Two cities now stood in balance, in opposition. On the plain of the Pelennor a city of tents had been spread out, and the sun shone upon it, and the wind lifted its brave banners, and men’s hearts rose with them, and their voices in song. But beyond the wall, once-broken barrier, stood the city of stone, and within this men watched, and waited, and did not yet dare to speak or make a move.
Secluded high in the Houses of Healing, the Lady Éowyn and the Lord Faramir seized whatever moments they could alone together. Hand-in-hand they walked, beneath the cover of the trees, away from sight, and they shared much with little speech.
Returning one day to the path, Éowyn saw that they had been joined by another. He stood at the far end of the garden, and he did not approach. He was very tall, like all the men of the Stoningland that she had met, and with the same pale skin and dark hair. Faramir nodded in greeting to him.
“Who is that man?” she said. “He has come here at this time every day, to look at you.” To look at us.
Faramir did not reply. They walked on for a while, Faramir guiding them until their backs were turned to the visitor.
“His name is Húrin,” he said in a low voice. “He is Warden of the Keys; the safekeeping of the City is his duty. Some say,” he dropped his voice further, “that he is my father’s eyes in the City.”
Spies and whispers, she thought. Her heart quickened, and not only from fear. Did I truly believe that the Court of the Fountain would differ much from Meduseld?
“And what do you say?” she asked.
Faramir forced a smile to his lips. “That he is my kinsman by marriage, for he wedded Írildë, my father’s sister. And that once, when I was a boy, he took me round the City and showed me all the secret ways that were used throughout the Kin-Strife!”
He is trying not to frighten me, she thought. He will have to learn not to do that.
“And yet,” she said, in a cool voice, “your kinsman and guide holds you here as a prisoner.”
She thought she felt his grip tighten upon her arm.
“Perhaps,” he murmured. “Perhaps.”
They walked to the walls. Looking out, she saw the sign of the white horse, upon the green field below. “Sir,” she said softly, “am I a prisoner here?” She placed her hand upon his. “Speak truly,” she said. “Without fear. Speak always to me thus.”
“A prisoner?” He looked out beyond the walls. “Not you. Not yet.”
Húrin came again the next day, and the day after, but he never approached. And then, one day – a hot day, oppressive, when the air could not stir even a blade of grass – he walked over to them, calling out, “Lord Faramir!”
The steward’s son lifted his hand in greeting. “Kinsman!”
They embraced. “I am glad to see you well again,” the older man said, and drew back, and clasped the younger man’s hands between his own.
“And I am glad to speak to you at last,” Faramir replied. “But tell me – for I receive little in the way of news here – how did your son fare in the battle? How fared my cousin, Hador?”
Húrin’s face darkened in grief. “Alas, he died in the last defence.”
Faramir bowed his head.
“But before he departed for battle,” Húrin said, “he spoke to me of his love for you. And he bade me tell you that he would gladly follow you, wherever you would lead, even into the darkness.” He leaned forwards, and kissed the younger man upon the brow. Softly, almost soundlessly (but Éowyn was used to whispers), he said, “As would I.”
And he relinquished his hold upon Faramir’s hands, and bowed his head, and left them alone together.
They watched him go. “Tell me,” said Éowyn, “for I know little of the laws and the loyalties of this land – do the Men of Minas Tirith recognize the Lord Aragorn’s claim?”
“I can speak with certainty only for the Lord Denethor,” his son replied.
“And the Lord Húrin?”
“As for that...” Faramir’s eyes strayed towards the house. “I would not dare to conjecture.”
Or not, at least, out loud. “And speaking for yourself, sir? Do you dare?”
Faramir smiled and took her hand. “You’re cold, Éowyn. Let us return to the house and sit by the fire.”
The next day, as they walked in the garden, they looked for the Lord Húrin, but he did not come again, not the next day, nor any day after. And the Lord Denethor, having removed himself now from the Houses of Healing, was restored to the Citadel. The white banner of the Stewards of the House of Anárion was raised above the Tower of Guard, and the men of Minas Tirith watched, and waited, and did not speak again – nor dared another move.
