Chapter Two

I thought of Faramir often after our hunting trip, a longing for him replacing my longing for the Blade. At night, when we retired to our separate houses, I would often turn restlessly in my bed, wishing he could lie beside me. At first I only wanted a warm body to curl against, someone to whisper with into the night. Then I began to want other things, so much that I began to get nervous when Faramir and I actually were together during the day.

One day, when we were taking one of our regular walks together, he was uncharacteristically quiet and grave, and a great fear spread through me. I was afraid that he no longer enjoyed spending time with me, that, with age, his attentions would turn instead to war and combat as Boromir's had.

“ Faramir, is something wrong?” I finally gained the courage to ask, my voice tight. He stopped walking and turned to me. We were in a corner of Minas Tirith's royal gardens; an ornate fountain bubbled quietly nearby.

“ I am sorry if I'm behaving strangely,” he told me. “ But I've recently had a discussion with my brother that upset me.”

“ What did he say?” I asked.

Faramir paused, looking at his feet.

“ It is cowardly,” he mumbled. “ I don't want to tell you.”

“ Don't be silly,” I said, a different fear growing inside me. I had an idea what he might say next.

“ Gondor's army is not as large as it once was, and we are just as plagued as we have always been by the threat from the east,” he said stonily, and I could see that he was repeating Boromir's phrasing. “ I have been asked to enlist a year early,” he told me.

I swallowed a lump in my throat. It was what I had always known was coming and feared – that my best friend would be taken from me, and thrust into deadly combat. And now I had even more to fear than I had once anticipated. I had fallen in love with him, and the thought of losing him now was unbearable.

Without thinking, I threw my arms around Faramir, burying my face against his neck. Clearly taken off guard, he awkwardly returned my embrace.

“ You will do well,” I said, trying to sound strong, but still clinging to him desperately. “ But I shall miss you terribly,” I added in a sad whisper. Faramir squeezed me to him.

“ Lydia,” he said, his lips moving against my temple. “ I shall be proud to defend you and the rest of Gondor. But I hate to leave you.”

I lifted my head to kiss him on the cheek, but he turned and caught it on his lips. We both jerked our faces back at once, surprised with each other. My arms slid off of his waist, though I wanted very much to keep them there. He kept his hands on my shoulders, looking down at me.

“ If I return from battle I will be considered a man, whether my eighteenth birthday has passed or not,” he said. His hands were shaking on my shoulders.

When you return from battle,” I corrected, though I wasn't so certain. I had never seen Faramir in combat, and though I knew he would be valiant, violence did not seem to be in his nature.

“ Well, yes,” he said, stumbling and nervous. “ What I mean to say is, when I do return, I will be considered a man. And able to take a wife, if I so choose.” He chewed on his lip, unable to look at me. A smile crept across my face despite my sadness at knowing he would leave.

“ I have not the right to ask you now,” he said, his voice so low that I could barely hear him. “ But if I return, what would you say to . . . to the prospect of perhaps marrying me?” When he finally summoned the courage to meet my eyes, he saw that I was grinning tearfully.

“ I would say yes,” I told him, breathless, and he bent again to kiss me, this time purposefully, earnestly and with vigor. We landed against the wall of the courtyard, sinking into the ivy that grew there, and to be pressed under Faramir's weight made me ridiculous with happiness. We forgot his enlistment, forgot war and Gondor altogether, and lingered there in the sinking, late afternoon sun inside the garden walls, kissing and whispering plans, laughing sweetly against each other's cheeks.

We were naive. We forgot ourselves, forgot the nature of those times, and our hearts were all the more burdened later for having known that short happiness.

And yet I would not trade this near-sighted moment, the sweet first taste of him, the brief lightness of our hearts, for any treasure on this earth.

