Mary Sue Challenge


1. Prologue, Brother

Thanks are owed to Una for reactivating my interest in Tolkien’s works, for her insightful writing about the Steward’s family, particularly ‘The Burial of the Dead’, and for advice on turning ideas into words; to Sean Bean for a performance that made me reassess the character of Boromir; to Catherine Merriman for believing in my writing; to the unknown writer of the ‘Song of Solomon’ for some of the most beautiful love poetry ever translated into English; to JS Bach and Steve Reich, two very different composers whose styles influenced this story; and to various members of the Henneth Annûn archive and list for inspiration and beta assistance – all remaining infelicities are my own. A list of original and minor book-derived characters can be found at the end, together with a few explanatory and textual notes (which contain plot spoilers) (21 May 2003)


She is come, your lady of the bright hair, come to your bed tonight. You scatter your papers heedless onto the floor, take her in your arms, long tresses gleaming gold in the lamplight, soft beneath your fingers. And as you murmur words yet softer against that ivory skin, the years diminish, melting like snow cast from your cloak by the fireside, and you know with the joyous certainty of love everlasting that you are young again to her, your body as sweet for her today as the day you wed. My love, you whisper, my love, my life -- say you’ll never leave me.

But in the morning sun your bed lies cold and barren, and as you stoop to tidy the papers scattered across the floor, your limbs are stiff and brittle, frozen in a sudden frost no fire can melt.


My life has been defined by absences: my childhood by the absence of a mother, whose face I can barely recall; my manhood by the absence of the King, which made of my father, a ruler, and of his sons, captains of men. Or so I thought sometimes, though more often I was content simply to busy myself with those tasks that fall to the hands of a captain of men.

Now the King is returned, my Lord and father lies dead by his own hand, and in place of a mother’s embrace, soon shall I take a bride into my own. Yet now that my betrothed had returned with her brother to her own country, I found myself full of fear. Not that the Lady Éowyn would forget me -- no, I shouldered not the burden of that doubt. Rather, somehow, that a life of absences had been but poor preparation for the robust presences of the King Elessar of Gondor and Arnor, and of the White Lady of Rohan.

I sighed, and put away such thoughts. Today was the Sabbath, official duties did not press overmuch -- I decided to occupy hands and mind with a task that I had long been postponing.


I had not known that my brother kept any journal. Quick enough in speech, capable of rousing orations when the need arose, he was not a man much given to writing. His reports were terse, his letters brief, and in all my life I had never seen him pick up a pen for pleasure, rather than duty. Yet, though the leather-bound volumes bore no name, this was without doubt his hand: I recognised the cramped letters born of scribbling messages in the field upon the most inadequate of scraps, and those heavy stems, slightly more upright than was customary in an educated hand, despite the pages of examples that our tutor had made us both copy as youths. Most tellingly, that flourish on the initial B, whether it start his name or another word, was my brother’s alone: I had always deemed it an amusing touch of vanity in a man who took little thought for matters of appearance.

I took up the most recent journal, riffled through, seeking the end -- creasing the thin sheets in my eagerness to read the last thoughts of my brother, and to see whether they might explain his stubborn insistence to take up the quest to seek Imladris in my stead. But there was nothing, save a bald account of the defeat at Osgiliath which ended in mid-sentence, and I realised that the final pages must have been removed. Indeed, on closer inspection, sheaves of pages appeared to be missing throughout two of the three volumes that I had unearthed, locked into a drawer in this, my brother’s private chamber, high above the city.

The pages were cut, not torn, I noticed, examining the bindings in the shaft of light cast onto the desk by the south window. Not the action of a man in a hurry, though almost any man of Gondor might carry a knife at his belt even within the city in these unquiet times. In the former unquiet times, I corrected myself: now that the shadow of Mordor had lifted and the banner of the White Tree fluttered above the Tower of Ecthelion, it was to be hoped that the period of unrest which had lasted all my manhood might finally be drawing to a close.

