For the interested, I’ve written a rather substantial Back to Middle-earth fic. According to the Unfinished Tales, Gondorian kings and stewards occasionally visited the hallows holding Elendil’s remains. This story is officially about Faramir’s attempt to honor that old custom. Along the way I tried to flesh out some other aspects of Faramir’s history, especially his relationship with Hurin of the Keys. Also, tell the incident with the wine-casks, which my muse has been yammering about for several years but which never quite seemed to fit anywhere until now.
That Which They Defend
Húrin bent to examine a good-sized rock wedged between the tree’s roots, hoping against hope that it would point them to the road he and Faramir hoped to uncover. No such luck; if this stone had ever pointed the way to the hallows, time and rain and washed any useful hints away. Pulling himself to his feet, he couldn’t help chuckling at the absurdity of their situation. What would the loremasters make of the Prince of Ithilien and the Key-master of Minas Tirith, stumbling through the woods like schoolboys?
Some ways away, Faramir looked up from the tree trunk he’d been examining. “Uncle?”
“That Mablung always was more trouble than he was worth,” Húrin said. “The fact that he’s been dead twenty years should keep him from laying claim to what hours I have left for myself after Gondor claims her due.”
Faramir laughed at that. “You could blame me as well as him. I was the one who remembered the incident with the beer-casks, and I was the one who told it after the council-meeting yesterday.” Frowning, he added, “I am sorry to involve you in all this.”
Húrin clapped Faramir on the shoulder. “Being reminded, after all these years, of the look on Rochmir’s face was payment enough.” In the days before they both joined the Ithilien Rangers, Faramir and Mablung had been racing across the sparring fields behind the White Towers. Faramir had seen Húrin across the courtyard and pulled up short to wave at him, and Mablung had stepped aside to avoid colliding with him. Unfortunately he’d run right into several wine-casks, knocking the topmost one over the Citadel wall. It had caught on a building spire, drenching one of Denethor’s most persnickety councillors in its deep-red cargo. The boys had spent the next three days mucking out the Sixth Circle stables, but Húrin had it on good authority that Denethor had laughed long and hard over the whole affair.
Faramir smiled widely. “I’d never in my life had to fight so hard to keep from laughing. The look of him, with wine dripping from the hem of that linen tunic he worked so hard to keep perfectly clean – I knew there’d be a price to pay, but I couldn’t quite make myself mind, just then. And I’m glad I told Aragorn the story. I only wish I hadn’t mentioned the wine was being moved into the Citadel store-room for Boromir’s coming of age feast.”
“Aye, there is that,” Húrin agreed. Eldarion, the king’s heir, would come of age this Midsummer, and Aragorn had asked the lord’s council how Gondorians marked that event. That had apparently brought Boromir’s coming of age to mind, and Faramir had told the story of Rochmir and the wine. But then he had mentioned how, the morning after the feast where they drank that wine, Boromir had climbed Mindolluin with Denethor and Imrahil until at last they had stood beside Elendil’s grave. “The king quite liked your idea,” he said at last. “It’s just a pity that the stewards only ever brought their heirs to the hallows once a generation, and that everyone who ever walked that road is now dead. Have you had any luck finding the trail?”
Faramir shook his head. “I’ll write to my cousins in Dol Amroth,” he said, a little doubtfully. “Perhaps uncle told one of them something that might be of help.
“We’ll find the hallows,” Húrin assured him, “even if I must send surveyors to search the slope inch by inch. But Faramir, you know the ancient traditions call for more than just a climb on a summer morning. The king is supposed to tell Eldarion the secrets he think a father should share with his son. And you and Elboron will be there with him. Have you given any thought to what you’ll tell him?”
