A/N: For those of you who have been following An Act of Desperation and are wondering what I'm doing, since I said I was writing the next chapter... well, I am. But as I was going along, I began wondering if Faramir had any advance notice on whether he was to continue to be the Steward, and then realized it would have a definite impact on how the next chapter's coming along, and so this is my attempt to see if the idea works before I continue on that. This would be set during chapter 27, of course, but it should (hopefully) make sense with or without it.
Also, for those of you who pointed out my mistakes, thank you! In retrospect, a week and a half into a sleep-depriving work schedule probably wasn't the most brilliant time to attempt posting an unbeta'd fic. :P
The Steward and the King
Faramir sat at his desk, once more poring over the various documents scattered over it to ensure that all was in order for the next morning, when Aragorn, son of Arathorn, would be crowned King over his homeland. The thought was still taking some getting used to, so long had Gondor been bereft of hope that a rightful heir to the throne would ever be found again. There was many a night that Faramir had lain in his bed, wondering if he would wake to find that all the events of the past few weeks—his brother's death, learning of his father's deadly madness that had nearly cost Faramir his life as well, becoming the Steward of Gondor, meeting and falling in love with Éowyn, and above all, learning the soon-to-be King was alive and in Minas Tirith—had been nothing more than his own wild imaginings, or perhaps just another fever-dream induced by the wounds he had received on the Pelennor.
But he was slowly beginning to adjust to the changes that these events had already wrought in his life, as well as he could when everything had changed so suddenly. Truth be told, since taking up his Stewardship, he had been so busy that he had barely had time to think about much of it. The most difficult adjustment so far had been accepting the truth of Denethor's passing—what little he yet knew of it. He silently thanked whatever powers might be listening that Éowyn had been there to help him through the darkest of those moments, as he had attempted to comfort her while she grieved for those she had so recently lost. Between his work, coping with the sudden losses of both his father and Boromir, and his ever-deepening love for Éowyn, his mind had been so occupied that he had been able to ignore the other question that had lurked at the edge of his thoughts—until now.
Now that the day of the coronation had nearly arrived, he could no longer help but wonder what would become of him on the morrow, once rule of Gondor passed from his family—and himself—for good. There had never been any doubt in Faramir's mind that his days as the Steward were numbered; from the moment he had awoken from that deadly fever and seen Aragorn, he had known that he looked upon the long-awaited King. That did not trouble him, as he believed that Aragorn would rule his realm wisely and fairly. From the reports he had heard, he knew that Aragorn had already demonstrated his ability to lead the men of Gondor, at least in matters of war. And that he had so quickly renewed the alliance between the peoples of Gondor and Rohan gave Faramir confidence that ruling in a time of peace would not prove beyond the former Ranger's skills either.
No, at the moment his concern was more personal. He could not regret giving up his new-found office, since it was a role he had never wished for or expected to have. Still, he needed to find some kind of employment. He knew he could easily return to the Rangers as their captain, once his body had healed further. He had spent enough time wandering Ithilien to know that there was still much that would need to be done before the land could be fully reclaimed for Gondor, and that his men would be needed to rout out any remaining pockets of resistance from any orcs, Haradrim, or Easterlings that had escaped the devastation of Mordor. There was also no doubt in his mind that Éowyn would prefer the wilder beauty of Ithilien to the cold stone and enclosed spaces of Minas Tirith. Oddly enough, his new-found love made him question the idea of returning to the Rangers even as his desire to make her happy drew him back to Ithilien. He could not help but wonder how she would fare, leaving her people and her homeland for a husband who would have to leave her so often for the long, lonely campaigns that inevitably came with such a posting. Nor was he certain that he could bear to be separated from her so much. He was certain that he could at least provide a comfortable home for her, with the Steward's holdings in both Minas Tirith and Dol Amroth, but he had never been one who could sit idly for long. Faramir smiled briefly then as he realized he was getting far ahead of himself; he still needed to obtain permission to officially court her before he could seriously act on his wish to marry her. But from what he knew of the young Rohirric king so far, he would have to prove that he had something worthwhile to offer Éowyn. And he strongly suspected that being a Captain in a company such as the Rangers would not be enough. He was certain that he could at least provide a comfortable home for her, with the Steward's holdings in both Minas Tirith and Dol Amroth,
But he had no more time to think of such things right now; he was to report to Aragorn that afternoon to inform him of the state of affairs in the city, and it was high time he left to meet the part that was to ride out to the encampment. So he picked up the parchments he would need, shoved his unruly thoughts to the back of his mind, and departed.
