2. Of Wizards and History
Master Ulbar, the current archivist, had made some changes in how the records were kept. Those that dated from the present Stewardship and the immediately previous one were located in the muniments room where they would be most easily accessible to Denethor himself, or more commonly to the various clerks and functionaries who handled the day-to-day bureaucracy of Gondor and Minas Tirith. Older records of the Stewards and Kings were relegated to the back rooms. There Ulbar had directed that they be separated into reigns and then further subdivided into types of document, so that the personal chronicles of the Kings and Stewards should not be mixed in with the tax rolls, nor inventories of the armories lumped together with minutes from council meetings. The system, although admirable in conception, was not yet fully achieved, and as a result some sections of the archives were inevitably unavailable at any given moment.
Faramir had learned all of this in passing from Golasgil, when the latter occasionally apologized for being unable to provide the records bearing on whatever piece of history Faramir happened to be studying just then. As he stepped through the doorway, he remembered Golasgil’s explanations and hoped that whatever Mithrandir was searching for was not among those inaccessible items.
All seemed as usual. Scrolls and codices and loose sheets filled the many shelves lining the walls. At several of the great oaken tables in the room, a half-dozen clerks were busily recording information or checking on it. A fire burned in the hearth behind Ulbar’s own desk, though at the moment the archivist was perched on a stool near one of the shelves and was peering along it, evidently looking for a misplaced item. But where was Mithrandir? Faramir looked around. A lamp burned on the central table, which was unoccupied, but a stack of parchment sheets, a quill, and an ink pot were carefully set out by the chair. Faramir guessed that he would find the white-haired man back in one of the other rooms of the archive. Mithrandir had, seemingly, gained Denethor’s leave and Ulbar’s permission to browse his way through Gondor’s history unaided.
The boy hesitated a moment, then moved to cross the room and enter the next. He would certainly be of no help to Mithrandir just standing by the table. Better to go search for him. Although he had never been past the muniments room before, he understood that the other chambers all opened out from one another in a series, and that the oldest records, least used, were the furthest back in the recesses.
Slowly he threaded his way through the towering shelves that filled the rooms, centuries upon centuries held captive in ink and parchment. Many of the cases stood free in the center of the floors, so Faramir carefully checked on all sides of each shelf to make sure he did not accidentally pass Mithrandir by. Luckily Ulbar insisted that all the chambers be kept minimally lighted; the lamps hanging on the walls helped to keep the air dry and ensure that irreplaceable documents did not deteriorate from damp. Faramir found the flickering golden light curiously reassuring as he progressed.
Finally he saw, in a corner of the final chamber, a light that looked unlike the usual lamps. He moved closer and saw Mithrandir standing in front of a shelf, with his staff raised above his head, and a gentle bluish light glowing from its top. This sight so startled Faramir that he failed to watch his step and tripped on the uneven edge of a flagstone, catching himself with a thump against the nearest shelf.
“Here, now,” said Mithrandir, turning around at the sudden noise. “Ah, young Faramir. I was hoping that you would arrive soon. I am having a little difficulty finding the records from Meneldil’s reign. Ulbar warned me that many of the early materials were being recatalogued, but he assured me that some of them were still available. Can you read the title of that volume for me?” And he raised his staff to better illuminate the book in question.
“Yes, that is a volume of Meneldil’s personal reminiscences,” said Faramir. “But lord Mithrandir, how is it that your staff makes this light? Is it some trick? I have never seen such a thing, nor heard of it save in children’s tales or old legends.”
“You need not call me lord, my lad. Master, if you will, or simply Mithrandir will suffice. And no, it is no trick, merely an ability that few have.”
Faramir felt a momentary quiver of apprehension. If Mithrandir could make light from nothing, what might he not be able to do? But he quickly reassured himself that Denethor would not have received a dangerous enemy as a guest, much less have granted him the right to consult Gondor’s archives. Accordingly, he asked, “Why only a few? Can it not be taught?”
“I fear not. Only five of us who live now among Men have this skill, if indeed there are still five.”
“Five who live among Men? What do you mean? Who are you?” and Faramir added, greatly daring, “What are you?”
