Universe: The Lord of the Rings
Characters featured: Aragorn/Faramir
Category, Word count: Short story; 8551 words
Summary: Faramir talks honestly with the new King Elessar, and recalls when he first met a Ranger named Estel wandering the wilderness, twelve years before.
Notes: This is set in and around the wonderful novels, which I have been reading on a regular basis for (OMG) the past thirty years or more; the epigraphs for each chapter are drawn from the novels and the appendices. The original Aragorn and Faramir both had dark grey hair and grey eyes, visible signs of their shared heritage as descendants of Númenor, and despite loving the movies I have gone with that. However, I have borrowed Aragorn’s courteous gesture of respect from the movies, because it just seemed so delightfully him.
First published: 22 April 2004 in Homosapien 7
14 May 3019 Third Age
Aragorn: ‘A day draws near that I have looked for in all the years of my manhood, and when it comes I would have my friends beside me.’
It was midnight–dark, but even so Faramir did not need the shielded lamp he carried; his soft–shod feet found their own way from his rooms to the treasuries, a path through corridors and courtyards so familiar to him that his mind was free to dwell on other matters. And yet such thought merely revolved around the same concerns, and he tried instead to think only of his current mission. For he was returning a treasure to the treasuries; a treasure that perhaps he should have returned years ago. No one had missed it, though, he was sure. So few appreciated Gondor’s accumulations of words and records and artefacts, the thoughts and histories and creations of men and women long gone; the treasuries had been neglected, even by his father, for far too long. But Faramir trusted that would change now; King Elessar was not a man to disdain such riches.
Once he reached the building that housed the treasuries he let himself in, quietly closing the massive doors behind him; then he opened the lamp before taking the winding stairs down into the main chamber. There, against one wall, shelves reached up into night–shadow, all cluttered with the most precious things: inlaid boxes and finely wrought circlets, jewelled vials and painted scenes on ancient wood. Faramir pushed a hand deep into the pockets of his robe, took the armband out, and gazed at it one last time before giving it up. It was a beautiful thing, surprisingly light though carved from black stone, worked with intricate traceries of silver. But it was not his. He reached out to place it on a shelf, at the height of his shoulder, where it sat comfortably amidst the dust and the other treasures. If only memories were so easily set aside.
‘This is strange,’ came a grave voice.
Faramir spun around to discover that King Elessar himself was sitting cross–legged on a broad stone windowsill, an opened scroll in his hands and a lit candle by his side. There were other scrolls and books and tablets scattered across the floor before him, as if he’d been there for hours.
‘Yes, it is strange,’ he continued in considered tones, ‘to witness the return of objects stolen years ago.’
A protest rose instinctively, but Faramir did not voice it. Instead he admitted, ‘I should have returned it before now.’
The king put the scroll aside and watched Faramir for a long moment; Aragorn seemed saddened by what he saw, though he also grew less stern. ‘You have kept it by you these dozen years?’
Faramir looked at him, startled by such directness; he had assumed there would be no mention of what happened twelve years ago, nor even an allusion. ‘Yes, my lord. The memories it evoked seemed sweet to me.’
Aragorn sighed; and he leaned back against the stone as if needing the support, drawing his knees up within the compass of his arms. ‘There is something I must tell you, Faramir. The betrothal I once spoke of: I have now fulfilled the terms set by the lady’s father. Though whether my desire will be finally granted is still not clear to me.’
‘How can it not be?’ Faramir murmured. ‘You are a lord among men, the greatest that now is; worthy of any man’s daughter.’
The king uncurled and sat forward on the edge of the windowsill, his long legs dangling yet not quite reaching the floor. In gratitude for the compliment, he honoured Faramir: he bowed his head, and touched his brow and then his lips. Faramir had never seen anyone else perform such a graceful courtesy, and the poignant memories were suddenly as fresh as yesterday. Aragorn continued, however: ‘She is not the daughter of a man; she is Arwen, daughter of Elrond Halfelven and Celebrían.’
Startled yet again, Faramir considered this for a long moment. The King of Gondor to marry with an elf of the highest lineage; the next Queen to be the living embodiment of Lúthien Tinúviel … This surpassed all the Stewards’ old dreams of reclaiming Gondor’s former glory. And yet, why shouldn’t such a marriage come to pass, depending as it did on the worth of Aragorn? ‘Can you be less worthy of such a match than Beren?’ he asked in all seriousness.
‘Faramir,’ Aragorn said, looking at him steadily yet sadly, ‘perhaps you overestimate me. Perhaps there is a reason why you do not see clearly.’
‘Because I spoke of the sweetness of certain memories?’
‘But it is not so, my lord. The memories are sweet, but they do not overpower my reason.’ Faramir considered his king, this man who seemed willing to betray something of the truth; for while the newly crowned King Elessar by day was proud and happy, Aragorn by night, alone with a trusted friend, seemed a careworn and anxious man. Faramir came to a decision. ‘There is something of which I wish to speak to you, my lord, something for which I would ask your permission. Perhaps the matter will reassure you.’
Aragorn nodded, indicating that Faramir should continue.
‘I wish to marry with Éowyn, Lady of Rohan, my lord; for she is beautiful, and has a spirit and courage to match any man’s.’
‘And the lady?’ Aragorn asked, still looking at him steadily, though Faramir thought he perceived a hint of surprise well–buried. ‘What does she say to your proposals?’
