Home With The Fairies


Chapter 013




Writer's Note: This chapter is long (13,600+ words!) and very heavy on the dialogue. I found it hard to get into Faramir's head, so I would appreciate feedback on his characterization. I am leaning much more towards book!Faramir who rejected the Ring outright rather than movie!Faramir. Also keep voting in the poll! The story is stretching longer than expected, but I'm thinking Maddie will be leaving Minas Tirith (finally!) in the next chapter or two.

To make a realistic girl-falls-into-ME story: Telling people you know the future doesn't mean they'll believe you. Major characters should probably take what she says with a grain of salt.

Dates: There's no exact time for when Gandalf leaves Minas Tirith, but I set it at February 20, 3018. For reference, this is what's happening over the year: The Nazgûl are sent to find the One Ring April 1st, and Boromir leaves Gondor looking for Rivendell on July 4th. Faramir comes knocking on September 1st. Frodo will leave Bag End for Rivendell September 22, 3018.

Disclaimer: I make no money from this work. Anything recognizable from The Lord of the Rings belongs to J.R.R Tolkien and affiliates.

Home With the Fairies

Chapter Thirteen: O Captain! My Captain!

It was a miracle I didn't shatter the plate, but I did fumble it, very nearly drop it, and ended up cracking the edge on the table. The noise was impossibly loud in the shocked silence that had followed Lord Faramir's words.

My mind was a jumble of what this could mean. I didn't even have the presence of mind to put down the plate, so shocked I was. When the dining room door opened and Lord Kinsey beckoned me I walked right out still holding it.

Numb, in my messy servant's apron and holding a cracked plate, I approached the group in the front hall—not even in the sitting room, which made me nervous. Standing just a couple steps inside were Lord Faramir and two finely dressed soldiers, one with a hand resting on the pommel of his sword, the other with a lethal looking mace in his belt.

Faramir was quite tall, with golden brown hair that hung in unruly waves to his shoulders. He had a scruff of a beard and bright blue eyes. He didn't wear the heavy platemail of the soldiers behind him, but a leather carapace and a fine, fur-trimmed cloak. The leather had the same silver tree with seven stars I had seen him wear in that brief moment with Merewald ages ago. He had a kind face despite the obvious military bearing, though I still felt a bit like I'd been brought to the headsman's block, especially as I spied the sword on his belt. He gave me a calm once over, and I found myself gripping the cracked plate and cursing myself ten times over for not leaving it in the other room. I must have looked twice the fool as Lord Kinsey introduced me.

"This is Maddie, a maidservant in our household for almost a year now." When I didn't move, the thin Lord gave me a small nudge and I curtsied. I could feel my heart hammering against my ribs, and I'm sure my face was bright red from embarrassment and shock. I glanced very quickly round the room, but there wasn't so much as a side table to put the plate on.

"I would like to ask you a couple questions, Miss Maddie," Faramir said, and with an abrupt gesture Lord Kinsey directed Lord Faramir into the drawing room. I could only imagine the looks on the family's faces as Lord Kinsey firmly walked me over. Faramir made only a cursory glance around the stiffness of the formal room before turning around and nodding to Lord Kinsey. The drawing room doors closed behind us and we were suddenly, achingly, alone. He didn't sit, and neither did I.

I was clenching my hands on the plate in a bid to hide how much they were shaking. I felt hot all over and a million scenarios were running through my mind. Had Gandalf told someone? Or a messenger been sent from Rivendell? Was the Council already happening? Was I being arrested because of Arundel and Baiard? I couldn't think of any reason beyond Gandalf's intervention to bring Faramir to my doorstep, but it had been seven months without word and anything could have happened.

Faramir offered me a half-smile, and I was barely able to respond the same. "C-can I help you, sir?" I tried not to too obviously shift and bring attention to the plate.

"I'm hoping you can," he answered, his voice soft, and his eyes flicked to the plate much to my horror. His lips curled a bit in what might have been amusement, but I was unfortunately already so red you couldn't tell my further embarrassment. "You are familiar with Gandalf, are you not?"

I thought for one fleeting second of lying, but scrapped it just as quickly. If was one thing to lie to a bookstore owner or another maidservant about silly details, it was another to lie to someone as important as Lord Faramir—not just important in Gondor but also in the story.

I nodded, and he continued. "He was staying with me for several weeks around the new year. I found this only recently." From his pocket he produced the overlong sheet of parchment with my familiar, blotchy writing on it. It was the note to Gandalf I'd written trying to help the Fellowship.

I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach, and I was lucky the plate was so solid because otherwise it would have shattered at the tightness of my grip. He'd left it in Minas Tirith! Did he even read it? What if I was too late? What if the Fellowship was already leaving and all my warnings were useless? Was I meant to just be a bystander to the same events?

I must have looked rather shaky because Faramir clasped my elbow and encouraged me to sit down on the uncomfortable couch. Gently but firmly he pried the broken plate from me and set it on the tea table. Without anything to hold on to my hands shook terribly. He talked me into a couple deep breaths, still holding the letter out. I could just see my messy "I want to help save people" and suddenly swallowing was painful.

"You wrote this then?" Faramir asked gently, his hand still holding my elbow like I might fall from the seat. I could barely sense him next to me though. I'd spent the last seven months keeping my ear to the ground for even the slightest word on the war and the Fellowship. I'd set myself on helping the Fellowship; that was the reason I was in Middle Earth I'd thought. To have all my hopes of helping devastated like this felt like the world had been pulled out from under me.


I managed a nod, and before he could say more I found my voice. "Yes, yes, I wrote this." I reached for the letter and he let me take it, though it shook like a fine wind ran through it in my hands. As I reread it I winced at both my handwriting and spelling. I had improved immensely from all the love letters I'd been writing for Clarimond.


I know about Arda from a book.
Frodo will go on a kwest.
I know how it will end.
Frodo has the one
Frodo will go to Rivedel.
He will be hurt by black solders.
I want to help save people.


"Did he read it?" I asked, turning to look at Faramir, the color of his eyes startling in his tan face.

"I don't know," he said, shifting slightly away from me, as I seemed to have regained some of my bearings. "It was left at his desk. He did leave in a rush however, and I asked his things not be touched in case he returned. I have not heard from him in many months."

I could only hope as I looked down at the desperate letter, that Gandalf had read it and memorized it. As events unfolded would he remember it? But wait, if Faramir hadn't come to find me because of Gandalf, then why was he here?

"M'lord, why are you looking for me?"

"I was hoping you could explain that to me," he said, gesturing at the letter in my tight grip. Surprised, I mutely looked back at it. Surely it just sounded like a crazy person's writings. Even with my minimal explanation to Gandalf it probably made very little sense. And yet here was Lord Faramir at my door asking for details.

I looked back at him and he was watching me with careful eyes. It was easy to forget in his presence that he was a soldier. He looked and spoke more like a gentleman than a man of war, but something about the way he looked at me reminded me that men followed his orders.

"Gandalf was researching many things while he was here; many he would not speak of," Faramir said after a pause. "He left this on his desk inside a book of traveler's tales. Gandalf is not one to be so messy without a purpose nor is he forgetful." Faramir was giving me some kind of look I could not decipher, and feeling both intimidated and suddenly tired I looked back at the letter.

"Such talk, I fear, will take some time," he continued on heedlessly. "Tomorrow morning I request your audience in my study. I will tell the guards of your coming." It was phrased nicely but it was a clear order. I let him take back the letter and he offered his hand to help me up.

"You are quite alright?" He asked when I still didn't say anything.

"Oh! Um, yes, there is simply a lot on my mind. This is… unexpected." In fact I felt like I needed a good long nap and maybe a stiff drink even though it was barely noon. This was a little overwhelming, and I didn't really want to leave the quiet of the room and deal with everyone outside those doors.

