Dearest Astara and Cressida, thank you so much! You know exactly what for :)
Faramir knocked on the door to the office. This time he would not be scolded for not announcing himself properly, he thought with a sour grimace. However, no answer came from behind the heavy door.
He hesitated a moment, then turned the knob. The office, surprisingly enough, appeared unlocked. Faramir shook his head slightly at this negligence, then smiled and stepped inside.
It was his third day in Minas Tirith, and he was already starting to feel impatient. Why was he kept there? His father had not demanded any reports, nor did he seem to want to see Faramir much. Denethor ate his meals alone, and Faramir's were sent to his chamber, so they did not even have an opportunity to see each other in the dining hall.
Maelnor, who had examined him, had informed the Steward that Faramir's wound was practically healed, and therefore there was no fear of sending a sickly captain to perform his duties, Faramir thought with a bitter laugh. Still, when he tried to reason with his father, he only got a cold glare and another strict order to stay in the City for a week.
All this puzzled him, for his father, though known for refusing to give ground on his decisions, was a man of reason, and this odd behaviour of late was a mystery to Faramir – who very much disliked to be left without clues.
He walked around the office, taking in the familiar surroundings. Coming up to a small couch, he could not suppress a smile. It was a surprisingly cosy piece of furniture, for his father; one could be surprised, not knowing that it had been frequently used by the Steward's late wife, for the purpose of not letting her husband to work well into the night. She would have sat there quietly, waiting for him and finally reminding him of the lateness of the hour… Faramir had learned this from his brother, and was under an oath of secrecy concerning the story.
Come to think of that, Faramir himself had used the couch a couple of times, settling there with a book, but Denethor had not seemed particularly happy about that…
There was a loud creak behind his back, and he turned around with an almost guilty look on his face, expecting to face his father.
This was not meant to be, for the person who entered was the little Elabeth.
"Hello," she greeted him, quite unabashed, then frowned. "What are you doing here? This is not your room!"
Faramir could not help laughing.
"You are right, it is not. This is my father's room," he explained.
"Ah," the girl seemed satisfied, nodding her curly head.
Faramir sat down onto the couch.
"And you, my lady?" he asked. "What are you doing here? Has your cat run away again?"
She shook her head.
"No, kitty is sleeping. I came to write."
The child must have noticed his confused expression, for she explained gravely, "The old lord who sits here taught me how to write 'Mummy'. He wanted to write 'Mother', but I didn't like 'Mother', it isn't nice. He said that I could come again."
Faramir was thankful that he was sitting.
"W-what…old lord?" he stammered.
Elabeth shrugged, as if wondering at the stupidity of some people.
"It's his table," she pointed to the huge desk. "And he taught me to write. He helped me, and now I can write myself!" she grinned triumphantly.
Recovering enough from the shock, Faramir smiled at the child and beckoned her to come closer.
"Elabeth," he said, looking into her big bright eyes, "will you tell me about this lord, please?"
When Elabeth finished, he sat back, quite overwhelmed with her story. She had even shown him the drawer where his father kept his parchment, and he had had an opportunity to compare it with the sheet, which Aeviel, Elabeth's mother, had forgotten to take back. The sheet looked as if it indeed had been taken from Denethor's drawer…
Still, he could not believe his father would so willingly spend time with a stray child! Not when he did not have time for his own, Faramir thought with a touch of bitterness, but that quickly melted at the mental image of the formidable Steward of Gondor helping a little girl to write her first letters. That was a totally new side of Denethor, and an unexpected one, too.
He turned his eyes to the girl once again, meaning to ask her more, but there came a hesitant tap on the door.
"Enter," Faramir called.
The door opened, and he saw a young Guard standing there.
"My lord Faramir," he bowed. "I apologise for the intrusion, but I am looking for… Elabeth!"
Faramir smiled inwardly, thinking that the note of exasperation was a clear mark of the people who knew the little runaway.
"Uncle Dinias!" she cried, obviously delighted to see him, and dashed across the office to throw herself at him.
