“Gondor, Gondor! Would that I looked on you again in happier hour! Not yet does my road lie southward to your bright streams.”
-- J.R.R. Tolkien
1. I do not remember falling. Or landing, the impact. I remember the pain coming slowly, spreading hour by hour, sneaking up on me like a pot of boiling water growing hot. I remember trying to move, and instantly relenting to remain still. I remember, in between periods of going dark, leaves falling around me. It was fall. I was alone, lost. My parents were gone. The blade was gone. I had not the strength to even weep.
I don't know how long I was there, on the floor of the forest, though later I was told that I was found blanketed by leaves. I woke one morning to the sound of voices, and struggled for the energy to get my eyes open. Someone was turning me onto my back, which was incredibly painful. I did not have the strength to protest. I looked up, but my vision was blurred with hunger, thirst, and near insanity. I saw a tall, fair boy leaning over me, but I did not know then that this was what I was looking at. Muffled sounds came from him and another figure in the clearing. I saw the second, larger form bend to pick something up off the forest floor. When he did, like a kick to the head from the ancient responsibilities now thrust to me, my vision snapped into clarity.
I was staring at a man – nay, a boy, or someplace in between. He was standing fifty or so feet away from me, and he was examining the Ruby Blade with great interest. I opened my lips as much as I could, I tried to scream, tried to protest. If the Blade was taken then everything my family had died for was worthless. But try as I might, no sound came from my throat. It was too dry, too weak. Only a creaking, hollow breath rushed out. The exertion alone caused me to lose my sudden ability to see clearly. I fell limp against the first boy, who turned to the other.
“ She is near death!” he called, his hands hovering as if he was afraid to touch me. The second boy, clearly older, rushed over and leaned down. I felt his fingers against my neck, checking for a heartbeat, and I hated his touch. He had tucked the Ruby Blade into his sheath. Though I could no longer see clearly, my vision whirling between the far away blue of the sky and the clumsy figures of the boys, I could sense the Blade against his side.
“ Probably a survivor from Erandis,” the older one said, lifting me easily into his arms. “ We will take her back to the city.”
Though, if I could have, I would have slain the both of them and flown with the Blade, I was secretly, traitorously, happy to be found. I curled listlessly against the chest of the boy who carried me, my broken body surrendering at last.
When I woke again I was being shuffled into a bed, and I opened my eyes to a stone ceiling. Hands were exchanging things over my face, voices were barking instructions.
“ Out of here, both of you!” I heard an older woman shout. “ I need space! And send Iris to assist me!”
I let my head loll to the side, and saw the boy who had carried me disappearing through a wooden door. When he opened it, light rushed in. The second boy, the one who had found me, lingered for a moment before being shoved out into the light. The woman shut the door behind him. She was a healer – she and two assistants rubbed ointments over my skin, forced potions down my throat, and wrapped my wounds in cloth. I choked and sputtered, moaned and cried. By the time they were through I had passed out again.
I was asleep for two days, the healer's medicine working in me while my body rested. Faramir would later tell me about the conversation that had taken place at the royal table the night of my arrival in Gondor.
“ I have heard that you found a survivor from Erandis today in the forest,” Denethor had said, smiling down at Boromir.
“ Yes, father,” Boromir had said, drinking. “ When we were hunting we came upon a girl, covered in leaves. She must have been there for some time. Actually,” he said, lifting his cup to his younger brother. “It was Faramir who spotted her. My eyes might not have been so keen – only one pale hand was visible under the cover of the leaves.”
Denethor had offered a curious glance at Faramir, who dipped his eyes shyly. He turned back to Boromir.
“ She might be the only survivor,” he said heavily. The Lady Ywavine, a high member of the court, let out a sob down at the other end of the table.
“ I apologize for my outburst, my Lord,” she said. “ But my sister and her two daughters were all killed in the massacre.”
“ It is a tragedy,” Denethor said darkly.
“ I should like to go and see this survivor, if you will allow it,” Ywavine said, dabbing at her eyes with her napkin. “ I would like to try and offer some comfort to her. You say she was only a girl?”
“ Yes,” Boromir answered. “ Perhaps a few years younger than Faramir,” he supposed. Faramir was thirteen at the time, Boromir sixteen. I was twelve years old.
