Elboron remembers

What do I remember?

It's hard to know where to begin. Perhaps with the sound of water … the fountain in our central courtyard, which always played, day and night, so that if I awoke somewhere else I'd lie uneasily, straining my ears, certain something was wrong when I couldn't hear it … the deep pool where we loved to bathe, where the water was surprisingly cold even on the hottest day, so that you'd gasp and shiver when you dived in, and then feel yourself revive like a thirsty plant … the chuckling of water under the bows of the barge when you crossed the Great River, that seemed to be laughing with you for joy when you were on your way home … the whole symphony of water that played to you when you went exploring, from the tinkle of tiny springs at the foot of Emyn Arnen to the thunder of the great waterfall at Henneth Annûn.

Or perhaps the light. Above all, the moonlight. In summer it could be so hot, even in the hills, that we'd seldom stir out by day but wait for the moon to rise, always brighter in Ithilien than anywhere else, and huge, and close, as if you could reach out and drag him down from the sky like a great shining ball to play with .. and we'd swim and run and play amidst all the silvery light and inky shadows, and watch Fíriel dance…

Fíriel, dancing in the moonlight. Fíriel, dancing for Ithil at the moon-festival, and the Moon himself standing still in the sky to watch, or so we used to say.

Music. The sound of elven song that was always just on the edge of hearing, so that you were never quite sure where it was coming from, and the harder you listened and looked, the less sure you were. Goatherds, singing their lonely songs on the hillsides. Mother chanting the old songs of Rohan, the songs we must have heard in our cradles, for we could never remember a time when we didn't know them. The White Company roaring out its choruses at the Feast of New Wine. Lindor, Father's harper, sitting alone in the courtyard, making a new song.

Fíriel, singing as she danced, in breathless snatches, like shards of moonlight.

But none of this, not even Fíriel dancing, would have meant anything, without Father. There was no Ithilien without Father. No music of water, no light, no song, no joy, because he held it all together.

I always thought of Father as a light, too. Like a lamp, shining with such a clear, steady light that you scarcely noticed that it was there, and that without it you'd not have seen anything else. Until he went away, and the light went out, and you'd feel lost until he came back.

Father was often away. Most often in the City, which wasn't too far, but it wasn't like having him at home. Or away on an embassy, or riding to war, as he quite often had to when I was very young. People in Ithilien grumbled about this. They thought Father belonged only to them. The people of the City thought he belonged to them, just as he had in the old days before the War, and small thanks he got from them in those days, if you believe what Captain Beregond says. We, of course, thought he belonged to us, to the family. Nobody ever remembered that he might belong, just a little bit, to himself. I don't think Father ever did either.

Not that I remember feeling neglected. He was always there when you really needed him, though how he managed it I'll never know. Despite Mother's protests, he used to work till long, long after midnight at times, so that he'd have time for us during the day.

There was just one time when it was too much for him. It was before I was born, but it's a legend in the family. There was a messenger came in lathered haste from the City saying Father was ill. He'd come out of a Council meeting and just collapsed. Mother went into a white hot rage and cursed the hapless messenger with every hard word she could lay her tongue to, in Westron, Rohirric and Sindarin. Within half an hour she was riding for the City and there she found Father in a high fever, with the King tending him. (It was a fever he'd had during the War and had never entirely shaken off.) Mother sat beside him for a night and a day and another night, until she was sure he was out of danger, and then she went and gave the King what for. Oh, I'd have loved to have been there! Mother was about the only person in Gondor or beyond it who wasn't in the least afraid of the King (well, Father wasn't, but he respected him too much to give him what for). From what I gather she told him he should be ashamed to be exploiting the best Steward and minister Gondor had ever had the way he did, and he (the King) hadn't saved his (Father's) life during the War just so that he (Father) could work himself to death in time of peace. And the King heard her out to the end and humbly promised to mend his ways, and it's a fact that Father was never quite so overworked after that.

There was no standing up to Mother when she was in one of her rages. We children knew that. In Gondor they used to call her 'the lady of the shield arm', because of the Witch-King breaking her arm when they met on the Pelennor Fields, and we were inordinately proud of that title, but between ourselves we called her 'the lady of the caning arm', because she'd lay into us with uncommon vigour if she thought we deserved it. Father wasn't like that. I won't say he never beat me, because just occasionally I stepped way out of line and he had to, but for him it was a last resort. If I displeased him he'd just look disappointed, and if you think that wasn't much of a punishment, it's because you don't know Father. I'd have taken a beating in preference, every time. Living up to Father's expectations was the mainstay of my whole existence. As for trying to deceive him … well, you couldn't. Nobody could. I think he could see right into most people's heads and tease out the slightest little lie or mean thought, though he didn't do it unless he really needed to – well, I ask you, who would want to see what goes on in most people's heads? Nevertheless, if I could hold his gaze for even a few seconds, and feel my conscience clear, I'd be proud. And if he smiled and said 'That's well done', I'd feel as if I'd been given a birthday present.

You'll have noticed I said 'I' just now. There were two of us children, but Fíriel was always different. I'll try to explain about Fíriel, but it's difficult. Nobody could really explain her.

