Faramir, Steward of Gondor was a happy man. He had finally discovered a position and a role for himself that was not at odds with his nature. He had discovered, to his surprise, that he possessed a natural talent for administration, a talent he wielded with a firm but temperate hand. He had the happy knack of being able to guide and encourage those who worked with him to achieving more than they thought themselves capable; he was quick and generous with praise and gentle and diplomatic when pointing out mistakes and failings. He had earned the respect of his fellow councillors, even the old guard of Denethor's council who were reluctant to change allegiance and forget old grievances. The new King was keenly aware of his Steward's strengths and regarded the younger man with great respect and affection, an affection shared by all of those of the King's closest circle of friends and family.
As the first anniversary of the King's reign drew near, Faramir had taken upon himself the responsibility of overseeing the planned festivities. A ceremony of remembrance was planned to be followed by a festival to celebrate the recovery of the Gondor under the King's benevolent care. A colourful city of tents and booths had sprung up on the Pelenor to accommodate the great influx of citizens expected to attend. Fire pits were already smouldering, barrels of ales were ready to be tapped and the temporary city was buzzing with activity and anticipation.
Having completed his final tour of inspection, Faramir, accompanied by his adjutant, Tamir, began the slow walk back up through the city gates, passing back and forth through the levels of the city. As they approached the Houses of Healing on the sixth level Faramir took a detour into the tranquil gardens and took a seat on a bench in the shade, indicating to Tamir to join him.
"Well, Tamir, have we forgotten anything?" he asked, closing his eyes and turning his face towards the sun.
"No, sir, I don't believe so," the young man replied, going through the sheaf of parchments and lists in his hand and ticking off a few final details. "Was there something I have overlooked, Sir?"
"No," Faramir smiled at the youngster's worried expression. "Relax, Tamir, it is all done. I have never seen the city looking better. Everything is ready."
"You should rest, Sir. Tomorrow will be a long day and you will be kept busy." Faramir no longer fretted over the youngster's habit of mothering him. Tamir wasn't the only one who thought he needed a keeper; both Arwen and Estel treated him like an indulged younger sibling, a habit also taken up by Legolas and Gimli and by the Queen's Elven brothers. The habit stemmed from his initial slow recovery from his injuries and he took their fussing with good grace.
"I promise to be good, to eat my greens and go to bed early!" Faramir teased.
"See that you do, Sir. I promised Prince Legolas that I would not let you work too hard," the youngster replied, seriously.
"Well, I wouldn't want to get you into strife with the Prince."
"Thank you, My Lord."
"I have one last errand for you, Tamir, before you go off duty. Would you go and check with the Warden that his preparations are complete and that he has enough staff on duty for tomorrow."
"Do you expect trouble, Sir?"
"No more than usual when the ale flows freely. The healers will have a pavilion set up near the main gates to deal with casualties and the garrison will have extra patrols in the city and the campground. . .I don't expect more than sore heads and bruised knuckles," Faramir explained.
"Very well, Sire. I will see to it and bid you goodnight."
"Good night, Tamir." Faramir watched until the youngster disappeared into the healing halls and then made his way to the courtyard of the white tree.
The Guards on duty, no longer masked by the King's command, stood impassively as the Steward approached the sapling. The tree was already as tall as Faramir and the slim branches were heavy with fragrant blossom. As he stood in its shadow a gentle breeze ruffled the leaves and a single perfect bloom fluttered like an offering to his feet.
It was cold in the House of the Stewards in the Hallows and Faramir pulled his cloak tight about himself to keep out the chill. If anyone had asked the Keeper of the Hallows he would have reported that Lord Faramir was a frequent visitor. He had supervised the rebuilding of the fire damaged chamber and had had the marble tombs cleaned and repaired. Only the Steward and the King and his closest companions had been present when the tombs of Denethor and Boromir had been dedicated and, though both tombs were technically empty, there significance to the grieving Steward was not underestimated by those who cared for him.
Faramir placed the single blossom on his brother's tomb and stood, head bowed, in silent salute.
"Well brother," he whispered finally, sliding down to sit on the marble step, "it is all done." He didn't expect an answer but he still found comfort in his one-sided communication with his first ever and most supportive mentor.
