8. Aye, there's the rub
Though news travels no faster than the messenger who bears it, to Faramir son of Denethor, it seemed that the city of Minas Tirith had some foreboding of his message. Too silent seemed its folk as he rode the proud streets, and though many cried aloud his name and clustered close about to greet him, he yet sensed a furtive quietude that was lodged deep in his people. Something in their voices and even, he fancied, in the eyes of those who gathered, hinted at some grief; and though the day was fair and warm, for it was the middle of summer, the sun seemed to shine too brightly upon white-stoned walls and houses so that the splendor of the city became a veil that insisted naught was out of place. What can have caused this? he wondered, as he surrendered his mount to the handlers and made his way by foot up the long and gated passages of Minas Tirith. Say not that some ill has befallen here, even! That unhappy thought caused him to quicken his pace, though he could not imagine that any enemy should breech even the walls of the city short of war itself. Gazing up at the pearlescent needle that was the Citadel, Faramir saw that it glittered almost as a star rising up from the ground, so bright that the azure sky seemed dull
Seek for the Sword that was Broken ! Faramir paused within the court of the Seventh Circle, struck by the suddenness of the dream-vision that assailed him again. He blinked, and held his eyes shut a moment longer than usual, hoping to clear the image of the tower from his sight and thereby arrest the progress of the dream-warning. But as when a man looks into the sun, and thereafter even in darkness sees the glowing outline of that fiery orb, the glitter of the Citadel remained, and the world seemed darkened indeed. In Imladris it dwells Doom is near at hand Isildur's Bane shall waken, and the Halfling forth shall stand! Faramir shook his head once, sharply, and then went determinedly onward, unwilling to give anyone cause for alarm on his behalf. A waking dream is still a dream, and this one I know well already! So he reminded himself, and bent his will to ignore it, though now that the rhyme was in his head it refused to be silent.
The door wardens admitted him into the tower's pillared halls with grave courtesy, and again, there was something subtlely wrong about their manner. Faramir, seeking to describe that intuition more carefully, decided that they seemed relieved to see himas if they hoped his coming might herald the easing of some difficulty. That was not a sentiment to which he was accustomed upon his infrequent returns: for though it needed no false pride to acknowledge that he was held dear in the hearts of Gondor's citizens, neither did it need false modesty to recognize that those who had served long in the higher circles of the city were well aware of the friction between father and second son. When Faramir returned home, those of the sixth and seventh circles greeted him with affection, but always there was a hint of resigned anticipation as the courtiers prepared to weather whatever storms might come of his presence among them. Therefore, if those same long-suffering guardians and servants saw him now as a cause for cautious hope, something must be badly amiss.
"Húrin!" Faramir caught sight of the Warden of the Keys descending from on high, and hailed him.
"My lord Faramir," Húrin replied, and came quickly to his side. A stolid man of middling years, Húrin had held his title for as long as the younger prince could personally recall, and he treated both Boromir and Faramir as a part of his own extensive family. Therefore once he had bowed, he clasped Faramir's hand in a crushing grip and smiled kindly at him. "'Tis good to see you again, my lord."
"You look well, Húrin," Faramir said. "I heard from Boromir that your daughter married. How goes it with her?"
"Well indeed! I may be a grandfather ere next fall," the other said with understandable pride, and Faramir smiled at that.
"I hope that may come to pass! But, alas! I may not tarry for the moment. I seek the steward, for I come with news out of Osgiliath. Is he within?" asked Faramir, and gestured to the doors that led to the council chambers.
"The lord Denethor is not within the Citadel at this time, for he left some hours ago and rode up the old road into the mountains," Húrin replied, and Faramir nodded. The old road, known as the Aramen, or Royal Road, was little more than a green-grown path that wended its way to a point from which one could gaze down even upon the Citadel's peak. Custom forbade all but those of the ruling family of Gondorwhich had for generations meant the Steward's kinfrom going upon it. In his youth, Faramir had spent many a happy hour following its twisting ways, 'til at last it ended where Gondor had begun: with Elendil. But Denethor was not one for sentiment, nor did he seek the counsel of any, whether living or dead, and Faramir wondered what had prompted this journey.
"Then I shall await his return, and perhaps turn this time to my own profit, for it has been long since I have visited the library," he replied.
"I shall leave messages, so that the steward knows where to find you, should he wish it," Húrin said, and paused a moment before he repeated with quiet fervor, "It is good to see you again, my lord. You are most welcome home!"