“Little but,” Faramir answered, “at least since I knew we’d all be walking this road.” Turning so he faced east, Faramir looked out across the Anduin and to Ithilien beyond. “When he and Findhwen were younger, they’d often ask the minstrels for songs about the Siege of Gondor. I told myself it was only natural, since Éowyn and I featured in so many of them. And that children might long for orcs to slay. I never liked it, but I couldn’t really fault them for playing the same games Boromir and I did, as children.”
He sighed to himself and turned to face Húrin. “Findhwen has always been half a shield-maid, but Éowyn has taught her something of herbcraft, and so she’s learned something of just how easily a sword can tear life from limb. That’s tempered her bloodlust a little. Elboron, though – he’s seen actual battle, and he still loves the sword a little too much for my comfort. It was one thing when Mordor brought us low, but these days? I know we still have enemies to fight. I have fought them. But my son’s heart seems too taken with darker days. And I have no wise words to correct his steps.”
Húrin turned the words over in his mind, struck by their irony. Fifty years ago Denethor had faced much the same problem with Boromir. In those days Gondor had needed captains more than aught else, and if ever she had produced a son fitted to that need it was Boromir. The loremasters had often likened the young heir to the old king Eärnur, and though they meant it as a compliment, the comparison did not sit easily with him. Denethor had apparently left his son guideless in more ways than one. He guessed, though, that Faramir didn’t need to be reminded of that betrayal.
Instead, he thought on something Faramir had said, a turn of phrase. Elboron loved the sword too much. That reminded him of something else Faramir had said, at least if the periannath’s book about the war was to be trusted. “You’re wiser than you know, Faramir,” Húrin said. “Do you remember what you told Frodo?” Faramir stared blankly at him for a moment, so Húrin elaborated. At Henneth Annûn, after Samwise let the truth slip about the Ring. Your words there always struck me as rather perceptive – that you didn’t love the sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory, but only those things they defended.”
“Are you suggesting I have him read those words?” Faramir asked. “Elboron would think me a fool.” He paused and then added, more quietly, “His grandfather certainly did.”
“His grandfather was a hard man,” Húrin countered him, “and was hardened further by those dark days. There was more to him than that. And he worried that your brother loved the sword too much, even when Gondor needed men of his sort. But as for Elboron, there’s no need to thresh old history. Just look at our current predicament: the last remnant of an ancient battle lost because a single generation didn’t pass on some piece of lore as well as they should. And Elendil is our greatest king. Warriors’ infamy always seems to fall prey to time. But the things they fought for – Gondor, and the best parts of who we are? Those still survive, even when we are driven to our knees.”
Faramir nodded. “Perhaps. As for all this, it will have to wait – ” Before he could finish that thought, however, the glint of the summer sun on a bit of snow in the nook of a tree-limb caught his eye, and he laughed out loud. “I do believe I’ve found it!”
Húrin blinked, bewildered. “The path?”
“The start of it, in any case. Perhaps.” Wiping the snow off the bark, he tapped the stylized B-H-G carved into the bark just below the limb. “My brother marked enough bedposts with this bit of graffiti as a child. Boromir hîr vuin Gondor.” He inspected several more trees for the mark until he found it carved again at that same height and, further up the mountain, a third mark. “It’s like him, really, to mark the secret paths more out of boredom than anything else. But I’m glad to at least find a starting-point, however we found it.”
Faramir took a red cloth out of the haversack he’d carried, marking the tree, and bounded on up the slope searching for more markings. Húrin would join him in a moment, but just now, he stood rooted in place, running his thumb over Boromir’s mark. Whether he had meant to or not, this sign was a powerful gift to those the War had left behind. In his mind, Húrin had thought of this path as the one walked by Denethor: loving father and wise lord, yes, but prideful and unabsolved in the end. But now he saw Boromir bounding up this path much as Faramir just had: the glorious captain brought low and forgiven, who at last found peace as Anduin carried him safely to the sea.
If a man after Eärnur’s heart might find peace in the Dark Days, perhaps there was hope for Elboron yet. Smiling at that thought, he pushed up the hill after Faramir.