Faramir had emerged late from the library, and none the wiser for his efforts, at least as concerned Imladris. Already, he looked to the next day's labors in that deep place, wondering how long he might spend in Denethor's study and if there would be some opportunity to quit the steward's presence early. But for the moment, he could read no more. As he walked slowly through the halls, he paused before his father's door, wondering if he ought to knock and seek admittance. Custom in Gondor held that a captain or lord of the realm dined the first night with his liege-lord. But Denethor had not extended any invitation, and Faramir would have been reluctant to accept one, even had it been offered. Shall I stand on protocol, or go now to the company commons? It is late in any case .
"My lord!" Húrin's voice sounded at the end of the hall, and Faramir turned to see the older man coming toward him.
"Good evening, Húrin," he replied. "Once again, well met!"
"Indeed! I trust your research was fruitful?"
"It may prove so in the end," Faramir hedged, unwilling to speak overmuch of his errand. Having brought it to Denethor's attention, he did not wish for whispers to reach the steward that he had already discussed it with another, even one so loyal and long in service as Húrin.
"Good. The steward, I fear, works late, and will see no one tonight," the warden glanced at the closed door, then caught Faramir's arm in his and began leading him away, steering him towards the western periphery of the tower. "And we who work at his side keep often long hours as well!"
"Well do I know that," the younger man chuckled sympathetically. "Whither are you bound now? To your home, I hope."
"I am that. And," Húrin paused, turning to face him, "if it please you, my lord Faramir, you would be welcome at my table. For do I guess rightly that you have taken no time for a meal yet?"
"In truth, I have not. Thank you, Húrin. It has been many years since last I saw your family," Faramir replied, eagerly seizing the opportunity presented. It had been long since he had had time to sit and speak with old friends, and there were many matters about which he was curious, and which Húrin might be able to clarify for him. Not least of which is my father's mood, for upon that topic, I can be certain that not a whisper will go astray. Men know better in Minas Tirith than to speak overmuch of the steward behind his back! Put thus, it sounded dishonest, and Faramir frowned slightly as he walked at Húrin's side, but he had no other means of learning what he most wished to know: what was the source of the uneasiness that gripped Minas Tirith's people?
Húrin lived in the sixth circle, just past the gates, in one of Minas Tirith's oldest mansions. His forebears had risen to prominence in the war that had brought the Second Age to its end. After the Kin Strife had wreaked its havoc, his family had been granted the title of Warden of the Keys, and the Warden, more than any other within the walls, was the steward's right hand and stood first among councilors. Should Mardil Voronwë's line fail, rule would pass to Húrin or his descendents until the loremasters could reach a decision as to who was most entitled to the steward's rod. And it may yet come to pass, Faramir thought grimly. Who knows what may befall us in the years to come? Sauron sleeps not, and his memory is long, and Minas Tirith has ever opposed him. We may lose all or the better part of it when war breaks loose at last! But for tonight, at least, such grand worries could be set aside, and Faramir resolved firmly to think no more on them for a time. No one could bear up under such burdens unrelieved by moments of peace, and Húrin's house had always been a safe haven for a lonely boy.
For though only very distantly a cousin given the intricate ties of blood and marriage among Gondor's ruling classes, the warden was more family to him than any other, save Boromir alone. And when Yvaren, Húrin's diminutive wife greeted them, she clasped him to her as a long-lost son. In former years, theirs had been a large household, and a loud one, for Yvaren was six times a mother. But with the youngest daughter recently married, there reigned now an aura of relaxed quietude in the house, as if the very stones exuded relief at the break in the hectic atmosphere. Their conversation that night ranged over a number of topics, but they returned ever and anon to matters of family. Yvaren had naturally much to say in this matter, with more than fifteen grand-children still within the walls of the city, but she questioned Faramir much about himself as well. "I hear tell of you sometimes, when Boromir visits. But even he says that he knows not the tenth of what happens in Ithilien."
"Much, and yet also little," Faramir replied with a slight shrug of his shoulders. "Much bickering with many of the same enemies we have always known, and yet little of great import, it seems. They do but test us, and though the testing grows fiercer with the passing of years, still it is but a feint and a taunt."