"I wish you could see the city, Boromir, it is so beautiful. . .I really believe we are on the road to recovery. The gates are finished and the repairs to the first and second circles are all but complete. Finally the city is free of those dreadful hovels behind where the old barracks stood. I hope father would have approved. . .I know he always despaired of the poverty and deprivation of those forced to endure that misery. . .he always hoped to one day see all of the citizens comfortably housed."
"I wish you could have seen the city prosper. I know in my heart that at the end you had confidence in Aragorn to see our beloved city restored. He has done us proud, my brother. He is a good man and a good friend."
"I wish I could be sure that you can see me now, that I could convince you that I am content. . .no, that I am happy! Happy as I never expected to be. I am to marry soon, my brother, and the only thing that mars my happiness is that you will not be there to tease and torment and support me in my happiness."
"I wish you were here, Boromir. Tomorrow when we remember those who have gone, you will be in my heart. . .I will look up to the ramparts and I will imagine you there. . .do not forget me, my Boromir."
As often when he visited the Hallows, Faramir lost track of time and it was Legolas who finally tracked him down. He made no comment as he gently shook the young Steward awake and helped him to his feet when his cramped legs protested the movement.
"You missed supper. . .again!" the Elf chided as the two made their way back towards the Citadel.
"Forgive me. . ."
"There is no need to explain, my friend. Boromir is much on my mind as this anniversary approaches, though I doubt he would approve of you neglecting your own comfort and wellbeing just to keep him company."
"No, he would likely have blistered my ears for such waywardness!. . .but I will have little time to pay my respects on the morrow and I would brave worse than his bluntest tirade to neglect my duty to him. . .or my father."
"I do not question your diligence, my friend, but your absence was noted and Arwen and others were concerned."
"I will apologise to her majesty. . ."
"She does not expect apologies but I doubt not that she will fuss and cosset you. . .I'm afraid that until she has a babe to focus her maternal instincts upon that you will continue to inhabit the role of her surrogate offspring!" Legolas teased.
"I suppose to her I am a mere youngster," Faramir grimaced wryly.
"She is very fond of you and has great respect for all you have achieved. I know that she greatly appreciates all you have done to support Estel over this past year. You have both accomplished great things."
"I am happy to serve His Majesty."
"No, Faramir, you do far more than serve. Estel could not have succeeded as he has without you. All of Gondor follows your lead; you have eased the transition from Stewardship to the Crown seamlessly. You could have rejected his claim or stepped away and allowed him to struggle to win popular acclaim. You lead and the people of Gondor trust you enough to follow and for that Gondor owes you a huge debt of thanks."
"He was the King. . .I never doubted that from the moment I set eyes upon him. I could no more have turned my back on him than I could have denounced my brother. . .I just wish Boromir could have seen him crowned."
"I believe that somewhere from beyond the veil Boromir and Denethor can see and approve of what you have become. Boromir loved you and he knew your qualities and even your father, for all his faults and frailties, recognised his love for you at the end. They have every reason to be proud of you, Faramir. . .as do we all."
They continued on in silence until they reached the courtyard both lost in their own thoughts. Legolas sensed that Faramir had more to say and that he was almost reluctant to voice his thoughts. "What troubles you, my friend?" he asked at the continued silence.
"I am not troubled, it is just that. . .Do you ever wonder if you. . .if you deserve to be happy?" he blurted out.
"No. Happiness is a precious gift of the Valar. . .it is our responsibility to embrace that grace and celebrate it to the full," Legolas explained. "Do you doubt your right to be happy, Faramir?"
"NO. Oh, no. . .it is just that I never expected it and now, sometimes, I feel so full of it that I fear I will explode. . .and then I feel guilty that others, who deserved happiness, will never get to experience the blessings that I have been granted. . ."
"Boromir would be happy to know that you have found joy, Faramir."
"Yes I know, but he had so little joy or pleasure in his life. . .and he deserved more!"
"And who is to say he has not found it? Do not allow your doubts to mar your own peace of mind. Trust, as I do, that he will have found his reward for his honour and valour in the next life. . .trust that the Valar will recognise his worth."
