Stewards of Gondor: Slashvese Arc
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From the Other River Bank: 1. Love Thy Brother
Boromir, heir to the stewardship of Gondor, stood pressed into an alcove along the hall that led up to his father's study and war room, and he brooded on rumor and suspicion of trouble. Not long ago he had stood upon the bridge of Osgiliath and watched the Shadow sweep over his men, driving them all like sheep before a pack of wolves. And for all their speed in that rout, the collapse of the bridge still killed many. Four of us left alive from the thirty or fifty upon that span of stone, and we four forever haunted by that ugly vision. Curse Mordor and all its works unto the last days of Middle-earth! He felt his lips peel back in a silent snarl as the horror of that memory washed over him once again, and the guilt that accompanied it was poisonous. Shall I ever forgive myself truly, that it was my order that felled that bridge, even knowing we would not–could not–cross it in time to save ourselves? It had been but three days since the attack, and the accusing, suffering faces of drowned soldiers tormented his dreams. And they will for long, that I know. I suppose I must learn to welcome them, and I am not a stranger to shame!
Drawing a deep breath, he made himself relax, muscle by taut muscle, and he pulled his cloak more closely about himself as he glanced up the hallway. In point of fact, he had not come hither to this place to relive the misfortune of the Osgiliath garrison; rather, what brought him was trouble of a different kind, one that touched closer to home. Intuition long ago developed had told him that Faramir would not let the matter of the new law lie, and so he had come to wait for his brother to emerge from yet another fruitless argument with their father.
The Steward of Gondor had of late sent forth dispatches to all the captains, and those dispatches had been grim reading for all that they were shorter than usual. Contained therein had been the stark publication of a new law of the realm, written according to the legal style of Gondor (which, in Boromir's considered opinion, was an armed assault upon anything remotely resembling 'style'):
"Be it henceforth known throughout the kingdom of Gondor, and let all those vested with the authority of high and low justice take heed: That (item one) the Enemy of the Nameless Land has wrongfully assailed Gondor and its people, wreaking great havoc and resulting in grievous loss of life and property; and that (item two) the spies of the Enemy being numerous and having many forms, therefore the twenty-sixth Steward of the King of Gondor, Denethor son of Ecthelion, of the House of Mardil, has decreed the following:
That in light of these considerations, upon receipt of this writ and until the Steward or one with higher authority see fit to repeal this doom, all creatures not of proved alliance with Gondor or who wander within the borders of that land without the express permission of the Steward, shall be put to death."
There had been some further elaboration of instances in which the law could be temporarily suspended (namely, a single provision stating that under guard or with a captain's consent, a stranger might go to Minas Tirith to present himself to the Steward and beg to receive freedom to walk within Gondor's borders unmolested), but clearly it had been written 'with an eye to finality,' as Faramir had so eloquently put it earlier that day. Whether his younger brother would retain that eloquence in the face of Denethor's doubtless steadfast opposition remained to be seen, but Boromir did not have high hopes for either father or brother. He had seen this sort of argument before, and likened the effect to a knight riding at full tilt into a brick wall. The wall would, in all likelihood, still stand, but the same could not be said for the rider, and he had resigned himself to the fact that Faramir seemed bent upon self-destruction in that respect.
Not that I disagree with him in principle, Boromir thought darkly, and I can well understand why the matter touches him most closely. For Faramir's command in Ithilien dealt most often with incursions, but though Ithilien lay under the shadows, still it was home to many innocent creatures. As Faramir was not one to squander lives if there was the least doubt as to their allegiance, he resented the burden that the new law placed upon his company in terms of both the labor involved and in terms of moral responsibility.
And so he waited now, wondering whether Faramir still held forth or whether the meeting had yet degenerated into a paternal tongue-lashing. As his own mood was none too sunny at the moment, Boromir was not certain if he wished his brother to continue to stand firm or cave quickly and thereby end his own vigil sooner. But he grimaced slightly at the selfish flavor of the latter wish, knowing that Faramir would feel the worse if he felt that he had not fought hard enough before surrendering. I should be ashamed in any case, he thought, gritting his teeth. This is a disgrace to us all, that those two are at each other's throats, and I know well that it is not Faramir's fault!
But even that did not approach the true reason for his sense of shame. When he had first realized that he loved his brother—loved him as a man and not simply fraternally—he had made certain that he wandered the halls outside the Steward's study, as if he were going about some minor bit of business that happened to put him in Faramir's path at just the right—or wrong, depending upon how one chose to look at it—moment. It had been vital then that he be able to pretend that he did not come for the sole purpose of offering a supportive shoulder for Faramir. But with time, he had realized that such efforts were futile and demeaning to his own sense of honor, which shrank from such contrived "coincidences."
And yet for years, for more than half of my life now, I have lived on contrivance. A fine sense of honor indeed! Faramir would laugh me to scorn if he knew but the half of it… assuming he did not flee in disgust. Boromir sighed inwardly, rubbing a hand tiredly over his eyes, for the day had been long already. Yet if fatigue could not keep him from this silent surveillance, neither could it erase his perennial doubts. Should I leave? Faramir does not truly need me as he did when we were both still children. He has the strength and the wisdom to stand alone now, and I ought not to undermine that by my too quick support. But again, as it had been for many years now, it was not so much a question of Faramir's need as it was of his own. He needed to see his brother, to see him through his trials at least even if he could not be present for many of his triumphs.
