1. Luck From The Ashes
Steward and King walked down Rath Dínen on a chill autumn day, planning the repairs that would soon be made to the House of the Stewards. Aragorn noticed that Faramir showed no dread of the place where his father had died after trying to slay his son. The tragedy still weighed somewhat on the younger man's heart. It was a measure of Faramir's quality that he would not allow such feelings to hinder the charge of his office.
Suddenly, a strange noise sounded from within the broken-domed wreck of the house, a mournful, inhuman wail.
"Stay here, my lord; I will foray" Faramir said, springing forward.
"Faramir, are you sure? I can certainly go in your stead."
Faramir shot him a cool glance, very like Denethor's, then lightened his stern aspect. "Thank you, my lord. But this is the house of my fathers, and so this errand is mine to do. You are our King; you cannot rush unaccompanied into a place of possible danger."
Feeling absurdly chastened, the King of Gondor and Arnor grinned while Faramir moved stealthily into the darkened entry-way, dagger in hand, pausing briefly to use an empty worker's cart as cover. Aragorn doubted that any great danger awaited. The noise was probably that of the autumn wind.
Still, several orcs had been found skulking in Osgiliath just three weeks past. It was possible that one or two had holed up here in the Hallows, where few Men ventured. So it was with relief that Aragorn heard Faramir's low call: "All clear! Come and see, my lord!"
Curiosity roused, the King trod carefully through piles of stones and broken masonry into what was left of the House of the Stewards. He descried his own Steward sitting cross-legged on the ground, heedless of the dust and ashes. Faramir lifted a finger to his lips and beckoned. Aragorn crept forward and knelt beside him, then smiled when he saw Faramir's discovery: a white cat, pale blue eyes huge in the dim light, lay on her side in the rubble, nursing three small kittens, one black, one white, and one a smoky grey color.
The cat looked up at the King suspiciously and flicked her tail. Faramir made a soft crooning noise, and the cat relaxed, though she continued to watch both Men.
"Life in this place of death" Faramir observed quietly. "The mother cat has been very brave to survive all that has happened here. We cannot leave them. See how thin she is? She will not be able to rear them without more food."
"You do not fear Berúthiel's creatures?" Aragorn wondered. "When I last lived in the City, many believed that cats brought ill luck. Especially black cats, and white cats most of all, for such a beast led the Queen's ten cats."
Faramir chuckled. "My lord, this City has seen creatures of true Darkness at closer range since then, and many Men have fallen to them. I doubt that the folk of Minas Tirith would still hold that old tale against this poor starving cat and her kittens. I can keep them in my apartments until they are weaned, and then I will present the little white one to Éowyn when I go to Edoras next month. I shall keep the mother cat too; we will need good mousers for the granaries in Ithilien. It should not be difficult to find homes for the other two…"
"I commend your design," Aragorn remarked, keeping his voice as low as Faramir's. "Most lords would not take time to attend to distressed cats."
Faramir looked startled. Then his face smoothed, became aloof. "I assure you that I will not neglect my duty."
Aragorn knew that he and his Steward were still learning to understand each other, though they had greatly liked each other from the first. He remembered how Denethor had cared little for animals, and, according to Gandalf, had often berated Faramir for his inborn generosity. "I never thought you would" Aragorn answered gently. Denethor's son remained somewhat wary of disappointing his King. "And I am well pleased that my Steward's kindness of heart reaches even to helpless animals."
He had the rare satisfaction of seeing a faint blush redden Faramir's face before his new friend thanked him. "Come, then" Aragorn urged. "I think the King should help the Steward create a new tradition in Minas Tirith. Cats shall bring good fortune; they will help rid the City and the Pelennor of vermin."
Faramir removed his cloak and swiftly snared the white cat within it before she could bolt. Bereft of their mother, the kittens mewled piteously, spurring her to writhe and hiss in fury. Faramir wrapped the enraged animal securely, and turned her so that she could see her young. He spoke softly to her, in a sing-song voice that seemed almost Elvish in its timbre and effect. Slowly, the cat's hisses and struggles lessened, while her breathing eased. Aragorn remembered the tales of how Faramir had mastered his panicked horse during an assault by five Nazgûl. Mastery of beasts would help a Ranger, Aragorn mused, but he had never seen a Steward of Gondor use that skill to gentle a stray cat.
The Steward lifted the white cat in his arms. Aragorn bundled up the three mewling kittens in his own mantle. They placed kittens and cat and loosened cloaks at the bottom of the laborer's barrow and trudged out of the Hallows, pushing the handcart. The mother cat sniffed her offspring and gathered them to her amidst the warm folds of lordly raiment. The kittens' cries subsided as they suckled.
"Faramir," Aragorn asked, looking down on the three kittens. "I like the look of the grey kit. May I have him when he is weaned?"
"Certainly, my lord" Faramir replied, and smiled. I think that one resembles you, Sire."
"You mean it is the largest, strongest of the three?"
This time Faramir realized that his lord was teasing him, and smiled. "Nay, for it is the white kitten who is largest. But the grey one has a wild, untamed, look to it, like unto the Northern Dúnedain and their chieftain."
Aragorn laughed. "May the White City welcome the King's Cat as it has welcomed the King! And we shall have the Steward to thank for ill luck turned to good use."
"King and Steward, my lord." Faramir insisted. "The world changes. The ghosts of sadder times can find peace in new traditions, new hope."
"Well said." Aragorn answered, knowing that Faramir was speaking not only of Queen Berúthiel's cats. "I believe that they will."
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Originally written in honor of Altariel's birthday, a slightly different version of this tale was posted on the H-A mailing list on 1/13/06.
On Queen Beruthiel and her cats - from Unfinished Tales, Part 4, Ch. II The Istari Note 7 -
She was the nefarious, solitary, and loveless wife of Tarannon…Berúthiel…had nine black cats and one white, her slaves, with whom she conversed, or read their memories, setting them to discover all the dark secrets of Gondor…setting the white cat to spy upon the black, and tormenting them. No man in Gondor dared touch them; all were afraid of them, and cursed when they saw them pass. At last King Tarannon had her set on a ship alone with her cats and set adrift on the sea before a North wind…And her name was erased from the Book of the Kings.