“ Of course you may visit her, Ywavine,” Denethor said, waving a hand. “ We shall care for any from Erandis who are able to find their way to Minas Tirith.”
“ I should like to go and see her again, myself, father,” Faramir said quietly.
“ Don't be foolish,” Denethor said under his breath. “ Let the Lady Ywavine have her time with the girl. She lost her own daughter not long ago, and I should think they might be a comfort to each other. You would only get in the way.”
“ Yes, father,” Faramir said, his eyes cast down into his lap.
When I opened my eyes again, an older woman with dark hair and fine dress was sitting beside my bed. She smiled widely at me and gently brushed a hair from my forehead.
“ Where am I?” I asked, my voice an ugly croak. I was covered in sweat, thirsty and starving.
“ Shhh,” the woman said. “ You are still in the realm of Gondor, at Minas Tirith. We are taking care of you. You need not fear.”
Something about the woman's motherly posturing made my eyes water up, and soon I was sobbing.
“ What is the matter?” the woman asked, her voice panicky. “ Are you in pain?” I shook my head, though I was.
“ My mother,” was all I could manage to get out in between sobs. She had died before my eyes. Every time I closed them, every time I dreamed, she died again, the horrible memory encasing all of my thoughts.
“ I know,” the woman said, her own voice trembling. I could hear from it that she did know, that she had lost someone she loved herself. I let her put her arms around me and hold me.
“ There, there,” she said, smoothing my hair. “ I am Lady Ywavine.” She pulled back and looked into my eyes. “ What is your name?” she asked.
“ Lydia,” I said, wiping at my face and sniffling. I asked her for a glass of water, and she brought me a silver cup, which I drank from greedily. In the cup's shiny surface I caught a glimpse of my reflection: I looked ghastly, deathly pale and gaunt, the skin under my eyes almost green. My long, dark hair was matted with sweat and horribly tangled.
“ We shall have to clean you up,” Ywavine said sweetly, as if reading my thoughts. I offered her a sad smile.
When she had gone, the healer approached me and introduced herself as Tirias.
“ Ywavine is a good woman,” she told me. “ She'll take care of you. And for longer than just your healing time, if you need her to.”
“ I must take whatever charity I can get,” I had said weakly. “ I have no one now.” I thought of my people, long ago chased out from where they belonged by Sauron. There had been a time, ages ago, when the Ullia had lived peacefully on Orphtia, which was now commonly called Mt. Doom. Driven out, we had survived as best we could, developing a hard won friendship with the Eagles and residing in their realm. But pursuit of the Ruby Blade had destroyed us all, one by one. All that was left of us was myself and perhaps a few others who had escaped the final slaughter. I would never see them again. And the Blade. I shut my eyes, thinking of the boy in the woods who had found it. It was gone. I could not raze the walls of this city myself to win it back.
“ Listen,” the healer said, leaning down low. “ If you want to stay in Gondor, there is something you should know.” Saying this, she produced from her pocket a pendant my mother had given me. It was gold, and bore the emblem of our people.
“ That's mine,” I said weakly, lacking even the strength to reach for it.
“ I know,” she said, placing it in my hand. “ I found it around your neck. But you best hide it if you want safe harbor here. Those in Gondor don't take that kindly to sorcerers and the like. And Lady Ywavine only wants to look after you because she thinks you're from Erandis.”
“ Erandis,” I said, frowning, remembering this word said in the forest when I was found. “ What is that?”
“ A city in Gondor,” the healer said. “ One that fell recently. Ywavine had family there, and she's lost a child herself. She'd be willing to care for you if she thought that had been your home.”
I sighed. My mother would hate the idea of my pretending not to be Ullia – she was very proud of who we were, dwindling or not. But she would be more opposed to my dying alone in the wilderness than my survival among those who might have resented me if they knew my true origin.
“ Alright,” I had said, closing my hand around the pendant. “ I'll pretend to remember nothing. They can assume what they will about me. And I'll hide this somewhere,” I said, giving my mother's necklace a squeeze.
Lady Ywavine visited me frequently as I grew stronger, reading to me and talking to me about Minas Tirith. We became friends, and occasionally her husband, Lord Wendym, accompanied her. They were both kind, and as the healer had suspected, they offered to adopt me, deciding that I was likely a relative from Erandis. I was both relieved and disheartened by their invitation. I felt somehow that I was betraying my own parents, though they were gone.
