6. Hope and Memories
She still held him in her arms. He, sleeping - she in that strange reverie of the Elves – 'walking in memories' – is how one of them described it to me.
I don't know whether it must be a blessing or a curse for them to remember every event of their lives; I certainly have memories I would do without! But there are others I dearly wish were clearer – and even some I rehearse in my head so I don't lose them entirely; though often these have come down to little more than a single image to cherish. Sound, and smells, especially smells will bring a memory back unlooked for, some good, some ill… Forges and quenching iron, the smell of those bring thoughts I'd rather forget. The mere smell makes my bad foot cringe. It is fortunate indeed that we cannot remember pain. Oh we remember something being painful – but we don't recall the actual sensation itself – or no woman would ever bear more than one child! Even though Estel had used his skills to help the scars, my foot still remembered the vicious beating. When we journeyed together in the past, I had scarcely limped after a while, but now – now it stiffens again; first thing in the morning and when I'm tired I hobble like an old woman. But then – I am an old woman to some eyes.
My bairn would be able to carry his injuries lightly I hoped, but while the damage that his father had tried to inflict on his body would heal – that to his mind might take longer. I had long cursed Denethor and I did not hesitate to curse him again – if ever there was a damaged man it was him. I dare say he more deserved my pity than my anger – but, just like him – I saw no reason to forgive perceived slights easily. One thing I was curious about; how much did the elf-maid know? Would my bab have told her all of his father's vices? Did he even know of them? But then most of the vices of Lord Denethor's youth were before Faramir was born, or at least, when his sons were still small children – and my Lord was very, very discreet. Even as his sons grew to become young men, his appetites had lessened. His interests became diverted by matters of power – indeed, that is what it had always been about for him – power. Lady Finduilas, he put on a pedestal and worshipped; his cravings he took elsewhere. But then he was no different than many young blades of the city. He was educated by the depravity of some early companions, young men with too much time and money on their hands, whose father's bought them out of military service and placed them in a city capable of catering for any whim.
The sinks and stews of Minas Tirith provided all the… victims, there's no other word for it, which he needed. He didn't want them that often, and in between, imported whores who could be paid off to mind their bruises when they were sent packing, sufficed. It was the young ones I felt sorry for. When I could, I made enquiries and if I found them – they 'conveniently' disappeared to Pelargir, or beyond. Anyway, a second time, and they knew what was going to happen and he didn't like them to be fearful – not to begin with – that he saved till later. Injuries were never life-threatening or caused much permanent damage, at least not to the body - but it wasn't pretty. Not that I'm supposed to know, but I made it my business to find out. He liked them very young – girls or boys – he could use either; which is why Lady Finduilas insisted I came back and stay in Minas Tirith this time. Not that she believed he would ever harm his sons, but – call it a precaution… just in case.
As I said, it was an appetite he grew out of; I suspect eventually he took more pleasure in denying himself than in indulging his urges in the end – control and power – that was Lord Denethor. I can only go by what I was told; I was absent from court for ten years or more after my bairn's had grown to young men. They both would seek me out occasionally; as a pensioned loyal servant why should they not? That I should be able to tell them of my journeys south to Harondor, or north along the sea-coasts, and the useful things I learnt and brought back, along with the herbs and spices, was something between us – and their father.
She stirred as I watched her.
"You travel far in your thoughts," she said.
I jerked back to reality – of course, she would know I was there, even with her mind treading a different path.
"Just memories, Ranger – just memories."
She nodded, "Are they not the most important part of us?"
She eased my Lord Faramir out of her arms. His head fell back onto the pillow, bone-less enough to show it was still the drugs made him sleep. She frowned.
I hastened to speak, "He'll drift from one to the other soon – into proper sleep."
She turned to me, "He has already woken briefly".
"Good, that's good."
"He said he dreamt of you, the first time you taught him to fight."
I smiled, it was something I remembered, one of those memories that are bittersweet. The boys were eager, but their father spoilt the moment. He never forgave Faramir for his wife's death. Stupid, not the bairn's fault, but Lord Denethor had to have a scapegoat and it was his younger son. He had adored my Lady, worshipped her; she was in his eyes, perfection – which may be why he'd rather fuck a boy than view her body 'marred' by pregnancy – but then… that was no excuse for the young girls he used so roughly in between. I suppose it was so he'd never see her flesh bruised or bloodied by his passion. Certainly, she told me herself, at first he used her so daintily, she scarce thought she'd been touched! Even in the fullness of their marriage he treated her like precious glassware – afraid she might break beneath him. Aye, but then there were some he did break, so perhaps she had the best of it after all.
