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Wizards' Pupils
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Wizards' Pupils

Ithilien, F.A. 45

The summer I turned fifteen, I returned to my home in Emyn Arnen after a year spent in Edoras, at the court of my mother’s brother. It had been a fine year for a young man such as I was, and during it I had grown in strength and body and skill. But as my time there drew to its end, I became eager to return to the green hills and swift streams of Ithilien. As we journeyed south, I became more and strangely homesick. I began to long for a sight of my little brother, calm and thoughtful, and my sister, quick and eloquent. Although I would have rather died before saying so (what fools such young men can be!), I also longed to see my mother, who would be unable to cover her joy at my return and who would feed me until I was fit to burst. And, of course, I greatly wished once again to see my father, and to hear him speak. Whenever my father speaks, it seems as if no trouble in the world is insurmountable, no trial without some aspect of dry humour. Father unknots things; that is the best way I can think of putting it.

Not that I had any particular cares at this moment in my life, for how easy it was to settle again at home! To wander around the house and explore the gardens; to love anew what had not changed and delight in all that was different. That summer has a special place in my memory, warm and blessed, the last beat between childhood and manhood. At the end of it, my aunt and uncle and cousins left for home, and I began to carry out in earnest my part as the heir to the Princedom and the Stewardship.

Life became full and busy. I had my studies, and each day would bring something new to learn or contemplate. I welcomed it all, with the energy and the commitment of a dutiful young man keen to enter into the adult world and prove himself capable of all that was expected of him. There was my training-at-arms too, with the White Company – and also, around this time, my father had picked up a blade again. We sparred together each day and, while he would never be the swordsman he had once been, he improved throughout the autumn, and during the winter he began on occasion to win against me. Mother, however, took longer to beat.

But it was not those times with my father that I valued most. Now I had returned, I was with him as he carried out his duties and, when the Council met, I would go with him to Minas Tirith, where I might watch and learn from all the lords and elders of the city. At first it was more than daunting; but how proud I was, to be at my father’s side, considered worthy of that position – and even asked my opinion, more and more. Soon all those fears of doing badly, which had so troubled me before my time in Rohan, began to depart entirely. My father and I were, at this time, starting down the road which would lead to us in time becoming the confidants and friends we both wished to be, and I was ever eager to please this man that I so greatly loved and admired.

A little after mettarë of that year, a matter did start to trouble me, and on one of our journeys to the city I naturally turned to my father for his opinion and advice. Since coming home from Edoras, I had been studying the history of Gondor with a new tutor, Hador, who had come from Lamedon with excellent recommendations and a reputation for brilliance. But often, during our sessions together, I would find myself at odds with something he said, and yet unable to explain what was making me uneasy. At first, I put it down to the fact that I was a young man with much yet to learn, and I applied myself harder to my studies. It was surely right, I thought, for my mind to be stretched. Not everything should come easily.

It all came to a head when we turned to consider the causes of the Last War. Hador put it to me that the main purpose of waging this war had not been so much to stand against the tyranny of the Enemy, but to weaken fatally our neighbours in the south, and establish Gondor as the greater power, both politically and in trade. Those oft-told heroic tales with which we were most familiar, he said, obscured the more significant point that Gondor now enjoyed great power over her former enemies, and that this might very easily be ill used to our advantage. Hador himself was plainly much taken with this notion; his eyes shone as he expounded his argument, and I was unable to counter either its force or the evidence he brought to support it. But it did not sit easily with me, whose own mother and father had played such a part in those oft-told tales.

On the road to the city, I told my father all about this. As he listened, a frown emerged upon his face, but I spoke on untroubled – I had long since learned to read that particular expression not as disapproval, but that he was giving an issue his full consideration. When I finished, we rode on in silence for some time and then, at last, my father said, “Quite a young man, Hador, is he not?”

Of course, at the age I was then, Hador seemed old to me, being somewhere in his twenties at that time. Father gave a dry smile. “I mean, that while he might have some memory of the war, he would not have been old enough to fight in it.”

I confirmed that was indeed the case.

