Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
Faramir has spent his life in the shadow of great men. As a child, he found his heroes in stories. As he grows up, he seeks them in the world outside his window. But when future generations tell their tales of the past, what heroes do they find?
This was written for the February 2015 challenge on the LOTR Challenge Community on LJ, which tied in with International Fanworks Day. The challenge was to write a story about somebody in Middle Earth engaging in fannish activity. I was assigned Faramir.
When Faramir was four and three-quarters, he fell in love.
It was not the first time, of course. In his long life - he would be five on his next birthday! - he had loved so many things: his mother, of course, and Boromir, who was the best, and a small blanket that had once been blue, but had long ago turned grey and ragged, which only made it so much better, and it was horrid when people tried to wash it. (He had fallen out of love with that when he was three and a half, when he'd realised that he was Too Old. Two days later, he'd cried for it back, and kept it for lots and lots more days, but he'd just been a baby then, and now it was banished forever.)
There was a kitten, briefly, called Patch, but then she'd scratched his nose and made him cry for ages, and his father had shouted NO MORE CATS! and by the time Faramir recovered enough to say that he loved Patch anyway, even though his nose hurt, Patch had been given away to a stupid guardsman's son who could wiggle his ears. (Faramir couldn't wiggle his ears. He tried. Lots. Boromir could, but Faramir wasn't old enough to be allowed to see him do it yet. Maybe when he was six, but that wouldn't be for ages and ages.)
Then there were those lovely sticky cakey things called doughnuts that covered your lips with sugar, even father's when he ate them, which he'd only done once, which wasn't fair, because it was funny when father looked silly. There was jam hidden inside them, and it exploded in a great whoosh! when you bit into it, and sometimes went all over the table! which was funny, although no-one else thought so, except for Boromir. It had been love at first bite. (That's what Boromir said, anyway. It was a clever thing to say, for some reason.) I WON'T EAT ANYTHING ELSE, NOT FOR EVER AND EVER AND EVER! Faramir had shouted, but after three days and twenty-seven doughnuts (he could count all the way to a million now, although he got confused sometimes by seventeen) they suddenly didn't seem so nice.
But this was different. This was real. He was almost five now, which was half as old as Boromir, and Boromir was nearly ten, which was almost grown up. Elendil was a grown-up thing. Elendil wasn't a sticky doughnut.
Elendil was amazing!
His mother told him the story first, of course. Mother told the best stories, better than Nurse, because she cuddled him as she told them, and her hair smelled like flowers after rain. "We are drawn to him in Dol Amroth, you see," she had explained, "because he was a seafarer, like us." And then she sighed, and looked at the window, which was silly, because there was nothing there, not even birds. (Faramir liked birds. A sparrow had once eaten seed right out of his hand. Boromir had never had a sparrow eat seeds out of his hand.)
Elendil was a king. Faramir knew what a king was. A king was the best and most special sort of person. Once, playing hide and seek with Boromir (Boromir was now Too Old for hide and seek, which made Faramir sad), Faramir had hidden behind the manure pile in the guests' stable (Phew! Stinky!) and had heard the visitors talking about the kings who used to be in charge in Gondor but went and got lost, and nothing had been quite so good ever since. He'd asked Boromir about it, but his father had heard him and gone grim and grumpy and told him to stop talking nonsense. The visitors had gone away just after that.
Elendil had been one of those old kings of Gondor, Faramir knew that. "Did he get lost, too?" Faramir had asked his mother, because that's what kings did, but she had shaken her head, and said that no, he died. "Like that bullfinch we found the other day?" Faramir had asked. "Like Grandfather Ecthelion?" (He couldn't remember his grandfather, but his mother always said that he had loved Faramir very much indeed. Faramir had been a tiny little baby then, all shrivelled and squally and he couldn't even talk, which was so funny to think about.)
"Yes," his mother told him. "Yes, like them." She held him tight, and looked sad, but that couldn't be right, because grown-ups didn't get sad. You never saw a grown-up bawling or hurling themselves onto the carpet under the table and screaming.