'Uncle Dinias' caught her in midair, looking at her severely.
"What did your mother and I say about not wandering around here?"
"But I wanted to write," she objected, wriggling in his arms.
"What about your kitty?" Dinias said reproachfully. "You left her all alone!"
"Oh," Elabeth seemed momentarily confused. "Then I'll go to her."
In a split second, she wriggled out of Dinias's hold and ran into the hallway.
"Elabeth!" the Guard exclaimed, then shook his head comically. "That child will once bring a whip onto my poor back, no doubt."
Faramir laughed. "It is no matter, Dinias, she is no more than a child. And, from what she told me, my father has taken quite a liking to her!" He wondered at his own words.
"It is good that my sister does not have a clue who her daughter spent the afternoon with! I was terrified when I saw her leaving the office! Thought that the lord Steward would have my head."
"I assure you, my father is not that quick at having people's heads," Faramir laughed.
Dinias looked unconvinced.
"But she was there while he was writing important correspondence, my lord!" he exclaimed. "Why, I gather it was a letter to you that the lord Denethor must have been occupied with when she came!"
Suddenly, Faramir grew more alert.
"How do you know that?" he asked, a little more sharply than intended.
"Well, I met the messenger that the lord Denethor had called," the Guard explained. "And he told me that there was a letter, but my lord Steward had not given it to him. He told Anrod – that's the messenger's name, my lord, – to leave and come back later, and Anrod said later he could swear that the lord Denethor had had to rewrite the letter! That child must have been the cause of it! I just wonder why he did not try to investigate the matter and have someone punished!"
"Peace," Faramir said quietly, stopping poor agitated Dinias. "I am sure that my father has long forgotten about that incident."
Dinias gave an audible sigh of relief and immediately seemed ashamed of his recent behaviour.
After the Guard left, Faramir took another look at the sheet of parchment that Elabeth used for her exercises.
'Mother', written by the sure hand of a grown man – and 'Mummy', scrawled by a child who had hardly held a quill before… There was something indescribably cute in the contrast.
A contrast very much alike to the one between his father's usual correspondence and that last letter of his.
He smiled foolishly, still looking at the sheet, flooded by a wave of warmth and gratitude. So he had not been wrong, and Denethor ordered him to return to the City out of a father's concern, not a ruler's displeasure. For now he was almost sure that Elabeth's lucky intrusion had triggered something within his father's soul that had not showed for years, and that 'something' made him write an angry and worried letter, rather than a cold and impersonal one.
Most likely, even keeping him in the City was a means of letting him some time to recover and rest…
Faramir had a slight pang when he thought of his own letters: no, they were not exceptionally warm either… had he, too, failed to convey what he really felt?
As Denethor was nearing his bedchamber, he was slightly surprised to see a faint glow of light coming from under the door.
When he entered, the first thing he saw (with a certain measure of satisfaction) was the fire dancing merrily in the hearth. It had already warmed the room, and the Steward was glad to have it. Even on this summer's night, it was quite chilly and he had already regretted his earlier unwillingness to have the fire built up. It appeared some servant was either too careless to listen to his lord's wishes, or very considerate as to his comfort…
He produced a quiet snort at the thought, and then noticed Faramir sitting in one of the armchairs.
"Father," his son greeted him, getting to his feet. "Would you care for a goblet of wine?"
Glancing towards the table, Denethor saw that everything had been prepared for a quiet drink for two. There were also some pastries and fruit.
"You are out of your mind," he blurted out angrily. "I do not…"
He stopped short, for his son seemed to totally ignore him. Faramir poured some wine in the two goblets and indicated a chair with a wave of his hand, at the same time offering Denethor his drink.