“As to that,” came the reply, “Many are my names in many countries. Mithrandir among the Elves, Tharkûn to the Dwarves; Olórin I was in my youth in the West that is forgotten, in the South Incánus, in the North Gandalf; to the East I go not. (1) But if you ask my race, then nay, I am not of the race of Men. You may have heard of Curunír, or Saruman, who dwells in the tower of Orthanc in the vale of Isengard, to the North? He and I are of the same order. Some among Men call us wizards, the Istari. That is no unfitting name, and you may think of me so.”
“A wizard? Then why come you here? What can Gondor’s old records hold for such as you?”
Mithrandir chuckled. “The name of wizard confers no great power. I have skill with light, true, but that does not mean that I know all that passes when I am not present. To learn lore I must study, even as you do. So now let us return and begin!”
Taking the volume he had been examining, he added it to a stack of several others that he retrieved from where he had set them on an empty shelf. Then Mithrandir turned and led Faramir back to the muniments room.
“We have perhaps two hours before the noon meal,” he said, “which, since Denethor has not invited me to share it privately with him, I should like to take with you, Faramir, if that is all right. We can stop a few minutes early and you can take me to meet with your Master Golasgil first.”
To this Faramir assented wholeheartedly. The next two hours were not at all what he had expected. He had thought that perhaps Mithrandir would set him to looking through the chosen volumes to find references to particular people or places. Instead, he found himself being thoroughly quizzed about his knowledge of the history of Gondor, his insight into her political developments, and his understanding of all the languages and scripts used in any records that the archive might hold.
Faramir answered as well as he could, though to himself he wondered why Mithrandir chose to test his knowledge like this. Surely he could simply ask Master Golasgil what I have studied? Would that not be quicker?
As if in answer to his unspoken thought, Mithrandir said, “I may be catechizing you a bit, Faramir, but I prefer to come to my own opinion about people rather than rely on others’ reports. Moreover, I can gauge more accurately than someone else what I might need to teach you so that you can assist me more effectively. Do not worry, we will be doing both at once; I will not require you to read and speak Quenya fluently before I let you help me search through documents in the Common Speech. But you will probably enjoy learning the High-Elven tongue. It is distantly related to Sindarin, which you already seem to know quite thoroughly.”
Faramir nodded and replied, “Yes, my mother taught us that language before she died. I have tried to maintain my skill in it to honor her memory.”
“I see,” said Mithrandir thoughtfully. Then he added, “But I have done with my questions for now, and we had better go to see your Master Golasgil before we eat.”
Mithrandir decided to leave his books and leaves of parchment out and ready to take up again after the meal, so Faramir led him back up the stairways and passages and across the court to Golasgil’s chambers. He was fairly certain that the tutor would be there, working on the Short History of Gondor that he had been writing for some years now.
Indeed, Golasgil answered almost as soon as Mithrandir had rapped on the door with his staff. “Come in, come in,” he greeted them. “I had word sent from Denethor that his guest would likely be paying me a visit. What is it you wish?”
“I have a proposal to make to you,” Mithrandir replied. “I need some assistance with certain materials in the archives here, and young Faramir volunteered his help. I was hoping that you would be willing to spare him from his usual lessons for the next several weeks or so. He will certainly learn some history in the process, and I should like to start him studying the High-Elven language as well. A fair few old records were written in that tongue, and he might find it useful for that and possibly even for diplomatic purposes in the future.”
“Certainly, if the Lord Steward agrees to it. Indeed, I would be happy to take leave for a fortnight or so and do a little traveling; my sister has often urged me to visit her and her family, and this would be a good opportunity,” agreed Golasgil.
Faramir let out the breath that he had been holding. Not that he had seriously doubted Golasgil’s reaction, but it was good to have it definite. He urged his teachers, “Let us go down to the Great Hall, then, lest we miss the noon meal. And we can ask for my father’s agreement to this arrangement.”
