Stewards of Gondor: Genverse Arc
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Father and Sons: 1. Between Brothers
Atop the rampart of the tower of the western wall of the first circle, a lone figure huddled in a crenelle. Faramir son of Denethor sat with his knees drawn up to his chest and his arms wrapped about them for warmth, but his face was turned west into the chill autumnal wind. Before him loomed the heights of the Ered Nimrais, their purple slopes now coated with fresh-fallen snow. Clouds still wreathed the summits, spreading ominously towards the Tower of the Guard, and the sky looked bruised. Faramir’s eyes watered as a strong gust whistled through the passes, and the wind’s icy fingers ruffled his dark hair and ripped at his clothes, giving him goosebumps and chafing his cheeks raw. That was good; it meant that he could pretend the sting was due to a long and lonely vigil in the miserable weather rather than his father’s heavy hand. Faramir closed his eyes and felt hot tears burn down his cheeks only to be whisked away by the winds. He was fifteen, a young man old enough (if only just) to be assigned to a company, and the humiliation of being struck like a child bit deep, wounding his confidence. If he did not suspect his father’s motives, he might have been angry. But all he felt was a confused hurt and fear that eddied nauseatingly in the hollow of his breast, stirred by each heartbeat so that it seemed he would never feel whole again.
Opening his eyes again he stared vacantly out at the mountains, and in his mind they swayed in the wind. The clouds grew swollen and dark, blotting out the sky. Thunder boomed and roared, and the shadowed mountains trembled to their very roots… and began to fall. A noise like boulders crashing filled the air as the sea swept up to drown the heights… .
Behind him, the trap door clattered open unexpectedly, but Faramir did not flinch, knowing who it must be. The wind swept away the footsteps, but soon he felt the heat of another body standing close behind him, and then a hand landed on his shoulder. "‘Tis a cold day for bird-watching, Faramir," his brother said, and though his tone was light, Faramir heard the undercurrent of concern. Nevertheless, the younger boy felt a smile tug at his lips, for Boromir wasn’t usually tactful.
"I seek the rare snowbird of Gondor. ‘Tis said it takes the form of a white hawk, and prefers the winter air," he replied.
"Then you are a season early. And I had heard that only those doomed to some unpleasant end ever saw it," Frowning, Boromir braced both arms against the merlons to either side and leaned close to peer at his brother’s face. "Do you foresee such an end for yourself?"
"Nay, I do not."
"Then why came you here?"
"I wanted to be alone," said Faramir, which was true but not the answer Boromir sought.
"I heard tell that you and Father had another fight," said his brother, abandoning tact in favor of blunt honesty, and Faramir managed not to sigh.
"Aye, we did."
"And? What about this time?"
"Naught," Faramir replied, but then he hesitated. He and Boromir had always enjoyed a close relationship, despite their different temperaments. Boromir was his protector, and for his part, Faramir tried to reveal the subtleties of strategic negotiations to his brother, who was not always aware of the personalities of those with whom he dealt. To ensure that Boromir would listen occasionally required some maneuvering, but Faramir never lied to his brother. That was why he paused now, for much though he might prefer not to tell him, he knew Boromir would be at him until he did, and he could not lie. "I asked him about one of Grandfather’s captains."
"Oh? Which one?" Boromir asked, sitting down next to him, though he faced east. To compensate, he leaned back on his hands a bit so Faramir would not have to crane his neck to look at him.
"He left the city before either of us was born, and his name is not mentioned much, if at all. I had been studying Númenór’s naval doctrine. In fact, our ancestors’ military strength lay primarily in their rule of the seas, since they could then land their armies at will at any port of call, even into Far Harad. Did you know that?" Faramir glanced left at his brother, and saw Boromir nod confirmation. He ought to have suspected he would, given that this bit of history attached to military matters, but he always asked. "I thought about that," he continued, "and I wondered about our own navy. It hardly plays a part anymore, and I wondered at that. If we had an adequate fleet, we could launch strikes with only a small number of men, get in and out quickly, and greatly extend our reach. But no one seems to look seaward anymore." He paused, waiting to see if Boromir had anything to say on that matter, but his brother only signed for him to continue the tale. "The only naval engagement in recent history took place twenty-three years ago, the year father married. The captain who conceived and executed the attack was a man named Thorongil. Evidently, he was a foreigner who came out of Rohan, and then he left Ecthelion’s service as soon as he had succeeded against the Corsairs of Umbar."
"Thorongil… Star-Eagle,*" Boromir mused. "You are right, I have not heard of him. One would think such a deed would earn at least a token mention!"
"So I thought, also, for he accomplished much else in service of Gondor, and he and Father clearly hold similar views on most matters of policy. I thought to ask Denethor what else this stranger had to say on naval matters, but no sooner had I said his name, than Father grew angry. He asked if Mithrandir had told me of him, and would not believe me when I said he had not."
"Would not believe you?" Boromir was taken aback by that. "Why should he not?"