I must be tired; my thoughts drift. The Ranger watched me silently. I did not feel I could discuss this with her. If she knew, she knew, but I doubted it. As I said, Lord Denethor was very discreet; only his closest body servants knew – and me – because I make it my business to find out. Knowledge is power in its own right, and I'm a good collector of 'knowledge'.
"Will you go and talk to the Dunadan?" she said.
I didn't answer.
"He wants to talk to you."
"He wants you to stay here."
"I… I don't know that I can."
She reached out to lightly touch my arm, a rare gesture. They'll not touch strangers without considered thought; this I know from the Avari.
"He has missed you… your company…"
Having sworn I would behave fittingly, this silly old fool found her eyes flooded with tears! I turned away and made a fuss of poking the fire and putting more water to boil – not that it was needed. Again, I felt her hand on my sleeve.
"Come, talk with me. There are matters I should say to you."
My bairn stirred in his sleep, and murmured her name. She was at his side in an instant, to smooth his hair from his face and whisper something in her tongue that seemed to soothe him. She sat at his side, taking his hand in hers and stroking it lovingly as she smiled at him. After a few moments he settled and she turned to me.
"As you have been to Faramir and his brother, so I have been to Estel, not birthing-woman that is true – but I have known him, guided him, taught him his first weapons, helped him with his first pony. I know him and love him."
I nodded. He had spoken of a good friend among the elves of his boyhood.
"I know," she continued, "about his destiny, I think sometimes clearer than he does. He will marry Arwen. She will be his queen, and the mother of his children, but there is more in his heart than that."
I nodded without speaking; in my youth I might have wished, hoped, for different, but I knew he would never put any before his elven princess. Though I'd never seen her, I had hated her with a passion – foolish of me, but then I had been very young.
The Ranger continued. "She is his destiny. She was his light in the wilderness, but eternal starlight is distant, while brief flames warm the hand – She will give him joy, but he was always happiest in the wilds. He loves to travel in freedom, you know that; and he still has battles to fight where he will need faithful friends at his side."
"The Court will become stifling to him – he needs you. He needs you to be there so he may come and talk of old journeys; maybe even ride out again for a day or two with a few companions."
"They will not let the King do that!"
"Exactly! His courtiers have never been Rangers. His chamberlain's will never have felt that freedom. Though he will do his duty – it will come to choke him. He will need release – and part of that will be you."
I stared at her, "Me?"
"You make him happy. Love takes different shapes; his love for Arwen is noble and true and has sustained him for many years, because they are destined for each other. His love for you… is different."
"…Love?" I whispered, "Does he…?"
"He may not know it, but I do," she shrugged. "It was what he didn't say about his travels that had a core of truth. It is just different – like his love for Boromir, or for Halbarad…"
"Halbarad – is he come?"
"He… has left us. He fell on the field."
My heart lurched; it had been years ago – one of those arrangements made when you can't get what you want, so you take the nearest thing to it. He'd loved me more than I him, and it was I who left – but to hear of his death was still a shock. We had clung together for a couple of years till we both admitted we were only together because neither of us could have the one we wished for. I had travelled south again, knowing Estel had taken service in Gondor, knowing I'd not be able to resist looking for him.
"Do you not think that it is more than chance your paths have crossed so often?" she said. "Again and again – you may not be meant to be together, but he needs you."
"I… have been happy in his company," I said carefully.
"Then let him be happy in yours, and at the thought he has another old friend near him – these times are still not certain. The darkness has not passed and still may prevail."
"We cannot give up hope…"
"No – and Hope does not give us up."
Faramir sighed, his hand stirred under hers and her attention was back to him. He would wake very soon. I stood and tended the boiling water. He would be thirsty, a warm drink would soothe his throat – and seeming to be busy gave me a chance to collect myself. Though I had loved others and been loved in return, it was always to him my thoughts returned – maybe because he was far beyond my reach. My mother always said I wanted Ithil on my apron strings – not that I've ever worn aprons much! He'd taken a piece of my fea when he first looked into my eyes all those years ago in Bree – as much as I'd kept a small piece of him, It was a strange talisman, small and private, but one I treasured in secret. Yes, a leather-worker's skills can come in handy – macabre though many would consider the small fragment of fine leather I keep in a locket that is always with me – not that I'd ever tell him about that!.