It couldn't be helped though, and Lord Faramir escorted me out of the drawing room. In any other situation I might have been amused at the air of expectancy of the Kinsey's still standing in the foyer. Even Lord Faramir's soldiers looked curious; this was probably an equally strange visit for them. I could imagine all the servants with the exception of Everlid crowding the kitchen door in the hopes to hear something. The household hadn't had this much excitement since that well-bred lady had come to see Lord Kinsey's eldest son. (She hadn't been interested in marriage; Lord Kinsey was too minor a noble for her, Clarimond had sniffed.)

"Lord Kinsey, I ask that you release Miss Maddie of her duties tomorrow as I have requested her presence." I was sure if I strained my ears I would be able to hear the whispering that broke out in the servant's quarters with that statement. I could feel my stomach knot itself in worry. How on earth was I going to explain this? Farm girls from Rohan don't attract attention from the Steward's son, and Faramir wasn't giving an explanation either.

"Thank you for your kindness and hospitality, Lord Kinsey. It is most appreciated." With some bowing, curtsying, and a head dip from Faramir, he and his soldiers left. The moment the front door shut all pretences of politeness vanished, and Lord Kinsey gave me a sharp, suspicious look.

"What did Lord Faramir want, Maddie?" He asked, and I noticed that he didn't bother to move this to another room.

"He had a question," I said, wringing my hands before I noticed I was doing it and stopped. I realized I'd also left the broken plate in the other room. That would not endear me either. "I met Gandalf on my errands, and I guess he told Lord Faramir about me and well…" I trailed off, and Lord Kinsey, with his lined face and grey-peppered hair, frowned, the skepticism perfectly obvious in his expression.

"I'll not have disgraceful gossip be brought upon this family. If I hear further of this then steps will have to be taken," he said ominously. He didn't say it out loud, but I understood perfectly: I'd be fired if gossip got out.

With his dismissive wave and under the whole family's eyes, I walked back to the kitchen and straight past the stares of all the servants, my hands clenched in fists at my sides, shaking for an entirely new reason. I went out the back door and into the kitchen garden, unable to smell the cloying herbs and rich earth beneath my anger.

Lord Kinsey thought I had gone and slept with Faramir! And he had every reason to because Faramir had been so tight-lipped about his reasons, going so far as to talk in the drawing room without a single guard there. He had to know that I would be expected to explain if he did not, and the word of a servant—a young, female servant no less—against the assumptions of some foggy old Lord would end badly, and not in my favor!

I felt such hot anger well up in me at the look Lord Kinsey had given me and at the unfairness of it all. Even in the modern day, a man who sleeps with a lot of women gets patted on the back, but a woman who sleeps around is labeled a whore. No one gave Faramir so much as a second look, whether because of his rank or his junk, but I might be out of a job and a good reputation with just the omission of one clarifying sentence.

I breathed in and out nosily, resisting the perfectly irrational urge to run into the street, find Faramir and his group and tell him to clean this mess up or else, Lordship and fancy bloodlines be damned.

I knew somewhere in me this anger was an attempt to get past the overwhelming fear that Faramir's visit and message had brought, but I couldn't see past the red haze yet. It was unfortunate for Oriolda that she came out when she did.

"Maddie…" she said tentatively, and I whirled around, skirt whipping at the ripe tomatoes and tearing on the thorns of the blackberry bush.

"Not now! I'm trying not to- to-" I let out a wordless sound of annoyance that I at least managed to temper so it wasn't quite a yell and more of a growl. I didn't even know the Westron word for strangle, but I would definitely learn it before tomorrow. I would figure out what to say to Faramir about traveling into books and predicting the future after I figured out how to tell him to set Lord Kinsey straight.

Oriolda looked so surprised her mouth had dropped open. After a beat she left in a flurry of skirts back to the kitchen, likely to tell the others I had temporarily been replaced by a dragon.

I stomped around the garden for a good ten minutes slowly cooling off. I picked some of the blackberries and ate them as a petty revenge for the pestering and questions I was going to be fielding when I went back inside from the staff. Hopefully Everlid would stem some of the tide, but if she gave me that disapproving look and assumed the worst too then I might have to practice my speech to Faramir on her first.

Too soon it seemed my temper had receded, and I realized I was going to have to face them inside. I couldn't stay in the garden all day, and I'd already been here too long. I also really needed to skip to the most important part: what was I going to tell Faramir?

But first, what was I going to tell my coworkers?

Shelton, Oriolda, Heaton and Everlid were in the kitchen when I opened the door. Clarimond and the others were likely doing their chores as fast as humanly possible so they wouldn't miss any of the good stuff.

"What happened?" Oriolda cried, looking at me askance and a little hurt. Shelton had stopped his chopping, and Heaton and Everlid made no pretence of looking anywhere else.

I exhaled steadily and made sure I had my story straight.

"Lord Faramir hosted Gandalf the Grey when he was in Minas Tirith. Gandalf is the one who told me about my family." Oriolda gasped dramatically, and Shelton squinted at me from behind the cutting block. The governess came in and stopped dead in the doorway.

"If you remember I wrote a letter to him. Lord Faramir found it and wanted to ask me about Gandalf."

When it was obvious I wasn't giving more detail than that without being asked, I was peppered with questions about what Faramir said, what the letter said, and why I was going to see Lord Faramir tomorrow. I told them Faramir only wanted details on my talk with Gandalf—which I stressed was only once—and if I knew where the wizard was now. Clarimond came in halfway through and demanded that she be caught up. I was quick to knock the twinkle from her eye though when she asked about the Steward's son.

"This is the first time I have ever met Lord Faramir and I'll thank you not to assume anything tomorrow!" I said smartly, hoping to head off any more gossip. Everlid harrumphed, but it was directed at Clarimond not me. I was thankful the matronly servant had not jumped to the same conclusion as Lord Kinsey and his family did.

Clarimond hid the look of disappointment but not before I'd seen it. It would have been a dream come true for her to spend a night with such a high-ranking lord. I was not as amused.

Eventually Everlid cleared the room of all the nosy servants who did not absolutely have to be there and set everyone back to work. I was sent to the garden to pick plants and help clean the kitchen after, likely in a bid to keep me from the Kinsey's sight. I was immensely thankful for this.

Out in the garden I trimmed back vines and picked blackberries, strawberries and tomatoes, along with some of the herbs to be dried for later. I'd never been much into gardening before, and I'd killed houseplants, but I'd grown to enjoy this simple work while in Minas Tirith. (I'd told everyone my family grew wheat and corn and had horses and we traded for everything else, which was why I wasn't familiar with vegetable gardens. It would have been pretty suspicious for a farmer's daughter to be so lost in a kitchen garden.)

As I filled my basket, I thought past my anger to the opportunity I had here. My first meeting with Gandalf had been…well, it wasn't a shining moment for me. And the second had been almost too late. If I told Faramir the truth, would he believe me? How could I prove it to him?

I would need to know about the Council. Surely if Boromir had reached Rivendell then word would have come to Gondor?

Should I tell Faramir about the Ring? I couldn't remember if he'd ever encountered it, but I knew it tempted all people but most especially Men, if my memory of Boromir served. Would it be folly then to risk Faramir knowing? But I couldn't tell him the truth about the Fellowship without telling him about the Ring.

If I did tell him about the Ring, then what about Boromir? As his brother and an important figure in Gondor, Faramir was in a unique position to do something about Boromir's death. He could send soldiers north to where Boromir died—although as I thought about it I realized I didn't know where that was, only that it was someone along the big river south of Lothlórien. Or he could send soldiers ahead of the Fellowship to Isengard, where those big orcs had come from. I remember they'd stolen Merry and Pippin to bring to Saruman.

I chewed on a mint leaf, which didn't taste much like toothpaste but reminded me of it, and thought hard about this dilemma. The more I thought on it though, the more I realized that Boromir's death was incredibly complicated.