She told him lots more, of course, and Nurse told him other things, and so did the ladies in the Houses of Healing, who called him 'sweetie' and patted him on the head and gave him peaches to eat, and sometimes strawberries. (Strawberries were the best.) Elendil had come from the sea, and he was very tall. ("Yes, sweetie, even taller than your pa. Ah, bless him! See how amazed he looks! Doesn't think anyone in the world can be as tall as Lord Denethor.") He had stood up against Very Bad Men and had escaped from an enormous wave that was really big and scary. He'd brought wonderful things with him, like the white tree that Faramir had never paid much attention to before, but now thought was wonderful, too. And then there were battles; great, huge battles...
Boromir told him all about those. Boromir liked battles. Boromir was allowed to use a real metal sword, but only in practice, and he had to give it back to the master-at-arms afterwards, which wasn't fair, and he grumbled about it to Faramir all the time. Swinging an imaginary sword around, Boromir told Faramir all about the blood and the chopped-off limbs and the mud and the poo and the screaming.
"Not Elendil!" Faramir gasped. He was too shocked even the snigger at the word 'poo,' or not much.
"Mostly the enemy," Boromir said. "But Elendil died. He died in battle. Isildur's better. Isildur defeated the Enemy. Isildur didn't die. Not then, anyway."
"Elendil's the best!" Faramir screamed, clenched his fists, and he ran away, and for the next few weeks, he made up stories about Elendil the king, who was even taller than father! He ran into battle at Elendil's side, a loyal page. He saved Elendil's life and Elendil gave him a kitten, no, ten kittens all for his very own, and a real metal sword, and smiled at him as proudly as father smiled at Boromir. Faramir measured himself against the door-frame, standing as tall as he could on his tippy-toes, and longed to grow as big as Elendil. He played battles with Boromir's toy soldiers, and when they kept on falling over, which was boring, he lined them up and made them listen to all the wonderful stories he made up.
"Elendil was a indeed a very great king," the new tutor told him. (The new tutor came from Dol Amroth. Faramir's mother had asked him specially to come and teach Faramir, and Boromir, too, although Boromir liked sword lessons better. She was poorly, but she'd be better by Faramir's birthday, of course she would, and that was very soon now, just eight more sleeps. He'd be five. In five more years, he'd be the same age as Boromir.) "You can find out more about him in the scrolls in the archives, and there are other heroes, too: great kings…" His eyes flickered briefly towards Faramir's father, which was stupid, because his father was never interested in what Faramir was doing. "Great stewards," the tutor said.
"More stories?" Faramir's eyes went wide.
"Fewer than once there were," his tutor said, "but more than any one man can ever tell."
"More even than mother knows?" His father looked up at that, just for a moment, then looked away.
"More than anyone," his tutor said.
"Then I'd better get started," Faramir said, rolling up his sleeves as he'd seen Boromir do before sword practice, "if I'm going to read them all." Then he bit his lip, struck with a sudden fear. "Have they got long words in? I'm not very good at long words yet, just things like 'cat.' Because I'm little," he explained, in case the tutor was inclined to think less of him. "I'll be good at long words when I'm six."
"Quite a lot of long words, I'm afraid," the tutor chuckled, "but I can help you with them."
"Good," Faramir said. "Good."
Faramir was curled up in the window-seat, an open book lying half forgotten on his lap. People passed to and fro below him in the courtyard, and he watched them, resting against the glass. He did a lot of watching now. He was almost fourteen: too old for playing, but not yet old enough to play a man's part, or so his father had decreed. It had been different for Boromir five years ago, of course, but that was only right. Boromir was different.
Footsteps sounded behind him, accompanied by the swish-swish sound of long robes on the floor. "Mithrandir!" Faramir scrabbled upright. The book fell from his lap, and landed face down. He hurried to retrieve it, and smoothed its buckled pages straight. His fingers felt clumsy. He felt clumsy all the time now, his body growing in ways he didn't know how to control.
