The day of the new King's coronation was fast approaching and Faramir's brief tenure as ruling Steward was almost ended. He was untroubled by the fact. He had always believed that there could be no greater honour for a Steward than to surrender the White Rod to the rightful King when he returned, the symbol of a trust faithfully kept throughout the long years of waiting. Little had he ever imagined that the honour would fall to him, but now that it had, he was determined that the transfer of power would be swift, willing, and gracious.
He did not expect the new King would have much need of a Steward once he was crowned, especially not a son of Denethor, but he would always be Arandur, the King's loyal servant. He doubted that there would be any place in public life for him, though. The King would appoint advisors of his own choice. Faramir intended to live quietly in Ithilien where he had some ancestral lands.
First though, was the coronation of the King. It had been decided that Aragorn Elessar would come with his retinue to a barrier, which had been erected to serve as a temporary gate to the City, where Faramir would greet him and surrender his office to him, which was symbolised by handing him the White Rod.
Everything was in readiness. Even at this moment, the people of Minas Tirith were decorating the streets and tending the flowers for the great day.
Faramir decided that to prepare for the ceremony, he ought to practise handing over the White Rod. Unaccustomed as he was to bearing it, he did not want to brandish it like some sort of weapon and thereby risk striking the King; neither did he want to hold it as an old man might clutch his cane. His father had always carried it as if it were a part of his very arm! In fact, it had felt so much a part of Denethor that Faramir had not sought to carry it at the meetings he had presided over since his father's death. Now he came to think of it, he did not even know where it was. He called for a servant and asked them to summon Caranthir, his father's personal servant, who had aided Denethor in dressing for his official duties. He would surely know where the White Rod was kept.
Caranthir was an old man, but since Denethor's death, he appeared even older than his years. He was now stooped and walked much more slowly than had been his custom as he shuffled into Faramir's study. "You sent for me, my lord?" he enquired in a thin reedy voice.
Faramir noticed that the old man's eyes were full of sorrow. It seemed that he was one of the few who had truly loved Denethor rather than simply respecting him.
"I sent for you as I will need the white rod, Caranthir, for the coronation ceremony and I need to prepare for it. I wondered if you might know where it is."
Caranthir paled and swayed on his feet. Faramir hastily bade the old man sit down.
"Are you unwell?" the Steward enquired. He poured a glass of wine from the carafe upon his table and offered it to Caranthir.
"I am well enough, my lord, but did you not know about the fate of the rod? I can hardly bear to speak of it." His voice shook as he spoke.
"No, I did not" Faramir looked at the man in concern, wondering whatever about the Rod could prompt such strong emotions. "I am sorry that it pains you to speak of the matter but I need to know what happened to the White Rod."
Caranthir sighed and took a deep breath before he spoke again. "My lord, I was one of those who was commanded to follow Lord Denethor to the Silent Street. I stood by when Mithrandir arrived and ordered you to be taken to the healers. The Grey Wanderer begged Lord Denethor to forgo his deadly purpose, but he would not listen and cast a torch upon the pyre." Caranthir paused, wiped his brow, and then swallowed hard. "When Lord Denethor…when…when he burned, he…he destroyed it! He said he would never yield to any heir of Isildur's, then broke the white rod in twain across his knee and cast it in the flames before he-." The old man broke down, unable to continue.
Faramir could not have been more shocked if the old servant had struck him across the face. The White Rod was the symbol of the Steward's office; an office that had been performed by the House of Húrin for well nigh on a thousand years. And his father had destroyed it together with his own life? The young Steward struggled to keep his composure at these tidings. It was bad enough that Denethor had not sought an honourable death in battle when all had seemed lost, but to desecrate the White Rod thus as well, was a bitter blow indeed.
"That will be all, Caranthir, you may go now. One of the guards will help you to your quarters." Faramir hastily dismissed the old servant, fearful that he would betray his distress in front of him, not to mention his anger. His father's retainers appeared to have done nothing to try to prevent their master from succumbing to his crazed purpose. He inwardly shook himself, knowing he was being unfair. His father had never been an easy man to cross and in the final week of his life his wrath had been feared by all when his mind began to crumble.
Faramir slumped across his desk and buried his head in his hands for a moment. 'No', he told himself sternly, this was not the time to weep. The White Rod was no more and tears and lamentations would not bring it back. It was Faramir's task to find a replacement before the coronation. It seemed a daunting task, though; the White Rod had been a beautiful thing, lovingly crafted from the finest materials and handed down from father to son over the generations. It would be impossible to create another like it at such short notice. The numbers of craftsmen had been sadly depleted during the war and those who survived were scattered far and wide. Materials, too, were in short supply as many of the warehouses had been located in the first level and had burned to the ground during the siege.