My father thought for while before answering. “In truth,” he said, “I believe there is something to his argument. For surely the manner in which we conduct ourselves towards our former enemies – our neighbours, now – in these next few years will be of consequence for a generation hence, and more. Do we punish them for their former treacheries, as some on the Council would, or do we aid them as we can in these days of disorder and scarcity that so trouble them?” He paused, and when he spoke again, his voice had become very soft. I knew by now to listen hardest when this was so. “To treat one’s friends and allies well – that is, I think, the easier part. But how one treats one’s enemies? Aye, therein lies the truer test.”

Then he came out of his reverie. “For what it is worth, Elboron, I at least did not choose to stand and fall before the gates of the White City to secure better prospects for the guilds and the merchants of Gondor.” A smile touched the edges of his mouth. “I admit I cannot speak for every man there.”

Our day in the city was busy, but that evening after dinner we retired to my father’s library. We sat by the hearth with glasses of brandy, and I watched my grave and gifted father contemplate the fire. I prepared myself to listen, for there was plainly some tale he wished to tell me when he was ready. He often teaches in this way.

And, at last, he began to speak. As I have said already, he has a quiet voice, and yet one is compelled to listen. What he says is invariably shrewd, and is always kind.

“When I was about your age, Elboron,” my father said to me, “I also spent a year away from the city, in Dol Amroth, at my grandfather’s court. It was a very happy time for me. Upon my return to Minas Tirith, I found myself in much the position that you are now – still learning, but required also to enter for the first time the world of older, more experienced men. The world which my father inhabited; which my father, indeed, controlled.

“For this reason, and others, I was very eager to learn all I could from my father at this time. He was, however, not as easy as I would have liked to coax into teaching me. Before I had left for Dol Amroth, we had been in the custom of spending our evenings together, playing chess or in discussion. But on my return, I found that while I had been away, my father had fallen into the habit of spending long hours in the Tower, well into the night. I know now of course what it was that drew him there; back then, I was chiefly disappointed how little time this left him for me. In truth, I had plenty to fill my days. I was due to leave for Ithilien once I turned sixteen; I spent my mornings in training, my afternoons with tutors, my evenings with my studies.

“One night, however, as I was sitting down for dinner with my book, my father put in an unexpected appearance at the table. A surprise in and of itself; what was even more startling was his excitement. As we ate, he told me that he had learned that day that a great loremaster would soon be arriving in the city, a scholar and counsellor my father deemed unequalled in the West, and from whom he had learned as a young man of about my age. As he spoke, my own excitement grew, mirroring my father’s, for it was his wish that I too should spend some time in the company of this master. Father and a small group of other lords would be gathering to hear him speak, and was given permission to join them – indeed, Father required it of me.

“Well, Elboron, you may imagine that I was beside myself with joy. I knew all these men; they were themselves renowned scholars, whom I greatly admired. I knew of their gatherings too, which my father had attended regularly from long before my birth. To be judged worthy of admission into such company was a matter of immense pride. But to be judged worthy by my father... I need not tell you how this was a cause for quiet jubilation. I was beyond proud and glad to be thought able enough to take part, when I was not yet sixteen years of age.

“The afternoon that this loremaster was due to arrive in the city, I was of no use in my lessons. At last my tutor relented, and dismissed me, and I rushed down from the High City to see what I could of Curunír’s arrival. I had reached the fourth level when his cortege passed me by. As the son of the Steward, I was hardly unused to displays of wealth, but even I was impressed at its magnificence, which seemed almost worthy of a king. Curunír travelled with a great many men, a great many servants, and in a great deal of comfort. I stood at the roadside amongst those of the city folk who had gathered to see this spectacle, some applauding, all gossiping. And then, looking past the procession to the other side of the road, I glimpsed a figure standing over the way – an old man, in grey, with a battered hat, bent over a wooden staff, watching all this pageantry with a smile upon face. Yes, Elboron, it was Mithrandir. My heart leapt for joy at the sight of him. I waved to him, but he was not looking in my direction, so I began to weave my way through the crowd to greet him. But when at last I was able to cross the road, he was no longer to be found. I could only hope that, whatever errand had brought him to the city, he might find a moment or two for me before he left.