‘She has accepted me.’ He added, in a quieter voice, ‘She says that she can love me.’
‘Then if you ask me to respond as King Elessar to the Steward of Gondor, I say that I rejoice in this match, for the alliance between Gondor and Rohan is as significant as any in Middle–earth, and I am glad that it be strengthened further.’ Then, matching Faramir’s quieter voice, the king added: ‘If you ask me to respond as Aragorn to Faramir, I would rest easier if I knew that the match will make you happy.’
‘If I may, my lord, I will be honest with you.’
Again, Aragorn nodded.
‘I know that she desired to be loved by you, my lord; we spoke of it quite openly, she and I. And am I not exactly the man to understand such a yearning? But we need not, we cannot all aim so high. The lady and I hold each other in great esteem, and look ahead to the same things; together, we hope to make the gardens of Ithilien grow green again.’
‘You do indeed reassure me.’
Faramir looked at the king, and was glad to see that some of his anxiety had eased. ‘Then, my lord, if I may be so bold as to ask one last question?’
Aragorn replied, ‘You will always have my permission to be honest and to ask questions, Faramir, Steward of Gondor, Prince of Ithilien; I know you will not abuse the privilege.’
‘If you can tell me,’ Faramir began. But the words were more difficult to say than he had imagined. ‘If you can speak of it, my liege, my beloved liege.’ Faramir fell to his knees on the honest stone, as perhaps he should have done ere now; he fell to his knees before his king. ‘And do not think that I flatter myself, knowing now all that you hoped for; nor should you fear that I await my bride with less ardour than you await yours.’ He gazed up at Aragorn, daring to hope for the truth. ‘But if you can tell me: how does my dear friend Estel fare in all this?’
Looking down at him, Aragorn frowned, and his beautiful grey eyes seemed as troubled as Faramir had ever seen them.
Winter 3007 Third Age
Gilraen: ‘I gave Hope to the Dúnedain, I have kept no hope for myself.’
There was a light ahead, Faramir could swear it, indistinct though it was. He dismounted, and walked on leading his mare Greyhame, peering ahead through the trees and wondering why he could never quite clearly make it out. A small fire, perhaps, and as well–hidden as the country allowed.
It was a dark night, unseasonably cold for the tail–end of winter, and after a long day’s journey Faramir was more than ready to call a halt for the night. He had lost his bearings that afternoon, however, and was loath to rest until he knew he could rest safely.
A little way further on, a dry creek bed opened to his left. It seemed that the banks grew steeper as it twisted on through the trees, and Faramir wondered if he’d solved the mystery. Perhaps someone had made camp further along the creek bed, with a fire that could not be seen directly until one was right on top of it. He smiled, both appreciative of the cunning and wary of it: he decided to walk on amidst the trees, rather than commit himself and Greyhame to the confines of the creek.
Faramir was proven right: he was soon looking down on a small fire and the man who’d lit it. The man who leaned back against the far bank, his strong legs bent under him and tensed ready to spring, his bright sword held in both hands pointing directly at Faramir’s heart.
‘Who goes there?’ the man demanded in the Common Speech.
‘A friend, I imagine,’ Faramir replied.
‘That remains to be seen.’
‘My name is Faramir; I am a Ranger of Ithilien.’ He looked the man over, taking in the familiar green and brown garb, the familiar dark hair and grey eyes, the noble features of a stern face. ‘You’re a Ranger, too, if I’m not mistaken.’
The other relaxed a little, though the sword never wavered. ‘You wander far afield, Faramir. But you are right: I am a Ranger of Eriador.’
‘You are further afield than I! And your name, Ranger?’
He grimaced, as if his name tasted bitter: ‘Estel.’
Faramir certainly knew enough Elvish to translate the word: ‘Hope.’
‘Not any more.’ And yet it was clear that such despair pained the man, and Faramir thought that maybe Estel’s heart still yearned to feel his birthright. For a moment the two men stared at each other in silence, and then Estel asked, ‘What is your business in these parts?’
‘I would be happy to tell you,’ Faramir replied, ‘especially if I may do so in comfort. Would you share your fire with me? Or is that too much to ask in these days of growing darkness?’
It seemed that Estel needed time to consider this, for he simply continued to stare at Faramir; or perhaps Estel was testing Faramir’s nerve. Whichever was true, he eventually decided in Faramir’s favour. ‘You will need to take your mare back down the creek, and then walk her up the bed; even a horse of Rohan won’t manage this bank.’
‘Indeed. And your own horse?’
‘I journey alone,’ Estel coldly announced.
Faramir nodded, and then turned back on his own tracks, collecting firewood along the way. He was pleased to find that once he’d regained Estel’s camp, the sword was sheathed and the man was sitting cross–legged by the fire as if he’d decided they were more likely to be friends than enemies. Once Greyhame was brushed down and settled for the night, Faramir sat across the fire from Estel, and the two men shared their evening’s allowance of food and drink.
Then Estel settled back, leaning against the far bank again, his legs stretched before him. He took a long–stemmed pipe from his pack and proceeded to fill it with pipeweed, though it took him a few trials to light it. Once he’d wreathed his sad, stern face in smoke, however, he seemed a little more contented. ‘This may seem a strange custom to you,’ Estel observed.