Once he was allowed entrance into the large pavilion where he was to meet Aragorn, Faramir was pleased, though not greatly surprised, to see that Prince Imrahil was also there; he knew that his uncle had been the acting ruler of the people of Gondor while he had been recovering in the Houses of Healing and had assisted Aragorn greatly in planning their military strategy since the Battle of the Pelennor. Mithrandir was also present, sitting off to the side and appearing to be deep in thought, though his eyes glinted keenly as he watched Faramir enter. Éomer, the new king of Rohan, was waiting inside as well, but he excused himself to attend to matters with his own people shortly after Faramir's arrival. The Steward could not help wondering how Éomer would react to seeing Éowyn there; she had accompanied him to the encampment out of a desire to see her brother again, and he knew she had been quite nervous about that meeting.
Once Éomer left with his Marshal, Elfhelm, the remaining men got down to business quickly. Faramir presented his reports with as much detail as he felt was necessary while still trying to remain concise, elaborating when Aragorn or Imrahil asked him to. Gandalf sat and listened quietly for the most part, only occasionally asking a question. But to Faramir, his questions seemed more probing than the others, almost as if the wizard were testing him. He could not understand why; perhaps he was simply misreading Gandalf's intentions and the questions were more to guide Aragorn, he thought.
He began to question this idea, however, after he finished giving his final report on the progress that still needed to be made in the efforts to rebuild Minas Tirith. Gandalf looked over at Aragorn, seeming to send an unspoken signal. In reply, Aragorn looked over at Imrahil and asked, "Prince Imrahil, would you excuse us for a few moments? I would ask that you not go far; we will have need of your counsel once more once Éomer returns."
"Yes, my lord," Imrahil replied, standing up and bowing smoothly. As he left the tent, Faramir tried to discern any hint of Aragorn's reasons for sending him out, but his uncle's face betrayed no sign.
Once the three of them were alone, Aragorn sat silently for a moment, waiting until Faramir met his gaze once more. "I have one more question I wish to ask of you, Lord Faramir."
His expression was grave, and reminded Faramir a bit of similar looks he had received from his own father when he was about to be censured for some perceived wrongdoing or neglect of duty on his part. Steeling himself mentally, he replied, "Yes, my lord?" As he waited for Aragorn to speak, he began recounting his reports silently, trying to remember if there was some matter he had neglected to speak of or any erroneous information he had given. As a result, once Aragorn asked the question, he was certain he had to have misheard it. "My lord?" he asked, hastily trying to conceal his confusion as his gaze inadvertently shot over towards Gandalf.
"No, you heard it correctly, Faramir," the wizard replied, the faintest hint of humor in his eyes as he leaned back in his chair. "He asked you what your response would be if you believed he was failing in his duty towards the people of Gondor."
He was silent for a moment, fully aware that his fate might well rest on his answer. He did not believe that Gandalf would intentionally lead him into a trap that could lead to his imprisonment or an execution for treason against the soon-to-be king—after all, if there was any truth in the rumors, Gandalf had been instrumental in saving his life. But he could not be so certain of Aragorn's motives; he did not know enough of the man yet. "I am uncertain that I understand your meaning, my lord," Faramir finally answered cautiously.
Aragorn folded his hands on the camp table, his grey eyes searching Faramir's in a manner that was also reminiscent of Denethor. "Allow me to rephrase the question then," he replied. "If the question arose whether certain actions of mine were in the best interest of Gondor, would you support the course I chose to take?"
Instincts honed from years in the wilds of Ithilien and the sometimes equally dangerous territory of life in the Steward's household immediately warned Faramir that some kind of trap lay in the question. He would have to choose his words carefully—but at the same time, he had to speak truthfully. "If the question came from those in power who themselves seek their own gain over the interests of the people, you would have my support, Lord Aragorn." Faramir paused, fully aware that both Aragorn and Gandalf were watching him intently. "But if there is legitimate cause to believe that those actions would harm my people, then my first loyalty is, and always will be, to Gondor."
For a tense moment that seemed, to Faramir, to last an eternity, no one spoke. Then Aragorn's expression relaxed and a hint of a smile crossed Gandalf's face. "I was hoping your answer would be such," Aragorn said, looking pleased. "And, as such, I have a request to make of you."
"Yes, my lord?" Faramir could not read the look on his face, and wondered what kind of test he had apparently just passed.
"I would wish for you to continue serving under me as the Steward of Gondor," Aragorn replied calmly.