That event was when a lot of things collided: Saruman's super-orcs attacked, kidnapping Merry and Pippin; Boromir died; Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli ran across Rohan hunting the missing hobbits; Frodo and Sam, meanwhile, split off from the Fellowship and went to Mordor.

I chewed on my leaf until I realized I was gnawing on nothing. It was imperative the Fellowship split—I was sure of this. Frodo and Sam together with that slimy little creature whose name I couldn't remember had to travel to Mordor. The whole Fellowship was too big a group, and Aragorn did some important stuff in Gondor that I couldn't recall but I knew involved a bunch of battles.

If there were soldiers near where the Fellowship was attacked, Frodo and Sam might not get away. And if soldiers attacked Isengard first, then the Fellowship might not be attacked at all. Which would save Boromir yes, but would Frodo and Sam leave? What if only Frodo left? I didn't think he could successfully destroy the Ring without Sam. The attack by the super-orcs was what allowed the Fellowship to split, so did that mean it had to happen?

I ended up going through three mint leaves and eating far too many strawberries as I weighed my options. None of them looked good. The situation of Boromir's death was too delicate, and it was the catalyst for so much that I was afraid to mess with it at all. But then how could I save Boromir?

I had to go back in eventually, but I was no closer to an answer than before. For now, I decided as I swept up onionskins, peach pits and the green tops of tomatoes in the kitchen, I would not tell Faramir about Boromir. I would tell him everything else and then… maybe I could get a message to Gandalf. Or even go to Rivendell or Lothlórien myself.

Despite the shock of the morning I started to feel better by the evening. I'd spent pretty much all day hashing out my options, and the idea of having another's opinion—and someone who seemed as levelheaded as Faramir—made me feel a lot better. It also helped to not have someone as helpless as I. If something needed to be done, surely the son of the Steward would be able to do it.

The next morning was an awkward affair.

I was angry with Clarimond and Oriolda, who had whispered to me last night as we lay abed, that I could tell them anything and they would never tell. Then Clarimond had rolled over to face me and whispered, "So, did you spend the night with him?"

I very nearly hit her. In the end I held back the urge to kick her in the shin and instead rolled over and refused to talk to her. Oriolda tried to barter a truce in the morning, but I was not happy. This was the kind of gossip Lord Kinsey was referring to—and if Clarimond caused me to lose my good job than I had plenty of reason to be angry with her.

There was even more whispering as I ate breakfast, much to my frustration. I didn't know how to head it off though, and I was worried I'd only make it worse if I started snapping at everyone. So in the end I ate in record time.

Clarimond, in a misguided attempt to apologize I think, offered to plait my hair nicely. I didn't want to give the impression this was some kind of booty call, so I refused and went with a messy bun (without elastics I found it pretty much impossible to do a neat bun) and wore one of my cleaner dresses. Faramir might be a fancy lord, but I was still feeling a bit of yesterday's anger and didn't care to doll myself up for this.

I managed to escape the household without further incident and slipped out through the kitchen garden. You couldn't pay me to be spotted by Lord Kinsey on my way out.

I only knew that Faramir lived on the top level of Minas Tirith, so I trekked up the windy walkways, taking my time to look at the hanging flowers in late bloom on windowsills and balconies and eying the fine detailing on these wealthy people's doors. The sky was a clear, solid blue stretching into forever. Most of the walls I walked past were too high to look over, but sometimes I could see the tops of the mountains, not yet capped with snow.

As I climbed higher I came to a small terrace with an unobstructed view of the fields and lands around Minas Tirith. Truly no picture or movie can do justice to breathing in the bracing air that blows right off the fields. The colors of the ground and sky were bright against each other, and the people on the levels below just ants from these heights. I felt inexplicably homesick, but not for the modern day. No, I was homesick for sleeping under the stars, walking all day in the fresh air, tromping through field and forest and hills. I wanted to walk through waist-high grass, fumble over roots and bramble, wash my hands and face in rivers of melted snow. I found myself missing all the travel I'd done. When had that happened?

Eventually I pulled myself away from remembrances and kept walking until I reached the entrance to the sixth level at the top of a grand staircase. The guards standing there in their heavy mail demanded a seal of my business.

"I- I have a meeting with Lord Faramir," I told them nervously, the thought that Faramir had forgotten to tell the guards skipping through my mind. Wouldn't that just be a lovely mess to my day? There was some shifting among the guards before someone stepped out of the guard booth, and I was relieved when he called, "Miss Maddie?"

He looked to be another soldier, but not like the ones in Minas Tirith. He was dressed in similar garb to Lord Faramir yesterday. He wore the same leather tunic with supple leather boots instead of the steel the soldiers wore, and leather bracers and shin guards. He also had a navy blue cloak with some significant weather stains on it, and a bow on his back. The other soldiers stepped aside as he approached.

"This your charge?" one asked, and he nodded.

"Come. I'm to escort you to Lord Faramir." He had shorter, dark brown hair and a clean-shaven face with a scar that tracked from his temple into his hairline. Unfortunately he wasn't inclined to talk much to me beyond explaining he was one of the Rangers of Ithilien under Captain Faramir. I didn't remember these southern Rangers, but I nodded along and filed that away.

He led me through the sixth level and up to a huge stone archway that was reminiscent of a cathedral without the stained glass. I gaped, but he ushered me through, then up a huge stone flight of stairs. Then we moved off the wider main road and up several smaller staircases that eventually took us up above the high walls and the tightly packed buildings. I felt a little dizzy as I looked past the walls on the staircase and saw nothing but land and sky.

The staircase came out into a garden that felt incredibly open to me after months of living in the shadow of the other levels. Behind the buildings there was no more mountain, no more white stone; we had reached the very peak of Minas Tirith. There was nothing but blue, blue sky above.

The garden itself was very neat, with none of the tangles and overflowing boxes of the gardens in the city. The hedgerows were carefully trimmed, the colors of the flowerbeds perfectly accenting one another in patterns, and designated grassy spots built in geometric designs. It was a different kind of garden, more modern, much to my surprise.

The unnamed ranger walked me into a covered hallway and around some corners until I was in a pillared hall with one set of grand, double oak doors that had a star motif on it. He knocked, and after a garbled reply that I assume was a welcome, he pushed open the doors to reveal a large, if cozy study. It was made of the same ubiquitous white stone of the city, but the ceiling was incredibly high. There were decorative weapons and shields on the walls alongside bookshelves loaded with scrolls and thick, leather-bound tombs. There was a fireplace with cushioned chairs by the fire, and a cabinet in the corner I would bet gold had liquor in it. A fine wooden desk piled with parchment dominated the room, and behind it was a balcony with a stunning view of the hills and fields beyond Minas Tirith that stretched all the way to the horizon.

Lord Faramir sat behind the desk, his leather bracers and gloves tossed carelessly to the side and his sleeves rolled up. Seeing him sitting behind a pile of paperwork reminded me very suddenly of my job at home. That was me always behind a pile of paperwork. A part of me—one that was growing louder the longer I stayed in Middle Earth—didn't want to return to a life like that.

"Miss Maddie," Faramir said, standing up from the desk and moving towards the fireplace where there were two large chairs upholstered in a fine pine green color. He encouraged me to sit and dismissed the ranger who escorted me before coming over. "Is there anything you'd like to drink, eat?"

"No, no thank you," I said, my stomach twisted into knots at the thought of food. I had thought the Kinsey's were quite well off, but there were all the little signs of wealth in this room that they did not have. The carpet beneath my feet was so plush I could feel it through my shoes, and the mantle had several paintings, including one that looked to have gold filigree in the frame. There were crystal vases in some bookshelves, along with hand-carved wooden ornaments and a very fancy jeweled box above the fireplace. Faramir himself didn't wear much that looked expensive, but the fur trimming on the cloak hanging on the back of his chair and the inside of his gloves gave it away.

