For Beruthiel's birthday. And thanks as ever to RiverOtter for the beta.
Healer Eldamir had helped Faramir’s clerk Dendril assist the new Lord Steward back into his bed in the Houses of Healing, and had indicated Dendril himself would also be the better for a good night’s rest, before offering the Steward a draught against infection and then leaving him to his rest. There was now but a single candle burning in a recess in the wall. It was not enough light to keep most awake, merely making it easier for those who made their rounds throughout the now quiet halls to check that their wards’ breathing was restful and even and that they were not in distress. Faramir found himself glad for it as he lay looking up at the ceiling.
His father was dead--that much they had told him; that, and that by some evil deception the Enemy had managed to bring that death about. There was a good deal they’d not said as yet, and he was unsure that he truly wished to know the details at this time. It had all happened but yesterday morning, apparently--he’d been unconscious within his father’s quarters, and then something had happened, and he’d ended up being moved into the Ruler’s rooms within the Houses and his father had perished--something to do with flames, he’d realized. The lower levels of the city had been burning--he’d overheard the healers speaking of it and of the need for fresh air for the lungs for those brought up from the regions of the fires. Had his father actually left the Citadel and gone down to assist in the attempts to save the First Circle? Somehow Faramir could envision that even less than he could imagine his father actually leading the city’s soldiers against the foe--for as long as he could remember Denethor son of Ecthelion had commanded from the heights of the City, allowing others to actually fight, not that he’d ever been less than a canny commander for his lack of physical leadership, however.
He watched the glow from the candle flicker on the ceiling and wall, sighed, and found himself wishing to have someone to speak with in order to distract his mind. At last he reached rather carefully for the small bell that lay on the table at the side of his bed and rang it sharply. After a moment he heard a soft tap at the door. “Please enter,” he called, grateful the response had been so quick, and his guard looked in.
“May I summon someone to your aid, my lord?” the Guardsman asked.
“I wished for a fresh glass of juice, if there is any to be had,” Faramir responded.
The guard gave the small carafe of water that stood on the table a questioning gaze, then looked back to the Steward. “If that is your wish, my lord, I will summon the first healer or healer’s aide I might see. I may not leave my post here, you understand.”
Faramir gave a slight grimace as he nodded. “Yes, I do. As soon as it might be brought....”
The Guardsman nodded, saluted, and closed the door, but not to the point the latch caught. Soon his voice could be heard, speaking with someone with a higher voice, and Faramir could hear the newcomer say, “I shall see to it immediately, then.”
It was not a terribly long time after that before there was another tap at the door, with the door opening almost before he managed to again say, “Enter.”
He did not see the head in the region where it ought to have appeared, and he found himself lowering his gaze, surprised to see the one bringing in the tray with its small carafe and a pair of goblets was the Pherian who’d been made a Guardsman by his father. “Guardsman Peregrin?” he asked, glad he’d remembered this one’s name. “I was told that you were attending on your kinsman.”
“I have been,” the Pherian said as he placed the tray on the table with surprising grace. He turned to look up at the Steward appraisingly. “Would you like me to pour you a glass, Lord Faramir?” he asked. “With your shoulder and arm bound that way, I doubt you’d manage it without pulling at your wound, and I don’t think the healers would like it if you did that.” At Faramir’s nod, he turned a goblet right-side up, then took the carafe to remove its cover and carefully poured a good measure into the goblet before replacing the cover and settling the carafe back onto the tray. “It’s a bit awkward even for me,” he added as he moved the goblet closer to the edge of the tray. “Things here tend to be rather high for a mere Hobbit.”
Faramir sat up as well as he could and nodded his thanks as he sipped from the goblet. “It is rather good to have something more than just water right now,” he sighed as he replaced the glass on the table. “And how does your kinsman’s condition progress?”
Peregrin suddenly smiled. “Very well--very well indeed. He’s up and eating almost normally, and that’s a good sign--a good sign for us Hobbits, I mean. When a Hobbit doesn’t eat well it usually indicates a nasty decline, you see.”
“He wasn’t so well when he was found wounded?”
“It’s not really that he was wounded, sir--no, I don’t think he has more than a scratch or two and some bruises from when he fell off the horse he and Lady Éowyn had been riding. It’s his arm mostly, from stabbing the Nazgûl--it was cold and almost dead, the way Frodo’s was after he was stabbed by the Morgul blade.”
That statement brought several shocks. Master Frodo--the slender, wary, courteous and remarkably circumspect Hobbit he’d met in the woods of Ithilien--he’d been stabbed by a Morgul blade? How was it he was in his own body and mind, or even alive? Stories of Morgul blades had been told in Gondor, although to his knowledge none had been used here in the past six hundred years or so.
