The Silver Swan
An hour and more had passed since the sun had set, and it was dark when the Prince of Dol Amroth at last went into his grounds. The day had been still and hot, and now the air held the promise of rain. He crossed the lawn and headed towards a little wall. There were some steps there leading down into a sunken garden, and it was there that he found whom he sought.
The boy was sitting on the ground, leaning back against the wall, his knees drawn up before him. Next to him was what seemed to be a small pile of pebbles. Every so often he would pick one up, throw it into the pond, and watch it land with a soft plash. Once the ripples had settled and the pond was calm once more, he would pick up another, and do the same again.
Adrahil cleared his throat. The boy stopped what he was doing and looked up.
‘Good evening,’ Adrahil said.
‘Good evening, sir,’ Faramir said, warily.
‘May I join you?’
‘Of course...’ The boy shifted along the wall so that there was space for them both. Adrahil came down to sit beside him, and they fell into silence. Faramir’s hand strayed briefly back to the pile of what his grandfather could now see were seashells, and then he stopped himself. ‘I suppose,’ he said at last, ‘we shall not be having our lesson tonight.’
‘Well,’ replied his grandfather, ‘do you think that you have earned it?’
The boy did not answer, but picked up a shell and sent it into the water. Another joined it soon afterwards.
His grandfather sat and watched. ‘The fish in that pond,’ he finally said, as a third shell arced its way towards its fate, ‘Do not come from the sea. If you fill their home with shells, they will think that they are lost. I shall be prince of a pond of puzzled fish.’
The ghost of a smile passed across the boy’s face. He contemplated the shell in his hand and, as he moved to set it back on the pile, his grandfather reached out and took it from him.
‘Why not tell me,’ Adrahil said quietly, shifting the shell from palm to palm, ‘What happened today?’
The boy sighed deeply and his shoulders slumped. When he spoke, his voice had the weary tone of one who has told his tale again and again, and does not expect it to be received any better on this occasion.
‘We went down to the shore to spend the afternoon collecting seashells. After a while, Boromir said we should have a competition, and see who could find the most before we had to come back for supper. He went off in the direction of the harbour, but I stayed near Mayneth because she had told us not to stray away from her sight. When she woke up again—’ his point, Faramir would have pleased to know, was not lost on his grandfather, ‘—she called us back, but Boromir was nowhere to be found.’
Adrahil sat for a little while, considering his answer. When he did speak again, his voice was gentle, but firm. ‘If your brother,’ he said, ‘made you promise not to say where he was going, then it is very loyal of you to keep your word, Faramir, and loyalty is an admirable trait. But he has been missing for a while now – has even missed his supper! – and even though he is a big lad, we are worried on his account. No-one will think less of you if you break a promise to him and tell me where he went.’
The boy reached for another shell and threw it into the water. ‘Everyone always thinks I only do what he says!’ he protested. ‘But I cannot say where he went because he did not tell me!’ His voice, which had been steadily rising, rang out now across the night.
He dropped his head and stared down intently at the ground. The evening became still once more. When he spoke again, it was in a voice so soft his grandfather had to strain to hear him.
‘Mother would have believed me,’ he said.
Adrahil looked up at the dark sky, at the clouds scudding in from the west, and then threw the shell he was holding into the pond.
‘Well,’ he said, standing up with a sigh, ‘Wherever your bold brother has decided to take himself, I have no doubt he will turn up soon enough. And since there are more than enough people out hunting for him, and little that an old man like me and a young man like you can do to help, I suppose we may as well continue with our lesson.’
He held out his hand. Faramir looked at it for a moment in surprise, and then stood up, reached out, and took it.
‘Tonight,’ said the prince, as they made their way up the steps and back onto the lawn, rubbing at the boy’s cold hand, ‘I think you should learn to find Alquatelpë. Do you know what that means, Faramir?’
‘Alqua is swan,’ Faramir answered, after a moment’s thought, ‘but I do not know the other word.’
‘Telpë means silver,’ Adrahil told him. ‘Alquatelpë is the Silver Swan that glides through the heavens. It is very easy to find in the summer.’
They had reached a little bench on the path beside the lawn. Adrahil lifted the boy up so that he stood upon it, and then pointed upwards to the night sky, embroidered with silver stars. ‘Do you see that triangle of stars, amongst the brightest in the heavens?’ He traced their shape.
The boy followed the movement. ‘I see them.’
‘Look to the one upon the left – and fear not! We shall learn about those others another night! For I am sure that you wish to hear about both the Ship and the Eagle!’
Faramir gave a small smile. ‘I would like that.’
‘We still have plenty of time. But for tonight – the Swan. That bright star is the swan’s tail. Now,’ Adrahil said, ‘look back towards the uppermost star of the triangle – beneath it is another star, not so bright. Do you see?’ The boy nodded. ‘That is the swan’s beak. Now, look between the beak and the tail. Can you pick out the long neck? And the wings?’
Again, he drew the picture with his hand, and watched his grandson stare hard at the sky, eyes screwed up in concentration. And then a real smile unfolded across the boy’s face. ‘I can see it!’ he said, pointing at the sky. ‘The wings stretch out above and below!’