The ceremony of remembrance and the celebrations that followed passed off without a hitch, and if his friends noticed the occasional melancholy glances that Faramir flashed up to the battlement, they made no comment, though the wordless support of his friends soon banished his brief sadness. It was an occasion for celebration and the festivities lasted long into the night. As the Steward had predicted, the healers were kept busy but only with twisted ankles and knocked heads and bruised knuckles; the cells of the jail housed a few drunken louts removed from the festivities by the marshals' and guards to sleep of their over-indulgence.
Only one incident jarred the occasion for Faramir and it was so transitory that afterwards he passed it off as his imagination. It was nothing more than a face glimpsed in the crowd. Even as he registered the familiarity of the face the man disappeared from view. It was a face from the past, though the features
were blurred and hidden behind ragged whiskers. And then reason caught up with him and he knew he was mistaken, for the man he thought he recognised was dead.
Faramir had put the incident from his mind as he accompanied his friends amidst the revelry and only as he lay in bed did he recall the incident but still it made no sense and he dismissed it as coincidence.
But that night in his dreams he was back at Henneth Annun in his earliest days at the refuge. There were so many familiar faces, men who had lived and died so long ago that only in the dreamscape could he remember all their names. There was nothing frightening or sinister in his dream, just the ordinary lives of men living and fighting in extraordinary circumstances; men mending weapons and armour, sleeping, tending wounds, washing socks, reading or writing letters, men leaving on patrol and never returning. . .just an ordinary day for the Rangers and Faramir woke with tears on his pillow.
At break of fast his friends noted his pallor and subdues manner with concern but he dismissed his difficulties as a result of too much wine the night before. Legolas, who had spent the previous evening with him and knew he had drunk little, shook his head to dismiss his claim but his friends allowed Faramir his small deceit.
As had been previously arranged, Faramir was engaged to attend upon their Majesties as they toured the markets along with Legolas and Gimli. All the friends were conscious of Faramir's distraction as they toured the bright and gaudy stalls but the Royal couple were warmly greeted by the merchants and citizens and only the small guard detail kept the eager crowds at bay. The King and Legolas were engrossed by the wares of a master saddler and as they examined the beautifully worked leather the Queen turned her attention to the exotic herbs and spices of a swarthy stallholder from the south. With the guard detail split between the Royal couple, Faramir and Gimli stayed close to the Queen.
To onlookers it appeared to be an accident. The cloaked man lurched from the crowd and stumbled into Faramir, knocking him off balance and into the Queen. Gimli managed to steady Arwen before she fell but Faramir and the man landed sprawled on the cobbles. As Faramir lay winded on the floor the cloaked man hissed a whisper to him so quietly that only Faramir caught the words. . ."Remember the Rangers!"
By the time Faramir had regained his feet the man had gone but he had left behind a token of his presence. Faramir reached into his right boot and pulled out a long thin stick; he had felt it pushed home as he was helped to his feet.
"Where is he?" he demanded, ignoring his friends' concerned enquiries as his eyes frantically searched the crowd for signs of the man.
The incident had been so brief that Estel and Legolas had been unaware of the commotion and of Faramir's obvious agitation.
"Guards, to the King and Queen!" Faramir ordered as he dashed off into the crowd leaving his stunned friends no option but to stare after his retreating figure. The order galvanised the guards into action and they ushered the Royal couple towards a quieter more defensible position.
"What is it? What is happening?" The King demanded as he and Legolas instinctively moved close to protect Arwen and Gimli unhooked a small axe from his belt. Realising who was missing from their party he ordered the guards to halt at the edge of the market square and they all turned to scour the vicinity as Arwen explained what had occurred.
"Did he threaten you?"Estel asked Arwen anxiously.
"No, I am sure it was just an accident. He never touched me," she assured him. "He stumbled against Faramir who lost his balance and bumped into me. . .gallant Gimli's speedy reflexes saved me from a fall. . .the poor man was gone in a flash."
"And did he speak?"
"He muttered something to Faramir. . .an apology I suspect. . .and then he was gone."
"So why the alarm? If it was an accident and he meant no harm why did Faramir react as he did?"
"Faramir is very protective. I'm sure he just wanted to check for himself that there was no sinister motive."
"Did any of you recognise this man?" the King demanded of the guards.
They all shook their heads but it was the Guard Commander who answered. "No Sire, but there are many strangers in the city for the celebrations. I never glimpsed his face but his cloak was ragged and he moved uneasily like he was in pain or crippled in some way."
