble. If it were ‘Míriel, they would not think twice.”
“Have you yet spoken with Elensil, my lord?”
“To what effect?”
“I told her that her mother and I were very disappointed in her.”
“What did you say?”
“Just that. I told you it was brief.” There was something of a silence before Elessar said: “Do you think I should have done otherwise?”
“Hard to say, my lord.”
Though Elessar had known Faramir too long and well to be fooled by that.
“From your tongue, Faramir, that’s not the same as “I don’t know”, is it?” the King said.
There was no answer to that, so Faramir said:
“I’m sorry, my lord. I’m sorry- about it all.”
“You’re not taking responsibility for this are you? Elboron’s- what is he now?”
“Thirty-six, my lord.”
“That’s older than you at the time of the War, Faramir.”
“I know, my lord. It’s gone very fast.”
“Would your father have made apologies for you at- no. Sorry. That was uncalled for.”
“Thank you, my lord.”
“Well just don’t make such damn fool comments under the circumstances.”
“I’m sorry, my lord.”
“I didn’t expect this of Elensil, Faramir,” the King said.
“Shocks wouldn’t be shocks if they weren’t unexpected, my lord.”
“That’s either very insightful, Faramir, or else very trite. Which, I wonder?”
“Possibly both, my lord.”
“And the same applies to that, come to think of it.”
“Yes, my lord. But there is a logic to it, if you don’t mind my saying so.”
“Well, they do say it’s always the best of girls, and to a point they’re right. And it’s not just that the plain ones are safe. The fact is that girls of less virtue than Elensil-“
“-whatever that is now-“
“- well- in any case- if they have less virtue but still as much sense, they are inclined to- make plans, if you see my meaning. And thus… evade ill fortune for quite some time. Whereas maids of virtuous intention- if circumstances lead them astray…”
Know nothing. What did she who had sat months, years, by the side of her weak younger sister, as the girl’s health faded and faded, know of this, these men coming arm-in-arm out of a tavern, five abreast, threatening to knock her into the gutter, she at whose side her Ada had retired when he was weary and wished for the sight of beauty unsullied by courtly decoration and ambition, but had instructed, she must walk at least half an hour a day, if she did naught else for herself; this child of eight or so dropping her sausage and swearing like a sailor, even if her mother did thump her upside of the head for it, knew much more of the world than Elensil; Elensil may have spoken seven languages but did not know the right words in any that would save her, even if only by trammelling the joy that had taken her when, in the depths of her term of mourning, she had come down the stairs and found the tall, fair-headed but brown-faced man awaiting her and from his face had known, known what for all these years- seven- she had never, ever dared ask.
And on these hot summer days, innocence is a state of innocence lost. Someone had said that. Some old high-born man who wrote. Who was it? It was Estel Hurin of course, it would be wouldn’t it, who had taken her out to the Mindolluin meadows, to try to remind her of light and grass of sunlight again, a full year after she had opened her eyes upon Annalindë’s face to find that that countenance always as white and beautiful as an alabaster carving was now also as still and cold.
What could Estel Hurin have known- for what could Elensil have forseen of that burst of joy, of such joy, as she came down the stairs in white? Well, who could have known, who would have guessed? Would this fruit-seller have seen it her eye? Would this beggar-man have read it on her palm?
How weary she was, how weary, after barely having moved all day! A coldness was slowly erupting like a flower behind her forehead and the roof of her mouth, as if she had breathed in a stone. If she walked a little longer, perhaps it would clear. Or perhaps she would fall and be taken to her apartment by the sweet-faced young woman at this tavern-garden, what a lark, what a plunge! to be the stranger taken to a stranger’s heart, turning a working day upside-down!
Was she really feeling so very faint? She put out a hand to steady herself on a wall, and thought, maybe, maybe; what did she know? She had not been the fainting sort before- how she had wanted to come over faint, that soul-eating envy that had at times filled her with the desire to cut Halafindë into a thousand little pieces… then among the faces of the clientele of the tavern, one swam into focus- a mere face became that of Kollolin, the King’s man, how very strange-
“Hello, you, what’s… Here! My lady, you don’t want to lie down there! Come on, what are you doing here anyway, my dear girl? No, I know, I know, Kollolin has eyes and ears, you know. Come along, lady. Up you go. Find you some preserved ginger, eh, and get you a nice bath and to bed with you. Come on, good girl.”
Which did not please Alda at that late time in the evening, that she should suddenly be told to draw a bath; but that was Master Kollolin’s word; and it did not please Alda at all that the Princess was too restless to be bathed, and kept splashing water on the floor by moving about; as indeed she might be, for if Kollolin had eyes and ears then so did Alda, and hers had been well placed before his had, indeed. But what was to be done? One could hardly say anything directly; only so much ‘yes, my lady, I understand, my lady,’ and to tuck her up in bed and hope that she would go off soon enough.
But she didn’t, she couldn’t.
She should have laughed, of course. What could you do but laugh? She who had wept that, as long as Annalindë needed her, she would never, ever need to need to be supported on a fortress of pillows at night, to leave the room hourly, to feel heavy and swollen so very swollen; for six years she had craved discomfort just as some women craved porridge or earth or apricots, wanted the pain, the tearing searing pain, to push and push and scream and scream; dreading the mocking blood as some women dreaded bloodlessness; what madness that she had wept for six years for something that had taken less than the time it had taken to climb the stairs to her bower?
