Faramir walked towards the Houses of the Stewards with his usual measured pace.
He had recently finished the luncheon with the hobbits, Mithrandir, Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn. He had thoroughly enjoyed both the food and the company, although at some moment the conversation turned rather bittersweet, as everyone was acutely aware of the absence of one of the Fellowship. Nevertheless, it relieved him that they had spoken about his brother with fondness and genuine grief. Even Frodo, who had every reason to bear a grudge against Boromir, instead showed nothing but understanding and pity.
The talk of Boromir, however, turned his thoughts to another who was gone…to his father, and suddenly, he wanted to go to the place where Denethor had died. With all the festivities underway, he had hardly had a moment to pay a visit to the tombs.
However, when he came nearer, he discovered he had not been alone in doing that. In front of the marble table where he had nearly met his death stood a young girl, whom he recognized at once as the apprentice from the archives – the same whom he had asked to copy the extracts he had needed to prepare the coronation.
Elabeth was standing there, alone among the remnants of the blackened rubble still to be cleared away, head slightly bowed, hands clasped nervously in front of her. Contrary to other women he had seen earlier in the day, she was not wearing a garment suitable for all the festivities that followed the coronation, but the usual dark brown robe of an archivist. Only her hair was now loose; oddly, it was not long, but ended about her shoulders.
The sight at the ruins of the Houses of the Stewards was so unexpected that for a moment Faramir was at a loss what to do next. He had recognized the girl immediately, even though her dejected air made her look very unlike her usual joyful self.
Slowly, he walked towards her, taking care not to approach her from behind, so as not to startle her. She tensed a little when she saw him, and bowed her head lower in greeting.
'Good day to you, Elabeth,' he said.
She sighed and said very quietly, 'It is indeed.'
The day was truly fine, sunny but not hot, with the cool wind blowing – nay, breathing gently upon them.
'Why are you not celebrating with others?' Faramir asked. 'I have seen a lot of folks from the archives enjoying their leave.'
She did not answer for some time; then, she turned and looked him straight in the eyes.
'Why are you not there, my lord?'
Faramir looked at the great marble table before him.
'I had to come here,' he said.
He had talked to Mithrandir shortly after the battle of Cormallen, learning the full story of his father's death. Thinking back to it, he understood very well why the wizard had chosen that particular time. Having recently taken up his office, he had so many things to do that it sometimes made his head go round. Even seeing Éowyn was less frequent than both of them would wish, though his beloved knew enough of a ruler's duties not to blame him for it. He simply did not have time to reflect upon what he had learned and brood about it.
He wondered how much Elabeth knew. Having an uncle in the Citadel guard, she would have heard much…
'I also felt I had to come here,' Elabeth said, averting her eyes, then looking at him again. 'Lord Faramir…may I ask you about something?'
Faramir could feel her unease as she talked. Her ink-stained hands fumbled with the folds of her robe, her face very pale. It struck him that the girl's questions – why, her very presence in the place when it was plain he wanted to spend time here alone – could be seen as sheer insolence. And yet…great as his own distress had been, and still was, he could not but sense hers.
'You certainly may, Elabeth,' he said, 'but not before I thank you for the fine job you did with the copying I asked you to do. But for you, the coronation might not have been what it was.'
The girl suddenly produced a derisive snort. 'I could not care less for the coronation. But I am happy to have rendered you that service, my lord,' she added hastily, seeing Faramir's slightly puzzled expression.
'So you are not that happy to have a king,' he said with a questioning look at her.
Elabeth shrugged. 'What do I know of kings? Stewards were good enough for me.'
Faramir smiled. 'Perhaps you should not judge the new king so harshly before he has had an opportunity to prove himself worthy to you. You might even come to like him.'
The girl was silent.
'You have not answered me, Elabeth,' Faramir said softly. 'Why did you come here?'
He saw her swallow nervously. 'I…I do not want him to be forgotten by everyone these days,' she said. 'I have much to be grateful for to him…and this city has even more. So…I have come here with my gratitude.'
Faramir watched her intently. 'And you think others have forgotten…or chosen to forget about it?'
Her head turned to him with a jerky motion.
'I did not say that,' she protested.
'But this is what is on your mind.'
'How…how do you know? I mean…I…I…'she stammered, the faint pink creeping up her pale cheeks.
'I do,' Faramir said, patting her gently on the shoulder. 'And this is not as close to the truth as you think it is, Elabeth.'
'It is not?!'
She shook his hand off her shoulder furiously.
