Steward's Sons, The
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In His Brother's Shadow: 4. Of Elves and Swordplay
The door eased open and his brother stepped into the room.
“Still asleep, were you? I thought I would see if you wanted to have breakfast with me this morning. Father seems to have already eaten and gone to the Tower, and though I must see him there soon, I have a little time yet,” said Boromir.
Yawning, Faramir stepped out of bed and splashed his face with water to rub the sleep from his eyes.
“If you can wait but five minutes, I will be ready,” he replied, looking for a pair of clean stockings.
“Certainly,” said Boromir, closing the door and leaning against it.
Once Faramir had dressed, they walked quickly down the stairs to the Great Hall. Denethor had decided, when Boromir had left for service in his first company, that it was wasteful to have breakfast served in the family quarters, when he and Faramir rarely ate the meal together anyhow. Although Faramir understood and agreed with the principle, he sometimes regretted the reality. If he had to eat alone, he would prefer to be truly alone rather than solitary amid the usual crowd in the Hall.
“What are you doing today, Boromir?” Faramir asked through a mouthful of porridge.
“Before anything else I must see what Father wants me for this morning, and make the proposal you suggested last night. But most of the day, I hope, I will be arranging for the delivery of arms and provisions to resupply Osgiliath. First I must meet with Hallas and then with Quartermaster Eradan. And you?” Boromir returned.
“I am to meet Master Mithrandir down in the archives, I expect. Although I had thought to see him here,” said Faramir, craning his neck to see if the wizard were elsewhere in the hall.
Boromir chuckled. “Well, you know that the children’s tales say ‘Do not meddle in the ways of wizards,’ although I had never thought to put the line to the test. Perhaps he broke fast earlier; perhaps he does not eat the morning meal every day. Or perhaps he will appear soon. As long as you turn up in the archives in a timely manner I cannot imagine it will matter whether you see him beforehand.”
“I wasn’t worried about seeing him here, brother. I merely thought I might,” said Faramir. “So it sounds as if you do not plan to leave until tomorrow at the earliest then?”
“It depends on what I can accomplish today. Probably I will leave tomorrow; although I have no fear that Cirion will do anything amiss in my absence, still I would prefer to be back in the field myself. And it is my duty,” Boromir added as he saw dismay on Faramir’s face. “Though I would enjoy spending more time with you, Faramir, we each have our different responsibilities. Do not forget that!”
“I had no thought to,” Faramir said honestly. “Two days in Minas Tirith merely seems hardly worth the travel, that is all.”
Boromir shrugged. “We do what we can, what we must.”
He finished his last morsel of bread and rose. “If I see you not at the noon meal, and I probably will not, then this evening. Have a good day with Master Mithrandir – learn much!”
He strode out of the Hall, heading to the White Tower and his appointment with Denethor. Near the doorway, Faramir saw him pause to speak to someone.
Faramir grinned. That will be Serindë, he thought, and Boromir is telling her of Hunthor’s accomplishments. She will be so pleased to hear good news of her brother!
Then he returned to his own meal, spooning the last few bites of porridge out of the bowl. He considered the hour, then got up to fetch himself some bread and honey and an apple.
“Your father does not stint, I see,” came Mithrandir’s voice from behind.
Faramir looked over his shoulder and saw the wizard balancing a plate in one hand and a mug of tea in the other, his staff held in the crook of his elbow.
“Let me take that for you,” he said, relieving Mithrandir of the hot cup.
“Thank you,” Mithrandir returned gravely. “Are you ready to work today?”
“Of course,” said Faramir in some surprise. “Why would I not be?”
“No real reason, only that you might be tired, since you were up rather late last night with your brother. I was awake until a late hour myself, and heard your voices as I passed through the hallway,” explained Mithrandir.
“Oh, that is no matter. Actually I am looking forward to today. What will you have me do?”
“First I will test your understanding of the Quenya letters, and begin you on some simple words and phrases in the tongue. But those you can study later today, or this evening. I think I will use you as my legs to go and find the books and scrolls that I wish to examine; that will be a more efficient use of my time,” the wizard said.
Faramir thought guiltily that he had not studied the letters as he had promised, and hoped that he would remember them all.
“Did Master Ulbar show you his indexes?” he asked. “They are incomplete, but still useful, according to Master Golasgil, as they are comprehensive lists of the extant records for a given reign. I believe that they begin with my grandfather’s rule and extend backward, but I do not know how far.”
“No, I was not aware of those. Your Master Ulbar is clearly very conscientious about his duties; from what I saw yesterday the archives are far better run than they have been in many, many years,” said Mithrandir, sipping his tea.
