Denethor gave the message a cursory glance, then pushed it aside, as if the paper itself offended him. In truth, it was the content of the message that disturbed him, announcing a most unwelcome visitor.
"What shall I say, my lord? Should I ask him to call at another time?"
"No, Beleg. Show him in." Best to deal with this now.
Denethor stood to welcome his guest. "Mithrandir. It has been a long time."
"Indeed, Denethor. A very long time. You are well?"
Denethor shrugged, waving the wizard into a chair before the fire. The wizard smiled genially, taking the proffered seat and pulled out an oddly shaped wooden thing from somewhere deep in his grey robes. It had a long stem, ending in a small bowl. A pipe! I did not know Mithrandir smoked. He took the chair opposite the wizard, watching in fascination as the wizard filled the pipe with something that looked like dried dead leaves, and then struck a flint to light it.
"What is it that you smoke?"
"Pipeweed. It is a common plant…you would know it as galenas, although I think it does not grow here. Only in the North."
It is not the first time you have brought something here from the North. "The Rohirrim grow it?"
"No, further north." The wizard did not seem inclined to say more, so Denethor allowed himself a moment to reflect on his guest. He did not seem any older than he had been the last time Denethor had seen him, when Finduilas…
"Your sons…they are well?" Denethor was jolted out of his reverie by the wizard's voice, and merely nodded in response.
"I have heard that Boromir serves in Osgiliath now."
"Yes, he does. He was made a lieutenant at midsummer, second to the captain of the garrison." Denethor could not keep the note of pride out of his voice.
"And what of Faramir? He does not serve at Osgiliath?"
How do you know that he does not? "He serves with the Tower Guard, here in the City."
"That is good, then. I should like to meet him, speak with him."
Denethor felt a small note of alarm in his heart and it mixed with his growing irritation, leaving a sour taste in his mouth.
"Why? Do you wish to make him your pupil? As you did my father?"
Mithrandir's face had been a polite mask until then, but now the wizard's expression changed, first to one of anger, and then, oddly, to one of sadness. "Ecthelion was not my pupil, Denethor. Rather, he was a man who was wise enough to heed good counsel."
"Then I shall have to remain unwise, and heed my own counsel, for at least that, I may trust in."
Anger flashed on Mithrandir's face, and he fixed Denethor with a gaze so fierce that it took all of Denethor's strength not to look away. Then, just as quickly, the anger was gone, and the wizard assumed his mild expression once again. He inclined his head politely to Denethor, as if conceding defeat. This only served to anger Denethor more, and he fought to keep control over his emotions and over the conversation.
"What business do you have in my City?" Denethor made his voice polite, but kept his tone as imperious as possible.
Surprisingly, this had little effect on the wizard. "My business is my own, Denethor, and as such, of little consequence to you. But since you ask, I should like to spend some time in the Archives."
The Archives? What does he think to find there? "I doubt you will find any wisdom there that you do not already have. Nevertheless, I will let the Archivist know to expect you." Denethor stood, letting the wizard know the audience was at an end.
"I thank you, Denethor, for your…hospitality." The wizard seemed slightly amused, as he got to his feet and moved towards the door. "There is another small matter. I have asked Faramir to assist me with my research in the Archives. I think you will not mind. Good day, Denethor."
Later that evening, as they finished their dinner, Denethor observed his son closely, to see if there was anything in his demeanor to suggest an encounter with a wizard. He was disappointed to find nothing, save the look of studied indifference that Faramir always wore. There was nothing for it. He would simply have to ask the lad.
"I hear you met with a wizard today."
Faramir shrugged noncommittally. "I would not say I met with him exactly. I was on patrol in the first circle when Mithrandir rode into the City this morning."
"And you asked to aid him with his work in the Archives."
"Yes. He said he was in need of a scribe, and as I no longer serve you in that capacity, I saw no reason to refuse." Faramir's tone was too innocent, even for him, and Denethor found himself at once both curious and annoyed.
"I see. No reason to refuse." You did not even think it would displease your own father?
Faramir met Denethor's eyes for a moment and then, as if reading his father's thoughts, asked, "Why do you dislike Mithrandir so?"
Denethor felt the same sense of alarm as he had earlier when speaking with Mithrandir. "You presume too much, Faramir. I did not say I disliked him."
Faramir smiled, his expression amused. "Perhaps I do presume, but you have not said you do not dislike Mithrandir either."
Denethor returned Faramir's smile, mildly pleased at Faramir's abilities to steer a conversation. "I do not dislike him. But neither do I trust him."
"Why not? He does not strike me as a man of bad intentions. Indeed, I think he has great wisdom, and I should like to learn from him."
There are others who are wise in this world, Faramir. "You will only learn from him what he wishes you to know. He has secrets. Whatever his intentions, whether good or no, he does not keep us informed of them. And yet, he always seems to know of our own intentions. I would be wary of him."
Faramir's expression became thoughtful. "If you wish me not to be in Mithrandir's company, then so be it. You are my lord, and it is for you to say what shall be."
Yes, that would be the right thing. I do not need the wizard turning you to his ways. But even as the thoughts formed in his mind, they seemed wrong to Denethor, petty and unbecoming of him.
Denethor sighed heavily, suddenly very tired of the whole conversation. "No, Faramir. You wish to learn from Mithrandir, and learning is not to be disdained, no matter its source. Still, I would ask one thing of you."
"Whatever you wish, sire. If it is in my power, I shall see it done."
"You will tell me all of what Mithrandir tells you."
Faramir did not hesitate. "No, my lord. This I cannot do." Cannot? Or will not?
"And why not, Faramir? You would defy me to do Mithrandir's bidding?"
"No, my lord. I do not defy. But you said once that an honorable man does not reveal what another tells him in confidence. And I would be such a man."
Denethor frowned at Faramir, irritated at having his own moral lesson turned back on him. At the same time, he could not help but be a little proud of Faramir's nobility, his strength of conviction. So be it, Faramir. Be thou an honorable man, then. But the wizard will not be there to guide you when you must choose between honor and loyalty!
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.