“The next afternoon, I joined my father and his friends as they met with Curunír – met in this very library, in fact, over by the long windows that look south. I was there early, and sat at the edge. Some of my father’s friends, as they arrived, looked beyond me; others gave me at least a nod in greeting. None spoke to me directly. I did not care. I would have been happy to serve them their wine and wash all the glasses afterwards if it had meant I could attend.

“At last, my father arrived, and accompanying him was Curunír. If I were forced to choose one word to describe him, Elboron, I would say ‘beautiful’. His hands, I remember distinctly, were white and finely boned, the nails finely shaped; his clothes were rich, although I remember mainly their impression upon me rather than, for example, a detail as simple as their colour. Curunír sat enthroned in the largest chair, my father at his right hand, and the light that came through the window beside him seemed in some way also to venerate him; it lessened around him, as if it too desired to do him homage.

“And then he began to speak.

“It is hard, now, to remember much of what Curunír said that day. What I recall best is the sound of his voice, sweet as something honeyed. And even this is difficult to describe; I have tried many times to write it down, and in the end one falls back on commonplace. I would say that listening to him, one became an instrument – a harp perhaps – and as one heard more, one felt the strings being plucked, and an ever-increasing resonance building up within.

“And then, Elboron, something odd happened. I have said already how we were sitting by the long windows there. This was a hot day in summer, and one of the windows was open at the very top. All of a sudden, a bird flew in and, for a moment, it became caught up in the curtains. Curunír ceased speaking, and we all turned to look. I remember distinctly the sound its wings made as they thrashed against the curtains. I cannot bear to see a bird trapped in such a fashion; it is as if one can feel its terror, hear the rapid beating of its small heart. I was ready to rise from my seat to help it get free, even if this would attract undue attention towards me, but then the bird freed itself, and flew away, out and upwards. The others turned back to Curunír, and he began to speak again.

“But I kept looking towards the window. My own pulse was racing, and I found myself thinking how fortunate it was that the window had been open, for the bird had been flying at such speed that had it struck glass it would most certainly have been killed. After a moment or two, I remembered myself, and I hastily turned back to the room and to Curunír. My father, I saw, had not missed this brief lapse in my concentration, and he was frowning at me. I set my eyes firmly on Curunír and, at length, my father’s gaze mercifully seemed no longer to be directed towards me.

“But as I listened, it seemed now that something about this master’s voice did not chime so well with me, as if the harp I had heard before was somehow now mistuned. As I listened to his words, I began to feel increasingly uneasy.

“He was saying – I shall never forget this – that men are bound to change in time of war, and yet we should not fear this, for in such change lies their certain victory. A man who desires victory over his enemy, he said, must be prepared to enter into his enemy’s mind. In so doing, he might learn to think like him, and thus in time be able to anticipate him. And he said, too, how there was much a man could learn from his enemy when it came to the art of securing lasting victory.

“It was then that I dared to glance once again towards my father. And what I saw, Elboron...” My father then gave a deep sigh that seemed to come from the very heart of his being. “Even now, in this peace that we enjoy, I can feel my fear rise up again. What I saw was how my father was swallowing every honeyed word this man fed to him and, as I watched him listen to that voice, my fear grew ever greater, and with it rose up a vast wave of revulsion.

“At length the lesson ended. It was by that time early evening. Curunír and my father rose from their chairs, and my father gestured to me that I should join them. The introductions over, and my youthful status established, my father set his hand upon my arm – to encourage me, I think – and asked me if I had any question I wished to put to Curunír. Indeed I had many, but none that I greatly desired to ask this man, and as I stood there, tongue-tied, I could see a frown gathering on my father’s brow, that his son was appearing a witless idiot. So I summoned up my courage, and, ‘Sir,’ I said, ‘is there not great danger in learning from the mind of the Enemy? For surely, in copying His arts, one runs the risk of becoming like Him?’

“My father’s grip upon me tightened, painfully. He opened his mouth to remonstrate me, but Curunír lifted one of those long, pale hands and my father did not speak. Curunír contemplated me for a moment, and then, very quietly, he began to laugh. Not in mockery – which perhaps might have been easier to bear – but as if he were taking the trouble to show me kindness. ‘A young man, I see,’ he said to my father, ‘and asking a young man’s question.’ Then he addressed me directly. ‘Experience, Lord Faramir; that is what you lack. But do not fear – in time, you will learn to judge which tools you are able to master and which you must set aside.’ My father laughed, less kindly, and then they began to address one another directly. It was clear I had no part to play now in their discussion, so I stood there, awkwardly, and flushing scarlet. After a few minutes, my father, remembering I was present, waved his hand to give me leave to go.

