“Faramir?” His lady’s urgent voice momentarily distracted him from his task.
“Mettarë is but a month away and we have not yet decided on a gift for the King.”
That was true, Faramir supposed. The Gift of Ithilien to their King was already planned, a sapling from one of the southern groves he had stocked with trees bearing the tart orange fruits of Harad. It should thrive on the lower circles of the City, or in one of the King’s orchards on the Pelennor. But the Steward’s own gift, with his lady, to the King and Queen of Gondor, was still undecided.
Faramir frowned. He usually left the chore of such choices to Éowyn, who was skilled in the diplomacy of gift-giving. This was an especially difficult decision; since Aragorn was not just his friend, he was their lord. And there was always a particular difficulty in choosing gifts for him and the Queen.
“What think you that we should bring to them, Éowyn?” He asked, setting his pen back into the inkwell on his desk. “What can be given the King who has everything?”
“Everything?” Éowyn echoed somewhat sharply. “Surely not! We could give him and Arwen new daggers, with matching scabbards, brocaded and gilded with Elvish sigils.”
“Have you seen the King’s armory lately? He has more than twenty gifted blades from Khand, Harad, as well as the lands of the West. Besides, the Peredhil sent matching daggers to them last year.”
“I had never thought it possible to have too many swords and blades,” Éowyn answered; “But I would not give the same gift as he received from others so recently.”
“Perhaps a colt or one of your pregnant broodmares?” Faramir wondered. “Roheryn grows old even for an Elven-horse.”
Éowyn smiled in a knowing way. “Éomer and I have already spoken of such a gift, and will speak of it again in summer, after the new foals are born in his herds and mine. We will choose from the best of the little mare and colt foals to give Aragorn a future breeding pair. And Imrahil told me that he shall give Arwen a fine young filly this Mettarë.”
“The horses of the Swan Knights are perhaps the finest in the West,” Faramir observed; “Save for the Mearas of course, and the strain you are building from them.” He was not unskilled in diplomacy himself.
“What of a new dress for the Queen?” Faramir knew that as Queen, Arwen needed even more changes of clothing than Eowyn. Not that either lady was over-occupied with the peculiarities of women’s finery, but ladies of rank were expected to wear more varied clothing than were lords; a strange yet true fact of which his wife and cousin oft reminded him. “Those riding skirts you wear, that many of our Rangers’ wives and daughters now also sport, are rather fetching.”
“You have noticed!” His White Lady smiled and tossed her hair, whose long and unveiled locks he himself had encouraged in a new fashion for their new princedom.
“How could I not?” He smiled back, as Éowyn came and knelt beside him. She kissed his cheek affectionately.
“A new riding dress would please Arwen,” Éowyn said. “Except that she will not be doing much riding over winter this year.”
Thoughts of illness, and another lady who had come to Minas Tirith from afar, flittered unpleasantly across Faramir’s mind. “Is she ill?”
Eowyn smiled; with such joy that Faramir knew naught could seriously ail the Queen. “Only in the mornings.”
It took Faramir a few moments, and a few memories of a time five years past, to understand his wife’s meaning. “Truly? That is a most welcome sickness indeed, though I regret her discomfort.”
Éowyn sat down into Faramir’s lap; and he encircled her in his arms. “Arwen told me,” she explained; “On condition that the news went no further than your ears until Mettarë, when they shall announce the tidings.”
“And what great tidings for the lands of the West, indeed for all of Middle-earth!” Faramir exulted. “Think of it, Eowyn, the first child born to a ruling King of Gondor since Earnur was born to King Earnil II in 1928, over a thousand years ago!”
“Aragorn and Arwen have been so kind to Elboron, and little Elfwine,” Éowyn remembered. “And they send presents to Master Samwise with every new babe his lady presents him; yet I know they have yearned for a child of their own.”
“You have the right of it, my dear,” Faramir said, thinking out loud. “There is no greater gift than a child. Perhaps Arwen would like some of Elboron’s baby clothes?”
Éowyn laughed. “One does not give hand-downs as a gift to a Queen’s child. As soon as Arwen and Aragorn announce the glad tidings, they will be given more blankets, swaddling clothing, dresses and even baby shoes than could fit in a wain. Not only will every great house of the West, be they Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves or Men, send clothes for the child, but fine raiment of silk and cotton will come from the lords of the south and east-lands. And the women of every village and town in Gondor will send clothing made with their own hands. Remember how we were given enough clothes for five babies when Elboron was born?”
“No,” Faramir replied truthfully. The child’s clothing had been the least thing on his mind during those blissful first days of his son’s life. “I relied on you and your ladies to take care of such details, as you did, most admirably.”
“Hmph,” Éowyn snorted, looking at him with fond exasperation. “Were such details left only to men, you would never get yourself clothed.”
Faramir decided not to mention that during his time as a Ranger, he had not only had to see to his own clothing, but assure that his men were properly garbed as well. “I would be lost without you, my heart,” he replied, and that too was the truth. “So what shall we give our lieges for Mettarë?”
“I know!” Éowyn exclaimed. “Remember how we played draughts and chess when I became too heavy to ride with you in the last month? We can find a handsome chess set; or have one made. Arwen and Aragorn will need pastimes that will not tire her as her confinement draws nearer. Such a gift would do for both the King and Queen.”
