The Chronicles of Ithilien
By Berzerker_prime

Chapter One: The Final Shadow of Sauron

     The War of the Ring had not been kind to Minas Tirith.  That much was vastly evident from the numerous scars of battle that the White City had suffered during the Battle of the Pelennor.  Holes yawned in the lower portions of the city where the catapults of Mordor had found their marks.  Great gashes scraped the earth where the armaments of the city had responded.  Hills had been raised to honor the victorious dead and dispose of the foul remains of defeated enemies.
     And yet, the healing process was already well on its way.  Masons and builders worked feverishly to close the unwanted openings in the city’s buildings.  Farmers had tilled the earth of the Pelennor and were now harvesting a good fall crop, save from the area around the hill of dead fell beings where the ground was fouled.  Dwarven iron workers and woodworkers had even furnished a new gate to replace the one smashed by the Orc battering ram, Grond.  The artisans had gilt the new gates with figures and portents of the dawn of the Fourth Age; the downfall of Barad-Dur, the crumbling of Mount Doom, the crowning of King Elessar.  And at their center, resplendent in silver, were the symbols of the King; the white tree in renewed splendor surrounded by seven stars and seven stones, and at its top the winged crown of Numenor.  Thereafter, they were called the Gates of Elessar.
     Standing upon the bastion at the tip of the keel of mountain facing eastward was a small shape in white.  It was that of a young boy, clad in the uniform of an esquire of the White Company, his tabard all of white and emblazoned with the white tree of Gondor.  The boy faced ever northward from the bastion, indeed at times he even leaned out from the walls as if to see further around Mindolluin, the tip of Ered Nimrais, so much so that the Citadel Guard present believed that he might fall from the great height into the first tier of the city, far below.
     It was mid-day on the third day of the boy’s careful watch that any of the black-clad Citadel Guard thought to ask him his business.
     “Young Bergil,” the bastion captain finally inquired, “what is it that you wait for with such bated breath?”
     “I await the coming of the White Lady of Rohan, sir,” the boy answered, “Lord Faramir has charged me with announcing to him her coming from the north.”
     There was an amused chuckle from the company of the bastion’s Guard.  Some even muttered something about a fool’s errand to keep the boy out of the Steward’s considerable business.  Bergil made a rather sour face in response to all of this, but turned back to his duty.
     “My lord has given me an errand and I intend to carry it out,” he replied, “you would do no less than that for King Elessar, if he so ordered and I will do no less for Lord Faramir.”
     This garnered further laugher from the Citadel Guards, but it was quickly stifled by the captain.  “Rest your jibes, my friends,” he said, “the boy speaks the truth with clear words.  You should not belittle him for it.”  He walked next to Bergil and knelt, facing the boy eye to eye.  “You do your duty well, young Master Bergil.  You will bring the White Company much honor if you perform all your tasks with equal zeal.”
     “Yes, sir,” the boy answered.
     “Now, do your duty,” the captain finished, pointing a hand to the north.
     Bergil spun around and lifted himself up by the edge of the wall.  He leaned out and looked northward.  There, just making its way around the western tip of the mountains, was a convoy led by three of the honored horses of Rohan, each with a rider of the company of King Eomer bearing a banner.  On the left was the banner of the house of Eorl, on the right was the new banner of the third line of kings, and in the center was a new banner never seen in Gondor until that day, that of the Renewed Allegiance between Rohan and Gondor.  It had been wrought by the Lady Eowyn and her kin as a gift from the house of King Eomer to that of King Elessar.
     “The White Lady of Rohan approaches!” Bergil exclaimed, hopping down from his post by the wall and darting off down the length of the stone keel toward the tunnel that led from the Citadel to the sixth tier just below it.  Sprinting through the streets of the sixth tier, he repeated his exclamation, turning a considerable number of heads as he went.
     Finally, Bergil came to a large domed house, that of his father, Beregond.  It had been the house that he had spent the entirety of his ten years living under and it was the house he knew best and where he felt most at home.  Bergil knew that that would soon have to change, but for now, that house was home.  Two of the White Company were stationed outside its main doors, signifying with ceremonial presence that the Steward was within.  As he had for many a day since the crowning of Elessar, Faramir was consulting with his captain of the guard about the building of the newly named Minas Estel in Ithilien.
     Bergil passed the two guards without preamble and entered the house.  “My Lord Faramir!” he shouted, passing from the antechamber into the great circular hall in the middle of the first floor beyond.  There, Faramir and Beregond were standing at a table, poring over a set of maps and schematics.
     Beregond, too, was clad in the raiment of the White Company, his rank as Captain clearly evident.  He was clad in leather bleached white by some craft that Bergil cared not to understand and emblazoned with the White Tree emblem in silver.  But, rather than the Star of Fëanor at the top, there was a star fashioned in the shape of a leaf.  A cloak of grey hung on his shoulders and fell no lower than his knees, eight pointed, rayed stars embroidered on either side of the silver closure at the neck.  The captain looked across the room at his son with a slight scowl on his face.
     “Bergil!” he said sternly.  “Announce yourself to your Lord before you enter.”
     “Apologies, father... my lord,” Bergil replied with a bow.
     “Well, since you are here, what has you so excited, young Master Bergil?” Faramir inquired.  The Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien stood in contrast to his captain in nearly every way possible.  He was younger by at least twenty years and wore no raiment of the guard.  Rather, he was clad in blues of a noble hue, his cloak trimmed with silver and closed by a broach of the star of Fëanor.  Upon his brow, holding back his raven hair, a circlet wrought in the shape of vines sat, crowned with a white jewel.  Although Faramir was a half head shorter than Beregond, he managed still to hold himself as though he was taller.  His face, though seeming young, held a certain amount of wisdom beyond his years.  From his gaze radiated the brightness of one descended of the blood of Numenor; lordly, kind, and gentle, but proud and strong of bearing.
     “The Lady Eowyn, my lord,” Bergil answered his question, “she approaches from the north.  Her party will be nearly to Rammas Echor by now.”
     A smile came to Faramir’s face, somehow lifting several years from his features.  He glanced back at Beregond who was already in the process of rolling up the maps they had been studying.
     “I believe, my lord, that this will keep,” said the captain.
     “That is well,” Faramir replied, “for I have not seen my lady in four months and my meeting her will not keep.”
     “Take my horse and ride to her, then,” said Beregond.
     Faramir was about to do just that when he paused and turned to the door that Bergil had entered with a look of uncertainty.  “And what of my two shadows?”
     “As my father once said to me, my lord, love abides no ceremony,” Beregond answered, clapping a hand on to the Steward’s shoulder, “go to her and leave your men to your captain for now.”  He nodded his head toward another door on the opposite side of the circular room, half conspiratorially.  “The stable is closer to the back door, anyway.”
     His smile returned to his face, Faramir put a hand on Beregond’s shoulder in thanks, giving a nod.  Then, he turned and hurried from the room.
     “It is good to see our lord smile again, is it not?” Beregond asked of his son after he had heard the back door open and close again.
     “Yes, father, but...”
     “I have seen him at nights.  He walks to and fro in the Citadel, eyes downcast and shoulders bowed as if a great weight was upon them.  In those times, he seems sad and lost, father.  All the guards see it, too, but no one ever says anything.”
     Beregond gave a heavy sigh and did not reply for a long moment.  “You are more observant than I should take you for, my son; wise beyond your years,” he finally said.
     “Have I done something wrong?”
     “Nay, but heed me.  It is not something that is spoken of.  The Lord Faramir’s thoughts in those times are clearly meant for his mind only.  Do you understand?”
     “I think I do, father.”
     “Good then.”  The captain straightened himself taller and squared his shoulders.  “Come along, Bergil,” Beregond said to his son, “the King must be informed of Lady Eowyn’s coming.  And do mind yourself, this time.”
     “Yes, father.”