"Faramir." Mithrandir greeted him with his usual smile. He didn't rebuke Faramir for his carelessness with the precious book. "I have come to say goodbye."
"Goodbye?" Faramir gasped. His voice cracked, as it so often did nowadays. (Boromir had never suffered like this. Boromir's voice had turned into a man's voice overnight when he was younger than Faramir was now.) "But you've only been here for three…" His treacherous voice grated like a dying man's. He tried again. "It's father, isn't it? He's sending you away."
"Your lord father has extended his usual welcome." Mithrandir's eyes twinkled. They both knew what that meant. "In truth, I have been called away by tidings." Dark tidings, Faramir knew he meant. Just a year before, he might not have known that.
Just a year before, too, he might have protested: but, Mithrandir, we've hardly had any time to talk! You promised to teach me… oh so many things! But he was fourteen now, or almost. He was no longer a child, to deem his own desires more important than the rest of the world. Mithrandir was a very important person indeed; Faramir had always sensed that, even though Mithrandir wore such raggy clothes, nothing like the great ones in stories. Faramir was lucky to have even just scraps of his attention, like a dog fed at the table by his master's hand.
"But I have some moments before I must depart." Mithrandir settled himself down on the window seat with a sigh. "Was it studying that I interrupted, or dreaming?"
"Dreaming," Faramir admitted, but what was he dreaming of? He wasn't really sure. He so seldom was, nowadays, on the cusp of being a man.
He remembered his childhood adoration of Elendil, but although he still honoured Elendil greatly - who in Gondor did not? - his enthusiasm had failed to survive the dark days of his mother's death. Only in dreams could Elendil bring light to that darkness, voyaging across dark oceans to find her and bring her back to him. In the morning, cold, she was still gone.
But there had been fresh heroes over the years: names found in the archives and told in tales. Sometimes he even wrote his own poems and songs about the heroes, or made up tales of his own. (No tales were as good as his mother's, though, and never would be, although Boromir claimed that the best stories of all were stories told by your comrades-in-arms over a shared flagon of wine in a tavern, and Boromir knew best, Faramir supposed. He always did.)
"I think…" he said. He pressed his hand to the cold glass. "The world is growing darker. Boromir… Boromir doesn't see the point in reading about the past, except for stories about battles, but I think… I think it's important, and I like it, I really do."
Better inside, reading, than outside, out in the world. Soon he would be expected to make decisions, to issue orders, to command men. Oh, he was not Boromir, and was unlikely to be trusted with any decisions of huge importance, but he was still a son of the Steward of Gondor, and he would be expected to play his part. And he would do so. Of course he would do so.
But… he breathed, lips moving against the glass. His voice was not yet the voice of a man, and he had only just begun to shoot up tall. He was too old for toys, but books and learning never changed. They were like a mother's arms, but arms that never left you. He knew how to live like this, inside, and looking on.
He looked up. "But the fate of the world," he said, "will lie not with dead heroes, mighty as they were, but with living, breathing people. People, perhaps, who are alive today." People who put aside their books and went outside, took up their too-large swords and did what they had to do.
Mithrandir squeezed Faramir's shoulder, his eyes sparkling warmly. "Then let us hope that men who are not yet born will one day look back at these heroes of yours, and write their deeds in books like the one you hold so negligently on your lap."
Faramir snatched at the book and kept it from another fall. Below him in the courtyard, Boromir came striding in, flushed with exertion, tall and strong. He was followed by half a dozen other men who clearly thought he was amazing, even the ones who were entirely grown-up, at least twenty-two or even older. The girls loved Boromir, too, and stood in their windows with their hands pressed to their breasts, clutching posies of flowers. (That's what Boromir said, anyway. Faramir didn't know many girls, but he had heard the chambermaids sighing, so he knew that much was true.)
"Like Boromir," he said. If anyone from these times would be the hero of stories yet to be written, Boromir would be the one. That was the most important thing of all, in the dark times that they lived in. It was good to honour past heroes, but love should be reserved for heroes who were still alive; heroes who might one day save all Gondor from the dark.