I settled into my brother’s chair, rested my elbows upon its carven arms, opened a volume at random, and -- my mood alternating between laughter and tears -- read of ale rations run short and camps washed away by sudden rain, of men serving under my brother’s command and women serving him in quite a different capacity, of his father’s orders and my own first commands, till the light on my pages fell instead from the window that faced towards the west, and the sun loomed low over the shoulder of Mount Mindolluin. But I could see no pattern to the missing leaves, though their number increased as the years wore on in my brother’s account, and I could hazard no guess as to why they might have been removed -- nor by whom.

I sighed. Oft-times ’tis the spaces that define the truth. I would need to compare the dates with the Record of Days in the library archives, as well as the volume upon volume of my father’s own meticulous notes, which filled most of a bookshelf in my fath---the Steward’s chambers on the floor above.

Now, however, a more pressing duty called: the King had summoned his Steward to an audience, and I must needs bathe and put on my court clothes.


I towelled my hair vigorously, cursing the tight cut and heavy cloth of my best doublet, which seemed designed to restrict the movement of the wearer, and rehearsed in thought all the many official matters upon which the King might require my briefing. But my mind kept returning to the riddles posed by my brother’s journal. What tale lay behind those missing pages? What drove my brother to undertake the quest that claimed both life and honour?

A footfall in the chamber behind me---I whirled around, reaching without thought for the weapon that no longer lay at my side, and resting my back against the wall.

‘Sir,’ said Galrennieth, seemingly unperturbed by my hasty motion. She set her tray down upon the table by the fireplace and withdrew quietly for once. I had ordered nothing, but the sharp scent rising from the cup cleared my head; it seemed that even the servants understood my moods better than I did myself. I sweetened the camomile tea with honey and breathed deep the familiar fragrance. Then I seated myself by the unlit hearth, sipping tea and scanning reports, till the evening watch was rung, and the time was come for my audience.

The King met me in the passage outside the Great Hall. To my shame, he was clad in dark grey after the fashion of the Northern Dúnedain, and I thought his lip curled slightly at my finery, but all he said was, ‘You will need a cloak, I imagine, after sundown, even in Lótessë.’

‘You wish to inspect the progress in repairing the breaches in the City wall, your Majesty?’ I enquired, wishing he had made his intentions clear earlier, that I might have ensured that the Clerk of Works would yet be there. Though I recalled old Cenethion had applied some choice words when informed of the King’s suggestion that we should employ Dwarven craftsmen from Erebor to fashion the new City gates, so his absence might perhaps be considered fortuitous.

I took a cloak from the Door Wardens’ stores, and we hastened together across the Fountain Court; I thought that the King turned his face aside from the withered tree, whose pale limbs reflected the last remnants of sunlight. But the King turned not towards the Citadel gate, but rather headed up towards the battlements.

‘Only from above,’ said the King, as we mounted the steps side by side. ‘I thought we might get some fresh air,’ he added. ‘I have not dwelt in a city for many years.’

‘They say that you were raised in the Elven stronghold of Imladris, my Lord?’ I ventured; then hearing my own words, immediately cursed myself for sounding as if I paid heed to the tales of City gossips.

‘Aye.’ He chuckled. ‘But Imladris is to Minas Tirith as a mountain stream to the great Anduin.’ He ran his hand lightly along the embrasured parapet beside which we now walked. ‘Not all the strength of this world has lain in bright swords and stone watchtowers.’

Though I was considered learned in lore, and had travelled as widely as any man of Gondor, save my brother, and seen many sights strange and wondrous, the King’s words oft made me feel like an ignorant lad included, by some chance, in a Council meeting whose business he is too young to comprehend. I wondered -- and not for the first time -- why King Elessar had chosen to confirm my position as the Steward of the City.

‘Though stone watchtowers have their place,’ he added. ‘Especially when they boast such a view as this one.’