'You say it is not, my lord? Then why are you, of all the people, the only one to come here today? You are there, laughing and celebrating, drinking and accepting gifts from your king, and so is everyone. He who did so much for these days of peace to come does not receive even the smallest tribute. There are all the glorious victors of the battle! Hail them! And forget about the one who lost. Forget about his hopeless struggle to give us all another day under the looming Shadow, forget about his destroyed life. There is no place for him in this joyful celebration!'
Elabeth's face was now burning red, and she was standing there, facing him with clenched fists, as if prepared for a fight, all her intended questions forgotten.
'Elabeth, I do not wish to forget my father,' Faramir said very quietly.
The girl took several deep breaths. 'Forgive me, my lord,' she said, forcing her tone to sound more level and considerably colder. 'I shall take my leave now, if you will permit me.'
'Please stay and listen to me.'
It was obvious that she was about to turn her back defiantly on him and leave, but something in Faramir's look stayed her. She looked back at him both expectantly and impatiently.
'There is nothing I wish more than to have my father by my side today,' he said. 'You are wrong if you think that I choose to forget him. You are wrong to think that he is never in my thoughts these days, because he is, every minute. You are grateful to him for giving you your first writing lesson, and the White City and the whole of Gondor have to be, and are, grateful to him for his lifelong service, but I have even more to remember and to thank him for. He was my father, Elabeth, and he loved me.'
The pain of his latest loss cut into his heart all anew. Suddenly, it was like that day in the Houses of Healing when he had expected to see his father at his bedside and did not. That very instant, he had known, deep inside, and a healer's carefully chosen words had been only a confirmation of that knowledge.
He stepped closer to the marble table again and passed his hand over the smooth surface. His voice turned rough and faltering.
'Yes, he loved me, although he did not show it like most people. But I knew it. I knew the look of concern in his eyes when I was hurt, even if he berated me for it. I knew the pride he felt for me when I spoke my oath of fealty, or when I became captain. I knew his need for my company when Boromir was away and we shared a meal, even though we would often merely sit together in silence.
'And when he thought I was lying on my deathbed, he wanted to spend those last minutes with me, hoping that I would speak to him. He sat and held my hand, and wept for me, and when his hope was gone, he would not be parted from me even in death. Others have been telling me how much he loved me, but I do not need their assurances. I know that he loved me, for I loved him too. I still love him…'
He gripped the edge of the table and bowed his head low, not even attempting to stop or hide the tears rolling down his face. Then, he turned to the girl again.
'Do you not see, Elabeth? It breaks my heart indeed that my father is not here today. However he felt about the king, knowing that Gondor finally has peace would bring him joy. And believe me, Gondor knows it. Every smile at these festivities, every happy dance, every embrace given to a soldier who returned safely from the battlefield, and every tear shed for one who did not, is for my father too. And...no words would suffice to say how much it grieves me to know that he…that he will not see them, and neither will my brother…'
He covered his eyes with a hand, weeping bitterly now, oblivious to everything but the burning pain tearing at his heart, until he felt trembling fingers wrap themselves around his other hand. Looking down, he saw Elabeth kneeling before him, her shoulders shaking with silent sobs.
'Forgive me…' she whispered and pressed her lips to his hand. He felt tears wetting his skin. 'Forgive me, please…I…I am horrible…'
Faramir watched her for a while, pity and understanding adding themselves to the pain in his eyes. Sighing, he went down on his knees too and wrapped his arms around the distraught girl.
'Hush, child,' he said in a voice only a little above a whisper, gently guiding her head to rest against his shoulder. 'No, you are not horrible.'
He felt her hands press to his chest, as if she wanted to push him away, but then she sank into the embrace, crying even harder. Faramir said nothing more and simply held her, leaning his own head against hers.
Gradually, her sobbing subsided, and Elabeth straightened up, finally able to give him a tentative look, only to avert her eyes hastily, embarrassed.
Faramir smiled and picked off a strand of hair that had clung to her wet cheek.
'I should tell you that you do not look pretty when you weep,' he said. 'Do not do it too often.'
The eyes shot him an indignant glance, but the glare lost a good share of its power as Elabeth sniffled loudly and rubbed her red nose with the back of her hand. Rather unexpectedly to himself, Faramir chuckled. The girl bit her lip and smiled back weakly. She was about to say something, but Faramir stopped her with a wave of his hand.