‘Strange, but not unknown,’ Faramir replied. ‘A friend of mine, Mithrandir, has the same habit.’
‘And he a friend of yours, Ranger?’
Faramir scowled, feeling at a real loss for the first time since he’d encountered Estel. It did not help that his own father used the same disdainful tones to talk of Mithrandir, the Grey Wanderer, and of Faramir’s yearning to learn from him. ‘Perhaps I speak more from desire than from truth,’ he admitted. ‘Mithrandir has visited the secrets of our treasuries in Gondor a few times, and has been kind enough to share some of the knowledge he has gained there with me. Anyway,’ Faramir added with more vigour, ‘who are you to decide who should call him friend?’
That won a small smile from Estel, and it seemed from the spark in his eyes that he was genuinely amused. ‘Who am I? Only one who also desires to call Mithrandir a friend,’ he admitted. ‘But now, Faramir, will you tell me your business? To find a lone Ranger of Ithilien wandering the lands north–west of Rohan is strange to me.’
Ah, Faramir thought: so he had crossed the shifting borders already, and they were now in the southern reaches of Dunland; he would need to determine whether he had come too far; everything beyond the River Isen was unknown to him. But in the meantime: ‘I was not alone when I set out from Gondor,’ he explained to Estel. ‘My companion fell ill, however, and I left him with a family in Rohan. I expect,’ he added with a smile, ‘that Aden will have a bride by the time I return to collect him. He and the eldest daughter seemed quite smitten even as they first laid eyes on each other.’
If it were possible, Faramir would say that Estel’s face grew graver still. The man drew thoughtfully on his pipe, as if Faramir’s words had stirred strong memories lying just below the stern surface. Faramir watched him carefully. Estel seemed the very incarnation of the long–ago men of Númenor, for he was tall and lean, dark–haired and grey–eyed, handsome despite his aged grimness; a far nobler version of Faramir himself; a nobler version, even, of Faramir’s beloved brother. And there was something more about Estel that put Faramir in mind of the Dúnedain of the Second Age, for he had already instinctively pledged the man his trust, a rare thing in these wary days. Perhaps the blood of Númenor still ran true in the Rangers of the North, for this weatherworn wanderer seemed noble indeed.
‘Yet I am sure that you did not travel so far from Gondor simply in order to find your companion a wife,’ Estel eventually said, startling Faramir from his thoughts. ‘What is your purpose here?’
Faramir smiled. ‘I do not mean to avoid the issue. It began, I’m afraid, with a man named Mablung, a man whom my father trusted with much that we value. Mablung was ill–named Heavy Hand, however, for he was light–handed. He left Gondor with no warning two months ago, and with him went gold and other treasures that were not his. My brother hunted him down and retrieved much of the gold and most of the treasures, but he did not care to track the dusty old trinket that Mablung sold on his travels. I saw the matter otherwise. My father wanted messages taken to Rohan, and he gave me leave to continue on once I’d delivered them, though I must return to my duties in Ithilien by April.’
‘Why do you alone consider this trinket so valuable?’
‘Oh, I can understand well enough why it is easily dismissed in these times. Many men, perhaps most, would see no need to argue that weapons of war and the means to support the men who wield them are of far more importance than a beautifully made adornment. It is an armband, very old and of Elvish work, though its true origins are lost in history.’
‘It is not the least of his victories,’ Estel mused, ‘that the Enemy concentrates our thoughts and our efforts on war alone, and so narrows our hearts and our desires.’ Then he asked, ‘What does Mablung say of where he sold the armband?’
‘Apparently he gave it to a family living on the very borders of Rohan, one of the settlers who have pushed past the River, in return for food and shelter. I know little more than that; Mablung was slain by my brother before he returned to Gondor.’ Faramir frowned. ‘I do not know that he deserved death, but the growing darkness makes us fear treacheries greater than stealing. Boromir suspected Mablung of worse intentions, though I am not sure he was right: Mablung’s desires ran in other directions.’
‘Indeed,’ was the only response.
Faramir reached to put more wood on the fire, and then they stared into the flames for a while, each deep in thought. It was growing late. Before turning in for the night, though, Faramir asked, ‘Would you tell me the purpose of your journey?’
Estel stirred, the bitter despair returning in full measure. ‘I have no purpose,’ he said, voice harsh. ‘Not any more.’ Grief showed plain on his face before it was mastered again; but in that one honest moment, Estel appeared truly beautiful. He looked across the fire at Faramir. ‘I know that is an inadequate explanation during these dark days.’
‘I trust you,’ Faramir quietly told him.
‘Then I do not trust your judgement!’
‘Do you not? If my esteem has been too quickly given then you can prove me wrong at some later time. But for now,’ Faramir added with a smile, ‘let us settle. I will sleep better for knowing I have a friend beside me.’
Estel stared at him with some hardness, apparently reluctant to accept Faramir’s trust; and yet even that reassured Faramir that Estel was an honourable man.
‘I for one will wish you well and say goodnight.’ And, still smiling, Faramir wrapped his cloak around him, stretched out on the ground, and fell into the best sleep he’d had for months.
Faramir woke smiling yet, and he knew it was due to no dream for the dreams he’d had were the usual troubling visions. The object of his happiness stepped past him carrying fresh supplies of water. ‘Good morrow, friend,’ Faramir said. ‘You’ve already walked far this morning.’
