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1
Late Fragment

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.


~~~

Minas Tirith, March F.A. 72

That year, winter came early to the Ered Nimrais; came early and stayed late, taking many with it. Hard, my visitors told me; hard and bitter, but with days that were blue and white and beautiful. Snow had even dusted the High City, so they told me – but I, in my bed, saw none of it. I had missed all of the winter, and I swore when I woke that morning that I would not miss the spring.

Morwen did not care for my new-found determination, and sought to keep me safe within the house.

“You are not yet fully well,” she told me.

“I am well enough.”

“The morning may look warm, but the wind can still bite.”

“I can brave it,” I replied and, as she opened her mouth to gainsay me, declared, “Help or hinder me, Morwen – but I shall go out into the garden today.”

She said naught in reply, but took my hands within her own, and stroked them, and sighed. Tall Morwen, fierce and capable; black braids bound back, white against her temples; my little girl.

“Little bird,” I said softly. “There is naught to fear.”

She turned her head away from me, quickly, a little brightness just catching on her dark lashes and our fingers intertwining. When she raised her eyes to me again, she was smiling.

“Well,” she said, pressing her lips together, “Since I know you are stubborn as stone – and far more so than I – it seems I have no choice but to help you.”

And so, her arm upon mine, I made the journey down from my chambers. At the turning of the stair, I stopped, and stood, and caught my breath – and Morwen did not say a word, but waited till I had strength enough to carry on. On the terrace, she smiled with me at the sight of the green garden, and then I let her do with me as she willed – wrap me in blankets lined with fur, sit me in a chair with a bell at my hand and a book on my lap, and the sun and the breeze upon my face again.

“Ring,” she commanded me, “should you want for anything. And most certainly ring if you begin to feel the cold.”

I nodded.

“Promise me, father.”

“I promise, blackbird.”

She bent and swiftly kissed my cheek, and then I heard her quick steps going back towards the house, halting for a moment on the terrace before she went inside. I picked up my book, but did not begin to read; instead, I looked all around me. White clouds shifted across the cool blue of the sky, and the birds were chorusing the morning. At the far end of the garden were two old willow trees, bright splashes of colour from the first spring flowers thick at their roots. Our three had played there, as children, as had their children; and I had too, with my brother. I could see it now – he already within the shelter of those low-hanging boughs, waving to me as I ran from the house, to come, to hurry.

“Soon enough, brother,” I told him, tenderly. “Soon enough.”

I opened the book that lay within my hands, parchment thin and yellowed from use and age. I turned the page and read:

Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness


My vision clouded, but I went on a little further.

The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end


I set the book back upon my lap, face down. The spine bent and cracked, and Nimrien gently chastened me. “I’m sorry, aunt,” I murmured, closing my eyes. “I’ll set it right – in a moment.”

The clouds spread more thickly across the sky, but a thin lance of light pierced them, shining and golden. It seemed to be pointing the way. I wondered where it would take me, and if I might follow... And then a shadow fell upon me.

I opened my eyes and looked up.

“Well,” I said. “You have certainly taken your time to come and visit. What kept you?”

“I had business in the north,” Hethlin said, bending to kiss my brow. I leaned towards her and brushed my lips against her cheek. She tasted of rain, and the outdoors.

She settled in the seat beside me. “I came as soon as I could,” she added.

I gave her a dry smile. “So many seem to have travelled far to see me these past few months.”

“You have given many of us a fright.”

“And yet – as you can see – the rumours of my passing are quite ill-founded.”

She did not answer, but frowned and leaned back in the chair, and looked at me hard. “Is there anything I can do for you?” she asked, at length.

If I had been given a coin each time I had heard that question in recent days, it would have made me a rich man. Richer. I gestured around me. “I have my garden—” Then I tapped my lap, “and I have my book. What more could there be to wish for?”

She reached out and took the book up from my lap. She glanced down the open page, and her face darkened, but she set it down upon the table, without remark. Then she studied me again, carefully.

“You are much better than I had feared from the letters I received.”

My eyes closed, briefly. “Indeed?”

I heard her shift in her seat. “I was afraid—” she said, and stopped.

I gave her a sharp look. “Afraid?”

She was leaning forwards now; ill at ease, perhaps. “Afraid you might give up. Go on.”

“Ah.”

“Before I had the chance to see you.”

I reached out my hand, stroked my fingertips along her wrist, brought my hand to rest upon hers, clutching white-knuckled the arm of the chair. We did not speak, and the birds sang on.