When Faramir left with Boromir and the others, our engagement was still unofficial. Because he was not yet eighteen he could not ask for a bride, and we had to keep our decision to marry a secret. It was a blessing that would largely have to be granted by his father, and I prayed that Faramir would find some way to finally win his father's affections on the battlefield. I knew that if he did not, we might meet with some resistance from Denethor, who was not fond of allowing Faramir to have what he wanted.

Over the next two years, Faramir came home to Minas Tirith only a few times in between battles. The first time he came back we met on the balcony outside of my adoptive parents' house at night, after the celebration that had welcomed the army home. I sat still all through the party, and the dinner, and even danced tensely with Faramir. It had been a relief just to touch one another again, but under the eyes of his father and the rest of the court, we had felt strained and uncomfortable. Standing on the balcony that night waiting for him – something that we had arranged in a whisper on the dance floor – I felt that he would never come. My stomach was in knots, and I was terrified that he would be different, after having seen war. He had seemed different when we had danced, more wary of his father's eye, and more serious. I did not understand it, because war did not seem to have changed Boromir at all. He was grave when discussing matters of battle, but when celebrating he was carefree and jovial. I stood on the balcony and gripped the stone railing, waiting and hoping that when we were alone together, things would be the same as they were.

I heard light footsteps behind me, and turned to see Faramir approaching me timidly. We were both still dressed for the party, me in an ornate gown and he in the uniform of Gondor's army, cleaned and regal. The white tree of Gondor was painted across the breast of his shirt, and something about the little tree there on the clothes he wore to battle was so tender that I broke our silence and ran to him.

“ Faramir,” I said in a nervous sob as I threw my arms around him. He let out his breath in a soft moan of relief, and held me tightly, dipping his head so that his lashes brushed the side of my neck. He held me with one hand on my head, which rested on his shoulder, and the other at the small of my back. Settling into him, I cried and wished that we could never move apart.

“ It was torture to reunite under their gaze,” he muttered, meaning the court. His voice was deeper than it had been before, more somber. It made me want to cry longer still, but I bit my tears away, smiling up at him.

“ At last we are alone,” I said, though I still felt uncomfortable, not as free and easy with him as I had once been. He brought his hands to my cheeks and carefully wiped away the tracks of tears.

“ I am sure that you know I am not staying,” he said, “ We leave for Osgilith in a week.”

“ Then we have a week,” I choked out, desperate to be positive. I had not known that. He kissed me, and I soared. It had been more than six months since I had last seen him, riding away for war beside his brother.

“ I love you, I love you,” I cried, feeling maniacal with every kind of desire, knowing none of it would be met with satisfaction. He kissed away the new tears that slid down the cheeks he had dried.

“ I have thought of you every day,” he gushed, his hands shaking on my shoulders as they had when he had asked me to marry him. I thought of those plans now, how far away and irrelevant they were. What was the point of marriage, when no one knew if our city would even be standing tomorrow? I told myself that it was unimportant, that all that mattered now was that Faramir continued to return from each mission. I vowed not to even mention it to him.

“ And I you,” I answered honestly, battling to kiss his face as he kissed mine. Both of us were frantic with our affection that night, having been forced to stuff it away earlier at the party.

“ I have missed talking with you,” he said, as we took a seat on a stone bench on the balcony. The stars blinked down on us as we spoke to each other, hushed in the darkness. “ I wanted to write to you everyday, to tell you everything that happened. There was no post.”

“ I know,” I said, shaking my head. “ And I would not have been able to bear knowing of the danger you faced, anyway.” I smiled. “ But, now that you are safe,” I said, squeezing him to me on the bench. “ Tell me everything.”

We spoke for a long time, trading stories of what had happened to both us while the other was away. Faramir's, of course, were more exciting. By the end of our conversation I found myself growing somewhat jealous of his adventures.

“ Boromir says that I am learning quickly,” Faramir said. “ But I feel so very far behind the other men, very young and small.” I could feel the heat of his cheeks, though I could not see them turn red in the low light.