I felt quite small in this study, and incredibly awkward when I realized there was again no guards or buffers between us. While I suppose it was wiser not to have listening ears, it just reminded me of Lord Kinsey's assumptions.

Faramir brought over a mug of what smelled like tea from his desk and sat in the chair opposite me, sinking into the seat. I, in contrast, sat on the edge of mine, distinctly uncomfortable.

"Lord Faramir-"

"How long have you-"

We both broke off awkwardly, and Faramir waved his hand to me and put the mug down on the table to give me his full attention.

"Um… Lord Faramir, yesterday… well, Lord Kinsey, he…" This was terribly embarrassing, and Faramir's unwavering stare was making me increasingly self-conscious.

"There is a problem with Lord Kinsey?" he asked.

"Not a problem really, but he… I believe yesterday he may think something untrue about you and I and—"

"Ah," he said, leaning back with a frown, and I thankfully didn't have to say more. "I see. I apologize; I did not even consider this. You see, I have been looking for you for nearly a month now."

"A month?" I said in surprise, but Faramir paid no mind.

"I will send a letter on with you when you return correcting this. If Lord Kinsey continues to give you problems, then we can discuss it further."

I was surprised by how quickly he acquiesced and how understanding he was. I had been worried there would be an embarrassing explanation before I could get a response like this.

"Th-thank you."

"It is my fault," the lord said, offering me a rueful smile. "I did not even consider how our meeting might be perceived."

I smiled back, and some of the awkward tension dissipated.

"As I said, I have been looking for you for a month now." I nodded at him, and he fixed his gaze on me. "I have been kept busy by the forces of Mordor—you are aware of this right?" I nodded again. "But I finally had the chance to look into the Grey Wizard's room and found that letter. I must say, something about it caught my eye and my curiosity." His gaze turned curious for a moment before continuing. "I sent some of my men to ask for word on a 'Maddie' and eventually one spoke to a guardsman at the barracks by the fourth level gate. You have a suitor there, I believe?"

I shook my head quickly. "No, Amrúngil is a suitor of my fellow maidservant. I only pass the letters on."

"I see," Faramir said. Then he stood up and went to his desk, retrieving the letter I had written and sitting back down. He laid it on the side table in front of our chairs.

"I believe Gandalf left this for a reason—though it may be too late given how long it laid untouched. Still, I wish to know what you mean by it. How have you 'come to know Arda', and what do you mean by 'you know how it will end'?"

He looked at me, gentle but searching, and I was suddenly glad I had decided to share with him the full story. I hardly remembered Faramir from the books or the movies, but I knew he was meant to be softer than his brother. He seemed intelligent, thoughtful, and kind even as a soldier.

Exhaling with a mix of relief and hesitation, I scooted back in my seat and fumbled with my hands for a moment. "It is a very long story, but I should like to tell it if you have the time."

Faramir smiled, leaning back from the table. He looked painfully handsome in that moment, with the sunlight behind him from the balcony, his blue eyes bright with interest. I flushed at the thought and tried to school my features back into some neutrality.

"I am at your disposal, Miss Maddie. I would very much like to hear this tale."

"You will not believe me," I warned him, remembering Gandalf and the letter. If he believed me, he would not have left it, right?

"Middle Earth is full of many strange things," Faramir told me, "and there is magic still. I would hear your story first before making any conclusions."

I nodded, knowing that was all I could ask for.

"Well, before I explain the letter, there is much to say. It's… well it's strange. I came to Arda in the far north, outside a small town called Fornost."

Faramir looked curious again. "Fornost? The Númenórean city?"

I blinked at him, confused. "Númenórean? City? It is a small village of farmers."

"Fornost in the histories was a great city, and the last to fall to the Witch-king of Angmar."

I was totally baffled. I didn't know what or who Númenórean or this Witch-king was, but Fornost had been tiny. If it had been some great city then either someone leveled it or we were talking about two different places.

"I don't know this Witch-king or your Fornost. The town I went to was called Fornost, but it was very small. I saw no city."

Faramir looked thoughtful at that. "Perhaps the Men there call it Fornost because it lies near the ruins? Though it is a cursed place I had heard tale of."

I shrugged, not really caring whether that little town was called Fornost or not. Gandalf hadn't mentioned any ancient Fornost city, and I told Faramir as much. The Steward's son looked at the carpet contemplatively before encouraging me to go on.

"I appeared three days west of this small town and was very confused. You see, I am not from Arda. There are no elves, dwarves, or hobbits in my home. There is no Gondor or Rohan or Lothlórien. It is very different from here."

I began to explain to Faramir my appearance by magic, and my struggles with the language as I traveled first to the town-maybe-called-Fornost and then to Bree. I also shared with him, despite much bemusement on his part, how Middle Earth was not real—how we knew what all the lands of the world looked like and Middle Earth was not there. As I talked, he proved to be very interested in life in my world, but I was careful not to say much about it and outright refused to talk about the details.

"It is too complicated to tell you. You would not understand," I told him after he asked what the largest kingdom in my homeland was.

"Surely if you live in a world of only Men then I should be able to understand much of it?"

"It is a world of Men, but many things have changed. We have…" I frowned, thinking, and we both frowned at each other until Faramir bit off a laugh.

"I'm afraid I don't understand, Miss Maddie. Can you not try?"

I sighed, thinking. I cast my eyes around the room and they landed on the elaborate weapons and shields on the wall. "I have an example. We don't fight with swords. Or shields."

He looked over at the ornamentation on the wall too before looking back at me. "Then what do you fight with?"

Shaking my head and realizing I hadn't thought this example through, I said, "We fight with deadly things…they are not like swords. No one in Middle Earth has created them yet." I thought of war in our world, with high-powered rifles, missiles launched from hundreds of miles away, and nuclear bombs. War was not pretty with swords and bows either, but I was sure guns had only worsened it.

He looked surprised and fascinated, yet I shot him a hard look when he asked for more detail. "This is not the story I'm telling. My world is very different."

Faramir nodded after a beat, and he looked mildly amused at my sternness. He seemed to respect my unwillingness to talk about it though, and did not bring up guns again.

"I met Trahern in Bree. He is a Ranger, but not a Gondor Ranger, a northern Ranger," I explained, and Faramir nodded.

"They are said to be of Númenórean descent, the Men of the North."

I thought about asking what exactly Númenórean meant, but I was fairly sure it had something to do with Aragorn's lineage as King, and it was easier to just focus on the story. I continued, telling Faramir about meeting Trahern again in the forest outside Rivendell after two weeks of travel (it was easy to remember, after a moment of thought, how miserable I had been for much of that, and the homesickness for travel lessened). Faramir was particularly interested in the Elves and Rivendell, and I realized then he had never met one.

"The last Elves to come to Minas Tirith were before mine brother's birth. As the shadow has fallen on Gondor fewer and fewer travelers come. I have always desired to meet the fair Elves," he told me, his expression a little wistful.

"Yes," I agreed, "the Elves are fair. But they are strange, and hard to look upon," I shared with him. Bilbo hadn't felt this way, and I wondered if Faramir would. Was it only because I was not from Arda that I found Elves a little frightening, or was it the race of Men?

I told him about my months in Rivendell, and about meeting Bilbo. He didn't know what a hobbit was, but he jerked when I told him Men called them "Halflings".

"A Halfling! They go unmentioned in the histories of Gondor, but there is one in Rivendell?"

I didn't know why he was so interested, but I nodded along. "Yes, Bilbo Baggins. He is a very old hobbit. But he told me they prefer to be called hobbits rather than Halflings. Bilbo told me hobbits think Men are two times too big!"

