When the boy came past, the old man was wide awake. He had been so since the rain started tapping on the window. Lucidity had never left him – it never would – but these days he conserved it for what mattered. Today, this meant pleasure at a letter from a great-nephew in Rohan, irritation that he was kept from his garden, and contemplation of the chess game standing nearby. This last was taking up most of his thoughts. He was not winning.
Hearing someone approach, he looked up. “Beren,” he said, gladly. “Sit, if you’re not on your way elsewhere. Does the rain keep you indoors too?”
The boy, who was skinny and pensive and carrying a piece of paper, nodded. He sat down opposite, curling one foot beneath him and hooking the other around the leg of his chair. “How does your game go, sir?”
Faramir examined the board. “Badly,” he admitted, and the boy looked at him in surprise. “The Queen,” he explained, “has the advantage of experience.” He picked up one of the black pieces, smoothed from use and history. “Has your father taught you to play yet?”
“Not yet. This winter, he said.”
“A good pastime for winter evenings. Would you like to learn the pieces beforehand?”
The boy did not look much taken with the idea, but Barahir encouraged respect for the Prince and excellent manners. “If you’re willing, sir,” he said, politely.
Deftly, Faramir cleared the board. Arwen would forgive him, or could be persuaded to. As for Beren... Lining up his men, white beside black, Faramir eyed him carefully.
He could speak with ease and at length about the history of the whole game, the legends that surrounded its invention, the strategies that had endured the passing of time. He could tell the story of the particular set, where it had come from, how it had come to him, all the people he had beaten or forced to stalemate. History, strategy, victory... The boy’s morning was grey enough without adding a lesson. How to pass the time pleasantly, then, until the sun reappeared?
His hands paused over the pieces. A late gift, this child, coming at the end of years already filled with treasures; proof of life after life. Freed from the duty of teaching, Faramir had taken to observation. What Beren liked, his great-grandfather had noted, was to be given pictures. Strong images captured his mind and had to be set down. The way he himself was seized by words.
Faramir picked up two of the rukhs and thought about the conversation his son and grandson had conducted over breakfast. “The White Tower and the Black Tower,” he declared, at last – and his instinct proved true. The boy pulled his other leg beneath him, the better to come closer to the table. “Or rukhs,” Faramir added, unable to resist, “to give them their Haradric name.”
He put the two pieces down, one in front of the child, the other closer to himself. Then he picked up another pair of men. “These two are the black captains. Two brothers, perhaps, who once defended a city together.”
Beren, he saw, had caught the drift. This was to be no lesson. The pieces were open to interpretation, open for play. The boy reached to take charge of the captains, and put them on guard in front of the white castle. He picked up one of the white pieces. “Another captain, sir?”
“Yes, he could be... He stood against his Enemy too. Some people called them wizards. They move strangely, disappearing all a sudden, turning up again when needed. Exactly when needed. As do these.” Faramir had gathered up some of the pawns. “They can make only little steps,” he said, inching them across the board to the boy’s waiting hand, “but one by one those steps add up. Whereas these...” He sent two more to join the boy’s small army. “White knights. Cavalry. Given to more glorious pursuits. Riding out in sorties, perhaps, or relieving a city in its most desperate hour of need. And all for the sake of these.”
Faramir passed over a king and a queen; the black ones, crowned in silver. The other queen he kept back. Beren put his king and queen behind the white castle, and then nodded at the piece Faramir was holding. “And that one, sir?”
Faramir looked at her, lying in the palm of his hand. “The White Lady,” he said. “Who came as if from nowhere, and changed everything.” He closed his hand around her for a moment, and then surrendered her to Beren, who put her amongst the captains and the knights.
Leaving the boy to order his men as he wished, Faramir looked outside. The rain had stopped and the gardens were now green and expectant. White sunlight passed through the window, and the boy turned eagerly in his chair to face it. Gently, Faramir retrieved the piece he was holding. The tale had lasted a lifetime, he thought, and Beren had a lifetime ahead in which to hear it. This morning, once gone, could never return.
Before going, the boy kissed his great-grandfather on the top of his head. Then he held out the paper he had brought with him. “You can have this, if you like.”
Faramir took the offered page. “I would like,” he said. Then Beren was off, in a flash, to find the sunshine. The rest of the morning he spent drawing two black captains who guarded a tower, and a white lady on a green field.
Back in the house, Faramir studied the drawing the boy had given him. To the left, he had put the old city, of white weathered stone, with the setting sun above it. To the right, he had put the city to come, of new dark stone, with the moon above it. Between them, at the heart of the page, there was a land of streams and falls, green and living; Ithilien, his home. The Tower of the Sun and the Tower of the Moon, with a garden between them, as they would be again, one day; as he had always wanted but would not live to see. Time passed, and the days ran short – and a few wishes, it seemed, were bequeathed instead of granted.
At the very bottom of the page, the boy had written his name: Beren son of Barahir son of Elboron son of Faramir. Taking up his pen, Faramir added, to the list of the living: son of Denethor son of Ecthelion son of Turgon son of Túrin. Then he turned the sheet over and, since he could not forgo the history lesson entirely, he wrote on the back: “In the days of the Steward Túrin, second of that name, Ithilien was deserted, and only the hardiest remained to guard its swift clear streams and fair hidden falls.”
Now it was complete. Faramir folded the picture, and put it in the box with the pieces for the boy to receive, one day. Then he closed his eyes and slept, peacefully, as the bright sun passed over the fleeting golden morning.