'Peace, Elabeth,' he said. 'I am not offended by what you said. And I am touched and grateful to you for the love and respect you bear my father. I only want to assure you that you are not the only one to feel that way.'
She looked sadly up at the table again, then gingerly reached for his hand.
'I am sorry he does not have a proper burial place…if only for you to come to, my lord. My…my father's grave is also unknown to me.'
'Do you remember your father, Elabeth?' Faramir asked.
She shook her head. 'I was but two years of age when he was killed.'
She sighed, and Faramir touched her dark head in a gesture of comfort, stroking the soft wavy hair. Once again, he thought it was unusually short.
'Why do you wear you hair so short?' he asked, curious.
By now, they were sitting on the stone floor side by side, garments dusty and crumpled.
She smiled. 'Not by choice! One of the wings of the archives caught fire during the siege, and I was helping to carry out the books and scrolls…I had not had time to pin my hair up, so it caught fire too. I had to cut it this short afterwards.'
Faramir put an arm round her shoulders and smiled back at her a little sadly.
'See…we have much in common, Elabeth. We have even both been through a fire.'
She gave him a long and thoughtful look, but did not say anything.
'I wonder if he can somehow hear us...or know what we have been talking about,' she said quietly after a while, turning to Faramir again after a while, with a most moving expression of hope on her face. 'I loved him too...I had so much trust in him, always knowing he cared about me, among others. I do not know much of the ways state or war strategies work, but it was enough for me that he did. I...I want him to know that I remember him, and always will.'
'I would not know if that is possible, Elabeth,' Faramir said.
He looked around, taking in the blackened ruins that had nearly witnessed his death. He could not but smile sadly at the sight most incongruous with them: a young, bright-eyed girl, gazing at him with the earnestness and trust of the child of whom much was still present in her. The child that had once come to admire his father to the extent that it guided all her life now sought reassurance from him...
'Or perhaps I am wrong,' he corrected himself. 'My father was a remarkably perceptive man. He surely would know your feelings.'
Elabeth gave a little laugh. 'Perhaps, my lord!'
Faramir smiled at her in return.
'And now,' he said, getting to his feet, 'it is time for us to go. I am certain your mother or uncle, or both, are already looking for you. I must have been missed as well by now.'
He helped her to her feet, and they slowly went towards the exit, trying to shake some of the dust off their garments on the way.
When they were ten paces or so from the great stone table, they both turned and looked at it again.
'I should return to you the parchment with your first writing lesson,' Faramir said. 'I apologize for keeping it so long.'
'You can keep it longer if you wish, Lord Faramir...' Elabeth offered tentatively.
Faramir smiled at her. 'Thank you, but I would rather collect other samples of your beautiful writing. Say...would you like to perform some other tasks for me? Like the one I gave you before the coronation?'
Her face lit up instantly. 'Oh…you would do that, my lord? I should be so happy to do it for you! I can write very fast if needed!'
Faramir chuckled at her excitement.
'Yes, I would do that, Elabeth. I was most impressed with the job you did for me – and besides, it would be only fitting to employ as a scribe one who wrote her first letters under my father's supervision,' he said, his eyes turning to the ruins again, this time filled not with pain, but with warmth and gratitude. When he at last looked at Elabeth again, there was no turmoil in her eyes either.
'Come now,' Faramir said, gently guiding her towards the gate. 'I have more questions for you. Tell me, how fares your cat now?'
Elabeth burst into merry laughter.
'She has brought into the world dozens of kittens, so I should not be surprised if the whole White City is filled with her descendants! And also…'
They walked on and on, leaving behind the House of the Stewards, the once-grand building now standing in ruin, filled with memories of grief, death and despair…wrapped in warm sunny silence that mingled with a faint echo of a young girl's voice and a man's soft laughter.
1. Thank you, everyone who took the trouble to review the first part! One of the comments is about my choice of names; no, the name "Elabeth" does not come from Tolkien's books, but I find it a bit funny to change it now that the character has been around for some time in my writing. Also, I don't remember any part of the book say firmly that only Sindarin names are used in Gondor; even if that is so, I don't see why there couldn't be some changed, shortened, influenced by foreign languages names...
As to "Egalmoth," that was the name of the eighteenth Ruling Steward of Gondor (born T.A 2626, ruled 2698 - 2743), and Tolkien's first idea to call guess who? The one who later become Denethor II! I daresay it works just fine for my elderly archivist.
2. There was a sentence missing in the introduction to Chapter 1; I have fixed the problem.
3. I hope you enjoyed the story!