"I know not," Faramir sighed heavily, closed his eyes and leaned his bruised cheek against the cold, rough stone. "I guess that he had some grievance with this Thorongil. Perhaps Mithrandir and he were friends—if Father dislikes me for my association with the wizard, then how much more would he despise a stranger who welcomed him?"
"Perhaps. There must be some good reason," Boromir replied. But anyone who knew him would recognize that he was trying to convince himself of his own words. Likely, Faramir decided, his brother was as confused and troubled by Denethor’s behavior as he was himself. Well, no, that was not quite true, for Boromir had not seen their father’s wrath. Faramir shivered inside, remembering the rage in his father’s eyes. A proud and strong-willed man, Denethor son of Ecthelion was not known for outbursts like that, for his anger was a cold thing, apt to manifest itself in his razor-edged tongue’s precise and cutting comments. Faramir, having been victimized by that tongue all his life, knew this only too well. And though he had always suffered from his father’s disaffection, never before had he feared him as he had in that moment.
"Are you all right?" Boromir’s question, voiced gently, drew him back to the present. "Faramir, I have seen corpses with more color than you have now!" His brother reached over to grab his arm firmly.
"Have you ever had a waking dream, Boromir?" Faramir asked tiredly, and felt his brother’s eyes upon him.
"You know I have not."
"I have them often. I have heard it said that Elves dream thus, and that sometimes it is given to Men to dream in a similar fashion. I think I must have that gift. Since leaving father’s council chambers, I have seen but one thing it seems, though it is impossible that I should see it."
"Speak then, and give it a name. I am not one for riddles," said Boromir, seeming impatient, but also concerned.
"I see an island," said Faramir, gazing blankly at the frigid tableau of snow and rock before him, "an island with high mountains at its center, and all the land lies in darkness beneath the clouds. Thunder peals out like a thousand drummers, and the mountains begin to rock, bending like trees until at last they topple to the earth. And the ground cracks under them, and the seas rise up to swallow all the land." He paused. "Númenór sinks into the waves leaving nothing but a shadow of ruin."
There was a long silence, and then Boromir asked softly, "And what portends this dream of yours?"
"Perhaps nothing. Perhaps it is simply a vision of what was, granted for I know not what reason." Faramir paused again, closing his eyes. After a moment he continued on in a tight voice, "Father does not rage like that, Boromir. He had no control of himself today. I did not think it possible… I do not want to think he could… ." Faramir shook his head as if dazed, unable to voice his fears, and he had the horrible feeling that he was going to cry again. Of a sudden he was enveloped in a bear hug, and he leaned his head against Boromir’s chest, grateful that he at least had his brother’s support and love, even if their father despised him. But in truth, his fear was not for himself, or rather, not primarily for himself. In his power and pride, a Denethor given over solely to emotion was more dangerous than any Orc or Harad army, and not just for a wayward son. Minas Tirith would be in gravest danger if the Steward of Gondor ever succumbed to the fires that raged just beneath the ice of his reason and will, and that frightened Faramir. Once, he would never have thought to hold such a fear, but now, having glimpsed the most hidden vaults of his father’s soul, if only briefly and imperfectly, Faramir knew that his beloved city was in danger, and that he would never feel safe again, until Denethor died.
And what an awful thing, to look to his father’s death in order to feel certain that Minas Tirith would stand! He felt almost ashamed, but that he knew he was right to fear his father’s mood. He thought of telling Boromir everything, but immediately abandoned the idea. His brother would not understand, and even if he did he was ill-suited to bear such a burden. Boromir was a man of action, and to tell him would be to trap him in a web of resentment, where strength turned in against itself because its proper object could not be met with force or challenged with forthright words. As lonely and painful as his present position was, Faramir knew that this was his burden, and that he alone could carry it.
And so he said nothing, just nestled in his brother’s arms, and fought with himself, seeking the strength to still his own roiling emotions. All around them the wind shrieked and howled as it came down off the mountains and Faramir shivered. I am at the eye of a storm, and all around me there is darkness as the mountains fall to the waves… I shall not waver, I dare not, I will not…. Over and over he repeated it, like a mantra, and felt himself drowning nonetheless.
Boromir held Faramir close, and felt uneasy. He sensed that there was much his brother had not told him, that something deeper than grievance and hurt worked in him. But he could not pierce the younger man’s veil of grief, and was unwilling to force the matter from him by asking directly. There were those who had looked askance at the young lad Faramir had been, wondering at his strange ways, mistrusting that a child could know the things that he knew, or dream the dreams that he dreamt. When they were both younger, Faramir often would creep to his brother’s bed to sleep after a nightmare, or a particularly vivid dream. He preferred music and history to the martial pursuits that were a prince’s birth-right and duty, and so the younger of Denethor's sons had seemed to others somehow weaker, even effeminate. As a rule, Boromir, fiercely protective, had made certain no one ever voiced such thoughts in his brother’s presence. And as Faramir had grown up a bit, the talk had died down; doubtless once he had a few years of military service under his belt, it would disappear entirely.
