46. A New Friend
"What is that?" I asked Faramir, pointing to a small, covered basket. "That did not come from the kitchen."
Faramir took his seat at the breakfast table. "It's for you," he said, pushing it toward me as he tried to hide a smile.
Curious, I pulled the cloth from the basket. Underneath were four lovely, smooth apricots, at the perfect stage of ripeness, if their colour was anything to judge by. "Oh," I breathed, picking one up and inhaling deeply of its delicate scent, "Faramir, these are wonderful! I have been missing apricots so badly – "
"I heard you talking to Mag about them," Faramir replied, now grinning with delight that his surprise had gone over so well, "so I asked if I could have some for you."
I was puzzled. "But – Mag said she'd not be getting any for a week or more. Or did she help you with this?"
"Oh, no, I didn't get them from Mag," Faramir said as he carefully poured cream into his porridge, "The widow has an apricot tree in her garden, and she said I could have as many as I liked."
"The widow?" I frowned at him, trying to figure out who he meant. "What widow, Faramir? One of the Healers?" Now I assumed he'd gotten the fruit from the Houses - in the past few months, Faramir had begun waking before dawn, and I had given him permission to explore the gardens until it was time for breakfast. I was not such an early riser, and Faramir was old enough that I did not need to tend his every waking moment. Additionally, having such a freedom made Faramir feel very grown-up. Of course, I would never have allowed a nine-year-old Boromir to do such a thing; at that age, he had been far too reckless and I would have been sick with worry every moment, thinking that he was hopelessly lost or fighting with first-circle urchins or that he'd jumped off the City walls on a dare.
Faramir, however, was steadier and more cautious than his brother, and when he said he would return by breakfast, he returned by breakfast, even if he came running breathlessly through the door just before the bells finished striking. Once he'd stopped climbing everything in sight, I had not worried much for Faramir's safety; he had a good head on his shoulders for one so young, and did not often give me any reason for anxiety.
He shook his head, swallowing a mouthful of porridge. "No, the widow with the herb garden."
I sat down in my own chair, turning the apricot over in my hands, reluctant to eat it until I knew where it had come from. "Where did you meet this woman?"
"She lives in the fifth circle, down a side street," Faramir answered, reaching for his tea. "I met her when I was out walking."
"The – fifth circle?" I tried to keep my voice from squeaking. "When were you out walking in the fifth circle?"
He looked confused. "In the mornings," he said as if this should be obvious, "before breakfast. You said I could go look at gardens in the morning, Nanny."
I stared at him for a moment, speechless. Finally I said, "I meant the gardens of the Houses, Faramir, not private gardens in the City! You should not be out wandering the streets alone, before dawn! How – how have you even left without anyone noticing?"
"They do notice," Faramir said, looking more and more puzzled. "I say good morning to the guards, and I told them that you said I could go walking as long as I'm back by half-seven."
And they, of course, believed him, because it was Faramir. Boromir would have been questioned, for all the Citadel guards knew that he would try to bluff his way past them out of sheer mischief.
"Nanny, what's wrong?" Faramir asked, breakfast forgotten. "I haven't gotten lost or hurt, and I come back on time."
"That is true, rabbit, but –" I hesitated, " – you are too young to wander around the City all by yourself! Too many things could happen, and I would not know where you were, or where to begin looking for you." What I did not say was that any stray ruffian could realize who he was, take him, and be gone before I'd realized Faramir was missing.
"I've never gone further down than the fifth circle," he said seriously. "It's mostly lords' houses there, Nanny. Almost no-one's even awake when I get there."
I took a deep breath to steady myself. I did not think he wasn't being obstinate on purpose; he honestly did not see a reason for a fuss. Faramir was the most trusting child I had ever met, and while it was one of the things I loved most about him, it could make him completely oblivious to danger. I did not truly think that this mysterious widow was a threat, but I could not smile and nod and let it go at that.
I tried a different approach. "What is this lady's name?"
He considered this, tapping his spoon on the edge of his bowl. "I don't know," he admitted. "She's never told me."
I wanted to groan. "And have you introduced yourself?"
"No," Faramir replied. "She hasn't asked my name."
Well, that was something, I supposed. At least he wasn't announcing his heritage to every random stranger he encountered, and there was nothing about his everyday clothing which would mark him as a son of the Steward.
"How do you know she is a widow?"
"Because she says, 'It is so thoughtful of you, to visit an old widow'," Faramir replied, turning to his toast. "She likes it when I come see her. She tells me all about her herbs, and she has a cat that follows us around the garden."
I gave myself a moment to think by sipping at my tea, then asked, "What do you talk about?"