The three then returned across the yard to the Steward’s House. An observer might have thought them an oddly assorted group. One a gangling boy, with a shock of dark hair needing to be trimmed and level serious grey eyes; clearly not entirely at ease with himself, and yet surprisingly relaxed in the company of the older men. The second, middle-aged, slightly stooped and with thinning brownish hair, had an air that combined impatience with resignation. And last an older man, white-browed, bearing a staff that he seemed not to need, gazing about him as if everything he saw was new in its particulars, yet ancient in its type. Perhaps the most peculiar thing about the trio was that the eldest and youngest resembled one another more than either did the third: not in outward appearance, but in bearing and attitude. The observer might have wrongly guessed them to be granduncle and grandnephew. For similarities of mind can manifest in the outward self, unexplained by any physical likeness.
Meals in the Steward’s household were usually taken in company in the Great Hall. Servants, clerks, family, guests, all dined together at long tables, arranged by rank. Normally Denethor himself sat at the top of the room, with those councilors and captains who might be present and any others he chose. Today it appeared that the council was eating in its chamber in the White Tower to save time during their deliberations, for the high table was still empty as Faramir, Mithrandir, and Golasgil entered amid the clattering sounds of food being served and the hubbub of conversation.
Faramir led the two older men to the high table. In his father’s absence it was his duty to represent the Steward at the meal, and he had no desire to dine alone, regardless of where his companions’ rank might normally place them. They could ask Denethor’s permission for Master Golasgil to take leave and Mithrandir to teach Faramir later in the day.
“I understand that you travel a good deal, Master Mithrandir,” said Golasgil. “Can you tell us news of the lands to the North?”
Mithrandir dipped a piece of bread in his soup before replying.
“Dale thrives since the dragon Smaug was killed, nearly sixty years ago that is now. Bain, son of Bard the dragon-slayer, has been king these twenty years, and has restored the old amity with Dáin II and the Dwarves of Erebor. The Dale folk trade with the Dwarves, and along the River Running with the Elves of Mirkwood, and down the Anduin. No doubt you have seen some of their goods in the markets here. I gather that some of their wares even travel over the Misty Mountains into Eriador.”
“Into Eriador? But who lives there now, since the end of the kingdoms of Cardolan, Rhudaur, and Arthedain? I thought that land uninhabited,” commented Faramir, and Golasgil nodded, for he too had believed it so.
“There are few who dwell there, it is true. But some Men still live in scattered villages near the old North Road, and the lands of the Periannath – as the Elves call them – lie mostly west of the Baranduin River. Even some of the blood of Númenor remain, Dúnedain who guard those lesser folk against Orcs and other fell creatures of the wild, though their purpose is oft misunderstood by the very people they protect. Never think that Gondor is the only place left with a memory of glory, or a watch to keep,” answered Mithrandir gravely. “Many Men, and Elves, and Dwarves in other lands also strive against the servants of the Dark Lord, even as your people do.”
“I had not thought much about that,” admitted Faramir.
“We of Gondor have perhaps contracted our views over time,” said Golasgil. “Our people grow less numerous, and we no longer even claim the land of Calenardhon north of the Ered Nimrais as once we did. The Rohirrim have lived there since 2510, when Eorl the Young won the victory at the Field of Celebrant, and Cirion the Steward ceded the province to him and his people. Now we rely on Rohan to defend our northern border and rarely consider what happens beyond.”
Faramir continued to listen as Mithrandir discussed more of the doings of the world beyond Gondor with Golasgil, but he was equally intent on eating enough of his noon meal to hold him over until the evening. If he was to have a practice bout with Boromir later this afternoon, he knew he needed to eat well now. His brother and he had not set a definite time for their match, but Faramir assumed that the council meeting would end by late afternoon. Several of the councilors besides Boromir also served as captains in the army, and had duties there that they would need to tend to before evening. Faramir caught the sleeve of one of the servants passing behind him and smiled at her.
“Serindë, would you be so good as to send word to me when the council break up for the day? Or better yet, ask my brother to come to find me in the muniments room when they finish, rather than meeting me in the practice yard.”
“Certainly, sir,” she said. “Rodnor is serving in the council chambers today; I will have him speak to the lord Boromir. And please,” she hesitated, “if you would be kind enough to thank your brother for me, for his patronage of my brother. Hunthor was so pleased to be admitted into his company.”
“I will,” promised Faramir. “Thank you, Serindë.”
He turned back to his meal and saw Mithrandir looking at him curiously.