Boromir glanced up, and saw Faramir looking down from the high window. He laughed in delighted greeting, and beckoned to Faramir to come down.
Faramir leapt to his feet, but he placed the book carefully down on the window seat, and smoothed its cover with a gentle hand. It was not quite a farewell, but almost. It was time to turn his back on stories for a while, and learn how to play his part as a son of Gondor.
"Go to him, then," Mithrandir said kindly, although there was something about his smile that Faramir did not understand. "Hurry along outside."
Faramir did so. He did not look back.
There was nobody he could talk to about it. He loved Éowyn dearly, but it was too soon, too new. Before she had come to love him, she had loved the king. The wound of her unrequited love no longer bled, but it was not yet entirely healed. It would hurt her if he talked about this.
He was in a quiet place in the gardens of the Houses of Healing, sitting beneath the trees. He had long since been released from the Healers' care, but there was no other place for him. He no longer had any right to his old haunts in the Citadel. His favourite window seat and the little crannies where he had liked to hide as a child, they all were gone. Even the books were no longer his.
"How can I do this?" he asked, although there was nobody to hear him. The buds of flowers were opening up around him, and butterflies danced around the leaves.
How could he not? He could no more refuse his king's command than he could resist the urge to draw breath.
Lost, he had wandered; lost and in despair. He knew now that he had lain asleep for the whole time, but at the time it had seemed to him that he was lost in a blasted land. His father had turned from him, his brother had gone, and there was nothing, nothing, between him and the Eye. He was too small and too unimportant to see it, but he knew that it was there. It was there in every shadow. In was there in every lungful of foul air. It was like an anvil on his heart. It drove him down, down, and his tears gouged his cheeks like molten lead.
And then the king had called to him, and Faramir had known him at once. This was Elendil from his childhood dreams. This was Boromir as he seemed to Faramir in his adolescence: tall and strong and utterly without fault. His voice was a rope cast to a drowning man. It was a hand across a chasm. It was a mother's embrace, so tight, so safe. It was a father's approval: that one word of praise that you knew would make everything worthwhile, if only you received it.
Faramir had known him. How could he not?
When the world was saved, he had hoped for nothing more than to be allowed to retire in peace. The line of the Stewards had failed. Boromir had tried to take the Ring from Frodo. His father had fallen to madness and despair, and had nearly killed them all. Faramir had sought heroes in the world of stories, and he had looked out of his window and sought them in the flesh. The king was both of them combined. What part could Faramir hope to play in the world that he would fashion?
"There you are," said a voice, and it was the king! It was the king himself, pushing aside a tendril of trailing leaves, stooping slightly to avoid the drooping branch.
Faramir leapt to his feet and bowed, but the king smiled, gesturing for him to sit down again. "I apologise for invading your sanctuary," said the king. "This was a favourite spot of mine, too, when last I was in Minas Tirith."
As Thorongil, of course. Thorongil had been another of Faramir's childhood heroes. Boromir, for once, had shared fully in his enthusiasm, gathering tales from guards and soldiers whenever he could, and passing them on to Faramir. Their father had been angry with both of them - yes, even with Boromir - when he caught them at it. Had Boromir ever suspected that the man he had met in Imladris was the hero who had burnt the corsair ships?
"Faramir," the king said, because he knew, of course. He knew all things, and all the secrets in the hearts of men. "I asked you to continue as my Steward because I want you to."
"Yes," said Faramir, obedient to his king.
"Because you deserve it," the king said. "Because you will be good at it. Because nobody alive could do the job better than you."
Yes, my lord, Faramir tried to say, but the words were cracked, as if he was still half a child.
"Faramir…" the king said, and he sat down beside Faramir on the mossy bank, and he seemed to change. Although nothing changed outwardly, he seemed to shed the mantle of Elendil, the aura of Faramir's dreams. He became a man, older than Boromir, but very like him. The hobbits called him 'Strider,' Faramir remembered, and they had met him in a common inn.