Even the Steward of Gondor, Denethor, once visited me in the healer's chambers, officially welcoming me to Minas Tirith. He was sincere, but did linger over questioning about my life in Erandis, though the healer told him that I would never have any memory of it.
The only other visitor I got was a strange, quiet boy, who came in often during the weeks that I resided in the healer's chambers, always complaining of a minor injury. The healer would tsk and complain to me that he could easily heal these things himself, but to the boy's face she was overly accommodating, and I guessed that he was someone of importance. Something about him irritated me – when the healer left the room to search for a herb or bandage for him, he would nervously glance at me, and when I caught him he would look quickly back to the rows of bottled potions that the healer kept along shelves that lined the room.
“ What is your name?” I asked him one day, when he came in as I was taking my lunch.
“ Faramir,” he had answered, staring at me as if he was frightened of me.
“ Your voice sounds familiar,” I had muttered to myself.
“ I'm the one who found you,” he had said proudly.
“ Ah,” I said, stirring the soup I was eating with my spoon. “ Well. Thank you, Faramir. I suppose you saved my life.” We exchanged a long look, and he made me laugh by bowing awkwardly. He looked embarrassed when he raised his head, but then grinned when he saw me giggling at him.
It occurred to me, when he left, that I should have asked him about the Blade. But I then decided that my best chance at someday reclaiming it was to never mention it at all, and only search silently. I wasn't sure if it was Faramir, or the other boy in the forest that day who had kept the Blade. But I decided that I would try and keep as close to both of them as I could until I found out.
On my last night in the healer's quarters, the day before I was set to move into Ywavine and Wendym's house, I was quite forlorn. I was frightened about moving in with people who, though kind, were essentially strangers. I was doubting that I would ever be able to retrieve the Ruby Blade, and blaming myself for losing it. Outside, Gondor was celebrating a recent military victory. They seemed to be often at war, always either mourning a loss or hosting a party, as they were tonight, to proclaim a triumph.
I was lying on my bed that night, listening to the festivities in the distance outside. I had been invited to the party – I was well enough to go, but I had insisted that I was still feeling ill, that I wanted one last night in the healer's chambers. I was not in the mood for a party, and especially one where the customs would be unfamiliar and the attendants strangers. At the same time, I couldn't sleep, feeling that I was missing some excitement, wallowing in misery.
The door of the healer's chambers cracked slightly, and I sat up in bed, hoping it was Ywavine, come with some gossip from the party. Instead, Faramir poked his head inside. I smiled, happy even to see him.
“ Is Tirias here?” he had whispered.
“ No,” I said, straightening my nightgown and hair. “ She's at the party.” Faramir slipped inside, and I noticed a jar in his hands. It was full of some bright, glowing substance, and he had his hands over it, as if he was trying to hide what it contained.
“ What is that glowing?” I asked, craning my neck as he walked into the center of the room. He answered by unscrewing the lid on the jar and releasing into the room what seemed like a thousand little points of light, which flew lazily through the air. I laughed with happy surprise.
“ Fireflies,” Faramir had explained, smiling. They flew through the air, lighting the room like our own personal stars. They were so beautiful, I wanted to only delight in them, but for some reason the sight of them made me miss my mother.
“ You like them?” Faramir had asked, walking to me with the empty jar still in his hands.
“ Yes,” I had said heavily, watching one fly past my nose. “ But they make me sad.”
“ They do?” Faramir had said, his expression dropping with disappointment. “ That was not my intention.”
“ I know,” I said, managing a smile for him. “ But they make me sad, because they are beautiful, and my mother cannot see them.” My eyes fell to my lap.
“ My mother is also dead,” Faramir said, understanding. “ And my father dead to me because of it,” he added, his voice low. I lifted my face to him, frowning.
“ What do you mean?” I asked.
“ My mother died when I was born,” Faramir said. “ Because of me. My father will not forgive me.”
“ That is horrible!” I said, reaching for him without meaning to. I wasn't sure what my hand meant to do, but it awkwardly gripped his sleeve for a moment before falling away. “ How unfair.”
He sat beside me on the bed, and we both watched the fireflies until the last few had found the open window and flown away.