"Very well. Tell the Master-at Arms to double the patrols and have them keep watch for Lord Faramir; he is to be given an escort and is to report to me in the Citadel," The King ordered. The guard commander tasked one of the guards to deliver the revised orders and the Royal party returned to the Citadel.
Faramir only waited long enough to ensure that Arwen was safely guarded before he set off in pursuit of the cloaked stranger. He wasn't sure if anyone had overheard the man's words but he was certain that the encounter had not been accidental. He was not sure of the motive but the man had made no attempt to reach the King or Queen, he could only deduce, therefore, that he had been the man's object.
He dashed through the crowded marketplace but his frantic searching was in vain, he spied no glimpse of the cloaked stranger. Eventually he paused against a wall to get his breath and turned his attention to the stick still clasped in his hand. The straight, smooth stick was slightly shorter than the length of his forearm and was unadorned except for notches at either end; it was an arrow shaft, the same as the many hundreds he had prepared and fletched over the years. . .but this one had no markings nor any sign to indicate who had worked it. He couldn't suppress the shudder as the phantom face flashed across his memory.
Faramir evaded the guards for several hours as he continued his search. He trawled the taverns and bawdy houses, the pie shops and ale stalls but despite his best efforts he found no trace of the man.
As he trudged wearily through the fourth level gate on his way back up to the Citadel, he acquired a guard escort and his attempts to dismiss and then to order them away proved unsuccessful.
"Beg pardon, Sir, but we have orders from the King that we are to see you directly to the Citadel!" the young sergeant explained to him sheepishly.
"You have my word that I will proceed there directly, sergeant," the Steward assured him.
"Aye, Sir, and with an escort you will not be delayed, Sir," the uncomfortable soldier explained, clearly determined to see his orders completed. Faramir grinned in weary acknowledgement that he had been out-manoeuvred and gave in graciously, though he protested more vigorously when the guard detail increased in size at every gate they passed through. By the time the party excited the lamp-lit tunnel he was surrounded by twelve guardsmen. The parade came to a halt at the base of the Citadel steps where a welcoming committee awaited them.
"Sire," The sergeant saluted.
The King acknowledged the salute. "You finally found your quarry, sergeant?"
"Yes. Sire. Though I must report that our search was only successful because Lord Faramir was returning of his own volition," the soldier reported.
"His Ranger skills at evasion and stealth have not deserted him, I deem. I would have you convey to the Master at Arms that our troops could use increased training in search and surveillance," The king requested before dismissing the troops with his thanks.
Only when the soldiers had gone did he turn his attention to his Steward. " Lord Faramir," he began formally, " I will see you in my study and hear your report on today's occurrences."
If Faramir suffered any apprehension about his upcoming audience with the King he displayed no outward expression of it. He made a brief detour into his own study to remove his cloak and tuck the arrow shaft into his top drawer. He washed his face and combed damp fingers through his hair to make himself presentable before proceeding to his appointment.
It was a private meeting and therefore not hampered by protocol, though the Steward graced the King with his obeisance, as was his ingrained custom. Estel accepted the salute, stepping forward to grasp the younger man by the shoulders and locking eyes with him.
"What were you thinking!" he finally demanded, shaking Faramir with exasperation. "Are you hurt?" Estel ran anxious hands from shoulders to wrists seeking injuries and all the time trying to 'read' his friend's state from his expression.
"Peace, Sire. I am quite well. A bruised knee and a skinned palm from the cobbles, that is all. . .you have inflicted worse when we spar," Faramir assured him with a smile.
"Peace! You run off alone after a possible assassin an you caution me to peace!"
"Estel, it was nothing more than an accident. . .a blunder. You and Arwen were well guarded. . ."
"And who was guarding you!" Estel interrupted. "Why did you chase after him? And why seek him for so long?" Estel demanded.
"I didn't have time to explain. And how could I have asked others to search? Only I got a glimpse of him and what description could I have given. . . .a ragged stranger, possibly with a limp!. . .that would have fitted any one of dozens of men in the city here for the celebrations."
"Arwen was worried," Estel exclaimed, causing Faramir to smile gently at his friend.