Faramir licked the honey from his fingers. “I am ready whenever you are, sir.”
“Well, let us turn the day to good use, then.” Mithrandir pushed his chair back.
They walked slowly across the court to the King’s House and down the stone-flagged stairs to the bustling muniments room. After conferring with Ulbar for a few moments, Mithrandir nodded sharply and returned to the table where Faramir waited.
“It seems that the indexes reach back only through the time of the Stewards, so far, and not to the reigns of the Kings. So we will not be using those for some time. I find it easier, myself, to move forward rather than backward though the years, and prefer to begin with Meneldil. But first, your language lesson,” said Mithrandir.
For fifteen minutes the wizard patiently took Faramir through the Elven alphabet once again, praising the boy’s quick learning. Then he spoke a few simple words of Quenya, having Faramir write them down, first in the original tongue and then translated into both Sindarin and Westron for future study.
“That will do for now,” said Mithrandir, and Faramir laid aside his quill in some relief. “Now, you said that your mother taught you your Sindarin, did you not? Your command of that language is very good.”
“Yes, my mother taught us,” said Faramir quietly. “She used to speak Sindarin with Boromir in the evenings, saying that this was an easier way to learn than through books, especially for an active lad such as my brother. I learned much just by listening to them, though I was still very young when she died. My father speaks it as well, more for formal occasions with the high nobles than for everyday use, and he required both of his sons to practice. I read poetry and stories in the language quite often in the evenings. And my uncle Imrahil and I often speak it when we see each other – though that is infrequently – I think he enjoys doing so in memory of his sister. Many of the folk of Dol Amroth speak the tongue regularly, though it is not a birth-language for any, even there.”
“That explains matters,” said Mithrandir. “Your accent is remarkably pure, compared to most who usually speak in the Common Tongue.”
Faramir said nothing; he had never given thought to how he spoke the Elven language, merely imitating the pronunciation of his mother and uncle.
“A convenient ability, in any case,” Mithrandir added briskly. “Which we will put to good use. I made a list last night of works I know I wish to consult; if you will please go try to find them for me,” and he handed Faramir a slip of parchment.
The boy nodded and disappeared into the back rooms, returning some little time later, staggering under the weight of four huge volumes.
“I was only able to bring a few codices in this trip,” he explained breathlessly. “I will bring the rest of them, and then the scrolls next.”
When he had collected all the items on the wizard’s list and piled them neatly on the table, Faramir inquired, “What would you have me do now, Master Mithrandir?”
Mithrandir shot him a glance from under bushy white brows. “Hmm. Difficult, since I am not entirely certain what I am looking for myself. But in general I am studying the course of events in Gondor – how she became sundered from the Dúnedain of the north, for instance, why her boundaries have ebbed and flowed over the centuries, and perhaps most importantly for any mention of Elves as political allies or even trading partners.”
“Elves? Why are you interested in Gondor’s contacts with the Elves?” asked Faramir.
“For one thing, it was only the alliance between Men and Elves that permitted the defeat of Sauron at the end of the Second Age,” said Mithrandir tartly. Then he softened his voice. “I am sure that Master Golasgil has taught you well about events within Gondor, but there is much else to this land of Middle-earth. Elves and Men will not always have the same perspective on events, and that is to the good – each race has its own strengths. I have some idea how the Elves perceive Gondor and her people, but I would like to know the perspective of Gondor on the relationship.”
“Where shall I start, then?”
“Begin with the court rolls that survive from Osgiliath, and look for any mention of trading concessions, special privileges granted to Elvish merchants, if there was any quarter of the city where Elves usually stayed – that sort of thing,” Mithrandir told him.
Faramir sorted through the pile. When Osgiliath was destroyed, many of the original records of Gondor had been lost, and those that remained were unevenly scattered over the decades and centuries. He chose what appeared to be the earliest scroll and began to scan through it, bracing the roll of parchment with his left hand as he slowly unwound it with his right, letting the loose end curl over itself as he went. He was nearly halfway through the second scroll when he first saw Elves mentioned.
“Here, Master Mithrandir,” he said, and nudged a codex aside to spread the crackling parchment in front of the wizard. “King Cemendur made an arrangement with King Thranduil of Greenwood to transship one hundred barrels of wine each year from Dorwinion, for the royal household. In return for a guaranteed price on the wine, the Elves who brought it were granted the right to use two warehouses and a large dwelling convenient to the River Anduin.”
“Ah, excellent,” said Mithrandir, making a note of the information. “That is the sort of thing I hoped to find, something that indicates the movements of different peoples and goods around the lands, and that shows with what degree of courtesy they treated one another.”