     Beregond’s horse was plenty fast for a horse of Gondor.  But Faramir found himself suddenly wishing for the fleet-footed horse he had ridden by Eomer-king’s bidding in Rohan when he had accompanied the funeral cortege of Theoden-king.  He had had the chance to ride hither and yon around Edoras in those few days, sometimes with Eowyn, sometimes alone, and he had come to find that no horse bred in the white city could compare to one of the great war horses of Rohan.  At the moment, he would have given anything for one so fleet of foot and so agile as them to get him through the busy and crowded streets of the city all the faster.
     Northward and southward he turned the reins as he tore back and forth down the levels of Minas Tirith.  Finally, he came to the great east-facing gate of the city, shouting a command that it be opened.  As soon as a horse’s breadth of the Pelennor showed through the great doors, he urged his mount through and shot from the city with fervor.
     It was a short ride northward, only a few minutes, that finally brought him to the Rohirrim party, Eowyn within their midst, a white beacon upon a chestnut horse in the middle of a sea of browns and greens and golds.  Upon her shoulders was the blue cloak Faramir had given her months ago during their mutual stay in the Houses of Healing.  It gave him great joy to see her wearing it for it had belonged to his mother long ago and now it seemed to have come alive again.
     The party came to a halt as Faramir approached.  He dismounted Beregond’s horse hardly before it came to a stop and went into their midst, ignoring several levels of protocol, he was certain.  But he did not care.  Eowyn came down off her horse as well and the two of them met in an embrace.
     “My lady, it has been far too long to await your return,” Faramir said to her, “your coming brings me great joy.”
     “It brings it to me as well,” she replied, “for the funeral of my uncle saddened me greatly when I am certain he would not have had it be so.”
     “Then, by his will and your leave, we will make such a joy as to be remembered.  Let us now to the King and Queen, for I believe they will wish to greet you as well.”
     “You do not know for certain?”
     “Such was my eagerness to see you again.”
     “I perceive a measure of a love-sick boy is yet within you, Steward of Gondor.”

     Faramir and Eowyn had had barely an hour’s time together before they were separated again.  Much as he desired to remain in her company, Faramir’s duties as Steward had to come first.  There was still a great deal to be done, issues to be resolved, to ensure that the King’s authority would be recognized by all the lords of the realm.  Indeed, since he had awoken and learned of his father’s death, Faramir felt that he had become equal parts ambassador, bureaucrat, speech writer, political buffer zone, and messenger.
      The latest was from the governor of the city of Calembel, a Lord Ambarhil by name, who was claiming land rights that dated back to the time of King Ondoher who fell in battle before he could sign the proclamation.  Ambarhil was using this claim as a justification for the outward movement of the boarders of Calembel, but expressed concern over his people’s reluctance to settle land that was perhaps not theirs by right.  Although the petition was worded courteously, there was the hint that were this not granted him, there would be a certain number of political repercussions.
     King Elessar Telcontar seemed as bored with the issue as Faramir was, his eyes rolling skyward as it was the seventh such petition that day.  The King’s regal bearing slipped, finally, and he rose from his seat, throwing up his hands in no small amount of irritation.  He began pacing the room with a hand to his forehead and Faramir stopped reading the parchment.
     “This has become excessive,” the King finally said, “how many more are there?”
     It was not information Faramir wanted to know for himself for there was still considerable heft left to the bag that had been delivered to him.  He tossed the parchment down on the table and leaned back in his chair tiredly.
     “A great many, my king,” Faramir replied, “all of them calling upon orders issuing from the crown since the time of Anarion.  It would seem that some of these have been kept in drawers and archives since the dawn of the Third Age, waiting for someone to take up the crown and scepter again.”
     “Is there no way that we may deal with all of them in one fell swoop?  If we were to address them one by one, I will age and die and have no time to leave an heir, bringing us full circle to the issue of succession.  We will see these resolved and then have a second Castamir of Umbar!”
     Faramir sighed.  “There is no provision for this that I know of,” he said, “no one ever believed there would be no king in Gondor for a thousand years.”
     Elessar returned to his seat across from Faramir and landed in it heavily.  He put one elbow on the table and rested his chin there, gazing at the disarrayed pile of parchments laid out there, his winged crown tipping slightly in a most un-king-like manner.  “Suppose we burned them all and claimed ignorance.  What do you think would happen?”
     Faramir shrugged, sniffing a short laugh into the air and letting a lop-sided smile come to him.  “Underestimate not the annoyance of lords, for they are irritating and quick to stubbornness.  They will send them again.”
     Elessar laughed and leaned back, reaching for his nearby cup of water and taking a drink from it.  “Likely, you are right,” he said, then sighed.  “Faramir, I must apologize to you.  I know that with Eowyn finally returned, this is the last place you wish to be.”
     “I wouldn’t say it is the last place, my king, but I will admit it is very near the bottom.”
     “As it is for me,” the king admitted, “this is not at all what I was raised to do.  Since my lineage was revealed to me by the Lord Elrond, ever I sought only to lead the Dunedain Rangers of the north.  It was a much more lowly role.”
     “If I may, your highness, I have recently learned, as I believe we all have, that even those born to the smallest of stature can achieve things that men of great strength and power may not.  It was two Pheriannath, an orphan and a gardener no less, who brought about the fall of Sauron.”
     “Aye, we all owe much to Frodo and Samwise.  You are correct to point out that it is not just for their quest to the Mountain of Doom.  None the less, it is all in the way of great change.  We live in a wholly different world than we did just half a year ago.  There have been times since when I believe the Elves wise to voyage to a land that remains unchanged.  But you have not told me your thoughts on all of this, Faramir.  What does the Steward of Gondor think of these sweeping changes?”
     The question caught Faramir somewhat off guard.  It had been asked in good spirit, in the midst of a simple conversation.  But he was suddenly faced with the realization that any answer he could give, if it were to be truthful, would reflect an unwelcome dark tone.  He was also faced with the fact that he was not entirely certain just how it was he felt of all this.
     “I suppose I had not thought on it, my lord,” he answered after a not unnoticed hesitation.  He added a half-hearted laugh, trying to make it sound convincing.  “My waking hours have been so consumed by maps and archives.”
     Elessar gave him a queer look and Faramir immediately perceived that the king saw right through the attempted misdirection.  The arched eyebrow was particularly pressing of the inquiry.  Faramir left his seat, attempting to get away from the king’s all-penetrating gaze.  He put a hand to his chin in thought and silently paced toward the one large window in the room, overlooking the white tree in the citadel yard.  Frantically, his mind searched for the right words.
     “Something troubles you?” Elessar asked from somewhere behind him, no small amount of concern evident in his voice.  There was a pause, then footsteps before Faramir felt a hand on his shoulder.  “Faramir, look at me for a moment.”
     The Steward did as instructed, turning to face his lord.  However, he found instead the crownless face of a Ranger from the north, Aragorn, son of Arathorn.  He glanced back toward the table and found that the winged crown had been left there.
     “Look upon me not as the King for but a moment and speak your mind,” said Aragorn, “friend to friend rather than steward to lord.”
     Faramir shifted uncomfortably and looked away again, his gaze turning to the landscape far beyond the window.  “These are indeed great days,” he said after a considerable pause, “and I am glad to be a part of them.  But a darkness dwells upon my mind still and ever my worries bend eastward without cause.  There is naught but a broken land there, now.  Yet something haunts my thoughts, as if some parasite crawls from black and twisted cracks.”  He shook his head and turned back to Aragorn.  “Think not on it.  I have looked upon that land all my life and paranoia, it seems, has taken its toll.”
     “Do not dismiss it, entirely,” Aragorn answered, “you see far, my friend, just as your father did.”
     “I do not wish to see so far in such a manner!”
     Aragorn gave him another strange look and Faramir ground his jaws together as one who was trying to keep from saying more than he should.  There was a flood of words behind his teeth which he swallowed and sought to hide.
     “That is the source of it, then,” Aragorn said in all but a whisper.
     Almost as if in horror, Faramir turned from Aragorn and strode with purpose back toward the center of the room.  There, he stood in silence for a moment, collecting himself.  When he turned back to Aragorn, it was clear that he was once again resolved to look upon his king.
     “They are inner demons, my lord,” he said, “I will vanquish them.  My duty as Steward will not be imperiled.”
     “That is not my concern.”
     “Nay, my lord, it is but mine.  And already I have allowed it to come too far into these halls.”  He began to rearrange the parchments on the table, swiftly resorting them into a system that Aragorn could not entirely discern.  In fact, he was most certain that even Faramir could not discern it.
     “As you wish it then,” said Aragorn with a sigh as he returned to the table and took up his crown once again.  He grasped the nearest document and skimmed it for a moment.  “Then, let us see what Lord Golasgil of Anfalas would have of Isildur’s heir.”
     Faramir suddenly looked up at Elessar and a renewed spark of purpose was in his gaze.  “Isildur’s heir,” he said, as if realizing the king’s lineage for the first time.  Elessar was confused for a moment and stood silently looking at his Steward.  Faramir, for his part, took up a parchment and read it over quickly again.  “That may be the solution,” said the Steward.
     “You speak not plainly, Lord Steward,” said Elessar.
     “Nay, but I cannot as yet,” Faramir answered, “wishful thinking may be clouding clear judgment, my lord.  Might I have leave to go and explore this possible solution to our problem?”
     “By all means,” Elessar said with a slight sigh of relief, “go with all haste you desire and more.”
     “My king,” Faramir acknowledged with a quick bow before beginning his rush from the chamber, “if you have need of me, I shall be in the City Archives.”
     And with that, the Steward departed company of the King.  Elessar looked about in his suddenly empty and quiet chamber, his eyes finally resting of the stack of parchments.  With a long, drawn-out sigh, he sat in his chair once again and began reading the closest one.

