“Tis time for you to finally be of use to me, boy!”
Seventeen year old Faramir sulked. “Father, am I a low, nameless slave, or am I third in line to rule Gondor?”
A backhand to the mouth was his answer. “Do not sass me, boy. You are what I say you are.” Denethor leaned in toward his second son, eyes glittering with resentment and the beginnings of what might have been madness. “We need this alliance with Mirkwood. Its king rumored to have rather…odd tastes.”
Faramir puzzled. “Odd?”
“Not even you are that witless. Serve him in ANY way he desires. Do whatever you must to gain his favor.” The hand that touched his cheek was deceptively gentle. “Fail me, and you will wish you had died with your faithless mother.”
With that, Denethor stalked out in a sweep of tattered robes, leaving young Faramir to wonder if the true enemy slept in Mordor or in Minas Tirith.
It was not until well after moonrise that a knock sounded on the woodland king’s door. Curious as to who would disturb him at such a late hour, Thranduil pulled the heavy oaken door open enough to peek out. “Aye?”
“I have brought linens and firewood, my lord.”
Eyeing the youth for a moment, the elven king shrugged and stepped aside.
Faramir slipped in and over to the fireplace. He stacked the wood neatly, turned to place the linens on a table, and sighed. “Apologies, my lord. I will return with clean linens.”
“No need to waste a trip, young one. The wood chips will come free with a shake or two. When one lives in a forest, it happens fairly often.”
“As you wish, my lord.” A few shakes did indeed do the trick. Faramir took an inordinately long time folding and re-folding the towels, willing his hands to stop trembling.
Thranduil tried to take pity on him. “How long have you served Gondor’s lord, child?”
“My entire life, my lord.”
“And that would be?” The king’s voice carried the slightest hint of impatience.
“Seventeen summers last week, my lord.”
Faramir stiffened. “I am a year from earning my commission in the Guard.”
Thranduil’s brow arched. “I was not aware servants were permitted to enter the guard on commission.”
Faramir cleared his throat. “Times are troubled, my lord. Gondor needs all of her sons to hold back the evil flowing through the Black Gate.”
Thranduil sat – nay, lounged – before the warm fire, sipping his wine. “So, son of Gondor. And Dol Amroth, I believe. Finduilas was a fine maiden.”
The young lordling turned. “You knew my mother?”
“I met her once, on a similar mission shortly before she married Gondor’s Steward.”
Perhaps it was a trick of the firelight, but it seemed as though the elf king’s eyes glittered in triumph. “I was five summers when she passed,” Faramir told him. “But my brother speaks of her fondly.”
“Your brother… Boromir?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Mmm.” He sipped. “So tell me, young Faramir. Is it customary for Gondor’s lord to have his sons waiting on guests like common servants?”
Faramir just barely hid his wince. “My lord wished to show how much he values his honored guest.”
Thranduil chuckled. “Told you to say that, did he?”
He blushed. “Yes, my lord.”
“I thought as much. My father had me say much the same thing on many occasions.”
Faramir perked. “He did?”
“Aye. When the Necromancer began his attacks on the great forests of Middle Earth, he sent me to Lorien to form an alliance.”
“The Witch’s realm?”
Thranduil snorted softly. “Do not let her husband hear you call her that, but aye, Galadriel and Celeborn rule Lothlorien. On the day I was to leave – as I was saddling my horse, actually – he comes up to me and says ‘Now Thranduil,” His voice turned gruff. “You have two options. You can either return home with the alliance we need…”
“Or do not return home at all,” Faramir finished with him, nodding.
“I take it those words are not foreign to you?”
“Not those words exactly, but the ultimatum was the same.”
Thranduil nodded. “The curse of being a lord’s son, aye?”
“Yes, my lord.”
Mellowed by the wine and firelight, Thranduil stood and walked over to the bed. “What were your orders?”
“I am to do whatever it takes to gain and alliance with Mirkwood.”
“My home is thick and the spawn of Shelob grow ever bolder, but she is still Greenwood the Great.”
Faramir fidgeted, wondering if he had so quickly ruined Gondor’s chances for an alliance. “Apologies, my lord. I did not mean to offend.”
Thranduil sighed. “No need to apologize. Despite our best efforts, the wood has grown dark. But to her people, she will always be Greenwood.”
“You miss it. But why do you refer to it as her and she?”
“The wood gives us shelter, food, and safety. To an ellon like myself, the three most important ladies in life are his Wood, his Mother, and his Wife. Though if you were to ask MY wife, she would say she fell much lower than that. You look confused. Where did I lose you?”
“Aye. She has always said – especially when she was expecting – that she often comes last in consideration, even below the lowest scullery maid.”
“Aye. My Father and I both took wives from among the Nandor.”
Faramir began to fidget nervously with the linens he’d spread across the bed. “I did not know you were married.”
“Oh? I am certain your father asked if she would be joining me here.”
Faramir hoped the firelight would disguise his blush. Though he’d been present for the King’s arrival, he’d been far too enthralled by the visitor – the first elf and surely the most beautiful he’d ever met – to know what had been said.
// Father, Father, what madness is in your head? I know you have little enough concern for my honor, but to send me here with the sole intention of seducing him and tricking him into committing adultery… all for an alliance? Is Gondor truly so weak now?//
“What troublesome thoughts bring such deep creases to your brow?”
Faramir was in misery. Surely if he told the elf king his true purpose, there would be no chance of an alliance. But if he did NOT tell, and Thranduil discovered the plot, then it was guaranteed there would be no alliance with Mirkwood. And if Thranduil was the hot-headed type, there would likely be war, and his beloved Gondor would fall.
Thranduil reached out and touched the worry line marring Faramir’s brow. “Tell me?”
