I left behind me a warm sun and strange stars, and reached Minas Tirith on a cold morning at the turn of the year. There I found the grey of winter hanging heavy over the City, and also over its lord. For since last I had passed this way he had lost what he held most dear, his wife.
Of his wits, however, he was still very much in possession, and he did not allow me access to his books without many questions as to my purpose. There was little I could give to him in answer, for I knew not what I sought, only that there was much to be gleaned from what was kept hidden in his library, could I but spend a little while there. At length, and with ill grace, he consented, and the keys were delivered to me. I wandered deep into the vaults, and there buried myself in the dark with his books and my cares, and sought questions. The day passed me by without anything to spark my thoughts. Until:
'I cannot think that that is safe.'
I squinted up from the scrolls and the dust and found myself looking into a scowl. Dark hair framing a pale face and grey eyes glaring at me - there was no mistaking this boy's lineage, particularly given the frown. From his age - seven? eight? - I would guess this was the younger son.
I blinked at him. 'And what, may I ask, is it in particular that troubles you?'
'Surely amidst all these books that should be covered over.' He looked pointedly at the light issuing from the top of my staff.
'It is quite safe, I assure you,' I replied. 'Watch.'
The light flared up suddenly, and then a hundred, a thousand sparks leapt free and danced around, darting off the books and the scrolls quite safely, and lighting up the little room. I watched the child struggle to keep his self-possession, but it was not long before his face too came alight at the display.
'Who are you, sir?' he said, as it faded away, and I thought I caught a hint of awe.
'Many are my names in many countries,' I replied softly, and I held his grey eyes fast with my own. 'Mithrandir among the Elves, Tharkûn to the Dwarves; Olórin I was in my youth in the West that is forgotten, in the South Incánus, in the North Gandalf; to the East I go not.'
And the words, it seemed, had worked much more of a spell than my little trick with the fire. He was captivated. 'And you,' I finished, with a smile, 'are the Lord Faramir. Will you join me for a while, my lord?' I gestured at the stool beside my chair. His eyes did not leave my face as he seated himself, setting the book that he was holding down upon his knees.
'Few these days take the time to delve into the records,' I said. 'What brings you here?'
'I like it here,' he said frankly. 'I like to read.'
'Such is only right from a lord among men,' I said quietly. 'For not all can be kept safe with the sword.' From his face it seemed he had been longing to hear that said - but then he frowned at me again.
'If I were to tell you something,' he said, anxiously, I thought, 'would you keep it secret?'
'I have guarded much over the years. Whatever you tell me will be kept safe.'
He looked at me sharply, to see if I was mocking him - but I was not, and so he was satisfied. He sighed deeply. There is naught harder to bear than the burdens of a child.
'I was looking for a book,' he said, 'And reading this,' he nodded down at the book in his lap, 'And I must have taken a wrong turning, for now I cannot find my way out again.' He looked at me unhappily.
'A serious matter,' I agreed. 'And it weighs so heavily upon you that I fear you must have missed an important appointment, my lord.'
He gave me his father's stare, but when I twitched my eyebrows at him, it turned quite suddenly into his mother's smile. 'Naught of great consequence,' he admitted, and then he laughed.
'If that is so,' I replied, 'then might I suggest this. I am an old man, and even only a day spent bent over books leaves me weary. But I must return all these,' I gestured at the table before me, 'to their proper places. Now, if you would aid me in this, not only would you be helping me greatly, but I should be free more swiftly to show you the way out. And a further benefit of such a plan,' I concluded, 'Is that should you be asked how you have spent this afternoon, you may in truth say that you were busy helping me with my studies.'
The boy frowned. 'Would that not be a falsehood?'
'No,' I said slowly, thinking how best to frame my answer, 'it would be more as if you were telling a story in part rather than in full. Some things are better guarded than revealed.'
He considered this for a moment, narrowing his eyes at me. 'I believe,' he said at last, 'that that is an excellent plan.' And so together we wandered up through the little rooms, talking of his book, and replacing all that I had read, and at length we came out of the library together.
'Wait a moment,' I said, as we came to the bottom of the steps, and the boy halted and looked up at me. I reached deep into a pocket, and pulled out a red gemstone. In the west, the sun was setting, and the jewel flamed for a brief second. I knelt down and looked straight into the boy's grave eyes.
'This ruby was given me by a king of dwarves, to thank me for aid I was once able to bring him.' The child's eyes sparked with a thousand questions, but I raised a finger to quell them. 'And indeed there is a tale there to be told, but I shall save that for another occasion, for now I am haste. But,' I said, as his face and his shoulders dropped, 'I shall leave this in your keeping, so that you may remember the day that you saw fireworks in the library. And when next I pass this way, you may show it to me, and I shall remember to tell you the story of the dwarves and the dragon... and the burglar.'
I held out my hand with the gem upon it, and he looked at it longingly. 'Does that seem a fair exchange?' I said.
'Most fair,' he replied, and reached out to take the treasure, tentatively, as if he thought it might somehow disappear before he had his chance to claim it.
'Then guard it well,' I said softly, and rose to my feet with a sigh. I looked down at the top of the dark head which was bowed over its new possession. Then the boy's hand closed around the ruby, and he slipped it into his pocket, glancing up at me to smile and nod. He set his hand in mine, and we walked together across the citadel. As we passed the withered tree, we were hailed, and I was able to surrender back to the steward both his keys and his child.
'I see,' he said, without preamble, 'that you have wasted no time in befriending my son.' He set his hand firmly upon the boy's shoulder and looked at me. I held his gaze, and easily, but as I did so I saw from the corner of my eye that the child - looking up at us - had begun to shift uneasily.
'It was an honour to meet him,' I said softly. 'He has the makings of a fine scholar, being scrupulous over detail and able to hold many ideas in his mind at once. And he is stalwart in defence of his city's records.' I winked down at the boy, who swiftly hid an answering smile.
'The Lord Mithrandir is a loremaster of great renown,' the steward informed his son - a little frostily, I thought. 'I hope that you have gained something from an afternoon spent with him.'
I watched as the boy's hand drifted towards his pocket, and then it halted, and instead he looked up hesitantly at his father. 'I lost my way in the vaults,' he admitted, 'And the Lord Mithrandir was kind enough to guide me out.'
His father frowned, and a slow flush crept up the boy's face. And then, as quick as a flash, the steward's mood altered, and he began to laugh, and some of the grey about him seemed to lift.
'You lost your way? I have never heard tell of a child that was so easily diverted! Whatever am I to do with you, Faramir?' And then he pulled his son closer to him, and I saw the boy pleased to see that he had made his father smile.
I made my excuses and left them, with a solemn farewell to both boy and man. I looked back over my shoulder but once, to see son and father departing hand in hand across the citadel, and I pitied them both the burdens that lay upon them now and that would only become greater in the times that were yet to come. But I believed I had gained myself an ally that day.