‘I rode,’ Estel replied shortly.
And, indeed, when Faramir propped himself on an elbow to look at Greyhame, he saw she’d returned from a brisk and exciting run. She whickered at him then snorted, tossing her head, apparently ready for more. Faramir laughed. ‘Greyhame is an even better judge of men than I am, Estel, and she loves you.’
Estel remained unimpressed; perhaps if he’d had less dignity, he, too, would have snorted.
Faramir felt a mischievous urge to provoke the man into such a reaction. He lay back down again. ‘Who are you, Estel? And why does it feel so natural to lie here on the ground at your feet?’
‘Your idleness has nothing to do with me.’
A laugh bubbled out of him. ‘No, I assure you that if I was standing right now, I would fall at your feet as if you were a king of old.’
‘I doubt it,’ Estel countered, as he busied himself gathering food from his own pack and from Faramir’s. ‘Why should the son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor, fall at anyone’s feet?’
‘Ah. You knew all along, didn’t you?’
Estel’s sharp grey eyes pierced him. ‘Why do you choose to travel as a Ranger of Ithilien, if your purpose is so innocent?’
‘Only to avoid complications. And I am a Ranger. As far as my father and my captain are concerned, I am on leave and acting as a private man.’ Faramir sat up, so that his eyes were level with Estel’s while the other man knelt to tend the fire. ‘Why do you question me on such matters, when you yourself are obviously more than a Ranger of Eriador?’
‘Yet I am a Ranger, just as you are,’ Estel evenly replied. ‘And if I were more than I seem, I may have reasons for concealment as valid as yours.’
‘If I see in you a nobility,’ Faramir countered, ‘even greater than that in my brother, heir to the Steward of Gondor, my brother whom I adore …’
Estel let out a humourless laugh. ‘Whom you adore?’ He looked directly at Faramir once more. ‘Perhaps you are misinterpreting a different kind of urge.’ And he reached out and traced a fingertip from Faramir’s temple down his cheek and along his jaw; and then he turned away.
But that one simple touch made Faramir’s skin sing. ‘Who are you?’ he whispered.
The man ignored him, hands busy dividing the food between them.
‘Estel?’ Faramir got to his feet, stepped closer to him, closer again. ‘Hope?’ He bent down, tried to look into Estel’s face; there was confusion and despair there, and … and hunger. Yet when Estel met Faramir’s gaze, anger flashed in his eyes, and an answering anger surged within Faramir.
He grabbed the man, and hauled him up to his feet, even though it felt like the worst kind of disrespect; forced his mouth to Estel’s. There was a struggle, but it only lasted a moment. Then Estel cupped Faramir’s nape, forced hard fingers up through his hair, against his scalp; drew Faramir closer to him. The kiss became one of mutual hunger, though mutually angry still. They fell together against the steep slope of the creek bank, legs interlaced, each ready, tumbling back and forth as if fighting.
Before matters went any further, although it was already inevitable that matters would go further, Faramir broke away long enough to ask, ‘Can you love me with honour?’
There was no response; no verbal response. That mouth tracked his throat, gnawed there with barely restrained passion.
Faramir’s whole body now sang. ‘Love me with honour!’
It was too late for anything else; Estel was too determined in his pursuit of fulfilment of their mutual need. They were each thrusting against the other’s hip now, grasping each other tight as if they feared the world would end before they were done. And soon enough it felt as if the world were indeed ending, and Faramir gasped his lover’s name as the darkness fell through him, swallowing him whole as the waves must have swallowed the lost island of Númenor. ‘Estel! Hope! Love! Estel …’
The waves receded and left them cast there together on long–dry land. They lay in an embrace, though it was not a comforting one. Faramir could have wept.
After a while, Estel said, ‘I am betrothed.’ His voice was sad, profoundly sad, but Faramir was relieved to discern no greater complexity than that; there was no guilt, no blame. ‘I only tell you,’ Estel continued, ‘because you asked about honour. If I had any hope in my betrothal, I could not in honour love you.’
‘Then you love me in despair.’
The man smiled a little, and caressed Faramir’s cheek. ‘Even I would not put such a bleak aspect on this – this, the only joy I’ve glimpsed in many a long year.’
‘Can you really have no hope in your betrothal? Surely few women – and few women’s fathers – would object to you.’
‘Ah, her father knows me as well as he knows his daughter, and values us each according to our merits. As he should.’ Estel sighed. ‘As do I. He has placed conditions on our marriage that I fear I can never meet.’
‘But you are exceptional! Cannot he see that?’
‘Hope can be a painful thing, Faramir,’ Estel told him. ‘Indeed: I am done with it. Let us not speak of it again.’
Faramir smiled at a sudden idea. ‘Come with me, Estel. Help me find the armband.’
Estel looked at him doubtfully, and drew away from their embrace. ‘It is true that such a thing should not be lost and forgotten.’ He began repacking his gear, tidying away the campsite. ‘But you wanted to avoid complications,’ he reminded Faramir. ‘What have I become, if not that?’
‘You are a friend; we are friends who value the same things. It is not a grand quest that I undertake, and no one might ever hear of it or tell tales of it, but it is a noble quest in a small kind of way. You said your journey had no purpose, isn’t that so?’
‘I was trying to outrun grief,’ Estel confessed in such a low voice that Faramir wondered if the man was aware he’d spoken aloud. ‘A fool’s errand,’ he said to Faramir.