Later, after I was sure my bab was recovering from the anodyne, I went to my Lady's garden. I knew the Ranger would not leave his side and I only planned to be a half hour or so. I needed a space without people, somewhere to think. I had not realised I'd left the door unlocked, not that anyone would bother entering this semi-wild patch of ground. The night was very bright, I barely needed the small lantern I'd brought with me; everything was edged with silver. Someone had seen that the place did not become entirely overgrown when I was away from Minas Tirith. I suspect Faramir had seen his mother's garden was not allowed to go totally to ruin, although it had been left wild and unplanted save for those flowers and herbs that seeded themselves where they might. One of the early roses had grown right over the edge of the wall, hanging a banner of crimson and green over the stones; I could smell the scent, heavy on the night air, as I entered. The old stone bench was still there, positioned to look out to the west. Old ghosts were there too, old memories in the moonlight. My feet scuffed on broken sea-shells as I took a seat, more victims of Lord Denethor's wrath I thought wryly.
I didn't hear steps behind me, but I felt someone. My hand slid to the knife I wear inside my pocket, of old it was better concealed, than explain why a house-servant should carry a fighting blade. I had it from its sheath and at my side when a soft voice said, "Melleth."
I spun to face him, blade high in front of me. It all but rested on his chest as he stood, hands out from his side palms up, smiling.
"I'm pleased to see you still know how to wield a weapon – but perhaps your hearing isn't what it might be?" He mocked me with a quizzical smile.
"If I hadn't known it was you, you'd have an extra mouth in your throat by now!" I snapped.
He just laughed. Knocking my blade to one side, he gathered me up in a great hug, "It is good to see you, my Melleth!"
I could scarce breath he hugged me so tightly, but truth be told – I didn't care! The two of us stood like foolish youngsters, not moving; wrapped in each others arms as the full face of Ithil smiled down on us. We stood there long enough for me to shiver when the breeze chased through the trees.
"You're cold," he said, "let me fetch a cloak."
"No! …You don't need to go…" I felt foolish as a silly girl.
He laughed softly and kissed my forehead. "Wait here."
And he'd gone. I sat on the bench trembling like an Aspen, 'why not?' I told myself, 'the night is turning cold' and… even I didn't believe me!
He returned shortly with a cloak, a blanket and a bottle of good wine.
"There are no cups, but we can share…" He pulled me down to the bench wrapping us both in the cloak.
"Where did you get that?" I demanded.
"The cloak…? It's mine. From Lorien…"
"No – The wine!"
"I raided the Steward's cellars – or at least I found some soldiers who had, so I confiscated a few bottles – for medicinal purposes of course."
"And now is the time I could use that medicine!" I took a good pull at the bottle before handing it back. "Won't they miss you?" I said.
"Not for half an hour, and if they do… Everyone knows Mistress Melleth was Lord Denethor's spy in Harad..."
I all but choked, "They most certainly do not! …Do they?"
He hugged me again and kissed my ear before he whispered, "Only a few, and those few will not tell – or if they do it will be the last thing they say."
"And I'll see to that!" I growled. My 'work' was supposed to be a secret.
"It is still a secret…"
Sometimes, even now, I swear he could read my mind.
"…only the highest placed know that there's more to the fierce old amah than a bad-temper," he teased.
I jabbed him in the ribs with my elbow. He winced and held my arms close. It was from more pain than the force of my elbow warranted.
"Are you hurt?"
"We fought a battle."
How stupid of me! Of course he was hurt - at the very least bruised if not… I struggled in his arms, but he held me fast.
"No, I am not injured, no more than cuts and bruises. I don't need a nurse. I need a few minutes quiet with an old friend, that's all – now stay still and keep me warm!."
I did as I was bid; it was no hardship to sit quietly with his arms resting around me.
"Estel… tell me where you got the elven cloak – and tell me truthfully, what happened ...to Boromir."
He insisted on cutting some brush and laying it as a field bed, in truth the stone bench was not the most comfortable place to sit. We settled down with the cloak around us – I think the brush was as much to give him time to think as anything else. Then, he told me everything – the Hobbits, the Ring, Lorien, and how my poor brave lad came to grief, knowing himself doomed and not able to stop it – By the time he was finished we both wept openly. A strange thing about tears, sometimes they are a thing that possesses as much healing as the most complex of medicines. We finished the wine off between us – and the next thing it was the pale light before dawn – and one of his Rangers came to wake us. I might know they would not leave him unattended; they must have guarded the door. The man I did not know, but he didn't seem surprised to find his captain with a strange woman – he even bowed courteously
"I must go," Estel said to me, "We'll talk again soon." And he was gone.
I made my way back to the library to see my bairn, feeling guilty that I had neglected him – only when I got there did I realise, I wasn't limping!.
He was sleeping sweet as a child when I arrived; she was still at his side.
"I see you have spoken to him then," she said, as she reached up and plucked a rose petal from my hair. "Will you be staying?"
I nodded, and I believe I had the grace to blush – before I hurried off to make us all some tea! There were still hard times to come, the battle was not over, the war was far from won, but for now at least I could feel some small content.
The future - what ever it might be - would be another story.
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.