"Thank you, Húrin," Faramir replied, extracting himself gently from the other's grasp. The Warden of the Keys strode away, then, disappearing down the eastern corridor, leaving Faramir to ponder what might lie hidden behind that welcome. At length, though, he turned north and went to the narrow staircase that descended on an angle into the mountainside itself, to the vaults of Minas Tirith where lay the royal library with its collection of rare scrolls and books of lore. The vaults were built in the days after the Kin Strife, when Gondor's rulers, seeing how close to disaster the realm had come, had decided to copy much of the old library of Osgiliath and remove it to another location, that all might not be lost should tragedy strike again. Those responsible for the great delving had reached deep for the skill of lost Númenór to create a marvelous cluster of dome-shaped rooms, five to be precise, that were set about a central one. Each peripheral room was given over to a certain subjecthistory, law, poetry and music, philosophy, and the art of warwhile the central room held copying tables and indices, as well as more recent works that had yet to be entered into the lists. In this honeycomb of knowledge, Faramir had spent much time as a boy in a (very likely) vain attempt to slake his curiosity. Today, though, he gave thanks to the foresight of his ancestors that had preserved so much when Osgiliath was ruined, for he had need of guidance in his research.
Though well-versed in the history of the Númenórian realms in Exile, Faramir yet suspected little of the location or significance of Imladris. He recalled no mention of it in his studies, though he knew that it meant Deep-cloven Valley, or something very near to that when translated. And it is a Sindarin name, which may mean much or naught at all, he thought as he began his search through the indices of geography. Unhappily, the collection of maps of Middle-earth had been one of the sections of the old Osgiliath library that had not been preserved, possibly because of the skill required to copy them, but also due, perhaps, to a lack of interest. We were turned inward even then, he thought sadly, even as he turned a page. Once rooted in soil we call our own, we soon cease to find value beyond it, even in our own kin. After Aranarth, Arnor very nearly disappears from our records, and I doubt not that as Middle-earth wanes, this forgetfulness will grow ever greater. Such a fate for the last remnant of Númenór seemed grievous indeed to him, but he shook his head and turned resolutely to his work. Not to think of that now! Think rather to preserve Minas Tirith beyond this darkness, so that it may have the luxury of forgetfulness!
Above the city, the sun was setting, and still Faramir labored on in pursuit of evidence of the existence of Imladris. The hours of searching had yielded very little, and he had long since abandoned the indices, immersing himself in the arcane material of ancient days. Having little indeed to build upon, Faramir had turned to the rhyme itself once more, and decided that the conjunction of Isildur's Bane and Imladris probably set him amid the records of the last quarter of the Second Age at least. More, assuming that Imladris was not a name given by Men to an Elvish haven in their midst, then it seemed safe to guess that Imladris lay near either to Mirkwood, since that kingdom was little known to Gondor, or to the Mithlond on the westernmost shores of Middle-earth. Or it could have been a city of Arnor that had survived neither the fall of that kingdom nor the discriminating pens of the loremasters. But that leaves all of Eriador open to scrutiny, for wherever there are hills or mountains there may be one valley steep enough to merit the name, he thought. Best to hope that my first guesses are correct!
Alas, though, logic availed him little, for because both Mirkwood and the Mithlond had little to do with Gondor, mention of either Elf-haven was extremely rare. The last record of the Elves of Mirkwood had been a passing reference to envoys sent to witness the oath of Cirion and Éorl, as the Elves of Thranduil (as the king of that realm was then named) had had some part in the fight for Calenardhon, though Faramir knew not whether their actions were simply in defense of their home or in alliance with Gondor. And then they pass out of history and into the obscurity of vague legend! Faramir thought, frustrated. As for Mithlond One long-dead scribe writes that Elendil and his sons originally purposed to make landfall in the Grey Havens, but were blown off course by the storm. And the records agree that Cirdan the Shipwright sent warriors to strengthen the ranks of the Last Alliance; but who they were and how many, none say.
Faramir leaned upon a copying table and turned the problem over in his mind. It would do him no good to try to comb through the contents of the entire library, for such a task needed an Elvish life-span to complete, even assuming nothing more were ever added to the collection. Somehow, he had to find a way of narrowing his search still further
"Húrin of the Keys sent word that you might be found here, Faramir." The voice at his elbow startled him, and Faramir turned quickly to see his father standing not far away, watching him. For a long, uncomfortable moment, father and son stared at each other and neither moved, until Denethor at last cast a look round, noting the books Faramir had pulled from their shelves or niches and laid upon three different tables. He picked one up and gazed a moment at the title, ere he continued, "You choose a difficult subject, it seems."