     The house of Beregond was once again filled with a company of voices.  Two men sat with the captain in his great circular room.  Both were clad in the uniform and livery of the White Company and although they were younger than Beregond, they both carried a wariness of face that could only be contributed to long stays in a war-torn wilderness.  And such was the case, for Beregond had recruited them from the Rangers of Ithilien following the War of the Ring.  So loved they the Lord Faramir that they agreed to follow him where he would go.  Their attire was identical, white leather covering their chests, emblazoned with the White Tree and Silver Leaf.  Their boots rose high and grey were the garments under all of these.
     One of the two, the fairer of face and lighter of hair, wore on a chain around his neck a silver key that was obviously wrought for no purpose than to be a symbol of rank.  This was Damrod, Master of the Gate of Minas Estel and the Second Commander of the White Company.  The other was shorter by only scant inches with hair of dark raven and a scar on his right cheek.  Aside from the arms of the White Company, he had at his side a dagger of special magnificence to show his rank, wrought with the shape of vines streaming from hilt to blade.  He was Mablung, Master of Arms of Ithilien and First Commander of the White Company.
     Bergil was also close at hand, though not seated at the main table.  Sitting in a seat near the wall by a window that looked out on the sixth circle of the city, he squirmed this way and that, his ears ever open to the conversation and his eyes dancing with excitement.
     The three men, who together made up the currently established command of the White Company, had assembled to address a problem of special import; that of swelling their ranks.  Although they had a respectable number of men, they had not numbers near enough to keep safe a city the size that Minas Estel was to be.  They had recruited from all ranks of the Guard of the White City and had enlisted only a comparable few for with the return of the king, the greater honor was seen to be a guard of Minas Tirith.  Consequently, Beregond, Mablung, and Damrod only commanded half the number they needed.
     “Is there no where else that we may recruit?” Beregond asked with a high tone of irritation in his voice.  “Are you certain we’ve visited requests upon all the companies of the Rangers?”
     “Quite certain, Captain,” Mablung answered, “and while most enlisted out of loyalty to Lord Faramir, a great number perceived their part in war to be over or were simply aging beyond their ability to fight.  Or so they say.”
     “And the Citadel Guard?”
     “Very few came to us from there,” Damrod stated, “they are niggards, all.  One guard even likened joining our company to bedding a comparatively ugly whor-”
     Beregond cleared his throat very loudly, casting an unhappy glare at Damrod.  He jerked his head over his shoulder at his young son.  Damrod reddened slightly and said nothing further.
     “We will get little help from the Citadel Guard, then,” Beregond finished the line of reasoning, “what of Lord Imrahil’s Swan Knights?”
     “We might have had more from them,” said Mablung, “if Damrod hadn’t mentioned how far from open water Ithilien is.”
     “I simply described the land to them as I know it,” Damrod defended himself, “how was I to know most of them grew up as fishermen?”
     “Ever your tongue has proven to be disconnected from your mind, Damrod,” Mablung rejoined, “ever since the days of our childhood.”
     “You’re not still holding that against me, are you?”
     “Gentlemen,” Beregond interrupted, “let us remain on the task at hand.  What of the Green Knights of Pinnath Gelin, the footmen of Ringló Vale, the bowmen of Blackroot Vale?  Have none joined us from them?”
     “All are loathe to leave their lands so far off, captain,” Mablung answered, “there are none left to ask.”
     Beregond gave a heavy sigh as he stood up from his chair.  He began to pace back and forth in thought.  “Surely, our Lord Faramir deserves better than this,” he bit out, “the White Company will be all too sparsely manned if we do not find others to recruit.”
     “Father,” Bergil suddenly piped up from his seat near the window.  He was backward in the chair, one hand on the seat back and his knees bearing his weight.  His other hand pointed out the window.  “What about them?”
     Puzzled, Beregond and his two commanders wandered over to the window and looked out.  There, across the narrow street, some houses had been set aside for the Rohirrim of Lady Eowyn’s escort.  The horse-masters were presently outside, making a merry raucous around two barrels of ale they had brought with them.  One played a shrill fiddle, two danced with frothing mugs in their hands, and the rest all sang and clapped with the tune.
     Beregond considered the group for a moment, his eyes long staring at the blond heads and bearded faces.  “Theirs is a lively bunch, is it not?”
     “Captain Beregond,” Damrod protested, “you can’t seriously be considering-”
     “And why not?” Beregond asked.  “After all the Lady Eowyn is herself Rohirrim.  Those who have joined us already join because of their love for Lord Faramir.  Why should these men be denied the opportunity to continue serving their lady?”
     “But Captain, this is simply not done,” Mablung protested, “this is to be a company of Gondor.  You have not the authority to bring foreigners into it.”
     “But, I do indeed,” Beregond stated as he left the window and began to cross the room toward the doors of the house, his commanders hot on his heels and his son following some steps behind, “the king has given Lord Faramir leave to assemble his company as he will and Lord Faramir has entrusted the task to me.  Recruit from where you see fit, he said and I see fit to recruit these men.”
     The two commanders continued to protest until well after they were within earshot of the company of Rohirrim.  Luckily, the horse-lords’ merry making managed to drown out what Beregond was unable to hush.  The four members of the White Company remained on their side of the street, watching the Rohirrim dance and listening to their joyous music.  To Bergil, who had heard nothing but the music of Gondor all his life, the song seemed lighter than anything he knew.  Absent was the restrained grace of joyful Gondorian lays.  This song seemed to rejoice in the simplicity of singing itself.