"I would have no man serve me against his will," said this new king who sat beside him on the grass. Even his voice had changed. "Some will swear allegiance to me because of my ancestry. Some will do so because of my deeds." He gave a rueful smile. Surely Elendil had never smiled quite like that. "Many of those deeds will have been performed by others, but people will insist on attributing them to me. I will try to stop them, of course, but it will still go on."
Elendil escaped from Númenor, they said, no mention of the mariners who had hauled at the ropes. Elendil and Gil-Galad had gone to war, but nameless warriors had followed behind him. Anárion had built Minas Tirith, no mention of the labourers who had done the building. All that was true, yes, but without their great leaders, those lesser men would have done nothing. Even long after their deaths, the great ones of history could still inspire people to strive.
"I do not wish my Steward to serve me like that," said the king. "I do not wish him to serve me at all. To serve the kingdom, yes, but to serve me...?"
The king was quiet again. Faramir wondered if he was supposed to be saying something himself. A bird burst into song in a nearby tree, and out of habit, Faramir looked for it. He saw a flash of blue and gold, nothing he had ever seen before, and wanted to point it out with delight, but how could he, not to the king?
"A good friend died on the Pelennor." The king, too, seemed to be looking at the bird. "Had he lived, he might have been my Steward in Arnor. When commands were called for, he obeyed me. He would have died to protect me. But if he thought I was making a mistake, he did not hesitate to tell me. He called me a fool more than once, I remember, but he would have struck anyone else who dared do the same."
"Boromir was like that," Faramir said. "He…" But the king did not wish to hear his memories of Boromir. Boromir had tried to take the Ring from Frodo, but Faramir loved him still.
"The great kings of history," the king said, "were great because they did not walk alone. They had their advisors, their mentors… their friends."
"But…" Faramir began. You saved me! he wanted to shout. He would never forget that; never be able to see this man without remembering what it had felt like to be called by him out of the darkness, and to waken and know him as his king. As for himself, he had become capable enough, because he had worked hard to become so, but he had spent his life in the shadow of greater men: the heroes of the past; his brother; his father; his king.
"No," the king said gently, as if he could read Faramir's thoughts. Perhaps he could. "I wish you to be my Steward, because you will do it well. You shall live wherever you will, but there will be home for you always in the Citadel, with all those old places you used to love. And you will advise me, and one day, I hope, you will correct me, and you will stop looking for greatness only in others, and will believe, as I do, that it lies within you, too."
No, Faramir wanted to protest, but how could he contradict his king? How could he do anything but serve him?
Faramir had never outgrown his love of stories. He was sixty-two years old now, but sometimes, when he heard a new tale, he was a child again, breathing in the scent of his mother's hair.
The stories had changed, though. When he was a child, stories were all about the distant past. Now, whether they were told on street corners or in taverns, in great halls or in quiet chambers, most of the stories were about events that Faramir had lived through.
They talked about Elendil still, but most of his deeds had been supplanted. Elendil's ship had landed in the north, but Elessar had sailed to Minas Tirith in her greatest hour of need. Elendil had ridden against Sauron, and Isildur had taken the Ring from him, but Elessar had seen it destroyed for ever more. Elendil and his sons had founded two great kingdoms; Elessar had made them the greatest kingdom of Men that the world had ever seen.
It was only right and proper, Faramir thought. He was riding south with a slow entourage, and he had caught a few verses of a long ballad, sung by a shepherdess out in the fields. It was a song about the king as he rode the Paths of the Dead. When they had passed her, some of the guardsmen picked up the well-known song and sang it through to the end.
Yes, it was only right. They lived at the dawn of a golden age, and although the king rightly stressed the part played by the hobbits and many others, he was at the heart of it all. How I would have loved him when I was four years old! Faramir thought, remembering the ferocious love he had felt for Elendil and all the other heroes from the past. How I would have admired him at thirteen, when he had trembled nervously on the threshold of being a man, and had needed somebody to look up to. How I love and admire him still!
