It was a stupendous dinner that Faramir gave me. Pouring ourselves each a large goblet of the sweet dark wine bottled on Faramir’s own estates in South Ithilien, we retired to the library once more. There Faramir produced some of the choicest pipe-weed which he kept for special visitors. It was dark now and outside the mullioned window the waxing moon glinted off leaves of maple and laurel in the garden, whilst beyond the hedge thick black forest blanketed the hillsides.
I had of course needed to tell Éowyn about Morfindel’s murder and I was curious to know whether the news had got back to Faramir. Or indeed whether he would have admitted it to me if it had.
“Do you see much of Morfindel son of Gollum these days?”
“Rather less than I might possibly do,” answered Faramir, puffing contentedly on his pipe and thus far giving the distinct impression that he had been left in ignorance. So Éowyn had been as good as her word. “Indeed the last time he was here I had occasion to throw him out of the house.”
“Dear me! Was he that objectionable?”
“That I could have tolerated. Or would have done so, for the King’s sake. But the young rascal began to talk in a most disloyal way! Of what was to become of the Realm when the King joined his ancestors. As you well know, the Queen has not yet presented the King with an heir, a matter which had been exercising the mind of Morfindel rather more than I felt comfortable with. I told him I wanted to hear no more of such talk, but persist he would. I received the impression that he would have liked to fill the position of Crown Prince himself. Now if anything should happen to Aragorn—may the stars forbid it!—then the succession would pass first to me, as Steward of Gondor, and after that to Prince Imrahil. It seemed that in the most roundabout way he was trying to gauge which way I would tend to lean, were he to rule instead.”
“Didn’t you disabuse him of that likelihood?”
“Don’t get me wrong. He wasn’t proposing to rule as Aragorn’s adopted son (although at one time there was even talk of that at court!) but as regent for a child which Queen Arwen might bear. Whose child?—that was the obvious question. But he refused to be drawn. He would only say that if it were the son of the Queen then it would of course be accepted as the King’s offspring by all loyal subjects.”
I leaned forward with a frown. “I can see why you found such talk so distasteful,” I said. “But weren’t you taking a risk, making an enemy of one so close to the King?”
“Enemies are not hard to make at court. As you know full well. The only thing I would regret is to incur the enmity of a man I respected.” He laid careful stress on the last word.
I spoke lightly as though I were changing the subject, though really I was not.
“Tell me something. In my younger day, you were commonly held to be a lore-master, of no mean attainment. Particularly in ring-lore.” Smilingly, Faramir demurred, but only out of modesty, not conviction. “Now Morfindel,” I continued, “has been developing an enormous interest in rings of late. What is your opinion of that?”
Some of the mirth went out of Faramir’s smile. “Really, Goss, it comes to the point where you must declare yourself. For all I know you might be a friend of Morfindel. An agent of his. Though Éowyn urges me to trust you…”
“The Lady Éowyn is indeed a remarkable person, my lord Faramir.”
He nodded. “Just what I say myself—and it is pleasing to find people who agree with me.” But he was obviously puzzled by why I had said that. I hastened to make myself clear.
“She conceals even from her own husband something which I told her in confidence. And that was less out of regard for me, whom she considers a young tearaway at best—than out of respect for the honour of her own word.”
I could see that Faramir was really puzzled by now. Being an artful showman I was relishing the effect my words were having. And about to have.
“You see, as Lady Éowyn could so easily have told you, Morfindel is dead. Murdered.”
The pipe dropped from Faramir’s mouth. He slapped his knees and actually rose to his feet. I smiled and held up my palms. When he had settled down again in sufficient comfort I continued.
“In order to keep the matter secret, at the King’s special behest, it was necessary to embroil her in a shameful subterfuge. The story for public consumption is that Morfindel lies confined in the Houses of Healing. But it was a dummy I caused to be admitted. In reality Morfindel lies at this moment in the mortuary close by Rath Dínen.”
Faramir’s voice was hoarse. “How did he die?”
“Horribly, my lord. I would rather not go into it. He died in his own bedroom, at the hands of someone unknown.”
“At some time in the evening of Thursday the 27th of April. His body was discovered by Captain Bergil at the midnight hour.”
“Indeed! What was Captain Bergil doing in Morfindel’s bedroom at the midnight hour? It’s the sort of question we contrive not to ask at court these days.”
“Between you and me I wonder about it myself. But Bergil seems not at all ashamed to declare it and so I’m inclined to accept that his visit was purely a matter of business. He himself maintains that it was business and entirely his own. Which of course he has a perfect right to do, and indeed a duty.”
Faramir pursed his lips for a moment, but soon his features made it clear that he saw no reason to suspect Bergil of anything worse than a habitual lack of consideration.
“He is a man who retires to bed late and gets up early. Such men are often noted for their absence of imagination. He thinks that because he is up and about, everyone else should be too.”
To that I assented heartily. I told Faramir how the Rangers of the North had got me out of bed to answer Bergil’s summons by break of day. He laughed long and heartily at that.
“I can well imagine how you had good cause to thank him for that! Especially had you been quaffing ale in Osgiliath with Legolas and Gimli the night before!” (As indeed I had!)
Faramir’s face grew grave again and he shook his head to himself slowly. “But—dead! Morfindel son of Gollum! Long will it be before the rumour of this matter dies down. How is the King taking it?”
I saw the love in his eyes. Faramir, last of the hereditary Stewards of Gondor, loyal to his lord and master to the end. “He grieves, my Lord,” I said. “And he has vowed vengeance on the murderer. It will be Death at the Stake…”
“About that he has no choice!” said Faramir gruffly. Then he lowered his chin into his hand. “Yet when you stop to think just who it might be…” He puffed out his chest. “It might even be me! Why, if animosity alone were the touchstone of guilt…”
…to be continued.