Our paths were long
But our horses quick
We’ll sing a song
And we’ll drink a drink
Brothers well-met
Enemies beware
Our swords are blessed
By a lady fair!

Ale flows strong
Down a rider’s throat
And back comes a song
Up a rider’s throat
And no fairer
Is a hall so held
Than the golden halls
Of Meduseld!

     The one playing the fiddle ended his song with a great, resonating chord and the rest of the men each held aloft their steins in a cheer.  A moment later all were drained and there was a shuffle at the barrels for refills.  The fiddle player put aside his instrument and took a pull from his own mug, then cast a glance over at the commanders of the White Company, taking note of them for the first time.
     “Well!” he exclaimed, standing and holding his half-filled stein up.  “Look at this, my friends!  It seems to my eyes that four ghosts have taken it upon themselves to visit our merry-making!”  Here, he threw back the rest of what was in his mug.  “What curse do you bring, ghost men?  Does our song upset you?  Or do you simply long for a decent drink?”
     Beregond took that as an invitation and walked over to the Rohirrim.  Damrod, Mablung and Bergil still following behind.
     “T’would be a curse to be a ghost, I should say,” Beregond answered in a tone to match the Rohirrim’s friendly taunting, “for it is said that once a man passes there is no more ale to be had!”
     “Drink then!” said the Rohirrim, tossing Beregond his stein.  “And prove that you haunt us not!”
     The way to the nearest barrel was cleared and the Captain filled the mug to the brim.  As the Rohirrim, his two commanders, and his son watched with expectation, he lifted it to the sky in toast, then filled his belly with the entire contents.  The Rohirrim gave a mighty cheer to that and Bergil and the two commanders were each handed full mugs.  Beregond snatched Bergil’s from his hand before he could drink, trading it with his empty one.
     “Surely you don’t wish to deny the boy his ale,” said one of the Rohirrim by the barrels.
     “Nay, but I should think he would require less.”
     “Féolaf, a half a pint for the half pint!” exclaimed the fiddle player to which the rest of the company gave a laugh.  “Well met, my brothers in arms of Gondor, well met!  Tell me your names so that I may know with whom I drink this day.”
     “Beregond I am, Captain of the White Company.  And these are Mablung and Damrod, my commanders, and Bergil, my son.”
     “Léowine, am I,” answered the fiddle player, “Captain of the White Lady’s company.  And we drink with merriment for now our lady has come again to the place that has brought her such joy of late.”
     “You would share in her joy, then?”
     “Aye, for shared joy becomes all the greater.  T’was her gift to us, this ale, on the condition that we partake in both.”
     “To the joy of the White Lady, then,” Beregond said, lifting his stein.  Léowine agreed, meeting Beregond’s mug with another of his own that had come from places unknown and they both drank again.  “So, tell me, horse-captain; now that you have discharged this mission, what plans do you make?”
     “We are to remain in Minas Tirith, to prepare for Eomer-king’s coming,” Léowine answered, “and then, after we have given our fair White Maiden to the keeping of your Steward and your Company, we shall ride back to our own lands.  And our hearts will be all the heavier for we will escort none so fair again.”
     “I would offer you another option, if you would hear it; one that would allow you to remain with your Lady.”
     “Then I would hear it.”
     “The White Company is in need of honorable men to offer their strength and skill.  As yet, there is rumor of Orcs in Ithilien and I would not see our ranks too few to deal with them.”
     Léowine threw his head back in a laugh, letting it rumble from the top of his head to his ale-filled belly.  “Men of Rohan in a Gondorian company!  Well, there is a pretty idea!  I like it!  And it would do me great honor to continue to serve my fair Lady Eowyn.  And many more I know would come from Rohan if called to such a duty.”
     “Then, pray, give no oath or bond on it yet,” Beregond said, “for long ago it was learned by Fëanor of the Eldar and his sons the price of an oath taken in haste or broken.  I will hear no promise from you on it until you have entreated with Eomer-king and he has released you from his own service.”
     “Aye, aye, well said, my friend,” Léowine replied, “but I doubt not that the King would agree.  After all, someone has to teach you Gondorian men how to raise a good horse and how to ride!”
     “And someone must teach you men of Rohan to craft a good sword.”
     “Father,” Bergil said, suddenly appearing at Beregond’s side and tugging at his brace-clad arm, “what exactly goes into ale?”
     Beregond looked down at his son, taking note of a positively ill look to his face.  The boy looked nearly green, in fact, and he swayed back and forth slightly as if rocking with the motions of a ship.  “Bergil, did you drink that entire stein already?”
     “Well, I thought you were supposed to drink it fast,” the boy replied, “so, after I finished my first one the same way you did, they gave me another half mug.  But, I don’t feel so well, now.”
     Beregond blinked stupidly, not sure how to handle what could very well be a delicate situation.  An ambassador he was not and he did not wish to offend, but he did not wish his son to be ill, either.  Luckily, Léowine rescued him from having to be unpleasant to either side.
     “Perhaps he should be taken home, Master Beregond,” he said, “Rohirric ale is not for the pure of heart, the first time out, and our young master here seems to have done his share.”
     “I would quite agree,” said Beregond, taking Bergil’s empty mug and handing it and his own back to Léowine.  He crouched down on the ground, his back to Bergil.  “Come on, then.  Up you go.”  Bergil obliged and crawled up onto his father’s back, trying to adjust for nonexistent movements of the earth.  Beregond stood once again, his son’s green face peering over his shoulder.  “I will take my leave of you, Master Léowine.”
     “And I shall send the first of my riders who is once again sober to Edoras tomorrow with word for Eomer-king,” the Rohirrim answered, “until the morrow, then.”

     Faramir spent considerable time in the Minas Tirith archives, sorting old scrolls, sifting through documents, many of which threatened to fall apart at the slightest of wrong motions.  The one he was seeking was buried somewhere among them and it proved to be the most elusive.  So much so, in fact, that Faramir began to wonder if it actually existed at all.  Perhaps it had been some strange illusion, originating in his own mind.
     The narrow shaft of light that poured in from the thin window of the archive reading chamber had lengthened considerably by the time he found what he was looking for.  It harshly fell across his table, illuminating the parchment and tiring his eyes.  After no small amount of time studying it, Faramir put the scroll down and rested his tired face in his hands.  The next he was aware of the time, the room was dark save for a candle by the door and a chime somewhere far off was sounding an hour near midnight.
     Sighing a heavy sigh and cursing himself for falling asleep, Faramir scrawled a quick message on a stray piece of paper, bundled up the scroll, and rose with both in hand.  Blowing the candle out, he left the archives.
     The chill of late October was in the air outside and the courtyard of the Citadel reflected the silver light of the stars and the moon.  As a cool wind blew, Faramir found himself wishing for his cloak, so his steps hastened.  He came to the house of the King a few moments later and entered the great front hall.  Spying a prominent table, he left the scroll where it would be seen with the note attached.

              To my King Elessar,
                  The solution to our problem is found.
                       Ever in your service,
                            The Steward.