Our walk had taken us to the very end of the battlements, to the east-most point where the ground dropped off steeply on three sides and the city spread herself out beneath our feet. I rejoiced to see the pinpricks of light tracing their familiar concentric circles in the twilight: the street lanterns had been darkened for too long, for fear of aiding the arrows of our foes. The breeze here lifted strands of my hair, still slightly damp, and I wrapped my borrowed cloak closer about me, thinking even as I did so that its owner was probably one of the slain at Pelennor, or Cormallen, or Osgiliath. Even in the proudest place in this proud city, is there no escape from the past.

We stopped by a niche in the parapet at a little distance from the sentry post. The King seated himself, and gestured for me to join him. He reached within his cloak, drew out a flat loaf and a small round cheese wrapped in paper -- goat’s, by the pungent aroma that rose as he unwrapped it. He split the loaf and offered me half. ‘I’ll warrant that you did not find time to take supper before our meeting,’ he said.

Though he was correct that I had not eaten, the reminder of an entire day spent away from my official duties -- a familiar voice whispered, wasted -- brought a flush to my cheeks.

‘I fear I offer but paltry provisions. In this garb, the store-keeper recognised me not when I paid a visit to the buttery as I walked up here, and I gleaned only the rations of an ordinary guardsman.’ He took out a knife, sliced into the cheese. ‘And for one alone, at that!’

‘I am sorry, my Lord. I will ensure---’ I choked back my words of apology when I saw that the King was laughing.

‘So much for my new-found fame,’ he said dryly. ‘Would that the anonymity might last.’ He offered me a wedge of cheese. ‘Here.’

We offered thanks, and shared the supper without further words. I had played such games too many times before with fresh recruits not to perceive all this simply as a gesture designed to place me at my ease -- which of course only put me even more on edge. Our meagre portion served as a reminder that the feasting attendant on the coronation last week had depleted still further the city stores, while even if the King himself desired to walk his city unrecognised, the very fact that he had needs walk the city at all felt like a reproach. He was lodging with Prince Imrahil in the fifth level, the royal apartments within the Citadel having long fallen into disrepair. Until the King shall return: so had my predecessors all sworn, and yet we had failed in our trust.

Supper consumed, King Elessar drew his long legs up close to his chest, scattering crumbs as he did so. ‘Éomer, ere he rode yestermorn, told me that I should wish you joy,’ he said.

‘I thank you, your Majesty.’ I sensed a tension behind the pleasant words; perhaps I should have been better advised to inform my King personally that his Steward was pledged to wed the sister of his ally, but I had not found the words in any of our meetings. In the silence that followed my over-formal response, I gazed at the flickering lights below us till my eyes played tricks, doubling or blurring them as if I had taken too much wine, and wondered who might be the lady who had captured the King’s heart, that he regarded not my fair Éowyn. Some maiden of the Northern Dúnedain, doubtless.

‘My heart rejoices that you have found comfort, Faramir,’ the King said slowly, ‘for I know you have suffered grievous losses these past months.’

Pale Lóriniel wasting away in despair at the shadows that had fallen across our lands---brave Boromir falling to the power of the Enemy’s Ring---and my father---

Grievous indeed
, I thought; and my heart was bitter, and I could find no words to respond to my King.

‘I was with your brother, ere he died,’ he said.

I looked up sharply. I had not heard him speak of Boromir before. In the darkness I could scarce see his face, save as a pale shape against the solid black of the parapet behind.

‘I did not know,’ I said, and the words seemed to catch in my throat. If this man tells me Boromir fought valiantly and died a hero, then -- my King or no -- I fear I shall strike him. I looked out across the city again.

‘He died at peace,’ he said, ‘with the name of his city on his lips.’

I laid my hands flat on my lap, let out a breath.

‘We -- Legolas, Gimli and I -- arrayed him for funeral … I---’

He broke off, fumbled again under his cloak, and for a moment I thought he might offer me the excised leaves that I had sought earlier. But he drew out only a slip of parchment, twice folded, and some small trinket whose nature I could not quite make out in the dimness, and placed both into my hands. He struck a light, and I saw that the paper was sealed with Boromir’s signet ring and marked with the annûn sign, whose grim import all peoples respected, save those of the east. I turned it over, and read my name in the same hand I had been reading all afternoon.

