For Becky on her birthday. Beta by RiverOtter.
As he approached the ramp to the Seventh Level of Minas Tirith, Faramir found himself behind what at first he took for a young boy, until the figure with its dark brown curls turned his head to see who walked behind him, and Faramir saw he followed Master Frodo Baggins, the Ringbearer.
The Hobbit paused, smiling in recognition. “Captain Faramir? And how are you this day?”
“Well, thank you. My shoulder appears to be nearly recovered, and I was actually able to finish my forms today while at weapons practice. And you, small master?”
“Well enough, I suppose. I was planning to take this to my Cousin Merry, who I understand stands guard before the Kings’ tomb in the burial grounds here, where lies the body of King Théoden of Rohan.” He held out a basket he carried that appeared to hold a fair amount of food. “The Lady Éowyn bade me bring it to him, that he not grow faint before his duty is finished. I am told the door is not far from the entrance to the grounds for the Houses of Healing, but I am uncertain as to which gate it might be.”
“Shall I go with you, then?” the Man asked.
Frodo looked uncertain. “It will not bother you? I mean, it is where—where your father lost his life, is it not?”
Faramir knew his own expression had to be quite solemn. “So I have learned. But I assure you I can bear it.”
The Hobbit gave an abbreviated nod. “If you are certain, then. I would not cause you any discomfort.”
Faramir moved to walk alongside Frodo Baggins, and shortened his stride that he not tax his companion unduly. “My lady displays her thoughtfulness for her shield brother,” he commented.
Frodo’s expression relaxed some. “That she does. Merry will be sorry when she must leave in a few days to return to Rohan to help her brother establish his rule.” Then, with a sidelong glance upward he added slyly, “As must you be.”
Faramir felt himself smile, and was grateful to the Hobbit for his ability to change the subject. “Oh, indeed I shall feel bereft, not to be able to spend time each day with her as I have become accustomed. Although it shall be but a short time before she returns and we might look to our marriage. I am thankful that her brother has agreed that we might be handfasted following the burial feast for Théoden. So short a time have I known her as a woman grown, and how dear she has become to me already.”
“Had you known her in the past?”
“I saw her some years ago, during a trip we made to Edoras, before Gríma Wormtongue gave his full allegiance to Curunír and began to speak the poison of despair to the King there. She was a gangling girl then, with more interest in the sword I bore than for the likes of a young Man but recently accepted as Captain of the Rangers of Ithilien. As I remember it, when she realized I was more an archer than a swordsman she lost interest in me completely, choosing to sit at her brother’s feet as he and Prince Théodred coaxed stories of my brother’s exploits from Boromir. Éomer gave me more attention, for he sought to master all weapons, not just a sword. He gave me a demonstration of archery from the back of a horse, which is a far more challenging skill to acquire than the use of longbow from cover in the woods of Ithilien.”
“And you never thought that perhaps one day you might be moved to love her?”
Faramir shook his head. “No, certainly not. Although even then I admired her ease around the horses and her seat as she rode. A most graceful rider she proved. But she was yet a young girl, too young to look on in that way, you understand.”
Frodo nodded, and for a time they walked in silence. Faramir indicated the way between the Houses of Healing and the Sixth Gate, beyond which lay a cutting that led at a downward slant to the door to the Silent Street, and Frodo straightened, as if he’d barely noticed the gap before. Now he allowed Faramir to go slightly before himself. Glancing back, the Man noticed he was examining his surroundings closely as they went. “It is a narrow way,” Frodo commented.
The Man was surprised, for it was quite wide enough for five Men to easily walk abreast. “You see it as close?” he asked.
The Hobbit’s cheeks became colored. “I suppose I should not see it as that, as small as I am compared to your people, but we Hobbits are not accustomed to ways bordered on both sides with stone walls that loom far over our heads. And our burial grounds are bounded by low hedges or simple rail fences, if there is anything at all about them. Indeed, the lane leading into the burial grounds in Bywater where those from the region of the Hill are laid to rest must be far narrower than this, but this feels to be closer, if you understand me.”