“I fled as quickly as I dared. I went back to my rooms, where I splashed cold water on my face. My mind was racing as my pulse had raced earlier, and I found myself desperately wishing that my brother was at home or my uncle was in town, to hear my tale, and to advise me. For the look of enchantment – nay, let me say it plainly, now that I can – of enthrallment that I had seen upon my father’s face had filled me with terror.

“I had to get away from the house. I slipped out and down onto the sixth level, where there were side streets in which I could hide myself. I wandered around for some time, heading ever further down the levels of the city, keeping ever to the quieter streets and away from the main road. My heart was still pounding and my mouth was dry. As I walked, I began to understand more clearly my distress. Curunír had frightened me, yes – but, far worse, my father had frightened me. What might he do, hearing counsel such as this? What might he do to Gondor? Or to himself? Such was my fear, but no answers were forthcoming from myself, and such confidants as I had were very far from the city.

“I had reached the fourth level by now, and was walking past a lively tavern. Looking within, at all the people there laughing and drinking and making merry, I was filled with great envy. Their fellowship was easy and uncomplicated, and I was entirely barred from it. I peered further inside – and there, in one corner, I once again saw Mithrandir. He too was watching the company, smoking, and smiling.

“You might think this sight of him would have given me comfort. But of course it was no use. Having seen him, I greatly desired to speak to him – but how could I? I could not enter somewhere like that. I was fifteen years old – but, more, I would be known at once as the son of the Steward. My father would get to hear, and he would naturally be enraged. No, I dared not be seen inside such a place, not given my youth, not on this circle of the city, and perhaps not in the company of Mithrandir. I took one last longing look inside, and then I turned away and walked again aimlessly down the street. Coming at last to the city wall, I leaned against it with my head in my hands, and I thought bitterly how cruel it was that I could be a lord of this city and yet have nowhere in it to which I could go in need.

“That was when I smelt the pipe smoke. I started, and turned – and there was Mithrandir, at my side. His eyes, I remember, twinkled at me like stars in a pool. ‘How good it is to see you again, Lord Faramir!’ he said. ‘And even better to find you a man. Yet I am sad to find you also in distress...’

“Into that space, that invitation, the words came flooding out. Even as I spoke, it struck me that it was strange how instinctively I trusted this man, whom I had not seen since I was a small child. But nor did it escape me that however deep this trust, however fundamental, the account I was giving him was a partial one. Already, I can see now, I had learned circumspection. I made no mention of Curunír, and nor did I tell my friend the chief cause of my distress – that day by day, I grew ever more fearful of and for my father.

“So what did I say to Mithrandir, that fair summer night high up on the walls of my beloved city? I asked him, of course, what I had already asked Curunír: Was it not true that a man who used the tools of the Enemy might become like the Enemy? Or was this only a foolish youth speaking, and not the wise man I wished to become?

“Mithrandir listened to me as I spoke, smoking all the while, and I do not doubt he knew all I left unsaid. When I was done, he gestured towards a low wall nearby. We went towards it, and he sighed in relief as he sat down. Only when we were settled did he give me his reply. ‘If what you say is indeed folly, Lord Faramir, it is certainly not the folly of youth. For my part, I too would say that the wisest of men, young or old, know there are some perils from which they should and must flee.’

“His pipe had gone out. He relit it, and we sat there for a while without speech. It was not needed. His words had already wrought some spell upon me, for my mind was calmer now, and clearer. I understood myself better, and I was beginning to understand where my nature might one day bring me. That one day I might come into collision with my father. I can hardly say that I was left easy that night – or indeed many nights after – but there was consolation, and even peace, in knowing that my judgement had not faltered. We sat together, Mithrandir and I, under the stars, and now I was able to look out across the city with love.