‘Then leave it and come with me. The Enemy must not have everything his own way.’
Estel seemed to be considering this, but his face was serious rather than grave, and eventually he gave Faramir one of his rare smiles. ‘I will come.’
Faramir chose their campsite that night, and he made sure they had the best of Rohan’s sweet grass and forgiving turf to lie upon.
Estel was watching him, amused; and when Faramir had made his choice, Estel observed, ‘A bed fit for the son of the Steward of Gondor. We would not want him bruised.’
In the gentle twilight, breathing in the first rumours of the approaching spring, Faramir declared, ‘Verily, it is a bed fit for a king.’
The amusement vanished. But despite the return of Estel’s gravity, they made goodly use of their resting place that night.
It became apparent the following day that Estel knew this country better than did Faramir; the Ranger of Eriador had obviously travelled far in his years. Based on the little information Boromir had passed on, Estel and Faramir determined where they might search for the family who’d received the armband, and they turned to the north–east.
As he rode Greyhame over Rohan’s new–claimed plains of grass, Faramir watched Estel striding along beside him, and wondered how old the man was. Estel had the grace and the vigour of youth, and yet his charcoal–coloured hair was flecked with grey. He had the kind of wisdom that only comes from long experience, and yet his weather–beaten face was no doubt prematurely aged by the unkind elements of the North. There were moments in which Faramir thought Estel little more than his own twenty–four years, and moments in which he seemed as ancient as Mithrandir; and despite that maturity, in all those moments it seemed clear that Estel’s full destiny lay ahead in the years yet to come. It was all very confusing.
‘Who are you?’ Faramir asked again after a long silent morn.
Estel looked up at him with his keen grey eyes. ‘Do you still trust me?’
‘Yes.’ He fought the urge to add my lord. ‘Yes, implicitly.’
‘Then I deem it best that you do not know. Not yet.’
And Faramir had to be content with that.
The family’s homestead was discovered exactly where Estel had predicted. They were welcomed, though Faramir noted that Estel drew back and became quieter, leaving Faramir to lead the conversation with their hosts, and letting the family assume that Estel, too, was a Ranger of Ithilien. They might even assume from Estel’s humble demeanour that Faramir was his captain.
It was soon clear that the armband had been traded again for goods only two days before, and that it was now in the possession of a travelling merchant. The old man of the family apologised profusely. ‘I feared the thing was stolen,’ he confessed, ‘but I felt it better to accept something we might consider a gift, rather than the man’s gold. I shouldn’t have accepted anything at all.’
‘You deserved something in return for your kindness,’ Faramir responded, ‘even if your generosity was bestowed on someone himself undeserving.’
‘Nevertheless, I felt guilty about it,’ the old man continued. ‘It was so beautiful! But it also felt … as if there were some sadness in it. And so I let it go too easily, too cheaply.’
Faramir reassured him that he had done no real wrong, adding, ‘Letting go can be the most difficult challenge of all.’
The old fellow insisted that Faramir and Estel stay for the night, though the family were in no position to offer them a real bed; outlying cousins and other kin were slowly gathering together at the homestead, though there had been no clear decision to do so. There was talk of returning back across the Isen. It seemed there were rumours of odd things happening in the wilds, strange and eerie tales.
Faramir was saddened but not surprised to hear this. ‘Few things seem entirely well these days,’ he murmured to the old man; ‘this is true. But while we draw breath,’ he added in more resounding tones, ‘Gondor and the brave riders of Rohan, and the great Saruman the White at Isengard, will protect you from the worst of it.’
He was happy to accept the offered shelter. After a hearty evening meal, the Rangers were shown to the stables, and invited to make their bed amidst the straw in the attic.
Once they were alone, with nothing but the sleepy whickering of horses below, the two of them readied themselves for the night. And as they lay down together, Faramir was pleased to be drawn into Estel’s embrace. His body sang with anticipation, and he leaned in close for a kiss that tasted delightfully raw from the pipe that Estel had just smoked.
And a kiss he was given, but then Estel set him aside. ‘I would sleep close to you for your warmth,’ he admitted; ‘but I will not trespass further on this family’s generosity.’
‘They’ll never know.’
Estel would not be persuaded. ‘If they knew, they would not condone. It is hardly honourable to take advantage of their ignorance.’
Faramir sighed, and reluctantly agreed. He stole another kiss, however, before settling back into his lover’s arms. And so he fell asleep.
In the blackest hour of the night, Faramir woke from yet another dream of the great dark wave climbing over the blessed lands of Númenor, climbing on unstoppable above the hills and over the valleys, the blues and the greens and the golds lost in shadow, in darkness unescapable. And even as his dream–self was swept away by that wave, the breath pounded from him and soon to drown, he awoke to find himself still held in the safe warm embrace of his lover. He lay there pondering the dream’s meaning.
After a while, although Faramir lay quiet and still, Estel seemed to sense even in his sleep that Faramir had woken. ‘What is it?’ the man murmured before he was half–awake himself. ‘Faramir?’
‘A dream. Only an old dream.’ Faramir told him about it in whispers, though he could never entirely capture the images in words. ‘It scared me as a child,’ he concluded, ‘and I admit that it still troubles me, because I am not sure what it means.’