Secondly, a Pherian had stood up to a Nazgûl, to the point of stabbing one? And he’d ridden to the battle with King Théoden’s niece? What in Middle Earth was she doing riding in the midst of an army and taking part in the battle? He’d not seen the lady in question for several years--the last time he’d seen her she’d been a leggy girl of fourteen or so, and with a reputation of being somewhat of a hoyden. She’d admired his sword, as he remembered it....
Apparently Peregrin had divined some of the as-yet unspoken questions. “From what Merry tells us, both he and Lady Éowyn were supposed to remain safe in Dunharrow, and the Lady was to serve as regent for her uncle while he rode here to war, only neither of them would agree to stay behind when those they loved were riding off to near-certain death. She disguised herself as a warrior, and not even he recognized her although she allowed him to ride with her. I don’t think he’d spent a good deal of time with her to get to know her as yet. He says he thought she was someone who was just too young to ride with the army, probably one who’d lost all he’d loved to orcs, who’d dressed up in his older brother’s mail or something and had attached himself to the army anyway.”
“I see.” Faramir wasn’t certain he fully understood, but he had to admire that kind of ingenuity. “And how was it that the two of them remained undetected?”
“He didn’t explain. I understand only that there seemed to be some kind of understanding between this ‘Dernhelm’ and the leader of their eored.”
The Hobbit continued, “He says that as they approached the battlefield Dernhelm kept moving up through the ranks until they were riding at the back of the King’s own household knights, and they stayed in that position through most of what came after. He says that both of them were very busy killing orcs--she fought to one side of the horse and he fought to the other. Then the Nazgûl came flying over them on that winged thing it was riding....”
Faramir listened, fascinated, as the Pherian retold the story his kinsman had told him earlier. At last, when the tale was finished, he asked, “And both survived this encounter with the Witch-king of Angmar himself?” Amazement and respect filled him deeply.
Peregrin was nodding. “Yes, thanks to Strider--Aragorn, you see. He’s much stronger now than he was when he tried to help Frodo after he was wounded, but he said only Lord Elrond of all within Middle Earth could successfully bring someone back from a Morgul wound--Lord Elrond had done it before, and I wonder, from the little we heard while we were there in Rivendell, whether it was his own lady that was so wounded. They told us she needed to leave Middle Earth afterwards to fully recover from the wound she’d had.”
It was much to think on.
“Lord Faramir--may I ask you a question?”
The Man fixed his attention back on the alert face of the Pherian Guardsman. “You may ask anything, although I can’t promise to answer everything you might ask of me.”
There was that delightful smile. “Well answered, sir,” the Hobbit said, nodding his approval. “It was about whatever news the Captains and Prince Imrahil brought you. We’ll be sending an army out toward Mordor, won’t we?”
The new Steward felt the anxiety return somewhat. “You’ve heard that?”
“Oh, we’ve heard lots of things, my lord. But the idea that we’d send an army out to engage the Enemy’s attention--well, since I’m one of the few who knows why his attention needs to be drawn, well, that just sounds the most likely true.”
Faramir could easily see the Hobbit’s own worry, and remembered that Master Frodo was this one’s friend and apparently a relative as well. He decided to speak the truth to him. “Yes, so it has been decided. They’ve decided the best they can do would be to draw the Eye’s attention outside his own land, as far as possible from where Master Frodo and Master Samwise might be traveling through the plains of Gorgoroth. However, it is not yours to speak of that to any others, not even those you count your close friends, not until it is announced officially by the captains to their troupes. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.” Spoken like a true soldier. “May I train with the other Men, then? I mean, Boromir and Strider and Legolas have taught us some things along the way, you see, but I’m no real expert with this sword of mine, and I’ll need to fight after all.”
“You don’t think you’d be allowed to go along, do you?” The Man was both alarmed and touched at the small Guardsman’s assumption that this would be true.
“I have to--I’m the only one left of us four who can. I mean, Merry’s going nowhere for a few weeks; and Frodo and Sam are in no position to draw attention away from themselves, are they? I mean, I might prove the lynch-pin.”
“The lynch-pin--the carter’s pin that holds the wheel in place.” The Hobbit searched his face. “You don’t understand what I’m speaking of, do you?” As Faramir shook his head, he explained, “It’s from a Shire poem we all learn as children.
“For the want of a pin, the wheel was lost.
“For the want of the wheel, the wagon was lost.
“For the want of the wagon the harvest was lost.
“For the want of the harvest, the family was lost.
“For the want of the family, the village was lost.
“For the want of the village, the Shire was lost--
“And all for the want of a lynch-pin.”