“So Boromir is a good captain, eh?” asked the wizard.
“Oh, yes,” said Faramir earnestly. “Men from all over Gondor seek to join his company. Though none who defends our borders is safe, few of Boromir’s men perish, for he does not spend lives recklessly. He thinks it better to be careful, for though Orcs breed like dung-beetles in the stableyard, the lives of men are not so easily replaced. Which is not to say that he is a coward, nor even overcautious, just that he has a reputation for caring for his men in a way that some captains do not.”
“And you admire him.”
“Of course I do: he is a great warrior, a great leader of men. One day he will be the Steward of Gondor, and thus my lord as well as my brother, but I could not choose a man I would rather follow. Do not believe I think him perfect,” Faramir added hastily. “I know he has his failings. He is impatient with the tedium of making policy and would rather be in action on the field, defending Minas Tirith with the strength of his arm instead of worrying about how her sewers are cleaned.”
Mithrandir had been holding Faramir’s gaze steadily as the boy described his brother. Now he said, “How, then, will he be as Steward? For is it not the case that a Steward most often must sit in the Tower of Ecthelion and direct the deeds of others, rather than performing them himself?”
“You are right, but Boromir and I have talked of this at times. Though I shall have to serve in war as well, my role will be as his chief advisor and counselor. And if the people trust me enough, then Boromir will be free to lead the army himself at times, which he would prefer. He knows that I would not try to take power behind his back,” said Faramir.
“So you will be your brother’s shadow,” mused Mithrandir. “Well, the presence of a shadow shows that there is sun as well. May your brother’s rule be prosperous, but first may your father’s rule be long.”
“I thank you for your good wishes, my lord Mithrandir,” came a resonant voice dryly from behind them. Faramir sprang to his feet as Denethor pulled out his chair to sit.
“Father, I – we – have a request to make of you,” he said hastily.
“And what might that be?” said his father, using his knife to spear a slab of cheese from the platter. “Today’s council is not yet over, I have only a few minutes, but I always like to appear in the Hall at noontide, as you know. I would not be thought of as too proud to sit with my own folk.”
“This will take but a moment. Lord Mithrandir wishes me to assist him, as we spoke of yestereve, and says he will also instruct me in history and in the Elven languages as well. Since he will need most of my time, except the late afternoons when I have arms practice anyway, Master Golasgil would like to take several weeks’ leave to visit his sister’s family,” said
Faramir, his words tumbling over one another in his anxiety to get them out.
“Hmm. Where do they live, your sister and her folk?” Denethor asked Golasgil.
“South, near to Edhellond, but to the west of the River Ringló,” answered Golasgil. “I would travel down Anduin and go by ship through the Bay of Belfalas to Cobas Haven.”
“Indeed, the sensible way to travel there,” Denethor approved. “Very well. Shall we say a month’s leave? I believe you intended to be here at least a month, Mithrandir?”
Mithrandir nodded. “A month or more, yes.”
“I have given this matter some thought, Faramir, since it was first proposed last evening. Normally Master Golasgil provides me with regular reports on the progress of your studies. In his absence, I shall require you to write a detailed weekly summary of all that you and the lord Mithrandir study and discuss, and to give me brief verbal reports as well, when I choose. Are you willing to undertake this responsibility?” Denethor asked.
Faramir nodded eagerly, although it crossed his mind that Denethor’s requirement would mean that he would report as much on the wizard’s doings as on his own. Now, why should he want that? Surely he trusts Master Mithrandir, or he would not allow him to use Gondor’s archives.
“In that case, you have my permission, Faramir, to study with Mithrandir instead of Golasgil for the time being, and Golasgil, you may leave at your convenience. As it is now the twelfth of Ringarë, I shall expect to see you again in Narvinyë, about the middle of the month.”
Denethor arose, still chewing the crust of his bread. “I must return now. I will see you this evening, Faramir. Boromir reminds me that he will be sparring with you later; I look forward to his evaluation of your progress. Good afternoon, Golasgil, Mithrandir.” And with that the Steward departed.
Faramir sat down again and sighed. After a moment he felt Mithrandir’s hand on his shoulder and looked up to see the old man smiling kindly down at him.