‘A reminder of the Enemy,’ Estel suggested hoarsely, ‘and a warning. It was Sauron’s wiles and the overweening pride of men that caused Númenor to fall so long ago.’
‘So, we must learn from the fate of our forefathers, else we are doomed to fall prey to the same mistakes.’
Estel held him closer still, and confessed, ‘It is easy to despair when one considers the past. Perhaps our pride has dwindled since then, and our arrogance, but so also has our strength.’
Eventually, in the quietest moment, Faramir asked, ‘From what grief do you run?’
‘A grief you might understand,’ Estel answered in a low, raw voice. ‘I received word that my mother died.’
‘I’m sorry, Estel. I have indeed suffered the same grief.’ Faramir’s mother Finduilas had died too young, when he was only five and Boromir ten; by now she was little more than a dim memory of warmth and loveliness and sadness.
‘Yes, I think you have, Faramir. For it is not so much that she died; we are all subject to the Doom of Men, which once was rightly called the Gift of Men. I grieve because she had renounced all hope. She could not bear to live through the coming darkness, and she despaired of it ever ending.’
Faramir pressed a kiss to his lover’s brow, at last understanding Estel’s own feelings of despair.
‘You dream of Númenor,’ Estel said, ‘and we are part of that same story, you and I.’
‘Perhaps this time the darkness will be defeated, and will never rise again.’
‘Perhaps,’ was the reply, though it seemed that Estel doubted. But when Faramir kissed him once more, Estel said, ‘Perhaps.’ And this time his voice was firm.
They held each other until sleep returned.
Their trail was clear now, so Estel sat behind Faramir on Greyhame, and they rode on following the merchant’s usual route, as swiftly as Greyhame could bear them.
Once they forded the River Isen, they were on a recognisable trail, and passed a few individuals and groups travelling in the same direction as they headed west for a while before slowly turning south. What troubled Faramir was that some of those people appeared to be moving their families and possessions towards the more heavily settled areas of Rohan. When he spoke to them, none could tell of specific threats to their outlying homes, but all spoke of vague fears and small but unwelcome changes. He mulled over this for most of the day, having thought that the Rangers were protecting people well enough from the Enemy and his machinations.
‘There are rumours abroad,’ was all that Estel would say; ‘and perhaps these people are wise to heed them.’
By the end of the day they’d caught up with the merchant: his old horse and well–laden cart were no match for Greyhame, even though she carried two riders.
Again, Estel dropped back and let Faramir do the talking. ‘Yes,’ the merchant had the armband, but ‘No,’ he wasn’t sure he wanted to part with it, though ‘I have to admit that just looking at it makes me unhappy.’
‘It was traded to you for a certain amount of goods,’ Faramir said. ‘I will give you enough to cover those goods and more, in gold, in return for the armband. I would have it back, for it should never have been taken, and during the pursuit it has become even dearer to me.’
‘Elvish, isn’t it?’ the merchant persisted. ‘I knew by the way they worked it. It’s as if …’ He struggled for a moment to find the words. ‘Why, it’s as if each bit of silver round it traces a feeling. But the Elves being who they were, those feelings are none but grief. All the different shades of grief.’
‘If it saddens you, then why keep it?’
The fellow glanced at him sharply as if the answer should have been obvious. ‘Because I know a chap who likes Elvish things, don’t I? He’ll give me a good price for it, I’ll warrant.’
Faramir sighed. ‘What kind of good price?’
Eventually he held the armband in his hands, and the merchant rode away somewhat richer. Faramir turned it, letting the dying sunlight catch the tracery, the lovely lines sinuous against the black stone. It was beautiful indeed, but also sombre. He wondered at the unpoetic merchant putting it so well: all the different shades of grief. An old verse came to him, and he murmured part of it while the sadness welled in him.
‘O Lórien! The Winter comes, the bare and leafless Day;
The leaves are falling in the stream, the River flows away.’
Estel came up beside him, and asked in a wondering tone, ‘Where did you learn such things?’
But Faramir sighed again, and did not reply. He reached for Greyhame’s reins, and led the mare off the trail. Just over a rise to the east, a wood stretched up the further slope, promising shelter. ‘Shall we make camp?’ he asked Estel.
‘Yes, Faramir. Yes.’
And when Faramir glanced at the man now striding beside him, he was intrigued to discover that Estel’s grey eyes shone. ‘What is it?’ he asked.
‘You have reminded me …’ After a moment, as if he were searching for the best or most acceptable answer, Estel continued, ‘I know that armband. I know its story.’
Estel shrugged, and smiled at him. It was one of those rare moments in which he looked truly beautiful. ‘Well, I know one of its stories, for no doubt there are several.’
The Last Alliance 3430–3441 Second Age
… the Rangers told strange forgotten tales which were eagerly listened to …
In the year 3429 of the Second Age, the old enemy Sauron arose once more in Mordor, and he captured Isildur’s city of Minas Ithil. Elendil knew that the Dúnedain alone could not defeat Sauron, so he turned to Gil–galad, High–elven King of Lindon, an ancient enemy of Sauron the Abhorred. And so the Last Alliance of Elves and Men was forged, and the combined hosts of Lindon and Arnor began to be mustered in Eriador.