“Why do you need to know all that sort of thing for such a long time ago? Surely it can have little to do with today?” questioned Faramir.
“You study the political alliances and wars of that period of Gondor’s history, do you not?”
“Yes, of course; but that is important, that is politics,” Faramir replied.
“Well, does not trade affect as many people, or more? If some particular item was once traded with the Elves, might it not be worth thinking about reestablishing the exchange, if possible, to the benefit of both peoples? It might even turn to practical purposes as well, to be on good terms,” said Mithrandir.
Faramir thought about that for the remainder of the morning, even as he continued searching through the documents and showing Mithrandir what he found. I am not entirely sure I agree with Master Mithrandir; it is long since Gondor had much trade with the Elves, though we do some business with the Men to the north. But I suppose it is worth thinking of, as a possibility. I never really connected all these things together before. Father seems to talk most of politics, but he must pay attention to the rest as well.
At noontime they went to the Great Hall for their meal. Denethor was present at the high table today, but he was engaged in a conversation with the bailiff of the royal farmlands and merely nodded curtly at Faramir and Mithrandir as they sat down. Boromir was nowhere to be seen. Faramir assumed that his duties were keeping him busy, as he had expected.
Mithrandir ate sparingly as usual, taking only the thick vegetable soup and some bread, but he urged Faramir to eat his fill of the sliced meats and cheese, with stewed pears to finish off.
“I have seen growing boys before,” the wizard said, his eyes twinkling. “Do not stint yourself in order to hurry; I am in no rush.”
Faramir smiled shyly at that and took another piece of bread and cheese.
“I will have to go off in midafternoon to the armories for my usual practice,” he reminded Mithrandir.
“Yes, I know. But that gives us another good two or three hours, and I can certainly continue on my own afterward. Not that I do not appreciate your assistance, of course; it makes my studies progress more rapidly. Yet it would be impolitic of me to interfere with your other responsibilities. I fear that your father believes I will waste your time in any case. No, no, I am happy to have you work with me during your usual hours of study, but you need feel no urgency or especial obligation.”
When Faramir had eaten as much as he wanted, then, they returned to the muniments room and continued to sift through the earliest records of Osgiliath and the rest of Gondor, looking for evidence of interactions between Men and Elves, political or economic. After a time Faramir ventured to ask Mithrandir another question.
“I think I can see why you wish to know how Elves were looked at by our early settlers, Master Mithrandir, but I was wondering what you know of the Elves today. We in Gondor have little or no direct contact with them, and though our nobles may use the Sindarin tongue at times, we speak it only to one another, not to its originators. I know from what I have read and heard that the Elves are immortal, and fairer than Men, but that tells me little of them as people. In your travels, surely you must have met and come to know many of them.”
Mithrandir chuckled quietly. “As I said yesterday, you do indeed have an inquiring turn of mind. I cannot tell you all in a minute what I know of the Elves, that is certain. There are as many differences between one Elf and another as between one Man and another, for one matter. And they live in many places, and have many lords and rulers, just as Men have their different kingdoms. Anything I can say of the Elves would be no more than a gross generalization. But if you wish I will try to say a few things.”
“Yes, please do,” said Faramir eagerly. “Are there still great heroes among them such as Fingolfin who fought hand-to-hand against the great Enemy Morgoth at the gates of Angband? Most of what I know of the Elves is from the old stories and poems, you see,” he added self-deprecatingly, “and I am aware that such tales do not give a complete picture.”
Mithrandir sighed. “Few such heroes yet dwell in Middle-earth, no. Many perished fighting Morgoth, as you know, and others at the hands of Sauron and his allies; Gil-galad was one such, at the end of the Second Age. And many of the High Elves, of the kindreds of the Noldor and Teleri, have chosen at last to take ship into the West. Yet some remain, loving Middle-earth too well to leave it. One such is the lady Galadriel, who rules Laurelindórinan to the north with her husband Celeborn. She is of high kindred indeed, the granddaughter of Finwë the first king of the Noldor, and niece of Fëanor who wrought the Silmarils. I would name her among the heroes; she has fought to hold back the darkness from her lands.”
“Fought? Do the women of the Elves wield sword, then, as we hear the women of the Rohirrim may do at times?” Faramir asked.
“No, they do not usually use weapons in that way. I meant fighting as in drawing boundaries to protect her country, encouraging her people to reject evil – that manner of action, as we discussed a bit yesterday,” Mithrandir explained. “Galadriel was herself born in Valinor in the time when the Two Trees of legend still shone, and she is accounted among the greatest of her people.”