"You are not alone in that opinion," Húrin said. "Many are the captains who report regular incursions or who write of being watched ever by spies. I may say that the lord steward has ordered many companies to alter their daily routines, the better to conceal their activities from unfriendly eyes." Faramir nodded, having seen that dispatch. But Ithilien's operations were by nature secretive and changing. There was little chance that an enemy would find a pattern in a routine that deliberately had none! "We hope now only that we are granted time enough to gird ourselves against siege."
"Is that the cause of the anxiety I perceive in Minas Tirith these days?" Faramir asked, leaping swiftly into the opening Húrin provided. When the warden raised a heavy brow, he continued, "You know whereof I speak, for the seventh circle is awash in it, and it spills over into all the levels of the city. Even my lord father is not insensitive to it, I think." Húrin pursed his lips, as if considering, and Yvaren's eyes darted towards her husband ere they cut back again to the grave young man who sat across from her. Faramir noted that exchange, and waited patiently for revelation.
Finally, Húrin spoke, though very carefully, as if wary of his own words. "Yes, and no. All of Minas Tirith awaits the stroke that will plunge us into war, and slowly it has become clear that all our efforts are for naught." The warden paused, meeting Faramir's eyes as he reached across the table to clasp his wife's hand protectively. "That will not surprise you, of course, for few know better than you our desperation. But for many, such concerns are too far above them. Until the day the armies of the Nameless Land are upon our very threshold, and the gates are ready to burst asunder, they will not cease to hope for victory, nor understand that it is already beyond our grasp, long though we may delay the final defeat. But there are more concrete matters that trouble our councils of late. A letter arrived out of Isengard not long ago, warning of danger unlooked for."
"No longer wholly unlooked for now, I trust?"
"Again, yea and nay," Húrin cautioned. "Curunír warns only that Mithrandir's activities of late are grown strange and secretive indeed, and that seems to him a matter of concern. He sought to learn of Mithrandir's purpose in coming to Gondor a year ago. Do you recall that visit?"
"I recall hearing of it from Boromir," Faramir replied. "I was in Ithilien throughout the summer, for then are attacks more frequent."
"Yes, well," Húrin gestured lightly with one hand to indicate that it mattered little. "As I understand it, the Grey Pilgrim wished to learn something of the foundation of the city, and the Lord Denethor granted him leave to search the library vaults. He stayed perhaps a week, and then was gone again, as is ever his way. Now, though, I think the steward seeks to find more reason in that visit than was formerly revealed."
"I doubt not that there was much Mithrandir kept to himself," Faramir mused, "Wizards are not in the habit of declaring all their purpose, even to those accounted mighty. But though I cannot believe that he would weave a plot against us, I can well believe that my father would distrust him, and misconstrue the message!"
"It may be no more than that," Húrin conceded.
"But it may be, and I think you speak now of something other than wizards," Faramir responded. "My father's mood, Húrin, is grown strange, or so it seemed to me. Do I not speak truly when I say that that more than anything else is what troubles the upper circles of Minas Tirith?"
"Have a care, lad!" the older man warned, proffering a faint smile nonetheless as he lapsed into a more familiar tone. "We of the Seventh Circle speak not of that among ourselves, yet it is true."
"And you know not the source of this change in him?"
"Nay, we do not. But the steward has been sharp in his speech of late, and more particular in his habits than ever. And most of all does he resent any attention drawn to these things, or to such activities as a journey upon the Aramen." Húrin paused. "What think you, Faramir?"
"He seemed to me weary, unaccountably so ." Denethor's second son trailed off into silence, eyes distant as he considered once more the scene in the library. "Heavy is the burden of his rule, yet he guards it jealously, and with pride. I cannot think he will let it crush him beneath it." With a sigh, Faramir shook his head and gazed at the warden in frustrated bewilderment. "Others there are, surely, who have been more at his side than have I! I fear my opinion must weigh little beside theirs."
"As I said, we speak not of it overmuch. The walls have ears, and the more so the closer one is to the Citadel," Húrin replied with a grim smile, then seemed to change the subject. "There is a window in the high room near the summit, and from it ever and anon shines forth a flickering light."
"What of it?" Faramir asked, puzzled by the seeming non sequitur.
"What indeed? It has shone there for many years now, though it seems to grow brighter with time. The guards say that by night your father wrestles with the Dark Lord, and many are they who believe it."
"Why do you tell me this?"
"So that you will know it," Húrin replied with a minute shrug. "Boromir has heard the rumor, I am certain, and if he has not shared it with you, then I am surprised for I think he liked it not."