I smiled, remembering Bilbo's good-natured grumbles about giants lumbering about. He had been quite amused when I shared a heavily abbreviated (because I had forgotten most of the story) version of Gulliver's Travels, in particular Lilliput and the giant's kingdom whose name I couldn't remember. He was entertained by my descriptions of people twelve times too small and twelve times too big.

Faramir seemed to think on Bilbo, but when I asked about it, he told me it was a tale for later and encouraged me to go on.

I kept talking, leading Faramir through my travels from Rivendell with Erynion all the way until Rohan. That was when I realized I would have to tell him about Baiard, and I felt a little awkward because I may have unintentionally broken the law and would then be admitting it to a lord.

"You said Captain Éomer sent you with one of his men to the Entwash?" Faramir prompted after I was silent too long.

"Um… yes!" I said hurriedly, embarrassed. "Yes, Éomer sent me with Baiard, a young soldier. Baiard had been injured in an orc attack. We traveled together only a few days before… Baiard fell ill."

Faramir stood up after a pause and moved to take the kettle from the low fire and poured it into a second cup, adding a couple leaves from a pouch. I let them seep as he came back and pressed it into my hands.

"The young soldier died?" He asked gently.

"Yes." Even though it had been nearly a year since his death, it had changed my outlook a lot on Middle Earth. I didn't think I would ever forget the night spent worrying in front of the fire, heaping blankets and trickling water down Baiard's throat, hoping and praying he would pull through. That helplessness had been deeply unsettling.

"His wound was infected," I explained, "And one night he came down with a fever and did not wake. By morning he had… passed. I… I did not know what to do, so I prayed for him and left him there. Then I came to Minas Tirith."

Faramir asked for more detail about my travel after Baiard's death, but thankfully did not pry about the young soldier and did not mention the horse or saddlebags that I took.

Eventually we moved past that, and I explained about getting my job at the Kinsey's household, and much to Faramir's interest told him a little bit about my pencil-pusher job before.

"So all women can read and write in your homeland?"

"Yes," I said, not wanting to get into any detail, "Bilbo taught me a little of Westron, but I have practiced much since I wrote this," I said, touching the rolled up corner of the parchment. "This is very bad," I admitted, a touch of pink in my cheeks.

Faramir chuckled, and I couldn't help frowning a bit. "I apologize," he said sincerely when he realized I didn't appreciate the laughter.

"No problem," I waved him off, not really offended, and he chuckled again.

At my questioning look, he said, "I have never heard someone say 'no problem' after an apology."

"Oh! Um… sorry! In my home this is a common answer," I explained, feeling flustered a bit. I hadn't realized that as my language improved I would essentially "import" English terms and phrasing into Westron. No one had told me before that I said anything strange.

"No problem," Faramir responded with a smirk that made me laugh a little.

I shared with him then my meeting with Gandalf and how I suddenly remembered Middle Earth. This he was most fascinated by, particularly because I hadn't mentioned any of my foreknowledge before.

"Why did the name 'Frodo Baggins' break the spell?" He asked, moving to lean his elbows on his knees.

"I don't know, but Frodo is a famous name in my home."

"This is the same Frodo as in the letter?" Faramir asked, and I nodded. He leaned forward in his chair and unrolled the letter, flattened the corners under some books and a glass paperweight in the shape of an elephant. As I looked at it though, I realized it had four tusks instead of two, which was strange, and I picked it up to look at it further.

"It is a mûmak," Faramir said, "a great beast said to be used by the Haradrim in battle. No one in Gondor has ever seen one though."

I turned it over, admiring the work even as I marveled at the shape. "We have an animal like this called an 'elephant'. Except, it does not have this many…" I pointed at the tusks, unsure what they were called in Westron.

Faramir smiled, that interested light in his eyes again, and he told me the word before going on, "Truly? Are they as big as mûmakil are said to be? Some have said them to be a hundred feet tall."

"No no, not that big. But they are the biggest animals in the world. Except maybe the whale," I said, trying to remember which one was bigger. As Faramir opened his mouth, likely to ask about whales and elephants some more, I interrupted him, "But never mind that. Maybe you will see one of these… mume…"

"Mûmak," Faramir said with a smile. "Do you know this just as you know how it will end?"

I knew with this comment we were getting into the heart of the discussion, and so it was with good timing that a bell started to ring somewhere in the building. I looked up sharply, and Faramir was already rising from his chair.

"It is lunch time, and I think that calls for a break. Would you care to join me on the balcony for the meal?" He offered his hand, and I took it, amazed at how much more relaxed I was with him now. I'd been so nervous before, but now I only felt ravenously hungry. My meager breakfast had been forgotten.

The balcony of the study overlooked the mountains behind Minas Tirith and the view was breathtaking. Faramir opened the door and let the servants in to set up while he took our mugs to the table and he pulled out a chair for me. It had been a long while since I'd had such a fine meal—in fact, the last one I could remember like this was in Rivendell with Bilbo and Arasinya.

Faramir did not immediately sit at the table, but left the room and came back with two more rangers, talking over a map. I only heard bits and pieces about patrols, orc movements, and scouts. The rest of it was lost in army terminology I didn't know, so I ended up awkwardly sitting at the table until Faramir dismissed them and came over.

The lunch included marinated duck drizzled in a honey sauce, warm bread with a crusty outside and thick cream to dip it in. There were vegetables in a cold soup, and a fine wine on the table that quite delighted my taste buds. It had been so long since I'd drunk anything other than ale and tea.

We ate mostly in silence, as Faramir seemed to be thinking, whether about what I told him or the rangers I wasn't sure, and I was focusing on my table manners since I was sharing the table with a lord. The food was delightful and gone too soon, even though I felt full to bursting. I rested quietly with my drink as Faramir simultaneously ate and read a scroll a messenger had delivered. I enjoyed the peace and quiet here without the clamor of the lower levels.

"There is some Ranger matters I must attend to, Miss Maddie," Faramir said after he put down his knife and fork and took up the scroll. He indicated it with an almost regretful expression on his face, but I wasn't too disappointed. I had spent all morning talking, and now that I was full of good food I wouldn't mind a break and maybe a nap.

"We have not even begun to discuss the letter, but your tale was fascinating," he said, almost as an apology. I sat up a bit, worrying he maybe did not want to hear the rest after all. "I still wish to hear how you tie this to the letter. At the very least you have my attention."

"I understand if you do not believe me," I said slowly, chewing on my words, "But I will try to explain as best I can, and maybe you will trust me. I only hope Gandalf did," I said, thinking on the letter he'd left behind.

Faramir gave me that half-smile again. "Tales of world traveling are fantastical, I must admit. But if Gandalf believed you then I will have to think on this." I nodded, realizing he didn't mean we would finish this today but another time. I felt a bit of dread hit me as I realized I would have to return to the Kinsey's.

"I will summon you when I have the time, if that is alright?" He smiled at me across the table, and I found my lips quirking up of their own accord.

Instead of going straight back to the Kinsey household, I loitered on the fifth level at that same terrace where I had felt that initial wave of travel homesickness. I was sure to be questioned thoroughly by the servants, and I wasn't relishing the idea of handing Lord Kinsey the sealed letter from Faramir explaining our discussion was purely academic. I was skeptical of how much that would change his opinion of me, even if Lord Faramir had signed and sealed it. It might not have mattered if the Steward himself delivered it—it might just condemn me more; as if I had Lord Faramir wrapped around my finger.

Still, I couldn't hide in the garden all day, and I slowly made my way back to the house, each step heavier than the last. When I eventually reached the kitchen garden I had to pause and take a deep breath hinted with fresh soil and vegetables before I mustered up the courage to go inside.

Of course Shelton was there with the other cook, and in a voice just a hair too loud said, "Maddie! You've returned from the esteemed lord."

Clarimond and Oriolda must have been upstairs otherwise they would have likely burst into the kitchen, but Everlid swept in quickly followed by Heaton. She scrutinized me for a moment before speaking.