“Your father is efficient in his disposal of time, is he not? I imagine that can be wearing for you on occasion. But now we should also go and return to our work for a few hours. Are you ready?”
Hastily swallowing the last of his nut pastry, Faramir stood. “Yes, sir. At your will!” And they departed from the hall.
As they settled back down at the table where the wizard had left all his books, Faramir asked, “What do you want me to do now, Master Mithrandir? Shall I search for something particular back in the storage rooms for you?”
“No,” said Mithrandir slowly. “No, I think today I will start you on learning Quenya. You cannot become proficient in a month, but the sooner you begin, the greater your knowledge of it will be. And perhaps after I leave I will be able to arrange to have some additional works in that language sent to you, so that you may continue to study on your own. But you must know the fundamentals, first.” He drew a piece of parchment towards himself and began to write a column of letters.
“I know the letters,” said Faramir. “Why need I begin there?”
“You know the Sindarin letters, which are also used to write in the Westron tongue,” responded Mithrandir. “Most of the Quenya letter-forms look the same, but they have different sounds associated with them. I am going to write down first the Quenya letters, then the Sindarin letters with the most similar sound. But I will also speak them all aloud for you, since they are not exactly equivalent in every case. Once you have studied those and learned them, we can move on to the language itself.”
And he went slowly down the list, pronouncing each letter and pointing out where they sounded different from the letters Faramir knew, where the sounds were identical but the symbol different, and the cases where both sound and letter were the same in each language.
“Now, you should go over this carefully. You may wish to write down the letters again as you pronounce them, so that you can begin to associate sound and symbol. For spoken Quenya of course that is not so important, but you will be using it mostly as a learned tongue, for reading only.”
“Yes, sir,” said Faramir obediently, although he had really hoped to spend the afternoon doing something more interesting than memorizing letter-forms. “But Master Mithrandir, could you not first tell me a bit about why you are here? I mean not just here in Minas Tirith, I know you are studying lore and history, but here altogether? If you are not an ordinary man, but a wizard, what is your purpose, your fate? I promise I will study the Quenya letters again tonight, to fix them in my mind, but just now my mind is seething with questions simply from what you have already told me!”
Mithrandir smiled. “You have an inquiring and scholarly turn of mind, I see. Very well. Since I spent the morning drilling you, I suppose we can spend an hour or so playing turnabout.”
“I thank you, sir. So, then, what are you doing here?” said the boy eagerly.
“A short question, but one that may have an answer longer than you expect. Well. I am not here to do tricks such as the one you saw this morning, of course. I am here,” and Mithrandir paused to consider his words, “to encourage men to pursue good and to strive against evil, in whatever form, but especially against the Dark Lord of Mordor, against Sauron the Deceiver.”
Faramir stared at this. “But who would do otherwise? At least in these lands,” he added, thinking of the histories he had studied so recently, the invasions of the Wainriders and the campaigns against the Corsairs of Umbar. He could believe almost anything of those peoples, from what he had learned of them.
“Many,” answered Mithrandir. “Some men choose evil deliberately, for many reasons. On such men I can have little effect. But many others turn to evil unknowingly, and there I can sometimes affect their decisions, if I am present and if they are willing to listen. For I can only persuade or suggest; I cannot force any man to make wise decisions.”
“I do not entirely understand that,” confessed Faramir. “Why would anyone choose evil purposely? How can a man choose it unknowingly? And why can you only persuade? Surely you have the ability to do more.”
“Every question answered will spawn three more, I see,” chuckled the wizard. “We can talk philosophy all you like over the next month, but let me try to begin to answer you. I can only persuade, not force, because to force a man to do something is to make him less than a man, and it is wrong to diminish another. By doing so I would myself be diminished. Does that make sense to you?”
“Somewhat, yes. But I still do not understand why anyone would turn to evil, whether deliberately or unknowingly,” said Faramir.
“There are some men for whom power is everything, and they are willing to sacrifice anything – including honor, or love, or any virtue – to achieve that power. And Sauron makes many promises to such men. Some he has ensnared forever,” and Mithrandir broke off, a shadow passing over his face.