Faramir found himself imagining this. “The city here must feel very strange to you,” he commented.
Again there was that slight nod of acknowledgment and agreement, and then they were approaching the lodge for the porter.
“My lords? You would enter the Rath Dínen?”
Faramir smiled at the Man, newly come to his office, he knew. “Indeed, Gildorin, for we have an errand to one of those who stands to honor Théoden King.”
Gildorin gave a glance at Faramir’s companion and his basket, and nodded as if he weren’t certain that such relief to one who was standing honor guard was perhaps quite proper. “For the Pherian, then. Then let me not keep you.” And with a bow he unlocked the door and allowed them to enter the necropolis.
In spite of his assurances to Frodo Baggins, Faramir found himself stiffening somewhat as the two of them entered the Silent Street. He wasn’t certain that the Hobbit noticed, as Frodo himself was examining the surrounding edifices with a level of curiosity. “Who dwells in these buildings?” Frodo asked, peering up at him sideways.
“These are the tombs in which our most honored dead lie,” Faramir explained. “This first is set aside for those who have served with distinction in the Guard for the Citadel. On that side is the tomb for those lords of the land who die within the City while in active service to the King or Ruling Steward, those who choose to lie here, that is.”
He noticed a look of revulsion on the Hobbit’s face as he paused, examining the great tomb to the right of the way more closely. “You do not bury them in good, clean earth?” asked Frodo.
Faramir shook his head. “I fear not, not those who choose to be interred here. In each tomb are many tables, and most, after they have been embalmed, are laid upon one of the tables and covered over with a sheer veil of silk.”
The Hobbit’s expression of discomfort grew stronger. “But, don’t they—don’t they soon begin to stink and decay?”
The Man felt himself smiling some. “That is the purpose for the elmbalming, you see—to guarantee the integrity of the body for some time after death. In some cases the body might be placed in a stone sarcophagus, particularly if the deceased died from a wasting condition or a disease known to be contagious, or was killed in such a way that the body was not intact at the time of death—such as happens when a person falls from the walls or has died of fire or a crushing accident. In such cases an effigy of the deceased is then usually sculpted to lie upon the tomb cover, that those who come to offer them honor might remember how they looked in life.”
The revulsion faded as compassion took its place on the Ringbearer’s face. “I see. And will this be done, then, for your father?”
Faramir nodded, again feeling quite solemn. “Indeed, as there is little left, I am told, that remains of his body. They have gathered his ashes and what little was identifiable of him into a stone coffer, and I will, when I have the time to choose what sculptor is to complete the commission, have a suitable effigy or perhaps a seated statue created and place the coffer below it. And I will have a figure made of Boromir as well, to stand at guard nearby, as we have no body to lie here.”
Frodo gave another nod, and started forward once more. Soon they came to the House of Kings, in front of which stood two in the garb of Riders of Rohan, one of them Meriadoc Brandybuck, both standing with the tips of their swords grounded before them before the closed door to the building that held the bodies of former Kings of Gondor.
Frodo set the basket before Merry. “The Lady Éowyn sends this with her compliments, bidding you be refreshed that you not faint at your duty, Merry,” he said quietly. Merry gave a brief inclination of his head in acknowledgment, but remained at attention in keeping with his duty. Frodo bowed in respect toward the building’s door, and he and Faramir turned away back toward the street between the rows of great tombs.
Beyond the House of the Kings stood a building that was under construction. About it stood scaffolding, and there were stacks of great stones awaiting use by the masons who were seeing to the further raising of the walls, which already stood well over Faramir’s height.
“There is need for a new tomb, then?” Frodo asked, examining it with a degree of curiosity. “But, no—those steps have to have been here for quite some time!”