Now he drew a deep breath before continuing, “It’s what Bucca of the Marish used as an argument for sending the forty archers begged by Arvedui Last-king to the battles against the invaders from the north. I’ve had to study this, you see--after all, my da’s now the Thain, and I have to study Shire history more than most so I’ll be ready when it’s my turn to be Thain after him. Now, most think the old stories are just that--stories. I know--I know I did--before we left the Shire, at least. But reading the records of the argument Bucca made to the Shire-moot to convince them to send the archers and to prepare things to slow up any army following that of the King should the King’s forces need to retreat across the Shire sent a thrill through me. Most of the family heads who’d come to the moot didn’t want to bother with the business of Big Folk, not until he pointed out that only the Brandywine held the enemy’s forces from entering the Shire, and the reports sent by the King indicated they were crossing other rivers--wider rivers--with no difficulty, after all. So he wanted to see to it that we were prepared--prepared for our folk to hide themselves from the enemy should they cross the river, and to help get the King’s army to safety and slow up any who might try to follow after. He quoted that poem, and said that we might prove to be the lynch-pin that held the wagon together long enough for the war to be won or lost. And it worked, the argument; and it appears we did help win the war just as he’d predicted.”
Faramir was nodding. “We have a similar poem:
“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost.
“For the want of the shoe the horse was lost.
“For the want of the horse the knight was lost.
“For the want of the knight the battle was lost.
“For the want of the battle the war was lost.”
“For the want of the war the kingdom was lost.
“And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”
Guardsman Peregrin was nodding with recognition. “It’s almost the same, isn’t it?”
“And you might prove the lynch-pin--or nail--that makes the difference in the end, then?”
The Hobbit nodded solemnly. “I will be one of those who truly understands--for Frodo’s my cousin, you see, and Sam is our friend. I’ve seen that--thing--he’s carrying and have seen what It’s tried to do to him already. I was by his side when he was wounded before, and saw him when we thought we were losing him. I’ve seen how It’s been working at him all along the way, and how he’s found he’s had to make decisions himself and can’t rely on others to make the right ones. I want to help as I can. So far I’ve mostly just stood on the sidelines since we got here, and I want--I need--to feel I’m truly helping. I just feel that one of us Hobbits needs to be there with the army--for Frodo and Sam.”
And Faramir did understand. “I’ll give the orders--I can do that much--that you are to train daily with the rest of the Guardsmen.”
“Thank you, my lord.” Pippin gave a surprisingly graceful bow, then stood straight and gave a salute that Captain Gilmaros, the captain of the Guards of the Citadel, would be proud to see. “I promise not to let you--or Frodo--down.”
The door opened and Healer Eldamir entered quietly, looking sternly at the Hobbit. “And what do you do here, disturbing Lord Faramir’s rest, Guardsman?” he asked.
Faramir interceded, “I desired to have one to distract me from my own thoughts that they not chase one another all night long, Master Healer, and it fell on Guardsman Peregrin to provide me that service. I’ve just assured him I will give orders for him to train with the rest of the Guard until he leaves with the rest of the army to face Sauron’s forces.”
Was Eldamir searching his face, and for what? The Hobbit suddenly assured him, “I was explaining only how I feel I am needed to stand for the honor of the Shire when we face the Enemy again, Master Eldamir. We Hobbits also have a stake in this war, you see. If Gondor falls, then Arnor will follow, and the Shire with Arnor. And right now the others aren’t going to be able to do anything but what they’re doing.”
There was an expression of relief just before the young Healer nodded. “So be it, then. Well, Master Peregrin, if you are to do full training you also need your rest, for you have barely slept in three days that I am aware of. And you, my Lord Steward, have you been sufficiently distracted now to rest properly?”
“I believe so, Master Eldamir. You may return to your quarters, Guardsman Peregrin, and rest as you have been advised.”
Again that smart salute. “Yes, my Lord Steward.” The Pherian turned and left.
Now that they were alone, Faramir turned his attention to the healer. “And what is it that he is not to have told me? The manner of my father’s death?”
Eldamir’s expression was carefully, professionally neutral. “I am sorry, my Lord Steward, but I may say neither nay nor yea, on the orders of the Lord Aragorn. I view him as my superior here due to his far longer and more involved training, as well as the probability that he will be our Lord King when Sauron is overthrown.”
“And you believe that possible?”