"Weren't sure when you'd be coming back, but Lord Kinsey's said you're to have no duties today."

Everlid didn't ask any questions, but that wasn't surprising. In absence of the gossipy maidservants though Shelton was the first to ask.

"Well, how did it go? What did Lord Faramir want?"

"It was as I said," I told him, wondering how many times I was going to have to say this. "He only had questions about Gandalf and was quite busy with his Ranger work." I fudged the truth a bit by telling them I'd spent more time waiting than talking. Everlid shooed the others out after a handful more questions, luckily not any I could get angry about.

"Wait Everlid, I have a letter for Lord Kinsey from Lord Faramir." I handed her the sealed envelope, and she eyed it with distaste.

"You won't be talking to Lord Faramir again, will you?" She asked, holding the letter between worn fingers.

"He said he may have more questions for me," I admitted, putting my hands behind my back so I wouldn't wring them. "I don't know when though," I added.

She harrumphed, and I wondered why she was annoyed. I didn't get the chance to ask though as Clarimond and Oriolda bustled in, rags and brooms in hand. The moment I was spotted they made a beeline for me, and Everlid disappeared out into the main rooms.

That night I slept fitfully, my mind churning over Faramir's reactions, what he must be thinking, and what to do from now on. I was almost disappointed Clarimond and Oriolda hadn't stayed up all night interrogating me on Faramir's clothes, the fineness of the room we were in, and all manner of detail I hadn't bothered to think about. They whispered about how he and his brother were unmarried, making them the most sought after bachelors in all of Gondor. Those comments made me remember vaguely that Faramir would marry, though I couldn't remember to who or whether Clarimond's giggling had made me imagine it.

For the next week there was tension between the servants and I, and most especially from the Kinsey family, but it lessened as I worked the same as before. I rarely saw any of the lord's family as it was, but I made a point to clean as quickly and quietly as possible and focus on parts of the house they visited rarely so I would avoid seeing them.

Everlid told me that Lord Kinsey had read the letter from Lord Faramir, but my brief run-ins with Lady Kinsey confirmed my fears. The letter did little to change their outlook on me, even if they believed there had been nothing sexual between Faramir and I. Heaton, surprisingly, was the one to whisper to me as I cleaned the upstairs reading room, that the Kinsey's felt it was most improper for someone of such low birth to be even talking with the son of the Steward. It was the hierarchical difference that rankled more than me personally. I had a sinking feeling in my gut this was how Everlid felt too.

Just as things were beginning to slip back into normality, a messenger from Faramir arrived, reviving the tension in the household. No one had thought I would be summoned again so soon, and Lady Kinsey, who received the letter, looked down her nose at me when she told me the news.

"Lord Faramir expects the presence of Miss Maddie on the morrow, and formally requests that she be absolved of all duties for that day," she read from the missive, her overly painted mouth forming a small sneer that vanished just as quickly. "Should this inconvenience Lord Kinsey's household, Lord Faramir requests Lord Kinsey inform him of such and he will see to reparations."

The rest of that day was painfully awkward, with the whole staff whispering amongst themselves as to why Lord Faramir needed to see me again about Gandalf—their skepticism tangible. It didn't help that Clarimond was cooing about peasants and princes to Oriolda within earshot of the other servants.

Everlid wasn't as supportive either; her frown seemed to be a permanent thing whenever she looked at me. I started to feel ostracized by my fellow servants, and it was hard to sleep that night as I both dreaded and looked forward to talking to Faramir. In the grand scheme of things, the opinions of a handful of household servants were nothing, but it was hard to remember that when Oriolda and Clarimond shot me envious looks as we dressed for bed. I didn't want to worry about their petty thoughts, but it still hurt that my friends would push me aside like this.

The next day was overcast, clouds swollen heavy with rain. I ate a fast breakfast, ignoring the murmurs of the other servants around me. I could hear the rain outside splattering the windows and cobblestone streets, and I ducked into the cupboard in the kitchen after a moment. There was an oiled cloak there that repelled some water (didn't beat modern raincoats, but at least I wouldn't be soaking wet, just lightly drenched) that I used for errands, so I shook it out and pulled it on over the dress Butterbur had given me, now stitched up neatly courtesy of Clarimond and Oriolda.

I resolutely ignored my frustration with their childishness and the gossip mongering of the other servants.

I hurried out with a muffled goodbye to Shelton, who only eyed me over the counter as he mixed together something. I was glad to be gone from the household, but I was in no real rush to reach Faramir. The rain was coming down quite hard now, and I quickly found the hood of the cloak to be very inadequate. While my shoulders and torso were fine, my legs were quickly drenched to the knee. Even though it was a bit chilly when I was so wet, I still couldn't bring myself to hurry on to the uppermost level. The sooner I got there, the sooner our talk would be done, and the sooner I'd be back at the Kinsey's.

While the city didn't smell too great in the rain, there was something beautiful about the snowy stones in this weather. They were particularly vivid when I passed homes and businesses with vines wound around their trellises. Like heavy ropes with leaves and flowers, they hung down to the ground; the colors of the blooms and the verdant vines were absolutely beautiful when pressed against the stone. I snagged a couple blossoms on my way up, lamenting that I didn't know how to make a crown of them.

When I reached the same checkpoint at the entrance to the sixth level another ranger was already waiting for me. His oil-slicked cloak looked a lot sturdier than mine; by this point in my dallying I was quite wet, and most especially my feet. I had the boots the Elves had given me, and tough as they were, they were still not sealed completely from the rain.

I must have looked quite bedraggled, because the ranger's eyebrows shot up when I introduced myself, but he led me back the same route through the sixth level and up until we were in the same geometric garden as before.

The clouds were a fascinating array of grey, but my escort pulled me away from looking out across the plains at the expanse of the storm, grumbling about wet feet. He walked me to the door of Faramir's study before we both seemed to realize my appearance wasn't quite worthy of the Steward's son.

"Your coat, miss," the ranger said gruffly, and I unhooked the simple clasp and after a pause handed it to him. He shook it out before giving me a once over. The cloak had saved me from the worst of the rain, but I was still quite wet, and my shoes were leaving a growing puddle of water beneath me. My hair was also messy and soaked where it had been exposed to the storm; the hood had done little to protect it.

"Wait a moment," the ranger said, walking briskly down the hall and returning a moment later with a servant and a towel. I rubbed down my hair a bit and squeezed the ends to get some of the water out, but from about the knee down my dress was a lost cause, not to mention my boots.

The ranger and servant looked like they were trying to figure out a way to spare Lord Faramir from seeing his guest so wet, but the lord must have known we were there and got fed up with waiting. He opened the door, taking in the fussing servant, the exasperated ranger, and I.

"You look a bit wet, Miss Maddie," he said after a beat, smiling at the state of my dress. After all the tension at the Kinsey's it was a relief to be treated more normally.

"There's a bit of rain, m'lord," I replied, then immediately felt embarrassed at how casual I was.

Faramir waved away the servant and ranger though, saying, "A little water matters not to me. Come inside, warm your feet by the fire. We have a long discussion ahead of us. Thank you, Baramond, for retrieving her."

The ranger bowed and left as the servant scuttled off, my soaking cloak in her hands. I just caught the look she shot me over her shoulder, and I almost groaned aloud at the thought of the rumors. If I were lucky this wouldn't leave the palace.

I settled in the same chair as before and, after insistence from Faramir and some awkward refusals from me, put my bare feet up near the fire. My boots rested on the stone floor to the side of the fireplace in a, likely vain, attempt to dry them out. The weather was still fairly warm, but it was mid-September and the rain brought cooler temperatures with it.

There were a kind of wooden shutter pulled down over the windows to the balcony, and the patter of rain on them was soothing. The room was stuffier though, but I didn't much mind. Faramir seemed not to care either, and shrugged off my apologies about the upholstering on this chair with my wet clothes.