     Faramir left the silent and dark hall and went out to the courtyard once again, making his way toward the house of his father.  Briefly, he considered calling on Eowyn before retiring, but saw that the light in her window had long since darkened for the night.  A stray thought of guilt found him and he promised he would find more time to attend her the following day.
     He was about to find his own chamber for the night when some other force stopped him in his tracks.  Faramir’s gaze fell on the door to Rath Dinen, the Silent Street.  A single citadel guard, the door warden who was on duty, stood just to the side keeping vigilant watch.  The Steward found himself moving toward it with some strange sense of purpose in his step.  The door warden came to attention.
     “Open it,” Faramir told him softly, “allow none to pass until I return.”
     The door warden nodded his understanding and unlocked the gate.  Faramir opened it and stepped through.  Slowly, he walked down the street, not even hearing the gate close behind him as he went.  Rath Dinen seemed to have been aptly named that night as his footfalls were swallowed by the stone all around him.  His pace slowed further as he neared the street’s end, the steps becoming harder and harder to take.  Finally, the crumbled and blackened stone of the House of the Stewards came into view and his feet failed him, bringing him to a halt.
     Long Faramir stood there, his eyes fixed on the burned and ruined place of his father’s death.  When the strange trance ended, he fell to his knees and wept in the street where none could see or hear.  The tears fell uncontrolled for what seemed like long hours.
     “You shed tears that should have been shed long ago,” came a voice from behind him, ethereal and otherworldly.
     Startled by the intrusion, Faramir whirled around and came to his feet.  He saw there the fair face of Queen Arwen, the moonlight rivaling and yet lighting her features, dancing in her dark hair.
     “My Queen Undomiel,” he stammered out, dropping into an embarrassed bow, “forgive me; I thought you had retired for the night.”
     “Restless have been my dreams this night,” she stated, paying no heed to Faramir’s need to apologize, “and yours.  You mourn but late and hide your grief.”
     “I would not give it to others,” Faramir said, “it has no place in this joyous time.”
     “Would you say the same to those who lost loved ones on the field of the Pelennor?  Or the Morannon?”
     “Nay, my lady,” he replied, “but neither do they reflect the mood of all Gondor.  It should not be given that the Steward weeps for the return of the King.”
     Somehow, Arwen’s eyes become softer and more determined in the same instant.  After casting a glance at the ruins of the House of the Stewards, she turned back toward the gate at the top end of the Silent Street.  “Come with me,” she said.
     Faramir followed, his boots suddenly seeming to make an incredible racket with each step compared to the silent footfalls of the Queen.  For the first time, Faramir noticed that she as barefoot.  He had a compulsion to say something on it, but it was somehow drowned by a greater need to keep the strange spell that had been cast.
     The Queen led the Steward beyond the door and into the open space of the Citadel once again.  The door warden closed the gate behind them and locked it, giving them both a solemn bow.  Arwen moved onwards, never once turning back to Faramir to see if he was following.  And follow he did, never faltering until the Queen climbed the stair to the entrance of the Tower of Ecthelion.  There, he paused as she opened the door, his right foot upon the ground, his left upon the first stair, the darkness inside the tower yawning at him through the open door.  His voice would no longer be restrained.
     “What purpose have we in the tower, my lady?” he asked.
     Standing upon the top stair, Arwen turned and looked down at him.  “It is not your father’s death that grieves you.  It is the madness that brought him to it and the manner in which he died that you fear.”
     Faramir shifted uncomfortably.  “The King tells my lady much.”
     “But naught of this, for it is plain to those who know you and know where to look,” she replied, “the One Ring did not test you as it did others, Faramir, son of Denethor.  It could not play to your desires as it could for your brother.  You know what it is that you must face.  Gaze into it or remain as you are, cowed by your anxieties.”
     His hand becoming a fist, Faramir steeled himself and slowly climbed the stairs.  Arwen led him on and the entered the tower.  Up the stairs wound and up they took them, their pace never breaking nor their rhythm failing.  They came at last to the secret door that had only recently been revealed to Faramir and opened it.  Behind it were more stairs and the Steward and the Queen climbed those also.
     They came at last to the topmost chamber of the Tower of Ecthelion.  Round it was with a single seat facing east.  In the center was a pillared stand, its top covered by a cloth of black that bulged with something the shape of an orb beneath it.  As Faramir watched, Arwen lifted the cloth from the stand and lo! there revealed one of the Palantiri.  Black it shown with naught but empty space within.  And yet, there faded in and out of existence two hands aflame with a fire that reeked of madness.  The Anor Stone, it had been called in ancient days, for it had been there since the white city had been called Minas Anor.  But now, its glory was dimmed forever by the madness of Denethor II, son of Ecthelion II.
     Faramir became entranced by the flames within the stone.  His eyes saw nothing else in the room.  A whisper came to him, his name spoken by a wind from no where.
     “You would have me look into the Seeing Stone,” Faramir finally said to Arwen, “it was this orb that moved my father to fire and death.”
     “Few have the will to master the Palantiri,” said Arwen, “and fewer still the will to bend this to sights other than the fire to which it now looks.”
     “And still you would have me look?”  The stone called his name again and Faramir moved his hand toward it.
 “You would have yourself look.”
     “I do not deny it,” Faramir said, “if this is to be my test, I would not shrink from it.  I would rise up and meet it.”
     Arwen was silent, then, standing near the single seat and watching.  For Faramir, all else but the Palantir fell away and it became the world.  His name whispered on the wind filled his ears and the dancing flames within the stone brightened, finally flaring when his hands met the smooth surface.
     The hands within the Palantir grasped his with a grip of iron and when he pulled his hands away, the seeing stone came with them.  All the while, it called Faramir’s name, never ceasing, repeating it over and over like some desperate chant.  Something in the whispered voice of the stone compelled Faramir into motion, following its call from far-off places.  It led him from the round chamber as he sought the source of the voice.
    As Arwen watched, not hearing the calling voice as it was not for her ears to hear, the Steward took the stone.  Its flames lit his face, and he began descending the winding column of stairs.  Silently, as always, Arwen followed him, coming to a halt just outside the door of the tower, upon the top stair.  Faramir continued onward, the Palantir flaring in his hands.
     The Palantir now acted as a beacon in the night of the citadel and it alerted the citadel guards to its presence.  Several of them made desperate gasps of surprise and lapsed into confused motion.  Faramir paid them no heed, continuing onward down the stone keel of the mountain, toward the bastion there.
     Someone had alerted Beregond and he and his son were the first of the White Company to come.  Leaving Bergil behind, the captain went to his lord and stood in front of him.
     “My lord, where do you bear the Seeing Stone?” he asked in confusion.
     Faramir paused, turning empty eyes upon Beregond, as if seeing through him.  “He calls” he answered, “I would go to him.  Do not hinder me.”  And Beregond saw that the flames of the Palantir were in Faramir’s eyes and he staggered back.  Faramir’s eyes once again rested on the bastion and he moved on.
     “Devilry!” Beregond cursed.  “What madness would steal my lord’s wit?  Surely, this is the darkness reborn!”
     “Nay,” came a wiser voice from over Beregond’s shoulder.  He turned to it and found there the King Elessar.  “’Tis but a shadow that has remained in some closed off crevice.  But fast!  He makes for the bastion and I perceive he means to travel far beyond it.  We must halt him!”
     “Am I asked again to disobey my lord’s order?” Beregond asked in despair.
     “This is not his order,” said the king, “and I say to you if we do not stop him, he will die.”
     “He didn’t tell me not to do anything,” came the small voice of Bergil.  Before any could stop him, the boy raced forth, grasping Faramir’s elbow as the Steward came to the steps of the bastion.  “My lord, please stop!” he plead.  “Something has taken hold of you!”
     “No!” Faramir replied, never looking to Bergil.  “Do you not hear it?  He calls me to him with love.  Never have I heard it from him.  I would go to him.”  He began to climb the bastion stairs, Bergil still clinging to his arm.
     The King was in motion now, perceiving that the boy had failed and looking to hinder the Steward himself.  But seeing that he would not make it, he called to the bastion guards.  “Halt the Steward!” he cried.  “His vision is not his own!”  The guards closed in around Faramir, locking their arms together and ensnaring him upon the wall.
     The Palantir in the Steward’s hands flared once again, its flames filling the air and pushing Bergil and the guards back, shielding their eyes.  Elessar came to the bastion, but was held back, blinded by the white-hot light.  His obstacles cleared from his path, Faramir climbed upon the narrow edge of the wall and held the Palantir aloft.  He whispered something up at it, the sound lost amid the cacophony of flames.
     “Faramir!” cried a desperate voice from far back.  The Lady Eowyn had come.  She was trying to go to her beloved, but was held fast by Beregond and others of the White Company.  Call to him was all she could do.
     The Steward paused, his head whipping around to her voice, looking beyond the Palantir and seeing her with despair in his eyes.  Taking a backward step off the bastion wall, he looked again to the stone.  “I am called two directions,” he said to it, “I would not leave her yet.”  Faramir stared long at the stone, as if taming some wild beast with his eyes.  Finally, he shook his head in confusion.  “No,” he said, “no.  You are but an echo of thought.  He remains not in this base rock.  Heed me, Seeing Stone of Numenor, for I am Faramir, son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor, heir to the house of Hurin, and your master!  And I would see other things this night!”
     To all assembled, it seemed as if a great cry of anguish came from the Palantir.  Slowly, the flames faded, yielding to black in the heart of the stone.  Long Faramir stared into it and for but a moment, a glimmer of blue-white shown from the center.  As quickly as it had appeared, it vanished and sweat broke out upon Faramir’s brow.  The Palantir fell black and silent once again and the Steward fell limp to the floor of the bastion wall.  Leaving his hands, the stone rolled down the stairs and halted there.  Elessar quickly threw his cloak over it and gathered it up as Eowyn, Bergil, and Beregond went to their fallen lord.
     “What madness took him?” Eowyn despaired, resting Faramir’s head upon her lap.  “What darkness is upon him?”
     “I know not, my lady,” Beregond answered, “I fear for his awakening.”
     “Fear not for that,” the king said, coming to them and looking upon Faramir, “he but slumbers as is natural.  He has faced a foe that was for him stronger than Isildur’s Bane.  Take comfort that he sleeps so soundly.  Beregond, take him to his chamber.  I will come to attend him shortly.”
     “I shall not leave his side,” Eowyn proclaimed as Beregond lifted Faramir on to his shoulder.  She placed herself beneath the Steward’s other arm and walked with Beregond toward the noble house of Hurin.
     “Neither shall I,” Bergil said, trailing behind them.
     Elessar watched them go as the citadel guards slowly took up their positions once again, confused and murmuring amongst themselves.  He came to the foot of the Tower of Ecthelion and there met his Queen.
     “You had a part in this?” he asked.
     “Only the part of the messenger,” she replied, “I brought to him what was within him but what he perceived was without.”
     Elessar sighed and nodded in agreement.  “I only hope it has not cost Gondor her gentle Steward.”  He continued within and the Palantir was placed back where it belonged in silence.
     And Faramir was laid, sleeping, in his rooms.  There, sitting near him, were Eowyn, Beregond, and Bergil.  They left not his side until the sun was high the next day.