“It seems unusual for a woman to hold such high regard,” Faramir commented. “There have been none such in Gondor; and if one looks back to Númenor, the four ruling Queens there were not considered among the greatest rulers of the land. Indeed the last Queen was so powerless that her own husband usurped her throne, and in his pride attacked Valinor and caused the entire destruction of the land. Tar-Míriel is not remembered fondly by my people.”
“In general, perhaps,” Mithrandir agreed, “but Galadriel’s respect is well-earned. In her youth she was one of those who crossed the Grinding Ice of the Helcaraxë to reach Middle-earth; those who survived that passage all had great strength of mind and body. Galadriel has always held equal power with Celeborn in the land they rule together. And there is also the example of Melian’s wise counsel to her husband King Thingol of Doriath in the First Age. I would say that among the Elves, ability is respected whether the possessor be man or woman.”
“I see,” said Faramir thoughtfully. “The Elves seem a practical race in that respect at least.”
“Oh, I should say practical always,” said Mithrandir, “If by practical you mean doing things in ways that will work effectively. The Elves may be reputed most among Men as lovers of beauty, but appearance does not outweigh purpose among them. A beautiful but leaky vessel would never be cherished there.”
He raised an eyebrow at Faramir. “But if that satisfies your curiosity for the moment, let us try to get through this next couple of codices before you must leave for your lessons in swordplay.”
Faramir agreed, pulling another volume towards himself and bending over the pages studiously.
At midafternoon, he bade Mithrandir farewell for the moment and trotted up the stairs and across the yard to the armory. He was slightly disappointed, if unsurprised, to find that Boromir was not there. Today, after his usual warm-up exercises, Hallas set him to practice with Beregond, the young son of one of the guards in the Third Company of the Citadel, who was hoping to join his father there in a few years. A year or two younger than Faramir, the boy was clearly somewhat intimidated at the thought of crossing swords with the son of the Steward, even in practice.
“Don’t worry,” said Faramir cheerfully. “I’m really not that good; not anywhere near my brother’s abilities.”
At the comment Beregond relaxed a trifle and smiled hesitantly before assuming a combat stance.
Indeed it proved that the two boys were fairly well-matched; Faramir had the edge in reach but Beregond was a touch quicker. Hallas kept an eye on them as they continued, stopping one or the other occasionally to correct a stance or a grip. At last he released them for the supper hour.
“Would you like to practice together again tomorrow? Boromir showed me a new move yesterday, and I could share it with you,” invited Faramir.
“Oh, indeed I would,” Beregond responded eagerly. He glanced at the lowering sun. “But I had best get home now, or my mother will scold me for being late to dinner. See you tomorrow!” He ran off towards the tunnel to the lower levels of the city, and turned to wave before disappearing into the dark opening.
Faramir wished briefly that he still had his own mother to scold him similarly, but the thought of a tongue-lashing from Denethor for tardiness brought him quickly to the bathing room to sluice off the sweat and grime from practice, before dashing upstairs to change before dinner. A message waited for him that this evening the Steward planned to dine in the Great Hall, and his son should join him there. Faramir hoped this would not mean he would be unable to spend a last evening with Boromir before his brother left. He tapped at the door to Boromir’s room before walking down, but there was no response.
To his relief he saw that he was a few minutes early for the meal; the lower tables were slowly filling but only Mithrandir and two captains sat at the high table as yet. Faramir bowed to the lords and seated himself by the wizard, leaving a space to his left where he hoped Boromir might sit.
“Did you find anything interesting in the records after I left, Master Mithrandir?” he inquired.
Mithrandir shook his head slowly. “Not especially, more of the same that we saw in the morning.”
He shrugged. “Still it enables me to build up a picture of Gondor and her folk in the early years of the land, so that I may be able to better understand the changes that have occurred. It is hard to see how one can try to influence a people if one does not know how they have developed.”
At that moment Denethor entered the room and made his way up to his usual seat, followed by several more lords and captains. Boromir strode among them and clapped a hand on Faramir’s shoulder before dropping into the next seat.
“I’m starving,” he said, sniffing hungrily around and reaching for a piece of bread. “Thank goodness they’re already bringing in the platters. I didn’t get a chance to eat at midday, just snatched an apple in the stables.”
“No oats?” Faramir joked.
“No, not even horse-bread. I should have tucked something in my pocket before I left this morning, but I didn’t think of it then.”
Denethor rose and ceremoniously gestured for the rest of the room to join him. They turned as one toward the western walls to observe the moment of the Standing Silence, and then the room burst out into noise again as everyone sat and began to pass the dishes around the tables.
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