The relatively young Healer’s face was lit by a quiet hope and pride. “He has come to us out of the realm of legends, accompanied by still other legends. Pheriannath, those of the Eldar, the children of Aulë, and the Peredhil accompany him. When at our need our capital was so defended, how can I not find hope in my heart that Sauron himself shall at last find his final defeat? And he has the hands of the healer--I have seen those we could not call back from the Black Breath awaken to hope and life once more--again and again the night after the battle; and those who were merely injured again took heart and many even now recover that we’d expected to see die. I believe in the depths of my heart that he is indeed the King returned; Sauron cannot begin to know how this hope returned to us will change the tide of battle!” He stood even straighter. “I, too, plan to go with the army, both to face the Enemy as I can, and to help afterwards as will undoubtedly be needed. To assist such a healer as is Lord Aragorn, and to learn from him and the Peredhil who call him brother--it would be the greatest of honors for me.”
Faramir found himself aching to accompany that army himself.
After Prince Legolas and Master Gimli left the Citadel with the circlets of honor crafted by them for the benefit of the Ringbearer and his companion, Faramir at last returned to the Steward’s quarters with the day’s communications from the King’s camp in Cormallen. As he entered the Steward’s wing he again was amazed at what changes had been wrought in just a few days’ time while he’d been held in the Houses of Healing; the hallway itself had been repainted his favorite shade of soft green--Master Balstador had apparently been determined to see to it that this area welcome the new Steward with pleasure rather than the austerity that had come to characterize his father for so long.
The door to the Steward’s household library had been refinished, and was a lighter, more golden hue than it had been, and hints of gilt enriched it. He opened the door and smiled at the room within. Drapes had been replaced with lighter fabrics that reminded him somehow of his earliest years when his mother’s presence had graced the Citadel, and his favorite reading chair from the rooms that had been his from his youth now sat in one of the window embrasures. The desk was the same; but now it was his own suite of writing tools that filled the desktop rather than the heavy blotter and massive inkstand that had been Denethor’s. Faramir went to the reading chair and fell heavily into it, draping one long leg over its arm as he broke the seal holding the packet closed. In moments he was spilling a number of folded missives onto his chest, and then carefully identifying and extracting the personal note from Lord Aragorn, whose hand he was already coming to recognize with a thrill of pleasure.
My most honored and beloved Lord Steward,
Ah--how satisfying it is to write that greeting! I’d always imagined writing it to your father’s attention--but, alas! That was not to be, and I will forever grieve this is so. Your father was always such an extraordinary soul, even as a young man. His knowledge of lore rivaled my own--and as I was raised by Elrond of Imladris, greatest of loremasters ever within Middle Earth, that is saying a great deal. I remember him teaching me the ways of the Archives, and his delight as he realized I shared so many of his own interests....
Faramir read these tales of his father’s youth with more appreciation than he’d realized he held within him. There were no words of regret save for the fact that this Aragorn, once known as Thorongil, must now share these memories with him rather than with Denethor himself. He read this portion of the letter with great interest and even delight, glad that someone remembered his father with such nostalgia.
At last he reached the portion of the letter that dealt with the matters of the camp.
Too many have been seriously injured, as I suppose you can already imagine. And among those is our smallest of Guardsmen--Peregrin Took. When I wrote to summon Merry I did not tell him all, for fear of causing him to know despair. For Pippin was indeed very badly injured.
The first blow was delivered by the one who has been known as the Mouth of Sauron, for he was sent to parlay with us, and to torment us as he could. He bore with him tokens intended to cause us much grief and dismay, tokens that worked too well on us at first, and especially on Pippin. These tokens were Frodo’s clothing, the cloak and brooch given him in Lothlorien by the Lady Galadriel, the corslet he’d worn under his clothing, and the sword and sheath that had been borne by Samwise Gamgee. At first it was as if all of us from the Fellowship had been struck hard in the belly, for well we knew these, and knew that for them to come by such a messenger the one who’d worn them must have been captured; but then I saw that Gandalf and I had both noted the oddity of the sword of Sam being with Frodo’s garb. Either one of the two of them must be dead, or both must be free; for had Sauron’s folk held one alive they must in time realize that these items had come originally from two individuals.
Yet the Enemy’s herald spake only of one prisoner, and gave no name. All was said obliquely, and ever he watched our faces as if to learn how dearly we cared for this one, this one he assured us was even then suffering greatly and would suffer even more ere the end. When Pippin cried out in his horror at the sight of Frodo’s corslet in this one’s hands, the Mouth of Sauron was plainly gratified.
Gandalf overcame the shock first, and suddenly reached to take all these items into his own possession. The foul herald demanded that to ransom the captive we must withdraw our army west of Anduin, first laying down our weapons and swearing allegiance to Sauron, and agreeing to accept this one as our lord. Yea, in the place of your father we must accept this--creature--his spirit blackened by countless years of enslavement to the Lord of the Dark Tower, as the Steward set over us by the Eye! And Gandalf told him plainly that Sauron must be most desperate to think that, no matter how dearly we might love the one who’d worn these items, we would yet trade the freedom of the west for one lone prisoner.