     It was late in the day by the time Elessar finally had to send Faramir’s three loyal attendants away on nothing less than the authority of his order.  “For Gondor is currently without her Steward and no help will you give her if you yourselves are exhausted,” he said to them.  Eowyn was the most loathe to leave and hesitated the longest, but finally left, conceding the King’s point.  In their stead, Elessar sat and waited for Faramir to awaken.  He brought with him the scroll that Faramir had left him and passed the time reading it, but could not understand how it was going to help him due to its highly legal and archaic language.
     Faramir finally awoke not long after sunset.  With a soft voice and kind words, the King welcomed back to the land of the living.  When the Steward’s eyes finally focused and he saw who was sitting near him, he sighed heavily.
     “Ai, Valar,” he exclaimed in a whisper, looking to the heavens, “once again, I lie idle in the presence of the King.”
     “You slept for nearly a day,” Elessar told him, “your company has been quite worried.”
     Faramir blinked, pushing himself up against the headboard.  “Eowyn was there,” he said dreamily, “I remember her voice.  And… Master Beregond?”
     “And Bergil,” the King confirmed with a nod.
     “It would seem,” said Faramir, “that I have made something of a spectacle of myself.  The Palantir?”
     “Back in its place in the Tower.  It is safe.”
     Faramir looked away, his gaze coming to the window beyond Elessar’s shoulder.  Stars were once again in the sky and he looked at them as if studying some far-off ghost.  “My Lord, I have failed you.  The Anor Stone bewitched me.  I had not the will to stop it.”
     “That was not what I perceived, Lord Steward,” Elessar replied, “true, it took you in the beginning, but you mastered it before the end.”
     “T’was not my mastery.  T’was the calling of others.”
     Once again, Elessar dropped his kingly guise and it was once more Aragorn that spoke.  “My friend, I would like to counsel you in this,” he said, “and for that, I would know what you saw in the Anor Stone.”
     Faramir pondered this for a long moment but finally managed to untangle his memory enough to speak.  “It spoke to me,” he said, “in the voice of my father.  The voice was somewhere between the living and the dead, as some cursed soul wandering the land.  It was real and yet a dream, some half-remembered mongrel of sleeping and waking.
     “‘See?’ it said.  ‘He calls for me!  Do not take him from me!’  And I wished to go to him, for the voice was desperate with anguish.  ‘Come to me, my beloved son.  I would right the wrongs I have made against you,’ it said, and hands reached for me, ensconced in flame.  I could do naught but go.”
     “You saw once again your father’s death?”  Aragorn asked.
     “Yes,” Faramir answered, “but more, I saw his love.  I was but a young boy when I saw it last.”
     “My father died when I was a boy,” said Aragorn, “I know well the absence of a father’s love.  I understand how it can call.  But, pray, what called you back?”
     “Eowyn,” Faramir sighed, “she called with a love that equaled my father’s.  And I recalled her golden hair.  Her light cut through the darkness and flame and led me back.  I remembered what it was that I gazed into and resolved to turn its gaze.
     “‘Send me not away!’ it cried.  ‘I will hinder your gaze!  It will be a battle!’  I told it that I would fight back and fight I did, finally turning its gaze.
     “Eastward I turned to look, and there saw a sight most strange.  Hands built a structure, crude and monstrous.  It rose from rubble most foul.  Figures passed my gaze.  Orcs they were, horrifying fast and efficient as if pushed by some force that frightened even them.  And then it entered my mind from places unknown that it was through the eye of the Ithil Stone I saw.”
     “Mordor,” Aragorn breathed, “something moves?”
     “I know not with certainty,” said Faramir, “it is not known where Sauron kept the Ithil Stone.  Perhaps it is some unknown nest of foul beings that remains.  But more, there was someone else watching.  Angered he was to be seen and surprised by it.  As soon as we noticed each other in the stones, he shrouded his face and masked himself with a strange cloud of mist.  I tried to push through it to see him, but I was met with an attack
     “‘Who dares to look upon me?’ he cried.  I did not answer and he struck again.  I could not see and so could not defend myself.  It was not long ere I was forced to flee, beaten and defeated.  I returned to myself and the darkness took me.  My lord, someone else masters the Seeing Stones.”
     “This is most curious and alarming,” said Aragorn, “who would have such an ability?”
     “I know not,” said Faramir, “and more curious, who in Mordor would have such a will?  I know in my heart that the Enemy no longer lives.  But certainly, no mere Orc could master the Ithil Stone.”
     “This troubles me,” said Aragorn, “a will moves to match that of one who could move the Anor Stone to see other things.  He uses trickery and hides to attack his foe rather than face him openly.”
     “I could not see him,” said Faramir, sadly, frustrated, “I could not force him to show himself.  I failed in this.”
     Aragorn saw that Faramir’s mood was downcast.  In a show of both friendship and confidence, he put a hand on the Steward’s shoulder.  “You bring us more information than we had,” he said, “we know now that something moves yet in the east, even if we know not what it is.  But, beyond that, you proved your will; you turned the Anor Stone eastward.”
     “It means nothing.  My father did the same.”
     “And you bested your father’s will.”
     “What spoke to me from the stone was not my father.”
     Aragorn shook his head, agreeing with Faramir’s assertion.  “No, t’was not.  But I have since looked into the Palantir as well and parleyed with what is there, locked inside.  And I say to you that it was that part of your father’s will that remained after Sauron stole it from him, twisted by the Stone.  It calls for you still.  And you resisted it in order to remain.  You have proven that the blood of Numenor does indeed run clear in you.”
     “Perhaps,” said Faramir with a sigh, “but I say that that grief is too raw, too course to face again.  Never will I look into the Anor Stone again and I pray you do not ask me to.”
     Aragorn nodded in understanding.  “It shall be so.  But know that I have the utmost confidence in you.”
     “That brings me comfort, my king.”
     “Then I am glad.  Now, on to other things less sensitive, but perhaps just as daunting.”  He held up the scroll that Faramir had left him.  “Please explain this.  How does it pertain to the problem of overzealous petitioning?  I have read it several times and it seems to me to be an historical record of a legal ruling, but by my eyes, I cannot understand it past the words themselves.  Westron it may be, but more legal than I can decipher.”
     Faramir smiled, a bit of a glint in his eye, now.  “It speaks to precedence, my lord,” he said, “when Mardil Voronwë, my ancestor and the first Ruling Steward, took office, he found himself similarly inundated by frivolous requests.  The times were chaotic and the sudden absence of a king made it necessary to enact a great amount of restructuring.  Steward Mardil had not the time to deal with all the requests made to the House of Anarion, so he went to the Council of Lords for a ruling.  It was then decided that one house was not responsible for the contracts of another, even if it was the house in power at the time.”
     “So Mardil was absolved of responsibility to the king’s contracts,” mused Aragorn, “that I understand.  But the requests coming to me now are those from the time of the kings.  How does this ruling free me of them?”
     “Of old, the kings of Gondor were of the line of Anarion.  You are descended from Isildur.  Though they were brothers, they eventually established two separate lines, separate houses, in Gondor and Arnor.  Further, you have established your own house, Telcontar, a new house.”
     Faramir finished his explanation and Aragorn looked at him with no small amount of skepticism, cocking an eyebrow.  The Steward responded by raising both of his own, grin widening.  It was infectious and soon Aragorn was grinning as well, allowing a chuckle to come.
     “Ai, Faramir!” he exclaimed.  “This is simplicity!  Never would I have thought of such a solution.”
     “Indeed, for you did not know of it, my lord.  The scroll was buried in the Archives with nearly two fingers of dust upon it.”
     “However did you know of it?”
     “Mithrandir was ever a source of magnificent history.  He was there when the ruling was made.”
     Their conversation continued amicably for some time and Aragorn saw that some great weight had seemingly been lifted from Faramir’s shoulders.  The talk turned to any number of things, most of them of an unofficial nature, and for the first time they spoke purely as friends.  From then on, there was a new understanding between the Steward and the King.  The hour grew quite late as they spoke and soon Faramir’s concentration began to slip.  The younger man clearly required more sleep.
     “I should leave you to rest,” Aragorn finally said, rising from his seat, “I may be the King, but I fear the stubborn authority of your betrothed should I exhaust you further.”
     “As I do,” Faramir agreed, “I, for one, would not dare to tangle with such a maiden.”
     “It may be unavoidable for you, in the end,” said Aragorn, “you are marrying her in two weeks’ time.”
     “I really must speak with the healers about this terrible burning upon the skin of my ears,” a voice came to them from the door.  There stood the lady Eowyn, clad in a dress of blue and whimsical of face.  “My King Elessar, do you seek to bother my beloved and disallow him his needed rest?”
     “Nay, Lady Eowyn,” Aragorn said, “I was only just now bidding Lord Faramir dreams more pleasant than those of yesternight.”
     “You have made your bidding known, then,” she said, “my lord needs rest.  And clearly, he needs it now.”
     Aragorn smiled kindly.  “You two are well-matched,” he said, then turned back to Faramir.  “Good night, Lord Steward.  I am glad you are well.  Do not think I underestimate when I say that I would be lost without your guidance, adrift in matters of this fair country that I could not comprehend.”
     “Ever in your service, my king,” Faramir answered.
     “Good night, Lady Eowyn,” Aragorn said on his way out.
     “Good night, my lord,” she answered.  Once the king was gone, she went over to Faramir.  The Steward shuffled aside a small ways and she sat next to him on his bed, unwinding her hair.  “Whether from Rohan or Gondor or the scattered chiefdoms of the North, men all have one common trait; they will not properly rest when rest is needed most.”
     “Eowyn, you should not speak so to the King,” said Faramir, “it is highly improper.  And though he may mind it not, there are others who would find great offense.”
     She reached over and put a hand to his cheek, silencing him gently.  He melted into her touch, shoulders sagging as he relaxed.  “A wise point, beloved, but there are no others present.  And if it caused you to rest, I would speak thus to Eru himself.”
     “Then I feel pity for Illuvatar,” he said, putting his hand over hers, “for though He most certainly has foreseen your stubbornness, I doubt that even He has the will to face it.”
     Eowyn leaned over and hushed him with a kiss.  The Steward sighed in joy afterward and sat looking upon her.
     “The Palantir led me last night,” he said after a moment, “and it was naught but you for which I returned.  The Warden of the Houses of Healing may say that I finally healed you.  But I say to you, t’was you that finally healed me.”