‘There was naught for the Lord Denethor?’

‘Not that I found.’

The trinket was a brooch, the paired swans of Dol Amroth in silver, set with tiny pearls; I knew it well, but not that my brother carried it.

I decided to answer the question that I knew he would never ask. ‘It belonged to the Lady Lóriniel. Our sister.’


It had been a long day, and I was weary to my bones. Determined to make up for yesterday’s ease, I spent the first watch reviewing the works on the palace. Though much of the gilding had disappeared, and the tapestries were so faded, stained from roof leaks and nibbled by rodents that their original subjects were hard to discern, the apartments proved to be in far better shape than I had expected. Cenethion’s gloomy report had claimed it would require six months and thirty skilled craftsmen to make it habitable, and I was forced to wonder whether this man I had known since I was a youth was corrupt or simply incompetent. A meeting of the High Council occupied the afternoon watch, and after supper I had searched, fruitlessly, among the City archives till the midnight bell rang and the Keeper’s yawns moved me to pity.

I bore my brother’s words close to my heart all day -- both in thought and truth -- and though by now I had little need to consult the parchment, I drew it out anyway, smoothed out the creases for the hundredth time and began to read, my bedside candle casting crisp shadows across the paper.

I have carried more of these letters back to Minas Tirith than I care to remember, as I am sure have you, my dear brother, yet never do I know what words to write when it comes to my own farewells. If this should reach you, then you will surely learn from its bearer all that has now come clear about the lines that sent me on this weary journey, and I shall not write more here, for fear that my words should miscarry and fall into the hands of our enemies. I would describe this place for you, but you know I am no wordsmith, and some sights defeat the wit of plain men such as I. You were always the poet of our family, and I am sure that you would find meet words for the splendours of the golden mallorns upon Cerin Amroth and the white city of the Galadhrim -- though for myself, I would that we had never trespassed in these woods so fair and so perilous, nor yet spoken with their Lady, whose words slip and twist in the fingers beyond the fathoming of mortal man. It were better that some paths should be hidden.

If you are reading these words then never again shall I ride through the gates of our proud city, the White Tower glimmering like a pearl in the first morning light, as fair a sight as any in this enchanted land: and the thought cuts me to the heart. Yet still more does it grieve me that, should I see you again, it will be beyond the reaches of this world---if you still believe in those tales. For my part, oft do I think that -- if I must die -- it would be better to go into that dark in which there are no memories and from which there is no awakening. Forgive my sombre mood: some magic in the air here worms into a man’s dreams and gnaws at his very soul. I long to leave this ensorcelled place behind me, and to feel again the sun beat upon my brow, the wind stir in my hair and my sword-hilt in my hand.

Ai, poor Boromir! Why didst thou seize the quest that should have been mine? What spells did the Lady of the Golden Woods cast that made thee long for a dark end, untroubled by memories?

He died at peace, I reminded myself, with the name of his city on his lips. I settled more comfortably against the pillows, and finished the letter.

Give my farewells to all my men of the First Company of the White Tower, and to Turgil and Galrennieth of the household. Say to my Lieutenant Malroth that if he only thrust his sword as surely into orcs as he does his prick into the girls of Madame Lúthien’s house, then would the Enemy be defeated in a single day, and tell Anbold---well never mind, I am sure you will think of something fitting. You will find my papers locked in the desk in my chamber. All should be in order -- I will not wear out either my quill or your patience in repeating that which I know to be written there. Tell our sister that she is oft in my thoughts, and that I am sorry. All that then remains is to say,

Farewell, my dear brother, and grieve not for me


Written at Lothlórien, this fifteenth of Nénimë, in the year nineteen

Like the journals, on careful reading the letter brought more questions than answers. Again it was an absence that now struck me: Boromir had left no words for our father, unless another message had somehow miscarried. Even had such been the case, whether because he was proud of his lineage or simply because Boromir was no uncommon name in the city, my brother habitually signed his name ‘son of Denethor’.