"We may be interrupted at times by my rangers, but I do wish to hear the rest of this story."

I nodded, just happy he'd made the time. This time the letter was sitting tucked away on the mantle, and he pulled it down and spread it out again, using the same mûmak paperweight as before. He tapped the first line as he spoke, "What is this about a book?"

I leaned forward in the chair and started to explain. "In my homeland, there are… five books. They are about the history of Middle Earth and two adventures. Do you know that mountain east of Mirkwood? With dwarves? The first is about saving that mountain from a dragon."

Faramir looked at me with rapt attention. I could barely remember reading The Hobbit, but what I pieced together from memory and Bilbo's stories was enough for now.

"Erebor," Faramir supplied, "and the tale of the defeat of Smaug. Aye, I know of it. Who was this historian who wrote it?"

"Well," I shifted, wondering how to put this, "no one believed it was true. Arda is not a real place in my world." I had explained this before to Faramir, so he only nodded along. "So everyone believes it is made-up—fantasy. Middle Earth, elves, dwarves, and killing dragons. But the story is said to be written by Bilbo, and Bilbo was working on his book about the adventure when I met him, so I think it is the same book. Do you remember the hobbit before? In Rivendell?"

"Yes, of course."

"That was his story. The next three books are… well they are called The Lord of the Rings." This pronouncement was not met with quite the reaction I expected. Faramir looked nonplussed, and for a moment I was worried he didn't know about the rings of power.

"What lord is this? The story of the rings given to the great kings many an age ago?"

"Yes! Well no, it is about only one ring," I said, and that got a reaction.

"Isildur's Bane," Faramir murmured, his eyes far away and his expression grave.

Neither of those words was familiar to me though. "I don't understand."

Faramir paused to look me in the eye. "You say this is three books detailing a story of the One Ring?"

"Yes," I said, feeling confused.

"The Ring forged by Sauron?" He continued, and I nodded again. He seemed to gather himself before speaking. "Isildur's Bane is what we call the Ring of Power in Gondor. Isildur was a king of Gondor long ago. He fought in the War of the Last Alliance and slew Sauron with a broken sword." As Faramir spoke I could see the opening sequences of the first movie in surprising clarity: a huge battle in Mordor; Elves and Men fighting together; and then with the shattered sword Isildur killing Sauron. "He took the Ring for his own, but when Isildur was killed it was lost."

Yes, I remembered this story now. "I understand. This is the same ring."

"And what tale of the Ring of Power is recorded in these books?" There was a strange look in Faramir's eye, and I wasn't sure how to interpret it. I wasn't afraid though.

"That is the tale I will tell you—and one that is happening now." Faramir stared me down for a moment, his blue eyes narrowed in concentration, as he seemed to read my face.

"The Ring was long said to be lost for millennia. It has returned from the histories?"

"Yes, a creature found it, and took it to the Misty Mountains. Bilbo, on his quest to the Lonely Mountain, found it."

Faramir looked like he had a million more questions from there, but a knock on the heavy door interrupted us. Faramir stood as a ranger came in, and they put their heads together to whisper for a moment before Faramir issued some orders. "Be careful, and do not take unnecessary risks. You know the land better than they do—use this to your advantage."

I had no idea what they were talking about, but the ranger left with a nod and a polite bow, and Faramir returned to his seat. "Apologies, Miss Maddie, but it seems there are always orcs."

"No worries," I told him, and his mouth quirked at my English-ism.

I tapped the letter to return us to the discussion. "I have read these books, this is how I know of Arda."

"You are sure these books are correct?" Faramir asked skeptically, and I could only bite my lip.

"We must hope so, because the ending is good. If the books are wrong…"

"I understand," the lord said quickly, waving his hand. "And this quest? It is the story in these three books?" Faramir asked, pointing to my horribly misspelled word.

"Yes, this quest is the story. There will be, or was, a big meeting in Rivendell. Dwarves, Elves, hobbits, and Lord Boromir will be there. They will decide to send nine people from each race to take the Ring to Mordor."

"Boromir will be there?" Faramir said sounding surprised, his eyebrows up.

"Yes," I said, baffled. "He left for Rivendell months ago in the summer. He will be at the Council."

Faramir's face morphed into a smile, but there was some strange light in his eyes. "So you do know what you are talking about."

I realized then that I had been tricked. Obviously as Boromir's brother Faramir knew about the other's mission; he had just wanted to see if I did.

I sighed and Faramir reached over like he might pat my hand before rethinking it. "Our father sent Boromir to Rivendell seeking answers. We both had a dream of a poem that mentions both Isildur's Bane and a Halfling."

I had totally forgotten about the reason for Boromir's leaving, but as Faramir said it I did recall it.

"Yes, there will be a quest to destroy the One Ring, and Frodo," at this I pointed at his name on the letter, "will be that Halfling."

"Why a Halfling?"

"Hobbit," I correctly absently. "Hobbits are… resistant to the Ring. It is very powerful," I tried to explain. Faramir didn't seem pleased with the answer, but he nodded anyway when I waved my hands and told him Gandalf knew better than I.

"Do you know if Boromir has reached Rivendell?" I asked. I didn't know when the Council of Elrond was, but I could only hope Boromir would send word of his arrival to Gondor, or at least that he had joined the Fellowship. Or was that secret? I couldn't recall.

"No word has reached us of him, though my brother is strong," Faramir said. "If you say he is at this council, then I have no reason to fear for him in the wilds, now do I?" There was something sly about that statement, and I knew he was questioning my foreknowledge. Which was fair, really, given I had no proof. Until events lined up with what I said, no one would believe me.

Choosing to set those thoughts aside for now, I explained to Faramir further about the Ring and how it could only be destroyed in the volcano in Mordor (or "mountain with fire inside" because somehow I had neglected to learn the word for volcano in Westron). I told him too about how the Fellowship was made of nine members from all the races to help him do this. When I told him Boromir would join them a myriad of emotions flittered across Faramir's face.

"My brother would be an excellent choice for such a quest, but it is also a mission with no good end. You say the Ring will be destroyed, but what of the members?"

I felt something catch in my throat, the earnest worry and love in Faramir's eyes for his brother overwhelming. Unbidden, I remembered Baiard's still body, and briefly my mind turned to his family. Did the Rohirrim ever find him?

"The Nine Walkers, they… there are many battles. It is a long journey and…"

Faramir's body language changed into hard lines at my fumbling answer, and I was suddenly reminded that this scholarly man was really a soldier even if he wore no armor today. "This is what you mean by saving people," he stated, referring to the last line of my letter.

"…Yes," I said softly, nervous and intimidated all over again.

He sighed, running his hands through his hair, and I felt a coil wrap around my heart as he looked at me with a penetrating stare. "Can my brother be saved?"

I knew it was pointless to lie, so I didn't try. "I will try to save him."

"Let me help. I can send men to aid them, and my rangers are discreet. I have resources I could call upon to help send them safely on to Mordor. What happens in that cursed place though…"

He seemed to realize the enormity of the quest in that moment, and he stared into the low fire, his mind obviously running through scenario after scenario. I couldn't imagine what he must be thinking, knowing his brother would be chosen to go on this suicide mission.

"I promise you, Faramir, I will do everything I can to help the Nine Walkers—" I was careful not to specify that only Boromir would die "—but it is… delicate. Please let me finish explaining and then we can talk about armies and soldiers. And please… Boromir is important. I fear if he does not go on this quest then it will fail."

He looked at me searchingly, not as a lord, or a soldier, but as a brother. I swallowed dry, thinking of my own family. "But you will seek to help him? If it is within your power you will do it?" Nothing about that was begging; it was exacting.

"I promise Faramir," I said, ignoring the lingering doubt about my conviction to this. "If I am able then I will. I only ask in return that you tell me before doing anything to change this."

