For Queen Galadriel and for SpeedyHobbit, for their birthdays. Beta by RiverOtter.
As he came around the back of the Citadel, Faramir, Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien, paused, noting a small dark-haired figure staring up at the Tower of Ecthelion. He altered his course to come to stand behind the form of the Ringbearer. Quietly he asked, “Would you wish to go up the tower, and look out from its height?”
Frodo Baggins looked up at him, his eyes alight with mingled curiosity and concern. “Would it be acceptable?” he asked. “After all, I am a stranger from a distant land, and have no right to ferret out the private places of the Lords of Gondor.”
Faramir laughed, placing one hand on the slender shoulder of the Hobbit. “My dear Master Baggins, you are after all recognized as a lord among all of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth. Nowhere within Gondor is closed to you, you will find. I would gladly escort you to the top of the tower, although I am not certain how well you could bear it. You remember the day I sought to take you down the inner stair to the great archive, and how it distressed both you and Master Samwise? I would not see you in such anxiety once again.”
Frodo gave a glance toward the top of the tower. “Is all enclosed as it was on the stairway down to the archive?” he asked.
The Man looked up thoughtfully at the tower. “There are windows frequently,” he said. “There is not the feeling of being closed in that one can feel descending to the archive from the Citadel. There are seven levels to the Tower before one reaches the level of the observatory; and above that there are the parapets.”
He could see concern warring with curiosity on the Hobbit’s face before Frodo suddenly said, “Will you take me up, then?”
“If you so desire, Master Frodo.” So saying, the Man led the way to the lowest level of the tower, where a guard immediately produced a key and opened the doorway for them, bowing deeply as they passed inside.
As Faramir led the way toward the back of the tower where the first stairway began, he explained, “There are those who had climbed up the tower with bladders of water or paint, who then drop them from above upon the heads of those below. And there have been others who have dropped other things, or who have sought to pour water or--other liquids--from the parapets. We have learned that many who climb to such heights will suddenly become quite giddy and foolish, and clear thought appears to flee from them. Also, this was intended to be a place from which those who watch the stars or watch for signals from far away might do so. Oft our father came here for solitude that he might consider what the Enemy might think to do next or what strategy might be best for Gondor to follow. We knew not that the Palantir of Minas Anor yet remained within the tower, and that he consulted it when he climbed to the observatory. It was but customary during most of my life to keep the tower locked and to restrict those who might climb to its heights that it not become a focus of mischief and that those who studied or thought within it not be interrupted by those who thought only of foolishness.”
“Those such as the small sons of the Steward?” Frodo asked.
Faramir laughed. “Indeed--and so it has been! Here--look upon the stair, and tell me whether or not you believe you might find it oppressive.”
The stairs were wide and solid, and indeed there were windows that allowed in good light and air. After a moment of consideration Frodo said, “I do not believe that they will cause me much in the way of distress.”
“Good. Now, do not begin too quickly. It is better to go rather slowly that you not tire yourself before we reach the upper levels.”
The Hobbit nodded, and reaching up to place his right hand upon the rail he began the climb.
They paused upon the landings, neither speaking much as they worked their way higher and higher up the building. Ever Faramir allowed Frodo to set the pace, following after that he might offer assistance should it prove necessary. On the third landing Faramir bade his companion to stay for a moment, and went into an inner room to bring back a cup of water for Frodo to drink; and he did the same on the fifth. The Hobbit accepted the drinks, nodding his thanks but conserving his breath.
At last they reached the door out onto the parapet, and there Frodo went forward, his face pale, planting his hands firmly upon the crenellations, peering westward at the mountainside that rose yet above them, then walking the full circuit of the walls. He paused finally at the north side of the tower, peering at a distant shine and mist that spoke of the Falls of Rauros on the borders of the realm. There he stopped, his eyes sad but determined, his posture straight.
Faramir surprised himself by saying, “You remind me of him, you know, standing there like that.”
The Hobbit turned, questioningly. “I remind you of whom?”
“Of my brother. He used to stand here with me, both of us speaking of the ongoing battles against the Shadow in the east, both of us wondering what lay beyond Rauros, both wondering what tales we’d heard of Elves and Dwarves might be true and which but fantasy. And he would stand just as you did, staring north toward Rauros, as if he were drawn that way. I now wonder if he realized that--that there was where it would end for him? Did he have a foreseeing of orcs and arrows, the need to protect Halflings and having called in vain for assistance?”
Frodo turned away toward the northwest once more, giving a single nod and a brief shiver. At last he spoke. “The last I heard from him--much of it muffled by the sound of the wind that at times surrounded me when I wore--It--was of him begging me to forgive him. He realized at the end that It had betrayed him, and through him had sought to betray me. He was calling, calling for me to come back.”
“But you did not.” It was not a question.
At last: “No, I did not. It had broken through his last defense. It would seek to take him again--and again; and each time It would break through that last defense that much more swiftly and surely. Oh, It was so very proud of Itself! I could not subject him or anyone else to such torture.” His voice, when he spoke again, was soft. “Or myself.”
Faramir took a deep breath, and came alongside the Hobbit, peering northwestward toward that distant gleam, setting his hand on Frodo’s shoulder. He might have lost his brother, but, he realized, the Hobbit felt much the same, and shared his grief.
He grasped the shoulder more tightly, more protectively....