It was so obvious this one had no idea of Frodo’s purpose for being in those lands!
When Pippin saw these things, as I said he cried out. When we turned back to rejoin the army, once he was set upon the ground he went away from us. There were two hills of slag upon which I set our folk, but Pippin joined those who defended the other hill from that on which Legolas and Gimli, Gandalf and I stood. Those who took the front-most position upon the other hill were of the Guard of Minas Tirith itself, and with them those men of the city who were not part of the Guard who yet stayed with us through it all. Believing that we had surrendered our faith in Frodo’s survival or even abandoned him to the torments of Barad-dûr, Pippin would not remain by us, preferring to stand by his friend, Beregond of the Guard. I am not yet certain, but I believe that a good part of the reason why he took a forward position as he did was so that he might die, as die he believed we all must do, the quicker.
I had no time to come to him or offer him any argument as to why both Gandalf and I believed the words of Sauron’s slave to be but a feint, for the hosts of Mordor were loosed at us almost immediately. We lost sight of Pippin in the heavy fighting, and when the Ring went into the Fire and the orcs and trolls left off the fight once Sauron’s own will was no longer driving them, we could no longer see any sign of him or those he’d last been seen standing beside.
The Eagles came! Yea--there in the midst of the chaos and confusion of battle Manwë’s own messengers came to our aid, striking at the beasts of horror on which the Nazgûl rode. And when the Ring was destroyed three came to Gandalf at his call, carrying him toward the remains of the Mountain to seek out Frodo and Sam and Sméagol, if they were to be found; and then Shadowfax left the other horses to seek me out upon the battlefield and draw me to the wagons of the healers. It was there that the great Eagles returned, bearing with them the bodies of Frodo and Sam--found none too soon, for they were nearly past the Gates of Death when I called them back. Indeed, they had gone further toward Námo’s Halls even than had you!
Gimli, who bears a great love for the younger Hobbits, sought long upon the battlefield for Pippin, and at last saw that the foot of a Hobbit protruded out from beneath the body of a great troll. He now looks rather frightful, for he managed to tear out part of his beard ere Legolas could convince him that he sensed that young Peregrin’s fëa yet remained in his body.
Pippin was unconscious when he was found, but the men found with him have been able to tell us how it was that he saved their lives. Yea, the troll had reached down to Beregond and was lifting him up to bite out his throat when Pippin thrust upward into the troll’s vitals, striking him in the heart. So, it fell, and fell directly upon him. His ribs were badly broken and his hip dislocated, and his upper leg is badly cracked, although not broken through nor shattered as happened with the arm of the Lady Éowyn. He is badly bruised as well, and will soon be every shade of the rainbow, I fear. Had he not been a Hobbit I suspect he should have died within moments; but the Periannath have endurance beyond that of Men. I only hope that his mind took no ill from the time he knew with little in the way of air. The others were injured as well, but I believe they will recover completely. For Pippin himself, however, we cannot yet say how deep the hurts run. Yet although he is not yet awake, he does recover apace, and I hope that Merry’s coming will serve to call him fully back from the last of the darkness. I regret to say that the uniform shirt that I understand was yours when you were a child had to be sacrificed that we might eventually free him from his hauberk and that we might examine his injuries. I believe we will have use after all for that tailor you offered to send to my side, for all three Hobbits and many others will need new garments, and I am determined that Pippin be fitted with a new uniform suitable to one of my own personal guard, one reflecting both Gondor and Arnor’s dignity.
As for our beloved Lords Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee....
Faramir paused in his reading, feeling mixed grief, relief, and pride at this report of what had befallen the one who’d served his father--and himself--so faithfully. “The lynch-pin, wasn’t that how you thought of yourself, Peregrin son of Paladin, Guard of the Citadel?” he murmured. “Yea, so you have proven, my brave one! Yea, so you have proven indeed! And I am honored to have been the one to provide you with your first uniform and armor! As for my father--I hope he is proud to have received your oath!”
Even as he wiped a tear from his eye, his face was shining with pride as he returned his attention to the remains of their new Lord’s report.
"For the Want of a Nail" is a traditional nursery rhyme, and one certainly in keeping with the traditions of Gondor and Arnor. That a slightly different version dealing with harvests rather than warfare would be commonly recited in the Shire just seemed likely. And I can easily imagine Bucca of the Marish reciting it to convince the worthies of the Shire of the need to send archers to Arvedui's needs.