"I will hold you to that," he said grimly, and stood abruptly to retrieve the kettle from the fire and make tea. I gave him the moment to regroup because I needed it too. I had not intended for him to find out about Boromir, and I was unsure how to make this work.

"Tell me about Frodo," he said as he sat back down, offering me the second cup. I blew on the tea to cool it and started to give him a shortened version of Frodo's journey to Rivendell. When I explained the "black soldiers" I had written of, Faramir's face darkened.

"Ringwraiths," he said in what might have been a snarl on another man. "Fell beasts they are, foes unleashed from Mordor. Rumor of their passing came to us, but no man could go before them. You say this Aragorn fought them?"

I wasn't entirely sure how much of Weathertop I remembered from the movie versus the book, but I knew Ringwraiths—that's what they were called!—could be killed. Hadn't Eowyn and one of the hobbits killed one?

"Yes, and they can be killed. Just… it's not easy, and their weapons are very dangerous. Frodo was stabbed and only Lord Elrond was able to save him."

Another ranger interrupted us again with a pile of scrolls. There was some brief talk of Osgiliath and orcs, but I felt a lot more went unsaid because of my presence.

When Faramir returned I went into more detail about the forming of the Fellowship, as we'd gotten distracted by mention of Boromir before. "There is one elf, Legolas from Mirkwood, and a dwarf, Gimli, and Lord Boromir. And then there is Gandalf and four hobbits, and the last is Aragorn."

"On what basis did Lord Elrond choose to send four hobbits? Would it not be wiser to send more able warriors? And this man Aragorn, he is important," Faramir said shrewdly, and in that moment I regretted his intelligence.

I wasn't sure how to broach Aragorn's lineage, but it seemed like there was nothing for it. It's hardly like I could keep it a secret now if I intended to finish the story. It would be quite the omission if I failed to mention that Gondor would have a King.

"Aragorn is a Northern ranger," I began, "like Trahern, who I told you about. He is… well, he will be King of Gondor."

Faramir was a lot steadier than I was, because I probably would have dropped the mug of hot tea all over my lap if I'd been in his position. As it was, he looked at me both startled and suspicious. "He is Isildur's heir?"

"Yes," I agreed, realizing also that phrasing was why the name Isildur was so familiar to me. "There is some poem about it and the broken sword."

"He is a good man?" Faramir asked after a long pause, and I was thankful he was so even-tempered because I wasn't sure how someone in line to basically rule Gondor would feel about being usurped by some guy from the north. Faramir's esteem in my eyes went up a few notches.

"One of the best," I confirmed. "He is an old friend of Gandalf's too," I added, just to sweeten it. Faramir looked caught somewhere between thoughtful and broody, so eventually I kept talking.

"As for the four hobbits," I said in a horrible transition, but thankfully one that Faramir followed without comment, "I don't know why Lord Elrond agreed to send them. Elves… know things sometimes." It was a totally lame answer, but Elven wisdom was hard to argue with.

After sipping more of the herbal tea, I continued on with the story of the Fellowship, including their trek down into Moria. I told Faramir about Gandalf's fall and that fire-shadow demon—and the lord only seemed slightly more comforted when I told him Gandalf would be resurrected. Then I continued on to Lothlórien and the Lady of the Wood, which sparked questions about her and the Lothlórien Elves I couldn't answer. I was almost out of tea by this time, and I was thankful for the respite from talking as lunch was called.

"It seems I have quite a bit to think on. But there is much more to the story?"

Now that Faramir knew about Boromir's death I wasn't sure how to approach the splitting of the Fellowship. I also couldn't remember as much detail of the other books, as all the battles started to get jumbled together, and that might be problematic.

"There is more but… I do not remember as much, and it is very complicated."

I eyed the food the servants had set on the far table, my belly grumbling, but Faramir was still talking, and I didn't want to be rude and start before him.

He glanced at the desk piled with scrolls and maps and seemed to visibly deflate. At my look, he chanced a half-smile. "I am Captain of the Ithilien Rangers, and while this means I go out with my men often, it also means I must read all the missives and reports. It is tiring work, and I much prefer a blade in my hand and an orc on the end."

I nodded understandingly, probably more than he knew given my previous job at home (though the part about blades and orcs I couldn't relate to). Day in and day out of paperwork would make anyone go batty.

Thankfully Faramir moved to the table and pulled out my chair before sitting down too. I waited until he started before digging into my food. Today I was able to enjoy a savory pot roast with warm potatoes drizzled in oil with rosemary and sage. The smell wafting from the food was enough to make my mouth water. There was more crusty bread, this time with raisins in it, and more sweet wine that paired wonderfully with the buttery vegetables and meat. I managed to hold back inappropriate noises of pleasure, but it was a close thing.

"Do you find your work at the Kinsey's rewarding?" Faramir asked as I dipped my bread in the juices of the meat on my plate, wondering if he would notice if I snuck some of the delicious bread in my pack.

"Hm? Oh! Um… not really. Cleaning is… well it pays the…" They didn't really have "bills" in Middle Earth, so my phrasing was poor and I hadn't really thought through my answer, but Faramir seemed to understand because he chuckled a bit.

"What would you do if you could do anything?"

I tore my bread slowly as I thought about that. In Middle Earth I really had no idea. There were a million answers I could give back at home, but here?

"I don't know," I finally settled, frowning. "There is not much choice here for women." Most women I saw here either worked as maids or manned storefronts alongside husbands. The medieval ages wasn't known for its gender equality.

"Yes, but a family is important right?"

"Yes, of course," I frowned further then, feeling suspicious of where this was going. "Women can do many things though, and in my homeland they can do all the jobs a man can do. They can work and own homes and are perfectly respectable even if they do not marry or have children," I emphasized, and when Faramir laughed I was startled.

"I meant no offense," he said, cutting into his piece of the roast. "I can tell how different your world is, and I have no doubt of women's worth."

I blushed at my outburst, jumping to conclusions like that.

After a couple more bites he spoke up again. "Did Lord Kinsey receive my letter?"

"Yes," I said shortly, chewing on a bite of asparagus a little more than necessary to avoid further comment. I didn't want to think about the Kinsey family's expressions when I returned tonight. And if Faramir wanted to finish this talk in a third meeting then that would just be twisting the knife.

The lord must have sensed something was off though, because he put down his knife and fork. "All is well? If they are not forgiving of this incursion of mine I can step in," he offered, and I shook my head quickly.

"No, no, it's no concern of yours. Let me worry about it."

Faramir's eyebrow shot up, and I realized belatedly I'd admitted to there being a problem and worrying about it. I picked up my wine glass and fervently hoped this was stronger stuff than last time.

Faramir gave me a look when I took a bigger sip than was probably polite, but didn't say more as we went back to eating. My cheeks were red, but not from the alcohol.

After lunch was eaten and servants arrived to clear away the plates, Faramir again explained he had ranger duties to attend to, and told me he would summon me again when he could.

"I fear I may be leaving soon on patrol, however, so it may be many weeks."

"That's quite alright," I said, not sure what the feeling in my stomach was. "Your duties are more important."

"Try to stay dry on your return," he said as a farewell. I said my goodbyes too, before another ranger came to accompany me to the sixth level again. The rain was still coming down, though lighter than the previous downpour, but neither my cloak nor my boots had the time to dry completely so I quickly had wet feet again.

After I left the ranger at the sixth level gate I slowly headed back to the Kinsey's, turning over the conversation in my mind. I had a lot of thinking to do regarding the Fellowship's journey and Boromir's death. I also started to wonder about leaving Minas Tirith and where I might go. It would have to wait until Faramir and I talked again, but by then it would be autumn, and the roads were still unsafe. At least the Council of Elrond hadn't happened yet—or Boromir hadn't sent a message. The impending Council felt like the start of the countdown, but to what I didn't know.