Haldirin’s parents had shown him this spot on the wall, up on the seventh circle, where both of them liked to sit when they visited the city. Uncle Orophin and Legolas favoured it as a vantage point, too, if they were in the city – as they were now. But just at the moment Haldirin had the sunny spot all to himself.
Below him there were people coming and going, banners flew, there was a clamour of many voices; and it was hardly any quieter in the Citadel itself. Part of Haldirin was pleased to be here, for the celebrations, but part of him wished he had stayed at home in Eryn Ithil with Merilwen and her parents.
He was not very happy amongst men – they changed so much, and there seemed to be new ones almost every time they came here – even though he visited the city with his parents more often than other elves. Well, Legolas came here quite frequently, and maybe the Elrondionath, being the brothers of the King and Queen, came almost as often. Then there was Galanthir; he almost always accompanied Legolas… Anyway, everyone but the Queen changed every time, even the King, although he did not change very much…
Neither, he thought, did the man crossing the Citadel courtyard heading for Ecthelion’s Tower – Haldirin was sure that he had seen him walking across the same route last time he was here, and the time before that, and he seemed to even be wearing the same robe.
Something in the far distance caught his eye and he stopped musing about the men. At least by coming for these celebrations he would be able to spend some time with the hobbits, who would also be here to celebrate, and it looked to him as if that was their company at the edge of the Pelennor now.
Haldirin was right – the ponies and small carriages of the hobbit contingent reached the Citadel some hours later. He knew enough about the effects of aging on mortals to know that Merry, Pippin, and Sam (or Lords Meriadoc, Peregrine, and Samwise in public…) were quite old, but not very, very old – the way some men would be if they were eighty or ninety years old. But some of their children and grandchildren were with them, and hobbits in their teens and twenties were good company for an elf who was only a little over thirty…
So, as the older hobbits, Gimli, Legolas, Nana and Ada, and the others began reminiscing (“It doesn’t seem possible that it was fifty years ago…”), Haldirin introduced himself to this younger generation of hobbits, glad of his Nana’s insistence that he learn enough of the Common Tongue to get by. There were mannish children present too – but Haldirin had learnt that those who were your friends on one visit regarded you as too young to bother with when you next saw them; and so now he hardly bothered to remember which one was which…
As they left the adults to their conversations Haldirin hear Ada say to Nana, “Is it really only fifty years, meleth? I feel as if you have been part of me for yéni…”
One of the mannish children took the lead, he was a little taller than Haldirin and, if the young elf remembered correctly, was a grandson of both Lord Faramir and Lady Éowyn and the King and Queen. He led them to look at the throne room, addressing the guards at the door by name.
“My grandfather, the King, sits on the throne there, and my other grandfather, the Steward, has a seat there just beside him… But in the old days, Grandfather Faramir says, the Steward had a seat at the bottom of the steps…”
The one the man from the courtyard was sitting on? Haldirin wondered. Why didn’t the boy acknowledge the man? Or perhaps ask him why he was sitting in the chair? Had they put that chair back into the old Steward’s place as part of the celebrations? The man seemed to be ignoring the party of young people as much as the boy was ignoring him.
One of the hobbits was talking. “My granddad, the Thain, tells us tales of when he pledged his allegiance to the Steward. I guess that must have been here, in this very room…”
As they discussed how the room might have looked then, the man in the dark robe stood up and walked out past the guards. They ignored him. Haldirin looked back towards the dais – the chair was no longer on the bottom step. Odd…
For the next two days Haldirin neither saw the man in the black robe, nor mentioned him to anyone. In fact he had almost forgotten him in the excitement of the preparations for the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Ring War. Tomorrow there would be a ceremony to mark the battle of the Pelennor Field and now Haldirin sat in his spot on the wall with Pippin, and Merry, and the younger hobbits.
“I was not in quite this spot but I could see below, through a breach in the wall, and I can’t tell you the way I felt when the Army of the Dead swept up from the ships and I realised they were on our side!” Pippin said.
“Where were you, Granddad?” a young hobbit girl asked Merry.
As the elderly hobbit began to point with his pipe out into the fields below, Haldirin asked Pippin more about the army of dead men.
“You could see that they were men, warriors, but you could see, as well, whatever was behind them – for they were but the shapes of men, carrying swords and spears and pikes as insubstantial as themselves. Had I had time to wonder, I would have been unsure whether such weapons could kill, for they were no more substantial than cloud or the grace on a posset.
“But men are frightened of ghosts – and the men in Sauron’s army all feared the swords of the dead more than those of the living. They fled before them, threw themselves into the river fully armoured – and sank.”
“Are there hobbit ghosts?” Haldirin asked. “There are houseless elves – but they cannot be seen even as shadows. Although it is said that sometimes they might try to take over the body of a living elf…”
“Oh yes – there are many tales of hobbit ghosts, young Haldirin,” Pippin said. “If we are still here as the evenings draw in I will tell you many stories of ghostly hobbits…”
“Granddad tells the best ghost stories,” a young hobbit lad said, joining them, “I guess it’s because he saw the ghosts here when he was just a tweeny.”
Soon Pippin was drawn into telling just such a tale. As Haldirin listened his eyes strayed to the man in the black robe, hurrying across the Court of the Fountain as usual, towards Ecthelion’s Tower.
