He woke, suddenly, from a dream disturbed by whispers. He reached out, but his hand found only the book that had slid from him as he had fallen asleep; found only the space where she had once lain. She herself was gone, twenty months past.
He forsook the bed in turn, and wondered at the time. He crossed to the window, where heavy curtains blocked out whatever light there might yet be, and drew them back – but it was still night. He watched and listened to the darkness, and reflected.
Grief, he observed, had form; absence had presence. At its end, her life had been light, feather-like, a wisp waiting trembling for the cut. Sheared, he had made for her a monument – white slabs of marble levelled in unequal remembrance of her brittle beauty. In death, she had taken on the presence, and the permanence, of stone.
In the sky above, as he watched, slivers of starlight merged and took on meaning. A cloud passed over Alquatelpë, leaving only a solitary wing visible; in the West, Soronúmë hovered – bright and remote, sure in his purpose and biding his time.
He turned his mind swiftly to consideration of the practical – of the voyage he had lately made, from Pelargir, and the trials of sea travel... of the journey beginning the next morning, and the parlous state of the roads through Lebennin... of the White City and how it might be faring without him to oversee all its affairs— Then he heard whispers again, in the night.
They were coming from below his window. Shadows were moving there too; and then they resolved themselves into his father-in-law – and his younger boy! What could bring them out so early? he thought, exasperated. Tomorrow, no doubt, the boy would be tired and out of sorts – and it was not his grandsire that would be troubled with him, but his sire.
“There,” said the old man, “there – can you see?”
“I think so...” answered the boy. “Yes, I have it! A handle, and there’s the blade.”
“The Sickle,” his grandsire agreed.
Adrahil was teaching him the stars, Denethor realized – and recalled a promise made about a map, if the boy showed willing... So, Faramir had enlisted his grandsire to aid him, it seemed...
“Or the Valacirca, since I know you prefer the names in Elvish,” the man said, a smile in his voice. “It was set in the northern sky in the Elder Days, as a promise that the darkness of that time would pass. I saved it for last, as our farewell. For even the deathless,” he murmured, “know everything comes to an end. All joys – and all sorrows.”
Denethor looked up at the northern sky, to the seven stars raised there.
“Thirty years ago,” the old man said, “I stood on this very spot and showed it to a little girl not much older than you.”
“Did... she like the stars?” the boy said.
“Yes, she did— Do you remember her, Faramir?”
“Sometimes...” His voice wavered uncertainly, like grass in the wind.
“And your father,” Adrahil asked, “does he say much about her?”
The night gained substance, and weight.
“No,” the boy replied. “But sometimes he gets sad.”
Watching, Denethor thought, and whispering.
He listened, closely.
“Come along,” the elder said, at length, and sighing. “One last look at the Sickle, and then back to bed. A long day for you tomorrow.”
The fond grumbling of an old man lifting a loved boy up into his arms, some last words about the hope that hung in the heavens, and then they were gone... And if the Steward of Gondor, watching the stars and hearing all, thought too of their promise, or if he thought only of his wife, scythed too soon – this tale cannot tell.
Altariel, 3rd-5th November 2003