“ My name is Lydia,” I said at last. “ Thank you for the fireflies.”
He shrugged, not looking at me. “ I had intended to leave them for you for company,” he said. “ I did not consider the window.”
“ I prefer your company,” I said, thinking of the Blade, eager to foster a friendship with this boy so that I might learn of its whereabouts. He turned to me and smiled, and I realized that I could use a friend, with or without my agenda.
“ And,” I said, reaching into my blankets. “ I have a present for you in return.” I retrieved my Ullia pendant. I knew I had to do something with it before tomorrow morning, when I moved into Ywavine's house. I held it up and Faramir beheld it in the moonlight when I placed it in his palm.
“ What is it?” he asked, turning it over.
“ It's a secret,” I said, dropping my voice. “ Will you keep it for me until I leave?” He looked up at me abruptly.
“ You're leaving?” he asked.
“ Someday,” I said, making the promise to myself. He nodded, and tucked the necklace into his pocket.
“ I will keep it safe for you,” he said.
So began my life in Gondor. In the house of Ywavine and Wendym, I was educated like any other lady of Gondor's court, taught to embroider and dance, the manners and customs of the court, and some basic healing medicine that I could never fully master. It would have been endlessly tiresome if not for my friendships with Boromir and Faramir, the sons of the steward.
My friendship with Boromir was harder to foster, as he was often away at war as we got older. Faramir, meanwhile, did not jump at the chance to start his military career early as his brother had. We spent much of our time together, walking often in Gondor's forests, talking together after meals as the royals spoke somberly of war and strategy, and endlessly wandering the city's streets and shops, as restless teenagers do.
Boromir I had to purposely seek out when he was home. His friendship relied more on my methods of flirtation, because I did not have the time to build the kind of closeness I had developed early with Faramir. Despite my efforts to remain always in the confidence of the sons of the steward, however, I learned nothing of the whereabouts of the Ruby Blade. Over time, as I grew farther and farther from the ways of my own people, I let my quest to regain the Blade quietly fade to a minor worry. I decided that, even if I found it, since there was no one left to teach me how to wield it, it would be worthless.
Meanwhile, my attentions were being spent on another matter entirely. While I had always fancied Boromir as I grew up, because he was brave, strong and celebrated, around my sixteenth year I began to fall in love. Not, surprisingly, with the often absent Boromir, whose returns to Minas Tirith once thrilled me, but with Faramir, who was always there, never missed. I had never considered Faramir to be anything more than a dear friend, but suddenly things between us were beginning to change.
My first memory of having new feelings for my friend came one day while Boromir was home. Faramir and I were in the royal gardens, lying on our stomachs in the grass with a book he had taken from his father's library spread out in front of us. It was a book about the various species of Middle Earth. While Ywavine was instructing me in the arts that a lady of Gondor was expected to know, Faramir had been teaching me much useful information about the world outside the palace walls. That day we were lingering, as we usually did, over the section of the book devoted to elves.
“ Beautiful,” I said, running a tender hand over the illustrations. “ I wonder if Ywavine could make me a dress like this.”
“ I don't know,” Faramir said thoughtfully, staring at the picture of an elf maiden. “ I have heard that they have special powers in the construction of even their practical goods.”
“ This dress would likely have starlight woven into it,” I supposed, smiling down at the picture. “ I do not not think Ywavine could harness that material with her needle and thread.”
Faramir turned the page, and as he did his shoulder crept almost imperceptibly closer to mine. I bit away a smile – in those days I was noticing that he had developed a small crush on me, and I wasn't sure what to think about it yet, but I did enjoy the new attention. I let my shoulder settle against his as we looked down at the section on halflings.
“ Mithrandir speaks of these creatures often,” Faramir said, tapping the page.
“ Is he the wizard counselor you have told me about?” I asked, a little jealous that I was not royal enough to make these sorts of friendships.
“ Yes,” Faramir said. “ He is very wise, though my father fails to see it sometimes. Someday you will meet him,” he assured me. “ But he is often in a hurray during his visits.” I nodded.