Important guests were still arriving. The approach of a delegation from Rohan, led by King Éomer’s grandson, had been the reason the hobbits had joined Haldirin to look out from the wall. Now they rode up through the city with banners fluttering, cheered by people as they passed, and dismounted at the entrance to The Citadel where King Elessar and others stood ready to welcome them.
Haldirin had heard, more than once, the story of Merry swearing fealty to the King preceding Éomer, and fighting alongside the Rohirrim until, eventually, Merry helped Lady Éowyn slay the Witch King. So Haldirin was not surprised that Merry left his place by the wall, as they approached, and also went forward to greet them.
What did surprise Haldirin was the way in which Merry looked to be on a collision course with the man in the black robe, who was now striding back across the courtyard, but neither of them veered off their course. And then they walked through each other.
He would have to ask Nana or Ada. The man could not be one of the Houseless – he was sure that they were invisible – and he didn’t look anything like Pippin’s description of the Army of the Dead, or the ghost in the story he had told them, but Merry and the man had walked through each other and neither seemed to have even noticed…
Nana was somewhere talking to Lady Éowyn. He had heard one of the human children say that they could not imagine Lady Éowyn wielding a sword and slaying the Witch King; but Haldirin could. She had, he thought, a very strong, sensible, fëa. But perhaps not a good idea to go to Nana right now to ask how Merry could walk through the man in the courtyard, in case there was a good reason and he would look silly for asking.
He would look for Ada.
Ada was not alone, but only Uncle Orophin was with him – and he would not laugh if it turned out to be a silly question, and so Haldirin told Ada what he had seen.
Ada listened carefully, and nodded gently.
“Have you ever seen the man in the dark robes before, little one?”
Sometimes he wished Ada wouldn’t call him ‘little one’ – he almost came up to Ada’s shoulder now! But then, sometimes, he called Nana that, too. So did Uncle Orophin and the twins… perhaps it wasn’t that bad…
He explained how he had seen the man crossing the Court of the Fountain on previous visits, and then he had seen him sitting in the throne room, on the chair on the bottom step.
Ada thought for a few moments before saying anything more.
“I think it might well be the lost fëa of a mortal man that you see, my son. But I do not think he seems to be any threat to you. I think the ability to sometimes see the un-housed is something you have inherited from Nana. We will talk to her about it.”
M’kay. Ada did not think he was silly, or tell him that mortals often walked through each other and why had he not noticed before… If no-one else had noticed then it might be something Haldirin saw because Nana was not-quite-an-elf and… what did Ada say she was, sometimes? A gift of the Valar. Nana would explain more, Haldirin guessed.
As he bathed that night, ready to go to dinner, Haldirin heard Ada talking about it to Nana. Neither of them seemed upset, or angry; Nana said something about there being a key to it all, and that they should explain a little more to Haldirin, either that night, or maybe when some of the celebrations were over and things were quieter. He thought he might as well forget about it all for now and enjoy dinner.
The Citadel not only contained the King’s House but also the Minas Tirith home of the Steward. That was where they were dining tonight because Lady Éowyn was the great-aunt of the Rohirric prince and was entertaining him and the other Rohirrim. Merry and the other hobbits were coming too, as were Gimli and Legolas, and Haldirin’s family, as well, because Ada and Uncle Orophin had fought alongside the Rohirrim in the Ring War.
Haldirin had been in this place before, of course, but he had not been to a dinner in the big, formal, dining room as he had not been old enough. Now he climbed the sweeping staircase with his parents, slowly, as they were behind the party of hobbits; who had short legs, stopped for the older ones to ‘get their breath’, and so forth.
In the King’s House there were statues of long dead kings; in the Steward’s House there seemed to be portraits of Stewards at either side of the stairs. Haldirin was quite interested in them. He did not think the men who painted them had been very good; some of the men looked flat, and others seemed to be sitting in front of Minas Tirith itself, but the perspective was all wrong. Ada would have made them look like living people if they had asked him to come and do the portraits…
They were nearly at the top. The hobbits had stopped again, this time to talk about one of the paintings. Haldirin wondered what was special about that one…
“Nana!” he couldn’t help himself speaking out loud, “Ada! That is the man I saw in the throne room and in the courtyard going to and from the Tower of Ecthelion! The man who walked through Merry! That is him, Ada!”
Inside he could feel both Nana and Ada being excited, and then their mental touch was more as if they were saying ‘Shush!’
Ada spoke very quietly. “Do not mention it again until we get back to our own rooms, my son. It is a good thing that you spoke in Sindarin as I think both Merry and Pippin would be unsettled to know that that Steward still walked within the Citadel, and that Merry had walked right through him.”
Haldirin nodded. It was, as Nana sometimes said, no big… there was a dinner to look forward to, and hobbits to talk to – and one of the Rohirrim might invite him to see their horses. Horses were so much more interesting than a dead Steward…
Lord Faramir was quiet over dinner that night, but no-one really noticed. Haldirin’s voice had carried clearly to where he waited on the floor above –and Faramir spoke very good Sindarin.
For the rest of his days he felt uncomfortable as he crossed the Court of the Fountain, and tried never to be alone in the Throne Room – just in case he unknowingly walked through his father…
Elrondionath – sons of Elrond
'the grace on a posset' – a good old fashioned posset has a layer of foam on top – known as ‘the grace’.