"I yes, sir," Faramir managed after a beat. For his part, his silence had been the product of surprise, but also of a certain shock. In the last four years, his visits to Minas Tirith, though somewhat more frequent than usual, had been mostly to Boromir, who acted as an intermediary between Denethor and himself. He had seen Denethor, of course, and knew that his father, for all that he retained his vigor, yet had aged in appearance as the burden of governance in dark times took its toll. But as he gazed now at the steward, he perceived that there was a weariness or a doubtfulness deeply embedded in him, one that Faramir had never noticed before. He met Denethor's eyes, and some subtle signal passed between them: the steward's eyes hardened, and Faramir realized that he had erred badly. He had seen what he should not have, and his shock had betrayed his knowledge to the steward. His father knew now that his troublesome younger son had seen his weakness, well-cloaked though it was, and Denethor had never taken kindly to the searching regards of others.
Even when my eyes seek not, only see what is revealed! The sins I commit without intending them! Faramir bemoaned silently, as he averted his eyes. And now what do I say? Shall I speak of Osgiliath or of the dream? "There is a matter that weighs upon me, and upon Boromir, of which we together would speak with you, if you will. Hence this," he gestured to the volumes, then after a minute pause, continued, "But I came first to bear the steward of the realm news out of Osgiliath." Under the silent pressure of his father's gaze, Faramir told then of the battle, and of the breaking of the bridge of Osgiliath, and the loss of the eastern garrisons. "We would have lost many in that battle in any case, for the Haradrim are more fell than Orcs, and they stand firm in the face of victory or defeat. But there was some other power at work, the like of which none had ever seen: a darkness that shaped itself as riders, I would call it, and where it came, none could stand against it for long. Some that were touched by it ran witless and heedless 'til they were slain; others were laid low by it, and huddled upon the ground as if paralyzed." Faramir felt his gorge rise in horror of the memory, and his hands upon the table gripped the edges tightly 'til his knuckles whitened. Denethor's eyes flickered slightly, as he took in these signs of distress, but he gave no indication of his private thought. "The riders at the last forced passage, and they fled westward over the bridge ere it was cast down beneath us. Of those upon the bridge, only four lived to tell of it, including your sons." Faramir paused, forcing himself back from the memory, and his tone was nearly normal as he concluded, "The Haradrim army remains still upon the eastern bank, but it shall be long ere it can threaten Gondor's western lands, though in Ithilien we may yet see much of them."
"Your news does not surprise me. " Denethor said after a moment, and shook his grey head, "Osgiliath has long been our weakest link, and short of the rebirth of our ancient strength and numbers, nothing could hold it against a determined attack. It was perhaps pointless to send a part of the Ithilien garrison there," and Faramir, hearing this, struggled not to let his bitterness over that remark show, "but now more than ever, we shall yield nothing unfought! These riders concern me, but if I am not mistaken, they will trouble us little for a time."
"What are these riders, then, for it seems clear that you know of them?"
"For the moment, that I know of them is enough," the steward replied, dismissing the matter with a wave of his hand. "There is little use in telling you more of them, for you have observed more of them than any mortal man has since the kings failed." A slight, sardonic smile curved Denethor's lips. "I doubt not that that is more than you would wish, but I assure you, they have powers held in check that only war shall see unveiled." Faramir's eyes narrowed at that, but he said nothing, though his mind sought already after the clues his father had revealed. Since the kings failed, is it? We shall see!
"As you will it," was all that he said in reply, and then, "Does the steward ask anything further of me tonight?"
"No." Denethor said. "Attend me upon the morrow, at the sixth hour, for there are other matters that must be made known to you ere the council convenes. Good night."
"Your servant," Faramir replied formally, and bowed, waiting until he heard the door to the vault shut again ere he raised his eyes and sighed. It struck him forcibly, even after so many years of painful formality, that at this first meeting in nearly four years, neither he nor Denethor had once addressed each other familiarly. This had been a meeting of strangers, not of family, and neither had bothered to sully the words "father" and "son" by employing them. "Will it ever be thus?" he wondered aloud, and then, with less than enthusiasm, he turned back to his research. In his mind again, the darkened sky lay close about, pierced by one slender ray of light that touched upon words now too familiar: Seek for the Sword that was Broken! In Imladris it dwells .
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