Author's Note: All right, so here it is, this story. I think it can stand on its own, but makes a little more sense if you are familiar with the events of another fanfiction of mine, Learning Letters. The reason is that this one is its sequel to some extent, but mostly in terms of my OC and not too much the plot. Learning Letters can also be found in this archive.
I started this story at the beginning of January, and it took me all this time to get it done! My brain just wouldn't work in the right direction, for a lot of reasons, and I almost lost all hope I could ever finish it. However, you know the way it is sometimes: right when you lose all hope, boom! a miracle happens and everything works out just fine. So...
Dedicated to Cressida, who can make miracles happen.
The White City is besieged, a raging battle creeping closer and closer to its walls.
But here, in the great courtyard with the withered White Tree, there is an island of silence.
The Prince of Dol Amroth follows a stretcher, which carries a seemingly lifeless body. No one except him and the bearers dares come closer. The servants and guards stare at them in mute dismay.
A group of archivists and scribes, who have been packing the priceless assets of the lore of old, with a desperate hope to save them, should it come to the worst, stand huddled together, also looking at the scene before their eyes. In the lower circles of the City, people wept and called Faramir's name. Here, there is not even a whisper to break the dreadful silence.
A young girl peers from among the archive workers. She presses her slender, ink-stained fingers to her mouth as she beholds the sight.
Everyone watches as the Prince and the stretcher progress, but the girl's eyes move to the White Tower. They grow moist as she looks at it, and she whispers something. Her hands finally move upwards to cover her face.
A middle-aged woman with a kind face puts a hand onto the girl's shoulder, calling gently, 'Elabeth?'
The girl lowers her hands, revealing a tear-stained face, and says quietly, 'Poor Lord Faramir…and Lord Denethor…'
The archives were abuzz with nearly feverish activity. Faramir, son of Denethor, the new Steward of Gondor, stood in the doorway watching the people inside, a slow smile creeping over his face.
They seemed to be flying about with piles of books, sheaves of scrolls, boxes of quills and other scribes' tools… Several young apprentices could be seen dusting shelves, calling to each other now and then. There were occasional bursts of laughter, and the elderly man who met Faramir at the entrance smiled indulgently, looking at his younger aides.
'The spring cleaning,' he commented casually.
'So I see,' Faramir said and nodded, still smiling. He thought that he would probably remember the 'spring cleaning' of this year better than any other cleaning he had seen, as much cheerful determination as it had.
Someone pushed him lightly from behind; as he turned around, he saw a young, bright-eyed girl with a small bucket of water. She gave a quiet gasp and pressed a hand to her lips, turning first pale and then deep red.
'Please be more careful, Elabeth,' the chief archivist reproved her softly. 'We do not want puddles here, child.'
The girl muttered an apology and dashed away. The older man smiled and shook his head.
'I am so sorry, Lord Faramir. These younglings still need to learn much.'
'It is no matter,' Faramir said. 'They all seem so preoccupied with their books; small wonder they tend to overlook visitors.'
Indeed, few people even noticed his arrival. He would have gladly stayed to talk about the work, or perhaps even to help, but, sadly, his new office required other things to be done. Shaking off some faint remembrance that had stirred in his mind upon hearing the girl's name, he said, 'Master Egalmoth, I have come here to ask you for a favour.'
'But certainly, my lord! What is it you wish me to do?'
'I need to read what there is about coronations of old.'
The chief archivist nodded and rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
'I think I know what you need, my lord. If you just sit here while I am searching…'
Leaving Faramir at one of the desks, he hurried off to the shelves. The young Steward absently stroked the smooth surface of the desk. The air smelled of old wood and that special archival scent which he used to call 'the smell of stories' as a child.
'Here, Lord Faramir.'
Master Egalmoth returned with a book in his hands, looking quite accomplished.
'There are several good descriptions in this volume. I would recommend it as the best source of all we have. Of course, it will take some perusing to find what you need…'
'Alas, time is precisely what I seem to lack these days,' Faramir said and sighed. 'The favour I wanted to ask of you is to have somebody find the passages and copy them for me. I hope that could be arranged?'
'Why, certainly, my lord!' the archivist exclaimed. 'I shall have one of the younger scribes do the job for you…'
Suddenly, a movement behind the nearest shelf made Faramir tense habitually – his Ranger days were not so far behind as to make him lose his swift reactions. Turning his head, he saw two sharp, bright eyes peering at him. Master Egalmoth followed his gaze, then sighed and called, 'Elabeth!'
A moment later, the same young girl who had pushed Faramir earlier emerged from behind the shelf. She was no more than sixteen or seventeen years of age, tall and slim, dressed in a plain brown robe, hair tied back with just a few dark curls sticking out. She might have appeared rather prim, if not for those sparkling, curious eyes.
'I was dusting the books,' she explained a little too hastily, showing a dirty cloth as proof.