During that muster, a man and an elf met, and their fates became intertwined. The man was Tarannon, a second cousin of Isildur and Anárion, and the blood of Westernesse ran true in him. He was named for the twelfth King of Gondor; and while he was a quiet man who kept to himself, he was a good solider. The elf was named Celebros, and he had already lived long in Middle–earth, but little else is now known of him.
So, Tarannon and Celebros met in 3431, and they loved each other from that moment on; for the following ten years they could not be separated; they lived and fought side by side. And they fought bravely and well, but much of their story is submerged in the mosaic of all the other Men and Elves of the Alliance who also fought bravely and well. This is not an epic, nor even a lay, but it is one of the many stories that tell of the love between the Eldar and the Edain, and it should not be forgot. Theirs is a quiet story of love and of loyalty beyond death.
Tarannon often spoke of the long–ago legend of the warrior pairs who lived and loved, fought and died each by the other’s side, never parting in life or in death. And he thought of himself and Celebros as a continuing part of that tradition, and swore that if they died in battle then they would die side by side, facing the Enemy. Celebros gifted him with an armband that he used to wear, made of old by a follower of Celebrimbor, grandson of Fëanor. And maybe it was a suitable gift for a man with Westernesse blood beating in his heart, for there was an arrogance in Fëanor and his sons as well as in the men of Númenor.
The final battle of the Last Alliance was fought upon the slopes of Mount Doom in Mordor in 3441, and the Alliance was victorious. But in the last moments of combat, even as Sauron was overthrown, Tarannon received a mortal wound, and so the victory was to Celebros as ashes in his mouth.
Even as he lay dying, Tarannon had a change of heart, and he implored Celebros not to die also but to live on; not because Tarannon loved him the less, but because he loved Celebros too much to want him to forsake life. For Tarannon was not afraid to die alone, and he did not think that Celebros would be afraid to live alone. And so he died in Celebros’ arms, and his last words were of love and of hope.
Remaining by Tarannon’s side even now, Celebros escorted his body to Gondor, and saw him laid to rest in the Hallows as befits the kin of kings; though Celebros took back the armband and kept it with him always.
Of course, even if Tarannon had lived into old age, and even if he’d lived longer than other men because of his pure blood, Celebros would only have known him for what seemed a brief swift time, for elves are immortal unless ill fortune besets them. Though they were together for ten years, this was little more than a moment for Celebros. And yet it was the most significant moment in all his long life.
Although Celebros had promised his lover that he would continue on, he found that the world now seemed dark to him, as if Arda had once more lost the light of the Two Trees of Valinor. Nothing in the circles of the world held any charm for him any more, and he wished that he had, after all, fallen in battle at his lover’s side. Though his friends surrounded him, he could not be consoled. Sometimes life is difficult to bear in this tree–tangled Middle–earth, from which one can only glimpse the stars. Sometimes the hardest thing a man or an elf can do is endure. And so one day Celebros dressed simply, leaving his armour aside and all his adornments save the armband, but he took his sword, and he walked alone down the Street of Silence to Tarannon’s grave, and there he ended his immortal life.
They buried Celebros with all honour in Tarannon’s grave, and the lovers lie there still, together forever in body at least. Though perhaps they met once more beyond the circles of the world, and are together in spirit as well; who among us can say?
Spring 3007 Third Age
Aragorn: ‘I will walk in the wild alone.’
‘The armband was not buried with them,’ Estel said as he ended the story, looking gravely at the armband that Faramir now held in both hands. ‘I used to think it should have been; but now I am glad it was not, for it has brought you to me.’
Faramir was deeply moved, and not too proud to weep. ‘Why are all the best tales so sad, so very sad?’
‘Middle–earth is changing,’ Estel slowly replied, ‘and even if the Enemy is finally defeated this time, much will be lost. Perhaps the story we are in,’ he added, looking at Faramir, ‘is all about loss.’
‘No,’ Faramir protested. ‘No, I will not have it so.’ And he went to Estel, and they lay together, and they loved each other gently there under the trees.
Afterwards Faramir lay in Estel’s arms while the man slept, and he gazed deep into the night sky, seeking all–too–rare glimpses of starlight.
‘You will return to Gondor?’
Faramir looked at the man. The morning light was dull, and even the fire they had built could not cheer him. ‘Not yet,’ he pleaded.
‘You have succeeded in your small but noble quest, and now it is over,’ Estel reminded him.
‘Come with me,’ Faramir asked. ‘Serve with me in Ithilien. What better task for a Ranger than guarding the borders of Mordor?’
‘You are needed there, Faramir, yes. But I have been set other tasks.’ And Estel smiled at him sadly, obviously wishing to ease the pain of their parting.
Faramir watched him pack his bag. It didn’t take very long. ‘If you would give me a day and a night, that is all I ask. Can I not be your quest for this little while? Estel, please. You have been my first love.’
‘I know. But you will have another, and greater still.’
‘Is that what you see, or what you wish?’
‘Both.’ And Estel came to sit beside him. ‘I could only wish it otherwise if I still despaired.’
‘But you do not despair?’
‘No.’ Estel smiled, and reached to run his fingers from Faramir’s temple down his cheek and along his jaw. But even though the touch made Faramir’s heart sing, the gesture was now that of a friend, and even Faramir’s song was muted. ‘It is my fate,’ Estel explained, ‘to walk alone for these long years. You give me hope that it will not be in vain.’ He leaned in closer to ensure that he held Faramir’s gaze. ‘Knowing you, and seeing into your heart, gives me hope for the future.’