     King Elessar permitted Faramir to rise the next day seeing that he was once again sound of mind and had never been fully unsound of body.  Beregond brought to both his lord and his lady his plan to include Léowine’s men in the White Company and Eowyn was well pleased and Faramir agreed to it.  They needed only Eomer-king’s leave and the Rohirrim Féolaf was riding to see to it.
     Early in the afternoon, Faramir and Eowyn were once again called to different tasks.  The Steward was called to council with Beregond, Léowine, and the King in preparation for the arrival of Eowyn’s brother from Edoras.  The Lady, meanwhile, went to the Houses of Healing searching for the Madame Ioreth.
     The houses were quiet this day and the healers had but a few charges.  Yet still, somehow, Ioreth proved to be quite elusive.  Eowyn wandered the houses for a time and it seemed to her reminiscent of days past when she had been disallowed to leave; they had been maddening, but not entirely without joy, she recalled.  She had just finished wandering the gardens, the very spot where she had first met Faramir, when she heard from within a loud crash followed hard upon by a yelp and a curse.  A strange fog billowed from the hallway and it was quickly followed by Ioreth, fanning the air with a kerchief as she came.  She looked to be quite harried and the bottom edges of her dress let loose traces of the same billowing fog from the hallway.
     “Ai, Elbereth!” she exclaimed, a sour look upon her face, “how many times must those children be told not to play marbles in the halls?  They’re going to be the death of me yet, I daresay.”
     “Madame Ioreth,” Eowyn greeted, “westu hal.”
     Ioreth spun around to face Eowyn with a gasp, one hand upon her breast in surprise.  Quickly, she dropped into a courtesy.  “My lady!” she exclaimed.  “Forgive me.  I was startled.  And more than a little preoccupied, right enough.”
     “So I see,” said Eowyn, casting a gaze past Ioreth and toward the rapidly dissipating fog still coming from the hall.  “But the Warden told me that it was a quiet day in these halls.”
     “Oh, it may seem quiet today, my lady, but t’is period of cleaning, everything being moved back and forth and so on.  So, I says to the Warden, ‘we should organize our supplies whiles we’re at it.’  And he tells me to see to it.  But I only have a day for it, so here I am running hither and yon with all manner of things in tow, and now here they are all over the floor and mixed and, by my eyes, smoke comes from the mess!  I almost fear to try to clean it!  Bless me!  Oh, but here I am blathering on when I have heard naught of the Lord Steward since yesterday.  How fares Lord Faramir?”
     “He is well, Madame,” Eowyn answered, “he meets with the King even now.  T’was naught but exhaustion that took him.”
     “Oh, thank the Valar!  I said just yesterday it’d be more than passing tragic if he were to fall ill now, so close to your wedding, my lady.  If he shows up in my care now because he works too hard, Lord or no, I shall give him an earful, I will.  And you can tell him so.”
     Eowyn laughed and took Ioreth by the arm.  Together, they walked the garden.  “I shall, Madame.  And it will be enough to send him to bed ere the sun sets, lest you talk his ears into a box.  But pray, stay your tongue a moment for I have a matter official to speak with you about.”
     “Aye, my lady?  Pray, speak.”
     “The organization of Minas Estel and Ithilien is taking shape.  Beregond, my betrothed’s captain, is pulling together the White Company and to me Faramir has left matters more domestic in nature.  The Houses of Healing in Minas Estel will need to be staffed and I would like you to be its Matron.”
     “Me, my lady?  But, I am but a nurse.”
     “But well-gifted with caring and wisdom.  A healer needs equal parts skill and maternal instinct and I can think of none better for the position.  And I would have you choose your own staff.”
     “Well, I don’t know how I can turn down an offer such as that.  When the Houses of Healing are built in Minas Estel, I shall come.”
     “That brings me happiness.  Now come.  Tell me of these halls while I have been away.  After all, we must somehow pass the time while that strange fog clears.”