But he will still dream, Boromir thought. And so there would always be those who felt uneasy under Faramir’s gaze. It was not that he sought to dominate others, but men who were accustomed to hide their weaknesses felt exposed and humiliated by the pity and understanding in Faramir’s eyes. And though Boromir loved his father dearly, it came to his mind that perhaps Denethor, accustomed to having no peers, felt threatened by his younger son’s too-perceptive regard. It made no sense to Boromir, who could not imagine what weaknesses the lord of the Tower of the Guard might wish to hide, but there it was. He could not dismiss the notion easily, for it rang true to him in spite of his own inability to delve any further into the matter. And if it were true….
He glanced down at the dark head laid trustingly against his chest and frowned. What have you seen, brother, this afternoon that has frightened you so? Supremely confident of his own martial prowess, Boromir trusted his own judgment of men. He knew with unshakeable certainty that Faramir had a resolute heart, and would prove a formidable opponent on the field. He was therefore no coward, and if he sat here, curled up like a babe and shaking, then he must have some reason for it. This gift of his, to read others’ hearts, could kill him one day, Boromir thought with grim concern. It could poison him. How many secrets does he know that should be kept hidden from the sunlight?
"Faramir, you would tell me if you were in danger, would you not?" Boromir found himself asking.
"Of course," his brother replied, seeming surprised. Boromir frowned. Did he imagine that slight hesitation before his brother's assurance? He would not lie to me, I think, Boromir thought. And yet, though Faramir might come to this secluded tower every few months, it had been long since Boromir had seen him so upset over anything. Usually, whenever Boromir found him here, it needed no more than a few words to convince Faramir to leave it, but it seemed he could quite reach him today. That concerned him, for Boromir counted it unhealthy for his brother to spend too much time brooding alone on this isolated perch. And yet, it was not simple moodiness today, he thought, feeling caught. On the one hand, he wished Faramir would speak more of this troubling rage their father had displayed; on the other, he felt an odd reluctance to press him. The quiet little voice in the back of his mind observed that he felt that way more often than not lately when it came to the fights between Faramir and their father. However, for the moment, it was a quiet voice and he found he had no heart to force the inquiry. It was not, after all, a matter of Minas Tirith's safety.
"Is there nothing I can do?" he finally asked.
"Nay, I think not …unless," Faramir paused, struck by a thought. He shifted and gently freed himself from his brother’s grasp so he could look him in the face. "Father wants me to remain here, and to take a position in the Tower guard. You know of this?"
"Yes, I do."
"Convince him to let me go with the Ithilien company," Faramir said, and Boromir frowned, taken aback both by the request and by the deadly serious tone in which it was delivered.
"The Ithilien company? Would you not prefer it here? Ithilien is well-nigh deserted, and it has but a small detachment scouring it."
"I know. But I think I can serve Minas Tirith better there than here. Do you not see, Boromir?" Faramir spoke softly, earnestly. "If I remain, Father and I shall be at each other’s throats in every matter, even when we agree! Wherefore does that aid Gondor? Whereas if I am out of his sight, and placed in such a remote post, then I may yet learn to do much good for our people. Father listens to you. He trusts you, and if you ask him, he will do it. I know he will." There was a flicker in those grey eyes, as of ill-masked desperation, and Boromir realized that he was right. If Faramir remained in Minas Tirith, he and Denethor would tear each other apart inside. Behind closed doors, and in their private moments, they would mutilate each other; no one would ever see it, but everyone would know nonetheless. The two people whom he loved best in the world would be miserable, and all of Gondor would suffer with them.
So although Boromir heaved a sigh, he said resolutely, "I will see to it. If you like, I can have you assigned to my company in Osgiliath."
"Nay, I would not want to be an encumbrance upon you, brother. I, too, must learn to stand on my own," Faramir replied. Thunder crackled overhead, and both brothers looked up as lightning split the sky. "Perhaps we ought to go down now."
"I think so," Boromir said, standing quickly. The two made their way down the ladder, and Boromir pulled the hatch firmly shut after them. Below in the stairwell, a single torch guttered. Faramir retrieved it and they went quickly down the spiraling steps, pausing whenever the thunder shook the tower about them. Once they reached ground level, they left through the tower’s door and dashed across the plaza just as the sky opened up and rain came pouring down with a vengeance. They were soaked by the time they reached the eaves of the northern door. There they paused a moment, and Boromir wrung the water out of his cloak, while Faramir ran his hands through his hair, slicking back wet tendrils behind his ears. "I shall speak to Father tonight, and afterward shall I come and find you."
"Thank you, Boromir," Faramir replied, and laid a hand on his brother’s forearm, and his eyes were serious.
"There is no need," said Boromir simply. And indeed, there never had been need for thanks—not between brothers.
* I know in the appendix the listed translation is "Eagle of the Star," but given that Elendil comes out as "Elf-friend" rather than "Friend-of-the-Elf" Thorongil ought to be able to be similarly translated. And I think it’s more likely that people would translate the Sindarin Thorongil to "Star-Eagle" simply because it survives daily wear and tear better. Or maybe Boromir just doesn’t speak Sindarin as well as he speaks Westron.
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