The older man had already opened his mouth for a rebuke, but then had a better thought. He took the girl by the hand and made her come closer.
'My lord,' he said, 'I think I have found you the scribe you needed. This is Elabeth, one of our best apprentices. She writes a good hand, and does it very fast.'
Faramir eyed the girl with interest.
'Are you willing to do a small writing job for me, Elabeth?' he asked.
The girl's eyes lit up with excitement mixed with disbelief.
'Oh…yes,' she breathed. 'I…I shall do my best, my lord. I do indeed write a good hand. If you tell me what you need copied, and tell me when I must complete the task…oh, and is it for your own private use, or for enclosing with other documents?'
Faramir nearly chuckled at her enthusiasm.
'I see you are very young, Elabeth,' he said. 'When did you commence your apprenticeship?'
'When I was four years of age,' came the immediate answer, and she smiled in the contented manner of a child who knows that she impressed her listeners.
'That is early indeed. You must have had a good teacher, to arouse your interest in letters at such a…tender age.'
For a long moment, she was silent, her eyes upon the polished desk. Then she spoke, saying softly, 'I have very fond memories of my first teacher, Lord Faramir. As do many other people, I am certain of that.'
'From your words, I deem he does not live any more,' Faramir said gently. 'Did I perhaps know him, too?'
Elabeth swallowed hard and tightened her lean fingers around the cloth. She was obviously in distress, and Faramir suspected it was not merely because her teacher's death saddened her. He was about to say something that might comfort her, when she suddenly looked straight at him, and her eyes were full of sadness and compassion.
'You knew him very well, my lord,' she said quietly. 'The man who taught me my first letters was your father...Lord Denethor.'
Master Egalmoth gave an audible gasp, and his eyes shot a warning to the girl, then immediately settled on Faramir. The young Steward seemed surprised rather than shocked or distressed.
'My father?' he said, cocking his head and giving the young apprentice a closer look. 'But wait…Elabeth is your name, is that right?'
Elabeth nodded; indeed, for a short while, she appeared at a complete loss for words.
'And your mother is one of the aides at the Houses of Healing?'
'Y-yes, my lord,' she said, having found her voice.
Faramir suddenly laughed.
'Why, I remember you, young lady!' he exclaimed. 'The little girl with the kitty which kept escaping from its mistress. And my father taught you how to write "Mummy," on a sheet of the parchment he used for his…personal correspondence.'
Elabeth turned red with pleasure.
'I have that parchment here; my mother has kept it,' she said, and, before anyone could utter a word, ran off somewhere to reappear shortly with a sheet yellow with age, words scribbled all over it.
'May I?' Faramir asked softly. She handed it to him without a word (which, Master Egalmoth would say later, was as unusual as, say, an Orc serving as a noblewoman's handmaiden).
Faramir placed the sheet on the desk, smoothing it gently over the flat surface with his hand. Not all the scribbling was childish; he recognised with ease the strong, sure hand that had written letters and orders to him as well. He pressed his fingers closer to the letters written by his father a long time before the war. Somewhere among his papers, he had a letter written on the same day as Elabeth received her first lesson in writing…
He looked at her again and smiled, before asking, 'Did you play with the doll I gave you?'
She chuckled softly.
'Less than I wanted, my lord; my mother kept saying I should take great care of it!'
'And with the one my father sent to you?'
'I…I beg your pardon?'
She looked genuinely perplexed.
'But he was the one who sent you the other doll on the same day,' Faramir said. 'Did you not know that?'
Elabeth gasped and clasped both hands to her mouth, her eyes as big as a frightened hobbit's. Faramir looked rather amused when he asked, 'You did not break its head off, did you, young lady?'
'No!!' she exclaimed. 'I still keep both dolls in my chamber, side by side. But…I never knew that other one was a gift from the Lord Denethor… Neither did my mother, or my uncle…'
'And the kitty?' Faramir suggested innocently. 'Cats know much, they say – more than we of human race.'
Elabeth giggled. 'Perhaps,' she admitted. 'I wish I knew of a way to ask her!'
She now seemed completely at ease. Faramir was obviously enjoying the talk, and Master Egalmoth could barely keep from grinning, although he knew little of what was behind it.
'Much as I regret to say this,' Faramir sighed, 'I have a lot of matters to attend to. But I am glad that you will be the one to perform this task for me, Elabeth. I am glad indeed.'
'Oh…so am I, my lord,' she said, blushing furiously, and reached for her sheet of parchment. However, before she could touch it, Faramir's hand stayed hers.
'Please,' he said softly, 'would you allow me to…borrow it from you for a day, or even less? I promise to return it as I take it.'
'All right,' she consented, withdrawing her hand.
'Thank you,' Faramir said. 'And thank you for the service you are about to do for me.'
With that, he took leave of Master Egalmoth and her, and was gone.