“What is it?” asked Faramir.
“I suppose you are old enough to know without too much fear. Long ago, Sauron gave rings of power to nine Men, great lords or kings most of them, by which they were able to wield great power and through which they achieved an extended term of life. They believed, I think, that they could use these powers to attain greatness for themselves and their peoples. Yet in the end all their works turned to evil and Sauron gained the mastery over their spirits. Now they are slaves to his will, the Nazgûl, the Ringwraiths as you may have heard them called. They are not dead, but neither are they truly alive; they exist only in shapeless and dreadful forms. Their chief weapon is terror, and it serves them well. They have not been seen abroad for long years, though it may be that one or more of them is now in Dol Guldur, in the forest of Mirkwood. Something of great evil is there, and it cannot be Sauron himself, for the rekindling of Orodruin shows him to have returned in secret to Mordor. The fires of Mount Doom can only be responding to his dread presence.”
Faramir listened in wonder and dismay to this. He had certainly heard nothing of such import either from his father or in his history lessons with Golasgil. The Dark Lord’s return was an open secret, but of his servants Faramir had learned little as yet.
“Can they not be fought? Is the Enemy’s power so great that they are immortal and invincible?” he asked.
“Oh, they can be fought. Their chief at one time founded the kingdom of Angmar, up in Eriador, and for centuries Arnor and the later northern kingdoms fought against the Witch-king. He was finally defeated at the Battle of Fornost, in 1975. He fled north to the Ettenmoors and vanished, but was not killed. It is prophesied that he, at least, cannot be slain by the
hand of any man. But that may not be so for the other Nazgûl,” said Mithrandir. “And in any case they can and must be fought, even if they cannot be defeated forever. It is enough for men of good heart to do what they can, so that those who come after may stand and defend the right in their turn.”
“Moreover,” he continued, “open battle is not the only way that men can fight against evil. It is the most evident, perhaps, when Orcs invade the lands of Gondor and Rohan and elsewhere, and Sauron’s power grows. It may be for that reason that Men now esteem prowess in battle above all other virtues. And I would not belittle it. But men and women may reject and defeat evil in other ways as well. Acting with honor in all things – that is also a way to withstand the power of darkness. Darkness,” he mused. “Once, very long ago, there was no fear in the darkness. It is a great sadness that it did not remain so.”
Faramir looked at Mithrandir curiously, but the latter had ceased speaking. “I have one more question today, if you are willing,” he said tentatively.
“Eh? Yes? Pray do not make it another difficult one to answer,” the wizard requested.
“Oh, I think it is not. But this morning, when you were speaking of those who lived in Eriador, in the lands once held by Arnor, you mentioned a folk that the Elves called the Periannath. I had not heard of that people before and I merely wondered who they were, if they were some obscure branch of the Elven-folk,” said Faramir.
“They are assuredly not Elves, but mortals. A little people, they are; not few in number, rather smaller in body than any Man of Gondor. Where they came from originally I do not know for certain, but they have lived in Eriador for nearly two thousand years. They are good archers, and fought at times in the armies of the North-kingdoms. Argeleb II granted them the lands beyond the river Baranduin to hold in 1601. They are a settled and rustic folk, who stay mostly in their own lands and tend to their own business. Though one of them traveled all the way to Erebor and was at the Battle of Five Armies in Dale, when Dáin of the Iron Hills became King under the Mountain. But I should not think it likely that you would ever meet any of that folk,” said Mithrandir.
“No, I suppose not,” said Faramir thoughtfully. “Clearly they dwell too far away for Gondor to have the need or ability to ask for their aid, even if they would give it.”
“Indeed. And now,” Mithrandir added, “I want you to study your letters for a time before you must go off to your arms practice. I think I have answered enough questions for the moment!”
And for the next two hours all that could be heard at the table was the scratching of Faramir’s pen and the soft murmur of his voice as he practiced the Quenya letters, and the rustle of the leaves as Mithrandir turned the pages of his books, searching for he knew not what.
(1) The lines from “Many are my names” to “I go not” are a quotation from the conversation between Faramir and Frodo in Ithilien. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, The Two Towers: being the second part of The Lord of the Rings, 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993), 279.
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