And what meant this strange message to our sister? I knew of no quarrel between the two. I picked up the little swan brooch, thinking perhaps to send it to Rohan as a token to my own lady. It had doubtless been my mother’s, before my sister wore it, and such heirlooms were traditional betrothal gifts. But I saw that one of the seed pearls was missing, and the clasp was damaged, bent out of true. A wisp of cloth clung to the pin still, near black under the candle, but perhaps dark blue in daylight.

Whatever Boromir’s last words to her denoted, they came too late: the Lady Lóriniel died of the wasting sickness last winter, before e’en he had written them.


I enter his dressing room ere the first watch is rung to find my brother seated before the glass hacking at his hair with a hunting knife. The fire is lit, though it is summer, and the small chamber feels stifling. ‘Best to avoid tangles when journeying alone in the wild,’ I say lightly, as another long dark lock falls to the ground, ‘but is the City so lacking in barbers to meet your discriminating taste that you need take the task into your own hands?’

‘Better this way,’ he says, and the face in the glass looks more weary than I have ever seen it. I recall all the hours he has spent closeted in the Steward’s chambers these past days, and feel sure that he and the Lord Denethor have come to harsh words over this quest.

I take the knife from his hand and do my best to tidy the remnants. When I am done I place both hands upon his shoulders and say quietly, ‘You know that you need not go.’

‘I must go,’ he says.

I remember the fell shadow, like unto a black horseman, and the terror upon the face of my brother as we cast ourselves into the river, last of our company. ‘It needs neither prophetic dream nor riddling words to foresee that, soon enough, here in the heart of Gondor will there be brave deeds to fill the belly of the most valiant of men.’

Boromir twists away from beneath my hands, retrieves a lock of hair from the ground and casts it upon the fire. The stench, as from a funeral pyre, fills the room. ‘I must go,’ he repeats, and I know when to hold my peace.

I stifle my cough and lay my hand on his arm. ‘Let the servants see to that,’ I say.

He collapses onto his chair again. ‘Our sister must leave the City,’ he says and, well as I know my brother, there is aught in the face staring out of the glass at me that I understand not. ‘Promise me you will take her to Dol Amroth, to her uncle’s care. Perhaps by the sea will she grow well again.’

‘You know that I can make no promise to accompany her. With you away, no doubt the Steward shall require my presence in the City.’

‘Lóriniel must not stay here to wither away, like her mother, as the shadow grows! You must promise---’

‘I promise I shall see to it,’ I say, and some of the tension drains from my brother’s face. And I am about to ask him something -- I know not quite what -- when the clamour of the bell announcing the first watch cuts through our silence and my brother’s valet knocks and enters and the moment is buried beneath a flurry of ‘surely you will want your second-best boots, sir’ and ‘have you enough spare shirts, sir’ as Turgil expresses his concern for his master in the only way that custom allows.

Later, outside the stables, I hold Rohinniel’s reins in the steel-grey first light as Turgil stows my brother’s gear into saddlebags already bulging. Then he takes the reins from my hands and turns aside to fuss the animal, while I embrace my brother.

‘Fare thee well, Boromir,’ I say. ‘May the Valar watch over your journey, prosper all your doings and speed your return. I shall look for you riding up to the City in the morning light.’

‘And I for you,’ he replies. He mounts his horse, and I walk by his side through level after level, the wardens saluting their Captain as we pass each gate, till at last we stand before the twin towers of the City gatehouse. ‘Forget not your promise,’ he calls as the great iron doors swing aside before us. Then he digs his heels into Rohinniel’s flanks and I wait till the gates clang shut behind him and I can see him no more.

But our father comes not.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.


In Challenges

Story Information

Author: Firerose

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 08/20/09

Original Post: 01/30/03

Back to challenge: Mary Sue Challenge

Go to story: Missing

Keyword Search

Search for key terms in Challenge, Nuzgûl & Oliphaunt titles and descriptions.

Results are ordered alphabetically by title.