The Steward did not have a clue as to what was happening. Since Faramir's return to the City and their interview, his son had looked remarkably sullen and gloomy. Several times, it had come to Denethor's mind to try and mend the misunderstanding that he himself was responsible for, but he could not think of a good way to tackle it. With Boromir, a matter like this one would have ended in his eldest yelling furiously, and he, Denethor, could have felt indulgent towards his son – but that was never the case with Faramir. The boy never let himself lose control, and it made Denethor rather uneasy, whenever they had any arguments. He strongly suspected that his youngest would listen to everyone's counsels and still have it his way in the end. Denethor wondered why it annoyed him so – after all, was it not his way, too? He truly wished he had never written the cursed letter.
Meanwhile, he found himself seated in his chair with a goblet of red wine in his hand. Faramir poured one for himself and sipped a little. He closed his eyes, savouring the wine; Denethor frowned slightly and sipped his, too.
"I met little Elabeth today," Faramir said, keeping his eyes on the goblet.
"Who is Elabeth?" Denethor asked in mild surprise, noting that the wine was good indeed. He was just taking another sip when Faramir answered.
"Why, the girl you taught to write the word 'Mummy', Father. Have you forgotten?"
Denethor was lucky to have swallowed the wine; otherwise he would have been in serious danger of choking to death.
"What… How…how do you know?" was all he could manage, staring at Faramir.
The young man shrugged with a perfectly nonchalant air.
"Nothing can remain a secret very long, Father," he said sombrely, although Denethor thought he could discern a merry glitter in his downcast eyes.
You are mistaken, son, some things can, he thought with sudden bitterness, thinking of the Seeing Stone.
"I learned of the 'old lord', who taught her to write, yesterday, when I was in the Houses of Healing, but then I just thought what a kind man he must have been, for a child that small to like him so," Faramir continued. "And today, I came to know that it was you, Father."
"Yes, it was I," Denethor shot back with unexpected anger. "One would say it was not like me, was it?"
Just like that last letter you wrote me, Faramir thought. It was not like you either.
"It was not like me," Denethor concluded meanwhile. "Because I lost all patience with you, Faramir! How could you have failed to inform me of your wound? And then you mention it casually in your letter, and I do not know if I can believe it, if you are well indeed, or lying on your deathbed…that is not how a leader of a company of soldiers behaves! I do not think Gondor can afford captains who do such foolish things!"
Faramir had not expected the attack, and again, just like those days before, he felt a lump in his throat. The reasons, however, were very different…
"I did not want to trouble you for mere trifles, Father," he said. "At the time, I did not think it was possible to transport me to Minas Tirith, and later I felt much better, so there was no need to bother anyone."
"And what if you had not felt better, Faramir? What if you had died? How would you have helped your company by this?" Denethor said, still sounding angry.
What would have happened to me then? How could I have ever been able to live through either of my children's death?
Something prevented him from saying these words, and suddenly, he was afraid that Faramir, again, would only hear displeasure at his commander's skills… He looked at his son, struggling to find more words to say the unsaid, but never did it.
For by the look in his son's eyes, Denethor knew that he understood.
"Let us finish that wine," Faramir suggested with a smile.
"Mummy! It's so beautiful!"
Elabeth appeared absolutely awed by the thing on the bed beside her. It was a doll, plainly a work of art, dark-haired, with delicate features of her porcelain face, dressed in a creamy gown decorated with golden laces.
"What does one say?" Aeviel reminded.
"Thank you!" the child exclaimed enthusiastically, beaming at Faramir.
The mother smiled at her daughter's delight.
"You shouldn't have, my lord," she said, shaking her head in mild disapproval. "The toy is much too expensive…"
Faramir waved her protests aside.
"Consider it a whim on my part," he said. "And I do believe that your daughter will handle it with care!"
Aeviel was about to say something else, when there was a knock on the door.
"Aeviel, this has just been brought for your daughter from the Citadel," a young nursemaid informed her, throwing timid glances at Faramir.
Aeviel unwrapped the package and gasped.
In the wooden box, cushioned upon white cloth, was lying another doll, this time a blond one in a blue gown…
"Who…who sent it? Do you know?" Aeviel managed, turning to the other girl.
It appeared she did not have a clue.
Sorry for keeping you waiting for so long! Here's the last one!