“I have been dreaming again,” I said, at length. “Of the sea, and of my grandfather.” I contemplated the willows, slender branches trailing. “I seem to dream a great deal more these days. As if the world grows thinner. I dreamt very little, when...” Her fingers twitched beneath mine. “When Éowyn was alive,” I finished, and then looked straight at her.

She was shaking her head, very slightly. “It is seven years now, Faramir—”

“And yet she is near me all the time, Hethlin,” I said. “Near me, but not with me. I feel her brush her hand upon my arm, but when I turn, she is no longer there. She has stepped away, just out of reach, gone around the turn in the stair. And I wonder – if I followed, would I find her? Would I be with her again?”

“It passes, Faramir—”

“And when, I wonder, did you stop longing for your love to be near you?”

“Never,” she admitted, “I never shall. But it does ease... or we live with it a little better.”

“I am sorry, Heth,” I said. “Sorry for you. But, for myself, I do not care to live with it.”

Her eyes went darker, and sadder. “I know,” she said, and took my hand up within hers. We looked at each other, and I saw tears starting.

“Hush, now,” I murmured, rubbing my thumb along her palm. “No need for that.”

She pressed my hand hard. “Stay a while,” she said. “Stay a little longer.”

I looked away, across the garden. The willow branches shifted in the breeze, beckoning. A bird took sudden flight, up into the blue of the sky.

“There is something you might do for me,” I said at last, and turned to face her once again.

“What would you have me do?” She was stroking my hand very gently now. I stared hard at her, taking her measure – almost her Captain again. She raised her chin and stared back. Yes, I thought, she would meet the challenge. I leaned forwards a little in my seat.

“Take me out to the Court,” I said.

Her eyes widened in dismay. “Faramir—”

“Hethlin, please.” Let loose, the words began to tumble forth from me. “It is so long since I have seen it; so long since I have walked there—”

“Morwen would be angry—!”

I began to laugh. “Surely you do not fear Morwen!”

“Surely you do not fear her!”

“No – but I am not strong enough to withstand her.”

Hethlin bit her lip, and the pity in her eyes was almost unforgivable. “It’s as you say,” she replied, gently. “You are not strong enough.”

“Oh, Heth,” I said. “I never thought to hear that from you.” I released her hand and fell back into the chair. She did not move to touch me. The breeze picked up. I felt a little chill. And then I began to speak.

“Once upon a time,” I told her, “there was a girl who wanted to fight with the men – and with good reason. Now the captain of those men did not want her to fight. He thought that she had seen enough, or that it was not her place; that she should be kept safe, like a bird in a cage. But she was very strong, and spoke her mind, and she persuaded him that she could fight – and so he let her, and he found out that she had been right.”

Beside me, her chair creaked, uneasily.

“And then,” I went on, “late in life, when he was very old, he asked her a favour in return. He asked for her help to do something he wanted. Now, how do you think she answered him, Heth?”

I looked across at her again. She had pursed her lips, to hide her smile, perhaps – or her annoyance – and one eyebrow was raised.

In return, I smiled at her, fully. She had ever weakened at my smile.

Whereupon she cursed me, thoroughly, under her breath – but stood up and leaned over, offering me her arm. “I know I shall regret this,” she muttered, as she helped me stand.

In the house, Morwen hastened to stop our escape. “Whose idea was this?” she said. I stood by meekly, and left her to Heth.

“Mine,” Heth lied, firmly; and then, before my daughter could say another word, added, “It will do him the world of good. We shall not go far, Morwen. And we shall only be a little while.”

Morwen eyed us mistrustfully, and then she stepped aside. The Prince of Ithilien alone she might have withstood – but not with an ally such as this at his side. Strategy had always been a strength of mine.

“Be careful,” Morwen called after us, as we walked along the hallway. I glanced back quickly over my shoulder and smiled at her – and then we reached the door. I began to tremble a little. Hethlin looked at me, anxiously.

“Go on,” I urged her.

A few more moments, a few more steps – and there we were, in the High City, and it was spring. We walked on a little way and, with each step, I felt the sun warming me, and my strength gaining. When we reached the Fountain, we stopped and stood by, and listened to the silver of the water. Hethlin’s arm was strong and warm around my own. The guards nearby saluted me, and I bowed my head in answer, and then looked upon the Tree.

“Ah,” I said, and smiled at it. I had seen it withered, and I had seen it renewed; I had seen it take root and grow and blossom. It was so fair in spring. I thought I would like to see it so again.

The clouds parted, and the sun lit up the white stone of the Tower. The sky was clear.

Beside me, Hethlin shifted her clasp upon my arm. “And is there anything else I can do for you?” she said.

“You can be quiet,” I answered – and turned, and took her in my arms, and kissed her.

~~~

A/N: Elladan, speaking about Faramir, tells Hethlin that: “...there will come a time when he will turn to you for something only you can give him.” This is one possible answer. Title (and poem) by Raymond Carver; quotations in the text from Ash Wednesday by TS Eliot.

Altariel, March 17th-20th 2004


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