No news came now to the lords-in-waiting on the plain, for Húrin, who had of late been their chief source, had fallen silent, and what the reason for that might be they did not know and feared to guess. And thus it was that one fair evening, as the sun fell in the sky, the King of the Mark came to the King of the West, and spoke to him of his fears.
“It is days now since we have learned any news from the City, and my heart is uneasy,” Éomer said. “We must put our trust in Húrin, you said – and yet now it seems he has forsaken us, and chosen where his loyalties must fall. The City could be shrouded in smoke, for all that we can learn of it! And yet of one thing I am certain – that my sister is held there, in the grasp of a man who saw his own son as fuel for the fire— Nay, Lord!” Éomer said, as Aragorn lifted his hands in appeasement, “I must speak! I loved you from the moment you rose from the grass and called to me, but for my sister I must speak! The Lord Faramir – he is the key. Which way will he turn? Again and again we return to this question, but now I say – we can no longer wait for the Lord Faramir to decide his own mind. We must bring him to us.”
Aragorn set his hands upon the young man’s shoulder. “Brethren, I named us – and so we are, and our sons shall be, until our world and our works sink back into the grass. But what would you have me do? Set father against son? Is that the only way to claim the City? Better it had been lost. Better that when the Gate fell the servants of our Enemy had levelled it. Would you make me now the cause of such a ruin?”
The red sun setting was like fire on the mountain-top. “You did not set father against son,” Éomer replied. “The Lord Denethor chose that path himself. And therefore, for the sake of my sister, whom I love beyond all price, I say – let the Lord Faramir learn of his father’s deed. For only after such knowledge can he truly decide which Lord he desires to serve.”
And on the city walls, the Steward of Gondor and his second son stood and looked out as that same sun departed, and the black night crept in from the mountains, stealing across Ithilien, crossing the river, covering the plain and all the tents that stood there with banners waving.
“See how they encircle us!” the Steward cried. “We shall not yield to threat!”
Lifting his hand he pointed out a green flag upon which a white horse rode to battle. “Such is Thorongil’s claim. Where law cannot secure the kingship, might will force it from our stewardship. How, then, does this beggar at our Gate differ from our Enemy, the Enemy against whom our forefathers ever strove?” His hand fell upon the stone, his eyes closed, and only by straining did Faramir hear him whisper, “When will this great age of strife come to its end?”
And as Faramir watched, the fast-fading light cast deep shadows upon his father’s face, and he pitied this old man, servant of powers which fought for mastery within him, and he asked the same question of himself: When will it end? And he asked, too – And how?
After the King of the Mark had departed, the Lord Aragorn sat deep in thought. The moon rose and sped quickly across the heavens and, as the night grew old, Aragorn caught the smell of pipeweed on the air.
“Come, old friend,” he called. “Come and sit with me. For this night lies heavily upon me, and I do not yet see the way ahead.”
“It is not long now till dawn,” Gandalf replied. “But the night passes more easily when two share the wait.” And he sat with his friend, and they smoked, and thought, as they had done many times in the past, when the burdens of office had seemed nothing more than the dream of fools.
“And how would you tell him?” Gandalf asked as last. “What words could tell him of his father’s madness?”
Long Aragorn stared into the darkness. “There are no such words,” he said, at last. “None that would not say also, ‘Choose, now, between us. Choose between the one who would have murdered you, and the one who now would compel your loyalty for his own ends.’ There are no such words. And therefore I shall say naught.”
“Wisdom indeed,” Gandalf said, and smiled, and the lamplight cast shadows upon his kindly, ancient face.
Aragorn’s pipe went out. As he bent to his pouch to refill it, there was a noise outside. Some words were spoken – and then Merry entered. “Hullo, Strider!” he said. “And Gandalf too! Soon we shall be quite a party!”
Behind him, a figure moved into the play of light.
“Lord Faramir,” Aragorn said calmly. “You are never, I think, wholly at your best when we meet.”
Faramir knelt before him. He looked exhausted, and filthy. “For my part, my liege,” he said, bowing his head as Aragorn took his hands within his own, “I would beg not to be forced again through such a mire for an audience with you.” He looked up at his King. “And yet in all things, I am your servant, sire.”