"Well can I believe that! Boromir never was one for uncanny tales," Faramir replied with a soft chuckle as he rose, though in his heart he pondered that odd remark. Húrin was not one to speak to no end, so this stray bit of gossip must mean something. The walls have ears and my father burns oil later into the night than even Húrin can explain. Doubtless he sifts what information he has then, but whence comes some of it? "I thank you for your company, my friends, and for all your past kindness. This is the first meal I have eaten in peace for a long while, and that is a great gift."
"You are always welcome in our house," Yvaren said, smiling. Husband and wife accompanied him to the hall where they bid each other good evening, and he felt their eyes upon him as he went out into the full night. As soon as he was out of sight and earshot, Húrin sighed, and his wife cast a glance upward. "What is it, love?"
"There goes one who, but for the accidents of birth, could have worn a crown, and worn it well. And yet his father esteems him as lower than the dullest knave!" Húrin shook his head. "I fear for him, Yvaren. For him, and for his brother both!"
Boromir's steed whinnied fiercely as it clattered into the busy streets of Minas Tirith. But he had eyes only for the slender figure clad in Ithilien green and black that awaited him, lounging against the wall with arms folded across its chest. Clicking his teeth at the horse to calm its nervous, mincing gait, Boromir swung out of the saddle, handing off the reins to a handler as he strode quickly to his brother's side. "I hope that your presence here augers well for our purpose today!" he said by way of greeting, clapping the younger man on the shoulder with somewhat absent-minded affection.
"I could wish to bring auspicious tidings, but alas, I have none such to give!" Faramir responded. "With enough time perhaps I could uncover something of Imladris, but for the moment, two days of searching have proved insufficient. If we must move soon to discover these things, then we must hope father has a better answer to our questions than I have been able to find." He paused as Boromir grimaced and then nodded, accepting that conclusion. "There are other matters, though, which concern me, and I wonder if you can tell me more of them."
"Know you aught of what has infected Denethor's moods these days?" Faramir asked, glancing sideways at his brother. Boromir's expression did not change, yet he seemed to grimace nonetheless.
"What has he said now?"
"It is less what he said," replied Faramir, "but how he spoke, and how others have reacted that worries me. And why should he go upon the Aramen unannounced? I would say ." Here he paused, searching once more through all of his exchanges with the steward, seeking to find one word that would express the sum of his impressions. "I would say," he finally concluded, and was surprised that he had not seen it before, "that he were frightened, but that I find that hard to conceive of!"
At that, Boromir paused, glancing about, and then he caught his brother's arm and pulled him into a recessed guard station along the wall of the second level. Faramir felt in that touch a fierce anxiety, and he wondered suddenly whether he ought to have inquired more closely after his brother's recent stay in Minas Tirith. "Hear me, brother!" said Boromir in a low tone, "I cannot argue that there is some doubt, I would call it, that underlies all of father's words of late. But it may stem from no more than naturalif anything that comes from Mordor may be so named!fear of the power in the east. Father knows much, and he has many eyes in his employ, more than I had fathomed earlier. And he knows that the trial ahead will be bitter and could cost us all that we have, even in victory. In such straits, what steward or king, even, would not know fear?"
"True," Faramir conceded, but frowned nonetheless. "Still, it is to me too sudden a change. If it come from a too thorough knowledge of our enemy's might, then what new intelligence has arrived to awaken such fear in him? Boromir, I can feel it in him! And whence comes such news, if it be so dreadful? We have not spies within Mordor," said he, and his voice lowered almost to a whisper at the naming of that land. "That we both know, for the Ephel Duath are an effective veil to the workings of the Dark Lord. And between us, we see in time all else that crosses Denethor's desk!"
Boromir gave a soft grunt, as of worried consideration, ere he said, "I know not the answer to that."
"What of this light in the tower?"
"Do not tell me you believe that bit of nonsense!" Boromir's tone was scathing, and Faramir's eyes narrowed as he tasted denial on the other's tongue.
"Why should I not consider it? After all, brother, we two are bound to the steward our father with a request to find Imladris on the basis of a shared dream! How is this rumor more or less mad than our errand?" That gave the other pause, and after a time, the elder prince sighed.
"Logic is elusive of late! Forgive me, I had not stopped to think of that," Boromir replied, squeezing Faramir's shoulder.