They were friends now, of course, and had been for many years. It was difficult at first to accept that such a great man could value his opinion, but he had come to accept it after a while. They disagreed at times. They spent time together - less than they would like - like any two friends, chatting about anything and nothing.
But he would never entirely forget what it felt like to be called from the darkness by the voice of his king. It was right that his king had been be immortalised in a thousand songs. It was right that boys and girls in a thousand years would refight his battles with toy soldiers and tell each other stories about his deeds. It was right that young women would weave together garlands of flowers and sigh about the love between Elessar and the queen, and would tell that story for ever more.
It was right, and he was glad that he had lived through it.
And all the while, the entourage trundled on.
He heard the cheering long before he reached the gates. When he passed beneath the walls, the applause was almost deafening. Girls threw garlands. "There he is!" he heard a boy shout excitedly from his perch on a roof. Three more boys were squeezed side by side in an attic window. One was clutching a jointed wooden doll, wearing a painted white tree of Gondor. An old woman wept. Two young women clutched at each other, and each held out a hand towards him, as if they longed for him.
He endured it for as long as he could, until the songs began, and the stories. "Do they think I am the king?" he murmured, speaking quietly to the guard at his side. "Were they expecting the king?"
The guard looked surprised by the question. "They know who you are, my lord, and that's why they honour you."
The songs were new ones, songs he had never heard. Faramir, he heard, and again and again. Faramir. The Lord Steward. Faramir, son of Denethor. Faramir. Faramir.
He played his part; of course he did. He had served Gondor for too many decades not to know how to keep disquiet from showing on his face. 'Do you not hear it?' Éowyn had said to him so many times. 'Do you not know?' But he had not. He had not.
A boy of four or five gazed up at him, his eyes as wide as saucers. A gangly youth blushed and dropped his book. A man in his thirties, unhappy and unwell, followed him with his eyes, as if he alone could bring him hope.
It is not for me, Faramir protested. It should not be!
But the songs went on.
Hallas of Osgiliath was four and three-quarters, which was bigger than four and a half. (The boy next door was four and a half. He was a baby.) It was a very special year indeed. Special because he was going to be five soon, and would go to school like the big boys. Special because it was five hundred years since King Elessar had become king, and that meant long speeches, which were boring, and parties, which were fun and had cakes with pink icing. Special because his auntie came visiting from a shiny city in the north, and brought him a real live printed book with woodcuts on every single page! It was all about King Elessar, in nice, easy words, nothing hard.
King Elessar was exciting. Hallas' brother bagged Elessar for himself, and ran around with his sword, Andúril (it was a stick, really) and shouted FOLLOW ME, OH YE SPIRITS OF THE DEAD! in a big boomy voice and jumped on Hallas (Hallas was being a Corsair) and poked him with his stick and said that he had an army of skellingtons behind him, and dead bodies, all green and rotten and stinky, and Hallas was going to die.
King Elessar was a bit scary.
His mother kissed him better and cuddled him on her lap while he turned through the next few pages.
"Who's that?" he asked, pointing at a man who was standing with a lady in a garden. "I like him best."
"That's Faramir, the Lord Steward," his mother told him.
She told him more, lots more. It wasn't enough. He asked more questions, and she told him even more, and sang him some songs. A man called Beregond shed blood in the Hallows, his mother said, which was a very bad thing indeed. ("Worse than whispering in the Standing Silence?" Hallas asked, because that was the worst thing he knew, and she said yes, even worse than that.) But he had done so because he loved Faramir, because everyone who knew him loved him. That's the sort of man he was. And he was a great soldier, too, who fought bad men in Ithilien, which wasn't pretty back then, like it was now, but a wild and scary place. ("But not too scary," she assured him. "There weren't any skellingtons?" he asked, and she said that no, Faramir never had anything to do with skeletons, or walking dead bodies, all stinky and green.)
The song lingered afterwards, after she left. The stories lingered more, and by the next morning, he was telling them back to himself, and making up more.
When Hallas of Osgiliath was four and three-quarters, he fell in love.