“ He tells me that halflings love nothing more than cheer, especially food and drink,” Faramir said. “ And pipe weed,” he added in a low voice, and we both giggled. We had tried to smoke some pipe weed at one time out of curiosity, sneaking into a barn near the palace shops so that we would not be caught. Though at first it brought on terrible coughing fits in both of us, we had nervously giggled there in the hay for almost an hour while smoking it, and it was a memory we often laughed about.
“ It sounds like a charmed life to me,” I said, touching the rosy cheek of one of the hobbits depicted in the illustrations. “ Sometimes I think I should like nothing more than to be in peace to read, eat and sleep whenever I like.”
“ That does sound appealing,” Faramir said. “ But would I be invited along?” he asked.
“ Of course you would!” I said, and as I did I realized that all of my plans wordlessly included Faramir. A tiny fear grew in me in that moment, about the destiny of the men of Gondor once they reached the age of eighteen. Even the steward's sons were not free from the contract to go to war upon coming of age.
“ Faramir! Lydia!” we heard someone call, and we both turned to see a grinning Boromir jogging across the field toward us. I smiled and waved at him, and Faramir stood to greet his brother, then offered me a hand. I closed the book and stood beside him.
“ Not training today, Boromir?” Faramir asked his older brother.
“ No, we have a break today,” Boromir said, and though he seemed to take great pride in battle and all its accouterments, I could see that he was relieved to have some time to himself.
“ Oh, wonderful!” I said, hugging the book to my chest. “ We should all go riding. It is such a beautiful day.”
“ I had hunting in mind myself,” Boromir said, looking to Faramir. “ It has been a long time since my brother and I went hunting together. And look how lucrative our trips can be!” he said, teasing me, as they had found me while hunting all those years ago. I offered him a petulant scowl in jest.
“ But Lydia and I --” Faramir began. He had confided in me that he did not like hunting, the killing of animals for sport.
“ Well, bring her along!” Boromir said, squeezing my shoulder. “Perhaps she can help me locate a maiden of my own among the brush,” he said, winking at Faramir. Both Faramir and I turned bright red, so embarrassed by his assumption that I was Faramir's “own” that we then followed him wordlessly across the garden. As we walked toward the stables I thought about it, and the idea did not perturb me. Boromir hooked his arm through mine as we walked, as he often did, for it was the proper way to escort a lady of Gondor. As he talked about his latest campaign I turned back and gave Faramir a sly smile. He grinned back, and I felt an unfamiliar warmth in my stomach, noticing the way the corners of his eyes wrinkled slightly when he smiled.
We took three horses for the hunt, and Boromir and Faramir both armed themselves with bows and arrows.
“ Shall I not take a weapon?” I asked, feeling a bit left out. Faramir looked at me with surprise and Boromir laughed. I knew that I was pushing my luck – Ywavine would be horrified if she knew I even rode with them while they hunted – but I wanted to see what they would say.
“ You want to shoot?” Boromir asked, smiling.
“ Never mind,” I muttered. I didn't like the idea of shooting an animal any more than Faramir did, but Boromir's amusement at my request made me angry. I wanted to tell him about the Ruby Blade, that I was its guardian, to prove to him that I had some skill as a warrior, despite my being a woman. But I knew that if I actually picked up the sword I would be instantly lost, having no training in its unique use, or even in swordsmanship in general.
“ Were the women of Erandis hunters?” Boromir asked as we rode out of the stables, not letting the subject drop.
“ I do not remember,” I muttered darkly. Boromir's face fell.
“ Forgive me,” he said. “ I did not mean to make light of it.” I gave him a smile, letting him know that I accepted his apology. The women of Ullia did not have roles that were as strict as the ladies of Gondor did – they could not afford to, too often being forced to participate in battle themselves. Even though I had been living in Gondor for four years by then, I had not quite gotten used to the culture's treatment of women as entities that should remain entirely separate from men. Ywavine was scandalized even by my walks alone with Faramir, and I knew that, if he had not been the steward's son, she would have forbidden them.
We rode into the forest, talking and laughing, enjoying the mid afternoon sun and the fair weather. The day felt unusually carefree, and even Boromir seemed completely unburdened by thoughts of war. I enjoyed having the two brothers to myself, especially then when I was teetering between an old crush on Boromir and a growing love for Faramir.
As we rode, Boromir ahead of me and Faramir behind, I spotted something in the distance. Not thinking about what the result would be, I called out when I realized it was a beautiful bird pecking at the forest floor.