Faramir felt a tightness in his throat. “It was the House of the Stewards. My father apparently had them bring wood and lay it upon the embalmers’ table, then laid me upon it, and himself beside me. The heat of the fire was enough to cause the dome to crack and much of the walls to fall. You will note the back portions are finished—those are the oldest portions of the tomb, where the first of the Stewards lie. But the front part of the place needs to be constructed anew, and a new embalmers’ table will need to be crafted. My grandfather and back to his grandfather—their bodies were not consumed but are no longer recognizable. There will be a need to have stone sarcophagi and effigies constructed for them as well.”
Frodo’s eyes were wide as he examined the construction. He turned to look up at Faramir. “And is there any indication as to how they looked that could be used in making the statues?”
“In the Hall of Memorial within the Citadel complex are statues of all of the Kings and Stewards of Gondor. After all, there have been rather too many for the statues of each and all to stand between the pillars in the Hall of Kings.”
“I see,” said Frodo. Then, after a moment he suggested, “Shall we go, then?” So saying, he turned his back decidedly upon the broken tomb, his gaze now fixed upon the way ahead of him, plainly intending not to stop until they were outside the door again.
They were quiet as they walked together, merely exchanging bows with Gildorin as he opened the door at Faramir’s knock and prepared to lock it again after them. As they emerged at last from the submerged lane, Faramir noted that Frodo’s breath was becoming labored, and realized that the Hobbit was tiring. “Shall we rest for a time within the gardens for the Houses of Healing?” he suggested.
Frodo nodded, obviously relieved. He followed the Man as the Steward turned in through the gates to the garden, and sank with relief upon the first bench they reached. Faramir sat beside him, and for a time they were still. At last Frodo stretched some, as if he felt easier. At this point an apprentice to the healers arrived, carrying a platter of fruit and cheeses and two mugs of light ale for their refreshment, smiling as he presented this and retreating back indoors to his proper duties. Frodo sipped at his mug, staring thoughtfully at the low wall beyond which he now knew the cutting led down toward the tombs for the notables of the city. After setting the mug between the two of them, he asked, “Did you tell your father about meeting Sam and me, there in Ithilien?”
“Yes, I did. It was not something I could conceal from him, after all, not when all those with me had seen you also, and when, surprised to see your kinsman Pippin in the crowd of those who greeted me back to the city, I had blurted out that this was not the first Halfling I had seen. In spite of your statement that you had traveled with two of your kinsman besides Master Samwise, I found coming so unexpectedly upon Pippin dressed in the garb of a Guard of the Citadel quite put me out of my reckoning. I doubt I was as careful with my words as perhaps I ought to have been.”
“Was he angry with you?”
Faramir nodded. “He was so certain that had we the Ring here we could somehow fend off the assault by Mordor. But I kept remembering what you had said about two haunted cities grinning at one another across the wasteland between, and I knew I had done well. He—he accused me of seeking ever to appear a gracious lord when I ought to have thought first of the needs of the city and our people, and swore that had Boromir met you instead he would have brought our father a mighty gift.” He could hear the bitterness in his own voice at the remembered words.
The Hobbit had paled, his own eyes darkening as he recalled his last encounter with Denethor’s older son. “No, he would not have brought the Ring here to surrender It to your father. He thought that he could use It to defeat the Enemy himself, and told me that it was but a chance that It had come to me rather than to him. The Ring had taken him, you see. All have told me that they heard It calling to them, that they could make things better if they should take It from me, that they could each be the great Hero of the Age. Even Sam!” He raised his eyes to meet the Man’s gaze, and Faramir could see the grief within them.
They were both startled to hear the voice of the new King from behind them. “Oh, yes, I certainly found myself fighting Its calls to me. And Boromir recognized that he’d been taken by It, and begged my forgiveness for having tried to take It from you, Frodo.”
Rising, Faramir began, “I had no idea that you were there, my lord.”