"I will, of course, apologise for my thoughtlessness, it was never my intention to worry any of my friends."
"Aye, Legolas is less than pleased with you, too!"
"Then, with your leave, I will go and make my apologies and endeavour to smooth any ruffled feathers."
"Faramir. . ." Estel began as Faramir turned to leave.
"I know, Estel. . . .I promise to be more careful."
"You know you can come to me if you have any concerns. . .if something is troubling you. . ."
"He is hiding something!" Legolas offered later that evening as he and Gimli sat with the Royal Couple, sharing a bottle of wine.
"He has something on his mind, certainly," Arwen agreed.
"And you think it had something to do with the incident in the market?" Gimli asked.
"Only yesterday he was telling me how happy he was, even though thoughts of Boromir were much on his mind, and today there is a shadow in his eyes. . .he thinks to hide it but something is troubling him."
"Have you asked him about it, Legolas?"
"Aye, and he denies any worry."
"Perhaps it is of a personal nature. Perhaps he is fretting about Èowyn," Arwen suggested, "it is months since they saw each other."
"I do not doubt that it is personal but I do not believe that it has to do with Èowyn. . .what can have changed there since yesterday?. . .except what happened in the market."
"So what do we do?"
"I have instructed the Commander to keep up the extra patrols and to have the guards to be extra vigilant, especially when Faramir is abroad in the city. With any luck the situation will settle when the city returns to normal."
"And I will keep a close eye on our young Steward," Legolas offered. "I think his claim that he was in need of an early night was probably prompted more by a desire to risk closer scrutiny than it was about being tired."
"He is too astute to think he can hide his concerns from us."
"He knows that we worry about him. . .I wonder sometimes if he finds our concern a little overwhelming?" Arwen mused.
"Maybe, but he also thrives on the care and attention."
"You think he is seeking notice?"
"No," Arwen laughed. "No, but he finally feels safe within our circle. He will come to us when he is ready."
Faramir quashed his discomfort at having misled his friends but he needed to attend to some business down in the second circle and he wanted to slip away without attracting attention. He occasionally arranged to meet up with some old Ranger colleagues in a cosy Inn to reminisce about their shared past and about absent friends. Tonight was not a pre-arranged meeting but he was sure that Damrod and a few others would be in the city for the celebrations and would gather together at the Ancient Mariner for the evening.
He was not mistaken, he found five old comrades in a nook by the fire and they welcomed him gladly. He made no attempt to hide his identity from the rest of the patrons, this was a soldier's inn and the patrons recognised his right to be there. Faramir sank his first pint in one go to the cheers of his comrades who all had a head start on him judging by the empty jugs littering the table. But from then on he was much more careful, not wanting to dull his wits.
Soon Faramir was able to steer the conversation to old comrades and the mood became melancholy. Of the five men present, only Damrod was still on active duty; Daris and Gregor had both retired; Mablung had lost three fingers on one hand and could no longer wield either bow or sword and Forrel had lost an arm. They talked of many lost friends and eventually Faramir was able to bring up the name he was interested in.
"And brave Anborn. . .he was the best shot I ever encountered," Faramir commented.
"Aye, brave and fearless," Damrod agreed to the nods of the others.
"My last sight of him was at Osgiliath. . .he threw down his bow and leapt in amongst the scum, screaming death and defiance. . .he was leaping over the dead to get to new targets," Mablung explained.
"So he fell defending Osgiliath?" Faramir asked.
"Yes," Forrel confirmed, " I saw him fall even as the order went out to retreat."
"So, was his. . .was he amongst those who the enemy defiled and used to terrorise the city. . .was he beheaded?" Faramir asked.
"I don't know," Damrod explained sadly.
"Who would know?" Faramir felt guilty for prolonging a conversation that was clearly distressing for his comrades but his need for answers was too great for him to let the matter rest.
"Lord Hurin would be your best bet," Mablung suggested, "he was responsible for compiling the casualty lists."
Faramir could no longer prolong the distress for his friends, he had all the information he was likely to get and what he had learned had only added to his confusion. He no longer held back as the mugs were refilled and he did his best to catch up with his friend.
It was Legolas who half carried him back up through the city after the duty guards had reported his destination back to the Citadel and the Elven Prince had offered to retrieve him.