"There is no need of forgiveness," the other responded gracefully. "But let us not quarrel over Denethor's moodiness, at least not now. I should have awaited a more opportune moment to broach the subject."
"Or I should have been less harsh," Boromir countered, but then he sighed once more and the two of them moved forward again. "Have you had better luck deciphering other parts of the rhyme?"
"None," Faramir replied flatly, disheartened. "Of Isildur's death, we have only the records that came out of Arnor by way of a herald. If there were survivors, they must have been badly confused, or else too badly injured to give a coherent account. All we know with certainty is that Isildur's host was waylaid on the Gladden field by orcs. What happened ere the end, we know not, and his body was never recovered."
"And the Halfling ?"
"Naught that I have found in the records, but there is one hint that might lead somewhere given enough time to pursue it," Faramir replied. "You recall our visit to Rohan?"
"A year after mother's death, yes," Boromir said. "What of it?"
"I was too young then to be of much help to anyone, and I spent my days with the younger children of our hosts. I remember, though, that among the stories I was told was one of a race of small, Man-like creatures called " and here Faramir paused, for though he spoke Rohirric, the word was archaic and not in common usage, and he had to fight to recall it. "Holbytlan, I think it was. An odd tale, being much concerned with nothing at all, yet I remember it clearly. Among other things, they were said to be half the height of a Man."
Boromir shook his head, this time with surprised amusement, and said, "You have always had a better head for such things than I! Holbytlan! They may be no more than a myth!"
"Perhaps, yet it came to my mind. Who knows but that it may prove to have more significance than we imagine?" Faramir shrugged.
"Or it may have none," Boromir replied.
"Or none, as you say, but after all my long hours in the vaults, I will admit any possibility!" Faramir sighed. His brother gave him a sympathetic look at that, and Faramir smiled slightly. Boromir had never been one to spend overmuch time in the library, finding research to be a deadly tedium in most instances. And worse than useless in this case! The younger man admitted, steeling himself as he glanced involuntarily up at the Citadel that loomed high above them. It stuck in his craw to turn the matter over to Denethor, yet he knew they had no choice. Let pride say what it will, father is the better versed in the lore of this city and if ever we knew of Imladris or Halflings or Isildur's Bane, then our best hope lies with him!
Denethor met his sons in his study, rather than in the council chambers. He had watched Faramir carefully since his arrival, wondering what matter led to searches among the archives of the Second Age. He had himself gone down into the vaults to retrace his younger son's steps, but though he knew well the tale of Isildur, insofar as any in the South knew it, he could see no connection between the events of that distant time and Gondor's current woes. Not yet, at least! The steward thought, gazing intently from one to the other of his sons as they stood before him, and already his mind assembled from the myriad clues of posture and proximity the brothers' relationship. Faramir, as was ever his habit in his father's presence, stood silently, and though his posture was not overly rigid, it was too affected to be natural. He stood today at Boromir's shoulder, letting his brother speak today, and Denethor knew perfectly well the reasoning that lay behind such tactics.
Boromir, for his part, seemed uneasy, restless, and Denethor wondered briefly whether this was another of Faramir's attempts to use his brother against Boromir's better judgment. But then Boromir began to speak, and that doubt was laid swiftly to rest by the urgency in his elder son's voice. "Father, I know that Faramir has warned you of our errand, though not in precise terms. Therefore I shall be brief: after the battle of Osgiliath, we were wakened from our sleep by a dream. We swiftly discovered that we had both dreamt alike, and it seemed to us both that Minas Tirith's fate hung upon the staves heard in that vision." Boromir paused here, and Denethor sensed the troubled, yet strangely eager, anxiety that permeated the other. "As there were many tasks to attend to, we agreed between us that Faramir should return first, to see whether the meaning of the strange words could be discovered among Gondor's records of past events, and that I would follow later. As his efforts have proven in vain, we bring our questions now to you, sir, in the hope that perhaps you will be able to unravel them."
"I see," Denethor replied gravely, considering this unusual turn of events. His eyes darted to Faramir, and he read in the other's stillness hope held in check, and a brief, mocking smile quirked his lips. "Faramir," he said sharply, and his younger son raised his eyes, tensing ever so slightly at the sound of his name. "What are the staves that Boromir has spoken of?"