Faramir sighed and confessed all. “Father said I was to do anything to gain an alliance.”
“That does not sound so distressing…”
The young lording shook his head. “Nay, my lord, you misunderstand me. I am to serve you in ANY way you wish, be it in your bath, in your chambers, or… in your bed.”
For a moment, Thranduil’s rage blinded him. These weak Men dared try to manipulate him?! Were it not for Elrond’s insistence that the line of Kings would be restored within the century and Sauron’s threat neutralized, he was half tempted to tell Gondor’s Steward what he could do with his alliance!
And yet, as he stared into Faramir’s eyes – so young, and yet already grown tired from the weight of far too many burdens, he found he could not forsake them. And there WAS Elrond’s prediction…
He sighed. “Find another quilt for the bed. Tonight will be cold, and I have no desire to wake to a smoky bedchamber because the fire was left burning.”
Faramir nodded and ran off.
Taking advantage of the brief solitude, Mirkwood’s King changed into a dressing gown, braided his hair back, and scattered the few glowing wood chips in the fireplace. No, he would not be shinnying down a thorny rose trellis half asleep when the fortress caught fire!
When Faramir returned, the quilt was spread across the bed, and a sleeping gown thrust at him. “Get dressed,” Thranduil ordered, turning away.
Turning when the rustle of fabric and bedding grew quiet, he looked at the frightened child in his bed. As a king, he was insulted at the blatant insinuation that he was a pedophile. As a father, he was disgusted.
He walked over to the bed and tucked the quilts up around the boy’s chin. “Relax, young Faramir,” he said, brushing dark hair from his eyes in that age-old expression of parental care. “I am no lover of children, and whatever does or does not occur in these chambers is no one’s concern but ours.”
“But my father…”
“You let me handle him. All I need you to do now is rest. Tomorrow is a busy day.”
It was in the wee hours of the morning when the door to the Thranduil’s chamber eased open. The intruder froze upon seeing Mirkwood’s King stretched out in his bare golden glory upon the bed. A flickering candle provided just enough light to see the scroll in the King’s hand and Faramir’s tousled hair splayed across the pillow beside him.
“Tell your master I said he will get his alliance,” Thranduil said venomously.
The intruder slithered out as quietly as she’d arrived.
After three days of negotiation, the agreement had been hammered out, signed, and copies sent to both Mirkwood and Gondor’s archives. The king was headed home.
As Thranduil sat on his horse, he could not resist the urge to see Denethor’s smug grin disappear. “Your *emissary* served me well.”
Denethor scowled. “Do not get so high and superior. You would have done the exact same if our positions were reversed.”
“Ahh, but that is the difference between us, Denethor, son of Ecthelion. I would not have sent a child to do my work.”
Denethor gaped at the backside of Thranduil’s horse and fumed.
Ten hard years later, the spirits of Gondor’s beleaguered people were at their most dim. The Great Fires had been lit, and yet none had arrived to lend aid. Not Rohan with its feeble King…
…Not Mirkwood, whose darkness had finally seemed to corrupt its King’s heart.
Denethor snorted as he watched the scores of orcs, wild men, and trolls arrive, all intent on laying siege to the white city. “It seems as though your efforts were wasted, Faramir. The elves have forsaken us, as I knew they would.”
Faramir wisely did not point out whose idea the alliance had been. “I ride, Father. Perhaps when I return, you may think better of me.”
Denethor turned away. “That depends upon the manner of your return.”
The waves of enemies seemed endless. The Black Tongue of Mordor grew louder even than the cries of Gondor’s last defense dying around him.
Faramir leaned against a shattered wall in exhaustion and tried to wipe away the blood and grime caking his sword.
The battle was not going well. Gondor’s allies had either fled or fallen beneath the merciless blades of Mordor. The already decimated horsemen of Rohan and the wandering Dunedain had not been enough. The screech signaling the arrival of the Nazgul chilled Faramir’s blood.
It mattered not that the Heir had been found. By morning, the white city of Minas Tirith would fall. Gondor’s doom was at hand.
Hoping they had provided enough distraction to allow those two brave, foolhardy hobbits to sneak into Hell unnoticed, Faramir steeled his soul and decided that if he were to die, this was a good day to do it.
The ground trembled.
The bright knell of an elven horn rode the air on wings, leaving hope in its wake.
“SON OF GONDOR!” cried a blessedly familiar voice.
Faramir sought desperately for the golden head he remembered.
There he was, hair streaming like a banner. He stood beside he who would be the King of Men. Behind them stood a phalanx of swordsmen and archers, their elven armor gleaming in the evening sun.
“There must be thousands of them,” whispered the guard standing beside him.
“SON OF GONDOR!” the elven king roared. “YOUR ARMY IS HERE!”
Faramir’s spirit soared, exhaustion melting away. He charged, his battle cry rallying his kinsmen and striking fear in the hearts of the forces of Mordor.
Thranduil stared at the pale form of Gondor’s new Steward. He placed a hand on Faramir’s brow. His skin was cold, and his breathing shallow.
He sat and reached for the cup of brewed Athelas left by Aragorn. It took a great deal of patience, but he managed to get the mixture into his patient. He bathed the young steward carefully, humming softly, just as he had done for the past two weeks.
Faramir’s eyes cracked open slightly. He winced as bright light assaulted his eyes.
“Your time has not yet come, Son of Gondor,” the light said in a soft voice. “You still serve me.”
The world went black.
It was another three days before Faramir woke again. He looked groggily at the figure resting in the chair beside his cot, and mumbled.
Thranduil’s golden head leaned close. “What was that?”
Faramir blinked warm gray eyes. “I said, I serve you, my lord.”