‘Well done. Now you can see Alquatelpë, the Silver Swan. We in Dol Amroth hold it very dear – I imagine you would like to hear why?’
‘Of course!’ Faramir turned eagerly away from the sky and to his grandfather.
‘Very well,’ he said with a smile. ‘I shall tell you the tale. Once, long ago, there was an Elf-lord who ruled a mighty realm in the woods far, far north of Gondor. But a great evil came upon his kingdom, and so he journeyed down the river here to the Sea, to pass into the West. And he built a ship here in Belfalas, in the shape of a great swan, all white and silver, to take him there. But he did not leave when his ship was ready – instead he waited for a while.’
‘What was he waiting for?’
‘Not what, who. He was waiting for someone that he loved – an Elven-maid called Nimrodel. But she had been lost in her journey to the Sea, lost in the White Mountains near your home, and she never came to Belfalas.’
‘What did the king do? Did he keep on waiting? How long did he wait for her?’
‘He waited a very long time – and then one night, a great storm came up, and his
swan-ship broke its moorings, and drifted away from the shore. When the dawn came, and the king saw that he was being taken away from Nimrodel, he dived into the water, to come back to the shore, to search for her. On the boat, they saw him swimming away, as strong and as fair as a swan – but he was never seen again. That king’s name was Amroth. And we remember him here, in Belfalas, where he built his great swan-ship.’
‘Did they ever find each other?’
‘Nobody knows. Maybe they did. Maybe Amroth found Nimrodel in the mountains, and then brought her to the Sea at last, and they passed together into the West. Or maybe they are searching for each other still. I do not know.’ The prince of Dol Amroth looked up at the stars. ‘But up there in the sky they have found each other, have they not? The two wings of the Swan, beating together.’ Very gently, he turned the boy around to face him. ‘This is another reason why we look at the stars, Faramir,’ he said, brushing at the boy’s hair. ‘Because they have tales to tell us, about those who have loved and have lost. And as we tell them, those tales are a comfort to us who have also loved and lost.’
‘But it is so unfair,’ said the boy. ‘If they wanted to be together, why should they be kept apart? Why can she not be here—?’ He stopped himself.
His grandfather did not answer straightaway. ‘Maybe—’ he said, at last, ‘maybe if your mother had stayed by the sea, she would indeed be here with me yet. Or maybe she would still have gone on ahead – I cannot say! But what I can say is that had she never chosen to go to your great city, then you would not be here tonight to stand with me and look at the stars.’ Adrahil smoothed away some more of the tangles in the boy’s hair. ‘And I would not change that for all the world, Faramir!’
‘Father told us...’ Faramir’s voice had gone very low. ‘Father said... that death is the Gift of Men, but...’ he dropped his head. ‘I do not think he believes it.’
Adrahil, who did not doubt that for a moment, raised the boy’s chin so that they were looking at each other again, and then placed his hand over the child’s heart. ‘What matters,’ he said gently, ‘Is what you believe.’
The wind was picking up. Adrahil watched it lift his grandson’s hair and thought, as he often did, of a little girl with dark hair to whom he had once told the tale of Amroth and Nimrodel, here in this garden, on a summer night long since gone.
‘Alquatelpë has one more tale to tell us, Faramir,’ Adrahil said at length. ‘Look back at the swan’s tail, the star that I pointed out first. It has a name here in Dol Amroth – we call her Mithrellas. Do you know why?’
Faramir shook his head. His grandfather pulled a face and was pleased to see the boy smile back. ‘What do they teach you in that great stone city of yours?’ he said. ‘I am sure that if I asked, you would know all the names of all the stewards – and so you should! But it is fitting, I think, for you to know something of all your forebears.’
They looked up again at the bright star shining above them.
‘Mithrellas,’ he explained, ‘was an Elf-maid, a companion of Nimrodel. She herself became lost, in the woods of Belfalas, and was found by a Man, Imrazôr, a lord whose forefathers had come from Númenor. Imrazôr and Mithrellas were wedded, but after a little while, having borne a son and a daughter, Mithrellas vanished. Where to, none can say. Maybe she wanders the woods of Belfalas still. Or maybe she sought the havens, and looks back upon us here now. For the son of Mithrellas and Imrazôr was Galador, and he was the first Prince of Dol Amroth. And I am the twenty-first prince – and you are my grandson.’
Adrahil set his hands upon the boy’s shoulders. ‘The stars shine above and tell their tales to all who can see them, Faramir. But for some – for us – those tales are closer, because we are the ones who carry them on. And because we have that gift – that honour – we also have great responsibility.’
The boy looked back at him with eyes as grey as flint. ‘I know that,’ he said. Then he leaned his head against his grandfather’s chest. A spot of rain fell on his cheek, and then another, and another. Adrahil brushed them away, and lifted his grandson up into his arms.
‘Where do you think Boromir is?’ Faramir asked, putting his arms around him. ‘Will he come back safe?’
It was too much, Adrahil thought, to hope that somewhere the Steward’s heir was receiving the fright of his life. The world seemed ever to smile upon the elder son.
The rain was falling more heavily now. Adrahil wrapped the folds of his cloak around them both and made a dash for the house. ‘Wherever he’s got to,’ he replied, as a clap of thunder rang out nearby, ‘he’s going to get a soaking.’