Faramir shrugged. "All sorts of things; the herbs, her flowers, what the City was like a long time ago, sometimes she tells me stories about her husband…" he trailed off, frowning. "I think she is lonely, Nanny."
"She probably is, rabbit," I agreed, feeling a touch of sympathy for this lady, and pride that my little one would understand this. "Can you tell me where her house is?"
He gave me the name of the street she lived on, described the house, and told me about her garden. He was quite right in assuming she was lonely, if I had guessed her identity correctly. The lady in question had lost her husband some years ago, and had no children, though she still had a small circle of friends. She came to court gatherings only rarely, and I thought I had seen her once or twice speaking with Finduilas, years ago.
I found it curious that she would be interested in such a young visitor – in my experience, most women without children did not have a great deal of tolerance for their questions, and Faramir was more curious than most. But he talked about her enthusiastically, and from what I could gather, it did seem that she enjoyed his company. And I suspected that Faramir had been a bit lonely, too, since Boromir had moved out of the nursery. Many days, Boromir took breakfast and dinner with us, and obviously I was still there, but I could see that Faramir missed his older brother's presence.
I sighed to myself. "I am glad that you have made a new friend," I began, choosing my words with care, "but do you understand why I am unhappy that you've been wandering in strange places?"
Faramir looked thoughtful. "Because…because you need to know where I am, so that Father doesn't get angry with you if I get lost?"
"That is certainly part of it," I half-smiled, "but more importantly, I need to know where you are because you are dear to me, Faramir. If anything were to happen to you – even if you simply got a little lost – I would be very upset. I do not want harm to come to you if I can help it."
He listened saying nothing, so I went on. "I do not want you to think that the world is full of brigands, because it is not. But neither is everyone as friendly and kind as your widow."
Something flickered in Faramir's eyes, making him look much older than he was for an instant. "I know, Nanny," he said solemnly. "I know that some people are not nice, and I don't talk to those people, even if you're with me." That was true enough, though I had never worked out how he instinctively knew which people were not quite honest or trustworthy. "I'm careful, I am. But I don't want you to worry, and I'll stay to the gardens of the Houses if that will make you feel better." He tried to hide his disappointment.
I reached across the table and took his hand in mine. "That would make me feel better," I admitted, "but I am not going to forbid you to visit this widow, for I think it a valuable friendship – but there are some conditions."
He looked relieved, but wary. "What are they?"
"First, you may go where you like on this level." There was no point in worrying about him on the seventh; everyone kept an casual eye on him and had no qualms about reporting questionable behaviour to me, as Boromir had been chagrined to discover. "Of course you may still visit the Houses as you please – but if you are going anywhere else, you must leave me a note telling me exactly where you are going. Until you are a little older, I must know where you are. You are under no circumstances allowed to go lower than the fifth level. And if I find out that you have been anywhere but the places you said, then you will not be allowed out in the mornings, understood?"
"What if I am with Boromir?" Faramir asked.
"I would still like to know," I said, "but if you are with Boromir, or a guard, then I will not worry at all – and you still must be back by half-seven unless you have permission to come back later." I did not want to restrict him too much, because that would only lead to frustration. But the idea of Faramir ambling around the City on his own made me very uneasy, no matter how steady or cautious he was.
He regarded me a moment, as if he might have other questions, but then he nodded. "I promise," he said. Faramir being Faramir, he would probably present me with a map detailing his chosen path, each possible stop marked in red ink. "Is that all?"
"One more thing." I smiled at his flash of impatience at my words. "I should like to meet this lady who grows such lovely apricots."
I was surprised when his face fell. "Are you…are you going to come with me all the time?"
I understood. Faramir liked having a friend all his own, someone who had no contact with me or Boromir or his father or anyone he already knew, and he was afraid I would ruin that. "No," I assured him, " I just want to meet her once and thank her for the apricots, and then I will leave the two of you alone. I will not come with you all the time."
He brightened. "All right," he said with one of his sweet smiles. "I think she would like that, anyway. And maybe it would be nice if you came with me, sometimes."
"Maybe sometimes," I agreed, "but I will not come unless one of you invites me."
"Oh, I will invite you," he replied happily, returning his attention to his breakfast. "I like you, Nanny."
I laughed, pleased. I should have been used to such declarations by now, but it still delighted me when, seemingly from nowhere, Faramir announced his fondness of me, or anyone, for that matter. He was so sincere and unaffected that it always made the rest of my day a bit more cheerful. "I like you, too,rabbit," I replied, smiling at him.He beamed at me, and not for the first time, I counted myself lucky to have the caring of such thoughtful, good-hearted boys.
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.