“Perhaps,” Faramir pondered out loud; “But the Queen has played chess since long before the oath of Cirion and Eorl was made. What of that game you played during our trip to Rhûn, when we parleyed with the Shield-women of Khabur? You were the only one of our embassy they would allow to play the game with them, for it was a game allowed only for women warriors, so they said; and they knew of your deeds.”
A proud smile brightened Éowyn's fair face. Nestling comfortably in Faramir’s arms, she replied: "Yes, it was called Shields and Capture. Though I did not win; I most enjoyed the game. It was certainly difficult enough to challenge Arwen's wits. But they only gave me the one game-set; and it is too worn and shabby to present to the High King and his Queen."
"Master Ciryahil would be delighted to craft a gift for our lady and lord; I deem," Faramir mused. "Take the game to him. He is the best woodwright in Emyn Arnen and can surely carve a new board and pieces, with finer woods. Yet I would not break the Shield-women's ban on the game's usage by men; they treated with us fairly."
Éowyn laughed. "They gave me leave to play Shields and Capture with whoever I chose, even men, as long as no men played it in their clan-lands. They did not believe that men could ever beat me, or any women."
"Oh, did they not?" Faramir chuckled, stroking the soft skin of Éowyn's neck. "I shall have to prove them wrong, after you teach me."
She squirmed most delightfully against him. Faramir caught his breath, he would have to oust her; or he would soon be too distracted to continue the task he had set himself.
Forcing himself to release Éowyn's hand and body, Faramir turned to face the parchments spread out across his desk. "The game will make a suitable present," he concluded. "Best to see to it soon, to give Master Ciryahil enough time."
Éowyn took his hint and rose. "I shall take the game to him this very day," she said with some amusement and a proprietary caress of his hair. "Meanwhile, I leave you to your work, or whatever it is that you have covered with ink stains and scrawls here."
"Very well," Faramir replied, somewhat absently. "You might take Elboron with you to Master Ciryahil's shop," he suggested; "He is not too young to start learning to respect the work of our craftsmen; and he should enjoy the errand to the village."
"Elboron will awake from his nap soon," Éowyn said from the door, "He will be made ready by the time I gather up the game and set out."
"Convey my regards to Master Ciryahil," Faramir requested. He did not hear the door shut as he bent his eyes and mind to the parchments. In truth, it was not work that demanded his attention.
Faramir remembered a day in Minas Tirith, some six weeks past. He and Aragorn had spent long hours at work on the business of the kingdom. Afterward, as was their custom, they had drunk together in the King's own library, pleasantly speaking of the old and new books added to it, the history of their lands, and other things they prized. They had debated as to how much the Quenya used in Arnor and Gondor had changed over the course of the Third Age. Aragorn had contended that the high-Elven tongue's usage in Imladris had changed but little since his foster-father had built the refuge.
Faramir had since found, in the deepest of the Steward’s archives that had been unsealed to him after Denethor’s death, a document that would advance both sides of the argument. It was a letter from Elrond to Isildur himself, written as the Last Alliance gathered, announcing the birth of Isildur’s youngest son Valandil in Imladris. The letter, written in Quenya by the Elf-lord’s own flowing hand, was preserved well enough to read, by ancient arts. The usage of Quenya held a scholar’s allure; but the letter was also a treasure of the history of two realms. By rights, it belonged to Valandil's son through many sons, Aragorn Elessar.
As a child in the schoolroom, Faramir had been given copies of important documents from Gondor’s history, such as the treaty of Cirion and Eorl, to copy and learn. Faramir’s young heart had kindled with each stroke of his pen, imagining the great deeds and great men enshrined in the history of Gondor through those words. This morning, before Éowyn had joined him, he had begun the same exercise with the ancient letter. Taking the letter out of the jar and casing that had shielded it gave Faramir a sense of the missive’s great age and a new respect for the strength of Elven-kind. For the one who had written the letter three thousand years ago was alive and hale, or had been but a handful of years ago, when Faramir had last spoken to him on the journey to Rohan.
Faramir smiled, savoring a scholar’s pleasure. He had practiced; found that his penmanship was more than sufficient, and was now certain that he could finish the task he had set himself.
With the question of official gifts to the King and Queen settled, Faramir now resolved to give an additional gift, quietly, from a friend rather than a Prince or Steward. He would not only present Elrond’s letter to his King and friend; but have three copies made by Ithilien’s best scribes, so Aragorn could reread his foster-father’s words without risking harm to the fragile original. The very first copy he would give to Aragorn would be penned by Faramir himself, his own name etched at the end in place of a scribe’s insignia. Though his version of Elrond’s letter would not match the Elf-lord's Tengwar to perfection, Faramir would follow the path of history in writing the words proclaiming the birth of the child who continued Isildur’s line.
For the son who has lost two fathers, Faramir mused; for the daughter who misses her father, and the unborn child who will never know its grandsire, a new piece of the history of the line that Elrond Peredhel preserved for us all.
And, Faramir thought with a certain wry satisfaction as he took up the quill once more, it was a gift that would gladden the giver as well as, he hoped, the gifted.
Author’s Notes: Khabur, the place where Faramir and Eowyn met the Shield-Women of Rhun, is the name of two rivers in the Near East today. One of them, which flows from southeastern Turkey south to eastern Syria to empty into the Euphrates associated with the rise of the kingdom of the Mitanni during the second millennium BC. So I thought the name might have lingered from Middle-earth.
The game of Shields and Capture is inspired by descriptions of the ancient Egyptian board game of Seega: http://nabataea.net/seega.html.