The next day they continued down the river. Faramir had suggested following it along the western banks, as the eastern were known better to him and he would be less likely to have forgotten about the place Maedhros had seen. Moreover, with the Rivers Celos, Sirith, and Erui to the west, there were already three smaller waters that ended in the Anduin and which could have formed a side arm of the great river.
Faramir, although appearing to have turned inward to think, nevertheless never missed a movement around him. His eyes, Maedhros noted, were very keen for a man. It was no surprise, then, that he was an accomplished archer.
From time to time, he pulled out Maedhros' drawing and compared it with the area they were currently traveling through. Their group was following the river at a slow pace both in order not to miss anything, and also because there was no reason for them to make great hurry. If the Stone had remained undiscovered for such a long time, it would be quite the coincidence indeed if it was taken before they arrived!
Lunch was taken at mid-day, a meager feast of dried venison, bread, cheese and fruit. Maedhros had considered fishing, but the river still needed time to recover from the war. It, too, had suffered, namely from poisonous bodies thrown into it. Although some fish swam around in it, Maedhros decided to spare them and give them a chance to repopulate. Faramir sat with Maedhros after asking him to remain in his company.
"I do not mind your company at all, Lord Faramir. Sit with me. You look like one who has more questions than time to ask them."
Faramir smiled crookedly.
"Believe me, your Highness, were I years younger you would not be able to answer them quickly enough. Moreover, you are not here to tell me stories as a child."
"I suppose not. For stories, however, you are better off asking my brother Makalaurë; he is much better at it and enjoys it more than I do, too."
"May I ask whether you plan to stay in Minas Tirith for some time then?"
"You will find out sooner or later anyway. We have not spoken of the details, Makalaurë and I. But he means to stay with Arwen for a while longer and then sail with Elrond and the other Wise to the West."
"Only he, not you as well?"
"I am not done with Middle-earth yet. I will go West, yes, but not yet. I plan to settle down in Imladris where Elrond's sons will rule. It will be a short rule, I deem. The Age of Men has come, and all elves that do not go to Valinor will eventually fade."
Faramir looked down. "I'm sorry to hear that."
Maedhros shrugged. "It is the way of the world. Since before the time of the sun have the Valar attempted to resettle all of the elven folk in their proximity in Valinor to spare us from evil. It was not to be, but Middle-earth is the land of men. Even the dwarves will burrow deeper and deeper into the earth until they, too, will not be seen about anymore."
"I would hope that there will be peace at last, but I know the Haradrim and the Easterlings, and they, at least, may return."
"You know more of them than I," Maedhros replied. "So I'm sure you have the right of it. Have you spoken to King Elessar about it?"
"Not yet. I have hardly anything to base my predictions on."
"Hardly anything? I would not say so. Your brother told the Council in Imladris how it was you who heard the dream of prophecy to come to the Hidden Valley more often than he. The blood of Númenor, the blood of Elros, is strong in you. I should know, for I raised Elros."
"Did you ever think he made the wrong decision when he chose mortality?"
"Perhaps I thought so in my anger at times. But all the same I knew that he did not choose lightly. In what way would he have been wrong? The only thing that matters is that he thought it was the right decision for him. What his descendants did wrong or right is hardly his responsibility. From what I heard, he never regretted his coming death."
"I will pray that our Queen will never find reason to regret her decision either."
"So do I. But it was her decision to make, and love is not the worst reason to die, I should think."
"Knowing love now as I do, I tend to agree."
"And there you are more experienced than I." Maedhros smiled crookedly. He regretted it, at times, that he had never loved as deeply as Maglor, Galadriel, Elrond, Elros, and so many others. But who knew, perhaps Valinor still had something in store for him.
Suddenly, the view was clear. He could see for miles all around him and deep into the earth. There it lay, the Seeing Stone of Osgiliath, and there he could see the mountains, Ithilien, Minas Tirith, Minas Ithil, the ruins of Barad-dûr, the sea, over there would be Valinor… His vision turned blank, replaced by whiteness so bright it blinded him.
"Prince Nelyafinwë! Maedhros!"
Maedhros blinked tears out of his eyes until the blurriness went away, and he could see Faramir bent over him.
"I know where it is," Maedhros said.
"Your Highness, are you well? You did not reply or move!"
"My sight went further than I expected, that is all." Maedhros sat up quickly, too quickly as a pounding behind his temples warned him. The man did not notice.
The Palantír he had used was lying next to him covered by Faramir's coat.
"Covering it is unnecessary now. The Stone which was in Barad-dûr is destroyed, and the Stone of Osgiliath is the only one which is not in the hands of men or elves. Make ready to ride. I only need to make a drawing-"
Before he could tear through his own bags to find parchment and coal, Faramir handed both items to him.
"Balan!" he called, and a young ranger followed his summons and came. "You have a good hand at drawing, you can help his Highness should he desire it."