“ Look!” I whispered, turning back to Faramir. His eyes found the bird, and he smiled.
“ A partira pheasant,” he said quietly. “ They are beautiful, aren't they?” I nodded. Boromir turned back.
“ Ah!” he said, his voice hushed. “ Faramir, you take it,” he whispered. “ You are closer.”
Faramir looked at his brother almost as if he didn't understand what he meant for him to do, then I saw the realization cross his face. He pulled an arrow from his pack, and strung it into his bow.
“ It won't offer much meat,” Faramir said, hesitating.
“ A partira is a prize bird!” Boromir said. “ They are rare.”
“ Should we kill it, then?” I asked, wishing that the bird would fly away. But it only plucked obliviously at the brush.
Boromir sighed, and in this sigh was all the criticism that Faramir had ever received gently from his older brother and harshly from his father. Beside me, Faramir pulled the arrow back on his bow. I saw his hands shaking as he held the arrow, not firing.
“ Go on,” Boromir whispered. “ Before it flies away!”
But Faramir sat frozen on his horse, not releasing the arrow. My heart was pounding, and I prayed that he would not kill the bird, only because it was beautiful, and innocent. I could see in Faramir's hesitation that he did not want to. I knew he would feel guilty if he did.
“ I cannot,” he said at last, dropping the bow into his lap, the arrow still between his fingers. I waited for Boromir to let out a groan of impatience, but instead heard an arrow fly past my ear. I gasped, and when I looked back to the pheasant, it was dead on the forest floor.
“ Oh, Boromir!” I said sadly, but he only smiled.
“ It seems I was closer after all,” he said, riding to retrieve the bird. I turned back to Faramir, but he would not look at me.
This was the moment that I fell completely in love with Faramir, my crush on Boromir at last fading away. I wanted to wrap him in my arms then and tell him that, despite the values of his brother and father, I thought was the noblest man in the kingdom. He was looking down at his hands on the saddle as Boromir rode back to us, the pheasant tied onto his horse.
“ It is a shame to see something beautiful die,” I said, looking at the bird's colored feathers, now limp around its body.
“ A woman's sentiment,” Boromir said lightly, and at this Faramir turned his horse around and rode quickly away.
“ Faramir!” I called, but he was gone. I looked back to Boromir with a frown.
“ Where is he going?” Boromir wondered obliviously.
“ You hurt him, you know,” I said. Boromir shrugged.
“ He is too sensitive,” he said. I groaned, and turned my horse back to the palace. Boromir quickly followed, his horse trotting behind mine, then he caught up, riding beside me.
“ Faramir is lucky to have your favor,” Boromir said, making my cheeks flush.
“ He is not lucky,” I said. “ I love him because of his nature.”
“ So do I,” Boromir said, after some consideration. “ I would not want him to change. He is pure of heart. But,” he added, looking squarely at me. “ He will have to change if he is to survive in a world such as this one.” I stopped my horse and looked at Boromir, frowning.
“ What is your meaning?” I asked.
“ Lydia,” Boromir said, looking at me with sadness. “ It will only be a few years time before my little brother must join myself and the rest of the men of Gondor on the battlefield.”
I turned away, not wanting to believe this. We rode in silence for until we reached the edge of the forest.
“ There was a time when you had my favor, Boromir,” I said quietly, not looking at him. He was silent for a moment, obviously surprised.
“ I did not know you felt that way,” he said, his voice gentle.
“ There was no time to feel anything real,” I said, angry. “ You were away at war. There is no time for anything else in Gondor, it seems.”
“ There would be nothing else, if we did not defend ourselves,” Boromir told me hotly.
I rode away from him then, not knowing how to answer. He was right, of course, but I did not want to think about it. I returned my horse to the stables, and jogged up to the palace, to Faramir's room. It was empty when I entered – I would later learn that he had gone for a long ride alone after he left us that day. Finding myself suddenly desperate for him, I fell onto his bed, resting my head on his pillow. I rolled over and breathed deeply, the scent of him there making me dizzy with desire.
Don't leave me, I thought, clutching his pillow, curling around it as the light from the window behind me warmed my back. I did not want Faramir to forsake the laws of his people and avoid his duty. But I did not know how I would survive it if he went away to war.