     It was nearly a week later that the city was once again gripped in the throes of excitement.  The day was clear, the sun bright in the east, and dew still rested upon the grasses of the Pelennor when a voice rang out from the bastion in the Citadel.
     “Eomer-king approaches!” it proclaimed.  “Comes the King of Rohan!”
     Before long, the great gate of the city was surrounded by the denizens of Minas Tirith, voices raised in celebration and welcome.  As Steward of the city, it was Faramir’s task to make the official welcome at the gate.  With the white rod of the Stewardship in his hand and Eowyn at his side, he went on foot from citadel to gate.  And with them went Beregond and Bergil, bearing the colors of the Steward and the King.
     However, this was not a greeting that Faramir looked forward to.  A great demon of the nerve had seized him.  As Eowyn’s only remaining blood kin, Eomer was perhaps overly protective of his sister and Faramir was well aware of the lengths to which the elder Eomunding would go to defend her.  Indeed, the two men’s first meeting had not gone well as Eomer had found Eowyn and Faramir in the citadel courtyard engaged in a rather passionate kiss.  Eowyn did her best to calm her betrothed as they walked.
     “You worry needlessly,” she said to him.
     “He does not approve of me,” said Faramir in reply.
     “That is untrue.  I have set my brother straight in the matter.  He will not react so again, with tongue so sharp.”
     “Sharp?  I believe his exact turn of phrase was unhand my sister, you fork-tongued Gondorian letch.  Aside from that, it is not his tongue, but his fist that worries me.”
     “T’was hardly a tap.”
     “My nose bled daily for a week.”
     Eowyn paused long, considering.  “The point is conceded.  But,” she hastened to add before Faramir could make reply, “as I said, I have settled the matter with him.  And as you’ll recall, he was naught but apologetic once he understood the situation, once he found that it was I who began the kiss.  And I who continued it.”  When Faramir gave her a lop-sided smile, she added still more.  “And continued it.”
     “And once he remembered that he was King and that it could have made for a rather nasty diplomatic incident,” Faramir appended.
     “That too,” Eowyn answered.
     “Why do I feel as though I have been saved from the fire only to find myself amongst the Balrogs?”
     “Because you worry needlessly.”
     They came now to the great gate of Minas Tirith and Faramir ordered it opened.  The company of Rohirrim waited beyond with Eomer-king and his standard-bearer in the lead.  All were arrayed in the ceremonial riding armor of Edoras, horses upon helm and breast and hauberk.  The standard-bearer raised to his lips a horn and from it issued forth a blasting note, long sustained.  The crowd at the gate gave a cheer as the Rohirrim entered into the city at last.  The company went up the road and Eomer brought his horse to a halt before Faramir and Eowyn.  The crowd hushed to hear their words.
     “By the Rod of the Steward in my hand, and by the White Tree, the Seven Stars, and the Crown and the Scepter in the name of King Elessar, Minas Tirith welcomes the King of Rohan.”  Here, he gave a brief bow.
     In turn, Eomer and his standard-bearer dismounted and stood on equal footing with the Steward.  “By horse and horn and the great sun above,” proclaimed Eomer with a slight flourish to his voice, “the King of Rohan accepts the welcome of our brothers in arms.”
     Another cheer went up from the crowd and Eomer and Faramir took that moment to grasp each others’ arms in friendship.  In the din of cries of greeting, Eomer leaned in close to Faramir.  “Westu hal, brother,” he said.
     The knot that had tied itself into Faramir’s stomach suddenly unraveled and the Steward found himself marveling at the young king’s ability to ease tensions.  He smiled back and put a hand on Eomer’s shoulder.
     “Mae govannen, brother.”

     In that, the first year of the King, the shadow was finally removed from the hearts of all the people in Minas Tirith.  In the days that followed, Faramir and Eowyn were wed to much fanfare and joy.  From Dol Amroth came the family of Prince Imrahil and from Mirkwood and Erebor came Legolas and Gimli.  To the Elven Prince of Mirkwood, Faramir gifted a tract of land north of Cormallen and south of Wetwang marsh.  There, a colony was settled by the Elfkind as a place of welcome to those who would not yet sail the Sundering Seas.  In return, they pledged their support to Ithilien and Gondor.  It seemed to all that the shadows had finally left Middle Earth and that peace was finally come.
     But in the heart of the Steward of Gondor, doubt remained.  Faramir could not help but believe there was still something remaining to be done.  Something moved yet in the east, beyond the walls of Ephel Duath.

    As always, none of this is mine, just borrowing it.  It all belongs to the estate of JRR Tolkien, the master and professor.

    Will there be more chapters of this?  Oh yeah!  You better believe it!

    For those of you who decide to review (please?  Pretty please?), one thing I'd like to know is any loose ends that seem to be dangling and that you'd like to see tied up by future chapters.  I mean, aside from the obvious "hey!  What's up in Mordor!?!" question.

    This is actually my second go at the chapter.  A preen, if you will.  Special thanks go out to the Stargazer_Nataku for her wonderful and constant upliftingness and obsession with the family of the Stewards, SomeJediGirl for her wonderful feedback, and Seigrun for her amazing and engaging conversations with me on all of this.  You guys RULE!!!  ^_^

    I know there's a school of thought out there that Faramir wouldn't have been able to use the Palantir, that he didn't have the will.  Obviously, I don't ascribe to that and here's why; it's pretty much directly debunked by Tolkien canon.  In the essay in Unfinished Tales on the Palantiri, Tolkien states that the Palantiri essentially belong to no one individual or group.  Rather, they "belong" to any who can use them.  This has long included the Stewards of Gondor, but Denethor was simply the first to try in such a long time.  It wasn't the Palantir that drove Denethor mad, but Sauron, and only after repeated courses.  Had there not been that influence, Denethor would have been just fine and he would have had quite the edge during the War of the Ring, being one of the people who could effectively use the Palantiri.  I reason that Faramir, being "of like mind" to Denethor and now the rightful Steward of Gondor would also be able to use them

    And, for a little teaser for next chapter... just a name... Elboron.  ^_^

    Hope you enjoyed!