“When I glanced back at Mithrandir, I started to smile, and I addressed once again the man in grey who was keeping me company. ‘There is one last thing that troubles me, sir,’ I said, politely, whereupon he gave me a questioning look. ‘Forgive me – but might that be a piece of cheese in your beard?’

“He turned his sharp look down upon himself. ‘Well, bless me!’ he cried. ‘So it is!’ He shook it out onto the ground, and a small quick bird shot out from behind us to claim it as her prize. For courtesy’s sake, I struggled hard not to laugh, but since Mithrandir himself was making no particular effort on his own behalf, it was not long before I had to succumb.

“We parted not long after, in great friendship, and I did not see Mithrandir again that time. How I regretted that! – but, in truth, that single swift session had given me plenty. To have him, whom I loved greatly, agree with what I earnestly believed, and after it had been dismissed by others whom I admired and held in awe – that was a mighty gift. I pondered what he had said many times in the years and the trials that followed.

“Curunír, meanwhile, remained in the City for more than a week. But I did not, thankfully, have to suffer another meeting with him and my father. They spent much of their time secluded in my father’s rooms in the Tower, and I returned to my quiet suppers in the company of my books. About six weeks after Curunír departed, however, my father devised a new law for Ithilien, by which all found passing through that land without the leave of the Lord of Gondor were no longer to be shown mercy, but were to be questioned and then slain.

“I did not trouble myself overly about this at the time, foolish young man that I was, and even knowing I was bound for Ithilien in mere months. But in later years, I often had cause to curse this law, and curse that I had had no chance to argue against it. To hold men without trial, to kill them after only the sketchiest of hearings – such was my duty, and it was never rightly done. I regret every time I upheld that law; I do not regret the single time I broke it. Wiser men, young or old, should have fought it and killed it at birth. But none did.”

My father halted then, but I did not speak yet, for I was certain he still had more to say. He gazed for a while into the depths of the glass, and then he said, “There are many things I desire for you, Elboron, and this not least: that you never have such a war between duty and integrity forced upon you. And amongst the greatest gifts you can give me is your honest disagreement. Indeed, I would say that this lies at the very heart of our task as Steward. Sometimes our honest disagreement means the gleam of disapproval, sometimes it means a hard-fought argument, and sometimes it means the long game – but if we remain silent or inactive then we fail utterly in our duty. To the king, to Gondor as she is now, and to Númenor that was.”

He had finished speaking now, and I had much to think over. The fire had fallen low, and I watched him stoke it and considered all he had said. After a while at his task, my father said, in a thoughtful tone, “I shall dismiss Hador, I think. There are many lords anxious to have him for their sons, so it would do him no harm if we were to part company. Nor do I imagine I would have trouble finding you another tutor. Perhaps one less fashionable.”

I thought about this carefully for some time and, at length, I shook my head. “No, sir,” I replied, “for I believe I have a lot to learn from him. Not least, when and how to disagree. It would be no good only to hear said to me what I already think. If I am ever to trust my judgement, then perhaps it is best to hear what I do not think, so that I can see why I do not think it.”

My father looked up briefly to smile at me, giving once again those much desired and often granted gifts of love and of respect. “A wise choice, Elboron. And well put.”

So Hador did indeed remain my tutor, and he and I and all my friends enjoyed thoroughly the fierce and many arguments that followed – as my father had certainly intended. And there you have it, Barahir, a lesson – through me – from your grandsire. On the privilege and duty of the Stewards to disagree, and to know why we do so. But come now, surely I have lectured you enough for one day! Tell me how this latest history of yours progresses.


For Dwimordene, with whom I once discussed what the University of Minas Tirith might look like, and who reminded me of it during a major nuzgul-flinging session at the Chicago Summit!

Faramir certainly learns Gandalf’s lesson well: “I am wise enough to know that there are some perils from which a man must flee.” TTT, The Window on the West.

Saruman’s visit to Minas Tirith I have put during T.A. 2998. From the appendices: c. 3000 Saruman dares to use the palantír of Orthanc, but becomes ensnared by Sauron, who has the Ithil Stone. I’ve taken the liberty of that circa to imply in this story that he looked in there a couple of years sooner. The reader is free to imagine what any palantír encounter between him and Denethor might have been like...

Altariel, 2nd-5th September 2007


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