Faramir thought frantically of what materials might be available to fashion a white rod from in three days. Several múmakil had been slaughtered during the battle of Pelennor Fields and their tusks had been brought to him. Maybe a white rod could be crafted from one of those. He shook his head. The ivory was stained with blood, which was hardly an auspicious start to what he hoped would be an era of peace. But where would he find some white wood? Only the dead White Tree was of sufficient whiteness and it would be sacrilege to hack a branch from it. The King would surely demand his head as well as the Rod should he do so! It seemed all he could do was find a carpenter and see if he could fashion a new one at short notice and paint it white. Faramir sighed. The King had returned after so long only to be greeted with a painted stick! It seemed an affront both to the royal dignity and to the honour of the House of Húrin.
Faramir rose from the chair in which he was sitting, rubbing his back as he did so. His father's chair was the least comfortable piece of furniture he had ever encountered. Even an upturned barrel would have provided more comfort! The Steward started to pace the room restlessly. Then an old memory returned to him of a rainy day during his childhood. His father had just returned from an official function, the White Rod still in his hand and Boromir had admired it.
Denethor had smiled indulgently at his eldest and said he was fortunate that one day he would bear such a fine rod as the first Ruling Stewards had carried a much simpler rod, devoid of ornament. Maybe that first White Rod was stowed away somewhere. Gondor was a land steeped in lore and history and did not lightly cast away anything that was part of that history.
Faramir hastened to the archives where ancient objects as well as documents were stored. He found the archivist seated at his desk, Master Dior, a man who ever since Faramir had known him, had appeared almost as old as the dusty parchments that surrounded him. Faramir asked him if he knew if the first White Rod still survived. He found he was holding his breath as he waited for the old man's reply.
"Indeed it has, my lord."
"Do you know where I might find it?" Faramir asked eagerly.
"Let me think now, my lord." The archivist slowly rose to his feet and shuffled across to a cabinet on the far side the room with the help of a cane. Faramir had to restrain his impatience as he fumbled with a bunch of keys at his waist and unlocked the cabinet. The inside was stuffed with old scrolls, ceremonial vessels, ornate weapons, and ancient books, their covers decorated with runes. Faramir's heart sank. There was nothing here that he could present to the King. Then the old man reached into the furthest recesses of the cabinet and brought forth an ancient and grime encrusted white rod. "There you are, my lord," he said, handing it to Faramir. "This is the original White Rod that belonged to the first Steward, Mardil."
Nothing could have been further from the usual solemn ceremony when an aging steward would hand the White Rod over to his eldest son; nevertheless, powerful emotions seized Faramir as he grasped this tangible symbol of the rule of Gondor. Joy and relief that the White Rod had been found, combined with satisfaction that he could fulfil his duty to his liege lord, the King who had brought him forth from the darkness.
Faramir studied the rod carefully as he took it to his apartments to be cleaned. He supposed it had last been used around the time of Belegorn. It was a simple white staff, without adornment. It was beautifully crafted from a type of wood with which he was not familiar, which had not rotted at all over the centuries. It seemed to reflect the humility with which the early Stewards had approached their office, a humility still outwardly observed in the Steward's humble seat at the foot of the throne, but sadly long since lost once the House of Húrin took on the duties and powers of kings; the virtues of royalty and the failings too, culminating in Denethor's destructive pride. It was fitting that his office should end in the same spirit in which it had begun.
Faramir, heir of the House of Húrin and the last Steward of Gondor, would faithfully discharge his final duty as Arandur.
Aragorn had given the White Rod little thought since Gandalf had told him of Denethor's final moments. He had briefly wondered whatever Ecthelion would have thought of the loss of the precious heirloom. He was certain his old friend would have grieved deeply that his son had fallen to such destruction.
He was certain, though, that Faramir would find something suitable for the ceremony as his young Steward seemed both sensible and resourceful. Faramir was a grandson of whom Ecthelion would have been proud. Prince Imrahil had told him that the old man had doted upon the child. Maybe his Númenorean foresight had told him that Denethor's youngest son would grow to be a man of exceptional quality.
Aragorn's dreams and visions were clear to him now. It must have always been destined for Faramir to be his Steward.
His heart full of joy, he approached the barrier, which formed the gate of City he was now to dwell in as King. Faramir approached and humbly knelt before him. "The last Steward of Gondor begs leave to surrender his office," he said. And he held out a white rod.
As he took it, Aragorn suddenly recalled the story that Ecthelion had told him of how the original White Rod had been fashioned from the White Tree. With a thrill he realised that this must be that very rod! What could be more fitting than this rod be presented to the one who bore the emblem of the White Tree. Aragorn returned the rod, saying: 'That office is not ended, and it shall be thine and thy heirs' as long as my line shall last."
He smiled at Faramir as he spoke. Together the bearers of the White Rod and the Silver Crown would work to bring peace and prosperity to Gondor.
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