It was one of those rare moments where the power of speech eluded Faramir completely. That had been the last answer he had expected, and a thousand different questions raced through his mind, even though it seemed he had been temporarily rendered unable to voice them. Finally, he blurted out, "You do?"
Gandalf looked distinctly amused at his response as Aragorn replied,. "It seems there are many here who would vouch for your ability and character. The Rangers from your company in Ithilien were very quick to praise your leadership as their Captain, and even quicker to defend your actions during the siege at Osgiliath. Gandalf and Imrahil were able to tell me a great deal as well, of course." Faramir cringed a bit inwardly at this; both of them had known him his entire life, and there was no telling what incriminating knowledge they may have let slip.
"And I know that there are those who would quickly defy the orders of the current ruler and risk their own lives to come to your aid," Aragorn continued. "One who can command such loyalty is not one to be lightly disregarded, and particularly one that some might see as a rival to power." Faramir sobered a bit, thinking of the Citadel guard, Beregond; his life could very well be sacrificed in payment for the men he had been forced to slay in the process of saving him. "But," Aragorn said, "I think the highest testament to your character was given by Samwise Gamgee. I have been his companion long enough to know that it takes a great deal to make such an impression on him, particularly in matters where the safety of his 'Mister Frodo' is concerned." For a moment, Aragorn grinned, and Faramir himself could not help smiling at the memory of the hobbit lecturing him like a truant child when he believed that Frodo was being questioned unfairly by himself and his men.
"No," Aragorn finished quietly, drawing Faramir's attention back to the present, "I know what passed between you and Frodo and Sam in Ithilien; they have told me all. And I know you paid dearly for your actions that day, so I know that you are one who truly has the best interests of Gondor at heart, even if it means great personal sacrifice." He paused for a long moment, then confided, "The blood of Isildur may run in my veins, but in many ways I am a stranger to this land." He looked up at Faramir then, and Faramir could see that, rightful heir or not, there was a good deal about this new role that he was uncertain about. "You know Gondor and its people, Faramir. You have lived among them all your life. And I need someone trustworthy at my side to help me govern them—and someone who is unafraid to tell me if I am failing in that."
Still uncertain what to say, Faramir glanced over at Gandalf. The wizard shot a stern look back at him that Faramir had seen many times as a boy who did not seem to know when to stop pestering him with questions. "Do not doubt yourself, Faramir," he said in a voice both quiet and firm. "You are perfectly capable of doing both." Even if you do not always see it, his expression clearly said.
"So what say you?" Aragorn asked.
Faramir remained silent, rapidly trying to sort out all that would be impacted by his choice—for himself, for Éowyn, and for Gondor. Finally, he looked up, his eyes meeting Aragorn's. "It is an honor I did not expect, my lord," he replied. "But I will serve in whatever capacity I can."
"Good!" Aragorn smiled cheerfully, but in his eyes, Faramir could see the slightest hint of relief. Perhaps he really was as uncertain about this new role that had been thrust upon him as Faramir had been upon waking to learn that he was now the Steward of Gondor. With that thought, he allowed a hint of an answering smile to cross his face, though only barely—he needed more time to figure out where he stood in regards to the King first. "Now that this is taken care of, if you will pardon me while I call Prince Imrahil back in…"
"You mean while you command the guard at the door to fetch him for you," Gandalf interrupted with an amused smile. And was that a wink he cast my way? Faramir wondered. Aragorn sighed a bit, but headed for the tent entrance. "You see, Faramir," Gandalf added in a lower voice, "he still has much to learn about what is expected from the ruler of a land such as Gondor. He will need your support in this." Faramir nodded. "As for why we sent your uncle out, it was his recommendation initially to keep you as his Steward—and a good idea, I thought. I had no wish for him to influence your decision, however, which he understood completely."
"I see." Faramir's head was still spinning from the unexpected turn of events, but he was spared from replying further when Aragorn returned, followed by Imrahil, who grinned at him in a way that indicated he had known all along what Faramir's answer would be.
"Before we continue, my lord," Imrahil said, "I would wish to discuss any possible repayment or help in rebuilding to the people of Rohan so we have some fair options to give Éomer."
"You have overseen the rebuilding efforts that the Rohirrim have aided with thus far, Faramir; is that correct?" Aragorn asked, and after Faramir answered in the affirmative, he asked, "Do you have any recommendations?"
It took him the briefest moment to recover from the surprise that Aragorn would so readily value his opinion; he was far more accustomed to Denethor's ever-increasing unwillingness to listen to his thoughts on any matter, military, political or otherwise. Yes, this will certainly take some getting used to, Faramir thought. But he did not think he would mind this adjustment in the least.