‘The darkness will be defeated?’
‘I do not know. But it is important that we try our best to make it so. I think, Faramir, that our story is about what we do with our time in Middle–earth, what we do despite the loss and the grief.’
Faramir found himself smiling, though it was hardly an unequivocal feeling. He had helped Estel reclaim his birthright: Hope. And Estel was glad that they had been brought together. And yet still they must part.
‘We two, meeting as fellow Rangers, stole a moment for ourselves. But if we hope, then we look again to the future, and we must answer to a higher call; we must part. To indulge ourselves further would bring dishonour.’
‘Then giving you hope brings no reward.’
‘None beyond what is right and true.’
‘That is cold comfort indeed. But I will console myself with that if that is all I have.’
Estel considered for a moment, and then said in a low voice, ‘At first I feared that you had been sent by the Enemy.’
Faramir was astounded by such a notion. Even amidst the gathering darkness that brooded over Mordor, surely a man could still perceive clearly enough who his friends were. ‘Anyway,’ Faramir blurted, ‘the Enemy could not use love as a weapon, for he knows it not.’
‘It was your love that convinced me,’ Estel said with a smile. ‘But at first it seemed you were the neatly contrived answer to my despair; a cunning appeal to my vanity. Too perfect to be true.’
‘Ah.’ Faramir felt heartened despite the complex nature of the compliment. ‘You are too kind.’ He looked at Estel, and managed to give him an honest smile. Estel was all compassion in return. For a moment …
For a moment Faramir saw both the present and the future. He saw it clearly in the years ahead: Estel leaning over him where he lay, looking at him with profound compassion, and Faramir knowing that his life was held in Estel’s hands. He saw it and felt it, and he knew it would come to pass; such was his gift of foresight. ‘We will meet again, you and I.’
‘That is what I fear,’ Estel confessed.
‘Is it something to be feared? We will not be enemies.’ Faramir frowned, recalling that his father occasionally called foresight a curse.
‘No, never enemies,’ Estel assured him. ‘But you will truly know me at last, and I would have you remember that I always desired to be a friend to you and yours.’
‘I understand,’ Faramir said. And he added, deliberately and instinctively: ‘My liege, liege of my heart.’
Estel was startled. He looked at Faramir, wondering. But it seemed that he didn’t find anything of which he could not approve, for he leaned in and kissed Faramir’s mouth for the last time. Then he drew back, and performed a graceful courtesy: he bowed his head, and touched his brow and then his lips. Faramir had never seen anything more beautiful. It wrung his heart.
A moment later, Estel had stood and shouldered his pack and turned away. The man strode off through the trees, heading north. And at the very last moment before Faramir lost sight of him entirely, Estel turned and gravely nodded farewell.
14 May 3019 Third Age
… and a light of knowledge and love was kindled in Faramir’s eyes …
Eventually Aragorn stood, and walked over to him; stooped to kiss his brow. It was not the gesture of a lover, nor did Faramir wish it were so. Then Aragorn lifted Faramir up to his feet, and held him there for a moment, his hands strong and firm. Those keen grey eyes searched him, then swept past him, and Aragorn turned away.
‘I ask too much,’ Faramir murmured. ‘Forgive me.’
But Aragorn reassured him: ‘No, you do not. It is well for a king to have friends who remember him from humbler days.’ He nodded, carefully considering his response. ‘Estel is … sorry. I am sorry, and my grief is a simple one. It seems a very hard fate that my mother Gilraen could not share these times with me, that she wasn’t here to see me crowned. If only she could have hoped … No, even if she could have waited without hope … It was only twelve years, in the end. That isn’t a long time for our people.’
‘Looking back is easier than looking ahead.’
It was a trite observation, but Aragorn smiled at him as if it were a glimpse of wisdom. ‘Indeed. None of us dared to foretell that the darkness would finally be conquered.’
‘And your dearest dreams about to come true,’ Faramir added.
‘You gave me hope, and I was happier for our meeting.’ Aragorn’s smile faded. ‘But I fear you are now a graver man, Faramir.’
‘It is true that I was sadder for our parting.’
‘Do you blame me for what we were to each other? Now that you know who I am. I have nothing to plead but the hopelessness I felt; I thought at the time that this could not come to pass.’
Faramir was lifting his hand in protest, daring to disagree with his king, before Aragorn was even halfway through. ‘Let us not speak of it again. You are my king, my captain, my brother. If I loved you too well for a while …’ He shrugged. ‘There need be no blame attached to the inevitable.’
But Aragorn said gravely, ‘You gave me comfort, hope and friendship when I would have sworn there were none to be had in the world. I will not forget those gifts.’
‘My lord,’ Faramir whispered, bowing his head.
‘All right,’ Aragorn responded, quietly fond, ‘we will not speak of it again. And of course everything between us will be proper. Though I would like it if you remembered that I was Estel before I was a king.’
‘As you wish, my lord.’
‘You will not now avoid this place, will you? Do not be wary of being alone with me here. It seems that you and I and Gandalf have been the only ones to value Gondor’s treasuries, but I look ahead to that changing.’
‘I, too, hope that changes.’ Faramir dared to meet those beautiful grey eyes. ‘Hope,’ he named him; ‘my liege.’
… and Faramir spoke softly. ‘My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?’