He did not await a reaction from either one of them before leaving to break camp. The ranger, barely out of puberty, bit his lip nervously. Maedhros considered him for barely a second before thrusting the parchment and coal at him.
"You draw exactly what I tell you to."
He might be able to fight with his left hand well enough to make orcs fear him, but drawing hadn't been his forte even with a healthy right hand.
In the end, Maedhros' instinct that he wouldn't need the drawing was right. In the afternoon they reached the creek the redhead now knew almost by heart. There was no hesitation in his movements, an almost unbelievable confidence as he strode to a particular place right into the waters without a care for his clothes.
"Lord Faramir!" he called, his one hand feeling something beneath the surface.
Faramir quickly rushed over.
"It's a bit stuck," Maedhros said.
Faramir reached in, one hand grazing Maedhros', and came upon a smooth, round surface. The Palantír. Faramir shuddered almost imperceptibly.
"You have the blood of Elros within you! The Palantír is just a tool, do not fear it! Serve your king and help me!" Maedhros commanded him; had he told Faramir to go into Sauron's lair with him, Faramir would have done it immediately and without hesitation. Now Faramir believed that Prince Fëanor had had the power to lead the elves astray into Middle-earth against the Valars' counsel.
The roots of water plants had kept the Palantír anchored to this spot. They gave way, and Faramir, with Maedhros' aid, lifted the Seeing Stone out of the waters. It was heavy, and Faramir alone, nor Maedhros with only one hand, would have been able to carry it, so they shared the load.
"There you are!" Maedhros said to the Palantír, a satisfied smile on his lips. To Faramir he added: "Thank you for your aid."
They sat in the sun to wait until their clothes dried. It was already afternoon, so they had chosen a place to make camp for the night, and only return to Gondor on the next day.
"How many Palantír did your father make?"
"Fifteen or so, I don't remember exactly. Why he made them, he never said. He created mostly for the sake of his craft. We, my brothers and I, initially received one each. I think he worried that we would not stay together as a family forever and wanted a convenient way to keep in touch. When we left Valinor, my father left one Stone with my mother; we lost one when my brother Celegorm's fortress was overrun. Others were lost in a similar manner until the War of Wrath. Later I gathered those which were left and gave them to Gil-galad, and he in turn gifted seven of them to the men. I'm sure you know what happened to those, but as you can see, the Númenórians were not the first to lose track of them."
"Did… did you ever contact your mother in Valinor?"
Maedhros shook his head. "No," he said belatedly.
Two days later they arrived back in Minas Tirith. People greeted them spontaneously, evidently happy to see that all of the men sent out had returned. So shortly after the war, they were still uncertain and their hopes very tentative. King Aragorn welcomed them in his throne room, yet he did not remain on the throne for very long as he greeted Faramir and Maedhros very warmly while advisers and other men present applauded politely. They were in for a surprise when Maedhros and Faramir passed two palantíri to the king, one of which was clearly larger than the other.
"The Palantír of Osgiliath has been returned!" Elessar declared loudly.
"And I, Nelyafinwë, son of Fëanor who created those Seeing Stones, leave them in good hands with King Elessar of Gondor and Arnor," Maedhros replied just as grandly. "The elves have no need of them. May they support you in your reign and warn you of dangers before they became a threat to the realms of men."
Maedhros stepped back and was quickly joined by his brother. They shared a smile, and Arwen also looked relieved and happy to see him.
"I have more news to announce," Elessar spoke up again. "I have decided to make Lord Faramir Prince of Ithilien; those lands, which I know are dear to him, will be his dominion, and I hope that he will establish a healthy colony there, together with Prince Legolas, son of King Thranduil of Eryn Lasgalen. He will bring any elf willing to Ithilien to settle." Giving Faramir a grin, the king added: "I am most confident that you and Prince Legolas will get along well."
Judging by Faramir's surprised but pleased expression, there was no doubt. If Maedhros had ever had doubts about the future of men, they were laid to rest at least for a moment. He knew now with even greater certainty that his work had come to an end.
This will the last or one of the last stories in the Lingering series.
I enjoyed creating the Lingering universe and writing in it, but over the years (I posted the first story in 2012), keeping track of the details of this universe got more and more difficult. Certainly the fact that I did not write chronologically didn't help, and not even such a sophisticated program as Scrivener could help me not lose track. The result was that I felt that the quality suffered.
As I was writing The Seeing Stones, I completely contradicted something from Wandering Days, so I was forced to change Wandering Days because I couldn't find another way out. That was when I decided that this story would be the last one in the series.
While the Protector doesn't have much of a plot that I would be disrupting, I will try and give it a more "final" ending.
Lingering has been a great honor and fun to write, and it was a great source and outlet of inspiration. Thank you for reading, and thank you for everyone's comments!
If you are curious where I will be turning my inspiration next, I recently started another alternate universe series. It's called "The Woodland King" (kudos for Halo for finding a name!) and takes place during the events of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Loss and A New Era are the first two stories in it, and you can check them out!