But Aragorn was waving his hand dismissively. “I was told you were here, and but now came out of the Houses and overheard the last of your discourse. Yes, we all heard the call of the Ring, even Legolas. It told me that I could force Denethor to accept my claim for the Winged Crown and to again honor me as if we were the brothers so many thought us to be when I was here before. It told me that I could conquer Sauron without the need for armies, and in the end force him to acknowledge my overlordship and to set right all he’d destroyed in the last five thousand years. I could free the Three from Its power, allowing the Elves I knew, loved, and honored to remain in Middle Earth indefinitely. I could take the desire of my heart without having to meet the stringent requirements laid upon me. And I could save you, Frodo, from the burden of carrying It, and see you relieved of the grief and pain It had laid upon you.”
“As if I could have borne seeing It in any hands but my own at that point,” Frodo responded, to which Aragorn nodded his agreement.
“It would have torn you in two, small brother, had any managed to take It from you. You would have killed, I suspect, to get It back.”
Frodo closed his eyes, turning his face away. “You speak truly.” Abruptly he rose to his feet and walked toward the wall, the two Men following in his wake, Aragorn catching up the platter and Faramir bringing the two mugs of ale.
Once at the wall, the Hobbit drew himself up to sit somewhat sideways upon it, looking again eastward toward the Ephel Dúath. For a time he remained broodingly silent, but at last he murmured, “I feel at times that much of me remains out there, ever seeking to cross those mountains into Mordor.”
“That is understandable,” Aragorn responded quietly, sitting on Frodo’s other side where he might look over the Hobbit’s head to follow the direction of his gaze. He reached around Frodo to set the platter on the stone where the Ringbearer could easily reach the food upon it, and taking a single slice of apple he straightened, his own attention eastward again. “Just as I found myself, on first rounding the spur of the Ephel Dúath, looking warily toward the Dead Marshes as if I could see myself creeping upon Gollum there.”
There was a moment of quiet. “He remembered you capturing him there,” Frodo finally murmured, at last taking an apple slice for himself. “He hated you for having done so.”
The King smiled ruefully, shaking down his sleeve to inspect a now faded scar on his wrist. “I know.”
“Is that where he bit you?” Frodo asked, turning and noting the hint of the healed wound. “He left quite the scars on Sam as well.”
“The newer wound on his neck was filled with infection when you were brought out to me,” Aragorn commented as Frodo ran his finger over the faint marks of teeth. “We were very worried at first, although it healed quickly enough—more quickly than I healed of this bite, I must say. One of Thranduil’s healers saw to it while I remained for a short time within Mirkwood.”
“I’d hoped to see him healed,” Frodo whispered.
“Your hope was noble, but I doubt that poor Gollum could be healed this side of the Halls of Mandos. Too long did It hold sway over his heart.”
“Indeed,” added Faramir, “so I saw, too. But do not grieve overmuch, small master, for he is now free of his enslavement to It, even as is true of you.”
Frodo gave a slight smile that did not reach his eyes, and turned his attention back eastward once more.
“So many died,” he sighed at last, and took a small bite of his apple.
“And so many lived as well,” Faramir returned. “So many lived who otherwise would have died had you not arrived in time at the Sammath Naur. It was a great deed, and I find I am grateful to that poor gangrel creature for taking It from you at the end, saving you along with the rest of us. He managed, with the grace of Ilúvatar, to save us all, you know. He, too, is a hero—perhaps the most unexpected hero of all.”
“May he rest easily in the realm of Lord Námo,” said the King solemnly. “Indeed—the special hero to us all.” And as he smiled down into the Hobbit’s eyes, Faramir felt his own spirits rise as well. Indeed, there was much lost and many gone from the land of the living; but with these two Hope had been returned to a land long fighting the despair engendered by the Enemy, and once more the Sun shone brightly on a renewed Gondor. And when it did come his time to lie there, in the Rath Dínen, he would not begrudge it, having seen the peace his father and brother had fought for so fiercely finally come to be. He thought once more on the creature Gollum, and rejoiced that Frodo here had stayed his hand when he had thought to order its death.