And she might have done, had Estel Hurin been there to make her laugh at herself, or Eldarion there to comfort her.
A low laugh on the passageway, brought to mind the bright eyes and shrewd smile of her sister, Andumíriel, and, somewhere, faint strains of Nanneth singing to Elenwë, her little one, too far away to hear the words.
(the sun is sinking and it lies in blood
the moon is weaving bandages of gold,
Oh Black Swan! Where oh where is my lover gone?
Torn and tattered is my bridal gown,
And my lamp is lost
With silver needles and with silver thread,
The stars stitch a shroud for the dying sun,
Oh Black Swan! Where oh where is my lover gone?
I have given him a kiss of fire,
And a golden ring)
Her Ada had come to her that morning, after Lady Éowyn had left her. He had not come into the room. She had not heard him, and, with her face buried, had not known he was there until she heard:
“Your mother and I are disappointed in you, Elensil,”
She had looked up, but he had turned from her, and he was gone. More fool her for not cried out then, “Ada! Ada!”, for surely now it only made it worse. And oh, not to have touched him, or seen his face, since that hour!
No, no, she could not rest, she could not rest, now, not for anything! She knew what it would take to slow down her heart, as she knew she should, she had spent six years reading of it- and so she rose, in her nightgown, and went out- halfway along the passageway she heard ‘Míriel’s squeak of exclamation, heard Alda: my lady, please listen lady, go back in your room and dress yourself, but she cared not, only wishing that she had on heavy boots so that they might all hear her pass, so that he would know she was coming-
(Don’t you hear your lover moan?
Eyes of glass and feet of stone,
Shells for teeth and weeds for tongue,
Deep, deep down in the river’s bed
He’s looking for the ring-
Eyes wide open, never asleep, he’s looking for the ring!)
A lamp was burning in the study; within, a long, dark shadow sat perfectly still, not working, not reading, not even smoking, his gaze fixed on the table and the lamp. By the waning lamp, and at the haggard hour, there was an appeal of weariness about him- could it be, that he was longing for her love again, too?
“Ada! Ada! Speak to me, Ada!”
He started at her voice, and leaped up from his seat. She was so close before him with extended arms, but he fell back.
“What is the matter?” he said, sternly. “Why do you come here? What has frightened you?”
If anything frightened her, it was the face he had turned upon her; and she stood and looked at him, as if stricken into stone. This man was the King, right enough, but it was not her Ada, not at all.
“I ask you, Elensil, are you frightened? Are you feeling unaccountably ill? Is there anything the matter, that you came here?”
“I came, Ada-“
“Against my wishes. Why?”
She saw he knew why: it was written broadly on his face: and dropped her head upon her hands with one prolonged low cry.
He took her by the arm. His hand was cold, and loose, and scarcely closed upon her- she felt its calluses, but that was all.
“You are tired, I dare say,” he said, taking up the light, and leading her towards the door, “and want rest. We all want rest. Go, Elensil. You have been dreaming.”
The dream she had had, was over then, and she felt it could never more come back.
(The spools unravel and the needles break
The sun is buried and the stars weep,
Oh black wave,
Take me away with you
I will share with you my golden hair
And my bridal crown)
She turned and fled back up the stair.
(Oh take me down with you
take me down to my wondering lover
with my child unborn-)
“Hold, hold,” came a voice, and indeed, hold she had to, for she had hit him; “Come-“ he took her in his arms- “Weep, if you wish to. You are quite within your rights to weeping.”
Faramir. He must know, he must. Éowyn would have told him, and why not? it was his concern enough.
“A dream,” she murmured, “I had an evil dream; ‘tis no more.”
“A dream,” he said.
“Indeed; ‘tis no more than that,”
“Well,” he said, in the articulated equivalent of a shrug, “sometimes that can be quite pain enough.” (indeed, he might well find himself paying for this later that night, but there was no sense in dwelling on that now). “Lady?” He softened his voice. “Ellë?” She sobbed, and clung onto him. “I think you might have guessed already, but, my wife has had words with me, and you have nothing to fear. We shall be overjoyed to have you in Emyn Annen. We both have always loved you very much, and we still do.”
“I cannot, you know I cannot, not yet. I am supposed to be in mourning. And who knows how much longer the war will go on before the men come home?”
Faramir kissed her on the head. Her inky curls smelled of sandalwood.
“I know not,” he said, “but there are many months yet for them to do so,”
“And if it is too late?”
“Do not think of such things. You are too weary. Come. You must sleep.”
Sleep? What sleep was there to be had, now? In fact, in the circumstances, Elensil was indeed astonished by how heavy her head was becoming, and how blissfully soft her bed felt…
She was asleep, of course, when Faramir heard a barely-perceptible tread- just enough to look up.
“And now you’re expecting me to accuse you of being too easy with her,” the King said, “and to tell you that I should decide what is to be said and done with her, not you.”
“You seem to know a lot about what I think, my lord,” Faramir replied mildly.
There was a silence for a while, until Aragorn said:
“Think nothing of it, my lord,” Faramir replied. “I’m sure all will be well in the morning.”
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.