There was a moment of silence, and then Faramir drew a breath and began to recite, eyes blank as memory unfolded:
"Seek for the Sword that was Broken:
In Imladris it dwells;
There shall be counsels taken
Stronger than Morgul-spells.
There shall be shown a token
That Doom is near at hand,
For Isildur's Bane shall waken,
And the Halfling forth shall stand."
He fell silent and closed his eyes a moment, seeming to withdraw from the presence of father and brother. But ere Denethor could prompt him, bright grey eyes snapped open, focused once more on the present, and Faramir continued, "Since my return, yesterday morning, I have sought the location of Imladris, for as I understand the words, it is there that the answers to our questions lie. And I believe that we must find this place swiftly if we are to play our part in the events and war to come!"
"What say you, father?" Boromir asked, leaning forward slightly, eyes sharp with interest.
Denethor stood in silence, pondering what he had heard, thoughts racing. He had seen naught in the palantír that hinted at any of this, which might mean little. Isildur's Bane . Cold calculation made it evident that orcs had been merely the indirect cause of that worthy's death, and a dark, chill suspicion entered Denethor's heart. He was not so bent to Sauron's lies that he did not read, behind the mocking supremacy and confidence that imbued all of Mordor's works, an uneasiness. What does the Dark Lord seek if not Isildur's Bane? But what could it be? An object of great power, clearly, and yet not so great in appearance that any would recognize it, even among Isildur's followers. Neither Boromir nor Faramir, though, had any least idea with respect to that matter, he was certain of it. But Faramir is right in this, at least: in Imladris, they know what this thing is. And I doubt not that they may know more than that!
"An interesting puzzle," he said at length. "I shall give it some thought ere we speak of it again. But I mark well that Faramir," and here again, he glanced sharply at him, "has looked to find Imladris. 'We' you say, but I wonder which of you proposes to undertake such a journey?" Denethor paused, and watched as Boromir and Faramir glanced swiftly at each other. So, they have not discussed this issue yet! This may prove interesting! The steward thought with cold amusement, even as he waved a hand in dismissal of such considerations. "For the moment, it matters little! There is much still to be decided ere any venture be begun. And perhaps neither of you shall dare it, for I have need of you both here." There was a heavy silence, each man withdrawn into his own thoughts.
"With your leave, sir," Faramir spoke suddenly, and raised resolute eyes to meet Denethor's unflinchingly. "If we must find this place, as I believe, then I would ask that the task fall to me." At this, Boromir tensed, clearly displeased by that idea, but Faramir continued on reasonably, "My brother is your right hand, and he commands the loyalty of every man in Gondor as your heir. And though I do not take my command lightly, Minas Tirith can afford my absence."
"I would beg to differ," Boromir replied, "We know little of Imladris, nor what may await any wanderer who seeks it. And if this concerns Gondor's future, then it may need one who can speak for Gondor as a whole." Faramir looked ready to contest that, but the impassive look that the steward leveled at them both prevented any more outbursts.
"You have made your points, and I have said that I shall consider the matter. Now, I have much to do ere the council convenes in the next three days, and I expect both of you to attend. I think you would not be remiss to spend some time preparing yourselves for that, rather than seeking after dreams whose import you cannot yet fathom," Denethor suggested sternly.
"As you wish, father," Boromir acceded, though unhappily. He stepped back and touched Faramir's arm briefly, silently beckoning him to follow him out. But Faramir remained in his place, and the steward quirked a disapproving brow at him.
"I shall obey, sir, only I would ask one final question: do you know where Imladris lies, or what is its significance?"
Denethor felt the spark of his displeasure at the boy's forwardness flare beneath the ice, but there was no denying that his second son showed commendable poise in the asking. He has grown bolder with time, and learned to cloak it in courtesy. That amused him, in a strange way, and so rather than rebuking him, he replied, "This only will I say: Imladris was the northern valley where once dwelt Elrond Half-Elven, of whom legend speaks. Whether it exists still, or whether Elrond has passed over the sea, I know not." And Faramir, sensing that he would learn nothing more, bowed as one fully answered and then turned on his heel and strode out ahead of Boromir. The door closed softly, but firmly, behind them. Denethor gazed long at it, thinking, and dark thoughts they were indeed. Isildur's Bane and the Sword that was Broken. It shall be a hard trial tonight before the Seeing Stone!
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.