Fíriel's six years younger than me. There should have been another child between us, a little boy called Húrin, but he died at birth. I don't remember what happened in any detail, which is a mercy, but I believe it nearly killed Mother – not physically, but in sheer misery and despair. She blamed herself, and however much everyone, especially Father, told her it wasn't her fault, she wouldn't listen. Father must have been utterly miserable himself, especially as Húrin would have been to the family what he'd been, the second son, but I think he locked all this away in the face of Mother's anguish, and that made matters worse. It was the one and only time they were estranged, as far as I know, and I do remember a period – it seemed very long to me, I don't know how long it was really – when everything was flat and dreary and wrong. The whole of Ithilien was under a sort of blight: if Father wasn't happy, nobody could be. I don't know exactly what brought Mother round in the end; I suppose Father's love and patience and refusal to lose hope, and maybe Ithilien itself, for it's a healing sort of place. Anyway, things came right and Fíriel was born one moonlit night, and she was … well, she was Fíriel, Faramir's daughter, the moon-child, the Rose of Ithilien and darling of two kingdoms… no need to go on, it's all in the songs which they sing about her, from the Shire to the borders of Harad.

Fíriel is more than Father's daughter, in a strange sort of way she is Father. They are like a single spirit that had somehow split into two bodies, or like mirror images of one another. It isn't just that they look alike, though they do, quite startlingly; it isn't even that they love each other. The words 'love each other' simply aren't strong enough. It's odd, because most people would say that in character they aren't at all alike: Fíriel fierce as flame, passionate, wayward and impatient, always on the brink of laughter or anger; Father always so grave and gentle and calm. But that's the mirror image again: each has a hidden side which reflects the outer side of the other.

It goes even further than that. I said just now that Father can look into people's minds, if he wants to. Well, with Fíriel it's much closer. In think that, in some way that's incomprehensible to the rest of us, they're aware of each other all the time, and in a crisis each knows what the other is feeling, perhaps even thinking; they simply can't help it. It started way back, when Fíriel was a baby. We were sitting, Father and Mother and I, in the courtyard, by the fountain, one hot day, and Father was dozing – he has this habit of sleeping in snatches with one eye open, comes of being on campaign so often – when he suddenly jerked awake and said, 'How that child cries! You must go to her, my love', and Mother and I looked around in complete bewilderment, because there was no sound of crying we could hear. And just as we opened our mouths to say so, out came Morwen (the nurse) in a great taking, saying that Fíriel was crying her head off and could Mother come and soothe her. There was nothing much wrong with Fíriel, teething or something; it was what Father said that scared us. He never said anything like that again, at least not in my hearing; I think he'd been off his guard, and had let slip something he didn't want anybody else to know, even Mother. After that he kept it very quiet, but odd things did keep happening. There was the time when Fíriel was about four years old and woke one night in absolute hysterics, screaming for Father, and by the time Morwen had got round to waking one of the serving men and sending him to fetch Father, he was already at the door. Fíriel herself told me, much later, what that was about. It's the Dream, the dream about the great wave that overcame Númenor. I never had it, but I know Father has it repeatedly and has done ever since he was a child; and Fíriel must have it from him. She got hysterical because she saw someone in a ship, about to be overwhelmed by the waves as it seemed, and she thought it was Father being drowned. I suppose she must have seen our remote ancestor who came to Middle Earth as one of the Faithful, and obviously he can't have drowned or we wouldn't be here now, but Fíriel wasn't to know that. Once again, what's weird is that Father knew she was upset without being told. And she always knows if he is.

That's the disquieting thing. For a grown man to bear a child's sorrows is one thing, but it shouldn't happen the other way round. And yet – well, whatever strange power, or quirk of fate, made the two of them like that, seems to have given Fíriel the strength to bear it, and indeed to flourish under it. For her it's normal, I suppose. She was born knowing what few people, even some who should have known better, ever bothered to consider – that deep down, Father was vulnerable. And that brings me to Uncle Boromir.

We know Uncle Boromir very well, Fíriel and I. Which is a strange thing to say about someone who died years before either of us was born. He was Father's elder brother, and although from what we can gather they weren't a bit alike, at least in character, they adored each other and were virtually inseparable for years upon years. When Boromir was killed it just about broke Father's heart. Father loved to tell us children about him, and talked so affectionately, and yet so amusingly, about him that he became utterly real to us, and we wouldn't have been a bit surprised if he had quietly walked in and joined us. Fíriel felt this very acutely, and one night, not long after the nightmare incident, she actually asked when Uncle Boromir would be coming to see us. When she was given to understand that Boromir could never come, she was absolutely inconsolable. She cried herself to sleep that night and woke in the morning as white as a ghost, and by evening the next day she had embarked on her mission in life. Since Uncle Boromir had looked after Father so faithfully but was no longer in a position to do so, she would do it for him. And she did: she protected Father like a small but ferocious tigress. Reasoning, remonstrance, scolding, even the occasional beating when Mother lost patience, had no effect on her whatsoever. She learned discretion as she grew older, of course, but before that her attitude could be touching, it could be embarrassing, and it was sometimes very funny. There was the time when – but that will have to wait, I've gone on far too long already…