“ You are younger than most of them,” I reminded him. “ Too young,” I added.

“ Not anymore,” Faramir said lightly, looking at his feet. “ I turned eighteen last month.”

“ I know,” I said, my heart rate increasing.

Neither of us said anything for a moment. We couldn't bear to admit out loud that our plans for marriage had been in vain. We would have to wait for the end of a war that had been raging since long before we were born to think of marriage. In the darkness, in the shadow of war, it seemed inappropriate to even consider.

“ Faramir, I will always wait for you,” I whispered, to break the sad silence. He looked up at me.

“ I kept this with me,” he said after a pause, reaching inside his shirt. He pulled out the gold pendant that I had given him when we were children. The unexpected sight of it pierced my heart, and I had to stand and walk away from him, toward the edge of the balcony.

“ Is something wrong?” Faramir asked, confused, following me.

“ That pendant,” I said, my voice tight. “ I cannot bear the sight of it right now.”

“ I don't understand,” he said, standing behind me.

“ I never explained to you what it meant,” I said, looking out over the balcony, over the fields of Gondor, into the distance. From there I could see Mt. Doom, and I had to shut my eyes, the ancient dwelling place of my people burning them.

“ I have always wondered,” Faramir admitted.

“ It bears the symbol of my people,” I said, my heart rate increasing. I wondered if Faramir would still love me if he knew what I really was.

“ The people of Erandis?” he asked.

“ No,” I said. “ The Ullia.

“ The men of the Eagle,” Faramir said, using our common name.

“ Sorcerers,” he added. I nodded.

“ There was a battle in the skies,” I said, my voice hollow. “ I rode with my mother. And fell. That is how you came to find me in the forests of Gondor.” Something surged in me – the sight of our rightful dwelling place in the distance, the pendant that Faramir held in his hand. I whirled on him.

“ There was also a sword,” I said hotly, still not able to gage his reaction to the news of my origin. “ A sword that fell into the forest with me. You don't know what became of it, do you?” I asked.

Faramir, clearly shocked, stood frozen.

“ I don't know what to say,” he said, staring at me. “ I do know of a sword, yes. To my knowledge it is in the royal museum with the other artifacts. What has it to do with you?”

An ancient desire for the sword raged in me. It was the instinctual drive to protect it that was transferred to me, the last of my family, upon my mother's death. I had to beat it away to prevent myself from pushing Faramir aside and running to retrieve the sword that instant.

“ It is an ancient heirloom of my people,” I told him. “ I am sworn to protect it. It has certain powers.” I could then say no more, and I felt like collapsing under the weight of all that had suddenly been revealed. Faramir saw me waver, and held my arm, steadying me.

“ Are you a witch?” he asked, gaping at me with child like wonder. I frowned up at him.

“ I'm not,” I said, my harsh look quickly crumbling. “ I'm not anything,” I admitted. “ I was raised by the Ullia, but I was not old enough to know any of their secrets. They can control fire. I have no sense of how they do it. I do speak the language of the Eagles, but that is all that remains of my connection to them.” To admit this felt miserable. I had lost my people's culture, let it slip away. I looked up at Faramir, who was watching me with interest.

“ I am surprised at you,” Faramir said, looking at the pendant he still held. “ I would have expected you to trust me with this sooner.”

“ It is meaningless,” I said sadly, turning from him. “ Gondor is my home now. All I have left is the hope that it will not crumble as my people's civilization did.”

“ It won't,” Faramir said confidently. “ And it is not meaningless. I know someone who might be able to help you find out more about your people.”

I turned to him, surprised.

“ Why should you want me to learn any more about them?” I asked, remembering what Tirias told me years ago about the citizens of Gondor and sorcery.

“ Don't you want to?” Faramir asked.

“ Yes,” I answered after a slight pause.

“ Then I want you to,” he said simply. All I could think to do was throw my arms around him. He held me, kissing my forehead, and I wished that I could bring him inside, make love to him and lie beside him all night, fall asleep wrapped in his naked arms. But the chance of scandal was too great, if there was any hope left of our legitimate marriage someday.

“ Shall I keep this for a little longer, then?” Faramir asked, referring to the pendant.

“ Do,” I said, closing his fingers around it. “ I shall remain here and wait for it's return.”

The person who Faramir suggested might help me learn more about the Ullia was none other than Gandalf the Gray. The name meant nothing to me at the time, and I met the old wizard one afternoon when Faramir led me down into Minas Tirith's library's annuals, where Gandalf was bent over a book, smoking a pipe.

“ Ah, young Faramir,” he said, looking up through a cloud of smoke when Faramir and I walked over to him. “ This is your friend, from the Ullia clan, hmm?”

“ Yes,” Faramir said, proudly taking my arm. “ This is Lydia. We hope to marry someday,” he added, taking me by complete surprise. I gave him wary look, but he only smiled, signaling that this was someone we could trust with our plans. I looked to the old man.

“ Marriage!” Gandalf said, puffing thoughtfully on his pipe. “ Why trouble yourself over that, when you are so young? Ah!” He looked at me curiously. “ More importantly, I had thought that all of the Ullia were destroyed five years ago.”

“ I am the sole remaining Ullia, to my knowledge,” I told him. “ Please, they've got the Ruby Blade in the royal museum here,” I said in a gush without meaning to. “ If you can help me reclaim it in any way I shall reward you greatly.” I surprised myself with this speech, and wasn't sure what I would be able to offer in the way of a reward, either.

Gandalf laughed at my outburst.

“ Ah, the Ruby Blade,” he said, obviously familiar with it. “ It has caused your people much grief over the years, and yet you still toil to keep it.”

“ I cannot help it,” I told him in a mumble. “ It is instinctual in us to protect it.”

“ Not to protect so much as to wield,” Gandalf said, waving a finger. “ And there my interest in you lies.”

“ I have no knowledge of how to use the blade,” I admitted begrudgingly, “ I was separated from my people before I could be taught.”

“ There are other sources you might learn from,” Gandalf said, tapping the book he was reading. I peered over his shoulder at the text. It was an elvish script I could not read.

“ Why should Lydia learn how to wield a sword?” Faramir asked, distressed by the idea. “ If you have need for the weapon, Gandalf, Gondor would surely allow you to use it.”

“ NO!” I screamed savagely, not knowing myself. Faramir looked at me like I was mad, and even Gandalf looked disturbed by the outburst.

“ I am sorry,” I said, my voice wavering. “ It is the sword's grip on my blood line.” I stood, shaking, and covered my face, felt Faramir's reassuring touch on my shoulder.

“ Indeed,” Gandalf said. “ And this is precisely why Lydia herself should learn to use the sword, Faramir. To anyone else who bore it it would be but an ornately decorated blade, otherwise no different from any other. But the family line of the Ullia who protect the sword – who, I suspect, Lydia here is born from – they can unlock further powers in the blade.”

“ Will you teach me?” I asked him, steadying my voice.

“ I have not the time now,” Gandalf said, standing. “ But if I determine that we need the service of the Ruby Blade, I will seek you out.”

“ Who do you speak of?” Faramir asked, squeezing my shoulder possessively. “ Who needs the blade's service more than Gondor?”

“ That information will come to you in time,” Gandalf said, replacing the book he was reading on the shelf and picking up his staff. “ At the moment I have business in Hobbiton. I will return, I suspect, before too long.”

The wizard looked at me before he walked away.

“ Do not tell anyone else about the blade's powers,” Gandalf told me. “ If Denethor had any idea what it was capable of, he would have suited you in armor long ago. You are not ready for that, I imagine. Keep it secret,” he said, glancing up at Faramir, too. Faramir nodded, though I could see he did not like the idea of keeping another secret from his father.