I need to feel needed… or rather, wanted in some way, Boromir admitted guiltily. When they had both been much younger, it had been easy to satisfy that basic longing, for Faramir had truly needed his support until he learned the measure of his own worth. Since that time, Boromir had watched over him most often from a distance, through letters and chance encounters, and the rumors upon which all men depended who spent long months afield in an armed camp. The disastrous defense of Osgiliath had marked one of the few times that he and Faramir had jointly commanded a battle, and despite the disturbing events of that summer's eve, he had relished having his younger brother about. And Faramir, too, had been glad to see him, which gave him much cause for relief.
For ever he worried that despite his precautions, despite how very carefully he tread where his brother was concerned, Faramir would by some means divine his secret. Like as not, he would simply read it in my eyes. He and Father are alike in that uncanny ability to read what is in another's heart. But thus far, neither had uncovered his hidden core, and that was largely because in all other matters, Boromir was the soul of forthright and even blunt honesty, giving father and brother no reason to ever seek further of him than what he chose to reveal.
For if Faramir ever discovered how very dependent Boromir was upon their rare meetings, and even more so upon arguments like the one taking place now, he would be justly appalled. Boromir was not proud of that, for he knew that their father could wound Faramir more deeply than any enemy and for that he hated him. But buried within that anger towards his father was a seed of gratitude as well, for in those rare moments of utter vulnerability when Faramir was most in need, Boromir's love found its most complete expression. Beyond that, he was forced to keep a certain distance, and brotherly affection, however deep, fell short of what his heart felt.
And so I must thank Denethor in the end for wounding the one I love most! Because Faramir turns ever to me afterwards, and that I would not lose. Valar help me, what perversity is that? How can I love him and wish him to be hurt at the same time? And he is my brother and a man besides! Boromir chewed on his lip as he mulled over the familiar, anguished complaints once again. In the end, he simply closed his eyes in pain for his own weakness, for even self-loathing could not overpower need.
Just then, a door opened and shut and there came the sound of boots clicking on flagstone as someone strode rapidly away. After a moment, the object of his ardent, if troubled, affection emerged from the hall, and from the slight flush to Faramir's cheeks and the set of his taut shoulders, it was clear that the argument had gone just as badly as Boromir had predicted. And so it begins again.
"Faramir!" he called, and the younger man whirled, sinking automatically into a crouch, hand hovering above his sword hilt. But seeing who it was that waited for him, he straightened and closed his eyes in chagrin a moment, ere he sighed:
"Your pardon, brother, that was thoughtless!"
"Well," Boromir grunted as he shoved away from the wall and stalked forward to fall in at his brother's left side. "You doubtless have much to preoccupy you," he replied, reaching about to grip Faramir's right shoulder comfortingly. And when his brother leaned briefly into that embrace, he had to grit his teeth for wanting. For Varda's sake, Faramir, resist a little at least! It is too easy to love you! "Tell me," he continued quickly, hoping to cover that moment of discomfiture, "will you never learn that Father's mind, once decided, never repents of its choice?"
"Someone must try to make him see reason! This is madness, Boromir!" Faramir hissed, going rigid, and then glanced quickly about to see if anyone else might have heard him. Which actions, fortunately, opened some space between them, much to Boromir's relief.
But of course, long custom and a masochistic streak could not forbear to suggest, "Come, let us go to my quarters, so that we may speak more freely." And Faramir, oblivious to the subversive meaning that attached to an otherwise harmless request, wordlessly nodded his agreement and let his brother steer him toward the stairs. They mounted up into the tower in silence, and Boromir reluctantly let fall his arm from the other's shoulders, for it would be folly to invite suspicion by too prolonged a display of physical affection. And even were we alone in within this city's walls, it would be foolish to tempt myself further than I already have. I must at least try to keep a certain safe distance. His rooms were in the south-eastern hall, near the top of the staircase: a convenient location in many ways, for not only were they readily accessible from the main hall, they were closest to the Steward's suite. Not that Denethor had much occasion to use those rooms, but still, they were close enough that Faramir had declined with alacrity the offer to move into them when Boromir had first left Minas Tirith for the garrisons at Poros. 'Tis a measure of Father's power over him that Faramir goes to such lengths to escape his presence, Boromir thought grimly. He would lead his men up to the Black Gate if necessary, but he will not approach this hall if I am not with him! But for tonight, their father was safely below, and Faramir did have his brother at his side, and so he did not hesitate or turn aside.
Boromir let his brother into his room, closing the door firmly behind them once he had dismissed the page waiting within. As was his wont, Faramir went immediately to the window that looked out onto the tiered gardens that marched down each level of the city on the eastern side. "Ironic, is it not, that beauty arranged with such care should look straight into the mouth of evil?" Faramir had once said, and shaken his head as he glanced at his brother. "All the defiance of Gondor can be found in a single shoot of grass that grows in the soil below, and who knows but that the splendor of those gardens owes much to the very darkness which it opposes!"
To which reflections, Boromir had simply nodded, thinking that his brother had a very peculiar manner of looking at things. A veritable treasure trove of riddles, word plays and ragged bits of lore from the Valar only knew what language or age of the world, was Faramir—obsessed with words even as a child, always with a pointed turn of phrase, and never able to hold himself to a single layer of meaning when a conversation wandered into the theoretical. Which only makes his blindness to my own double-barbed words and actions the more painfully ironic! That aside, Boromir freely confessed himself dazzled by his brother's intellect, but that same brilliance could easily become a liability. Faramir was prone to overthink things, or so it seemed to him, and he worried that one day that ability to explore deeply conflicting lines of reason would paralyze him when swift judgment was most needed.
But for the moment, he is sure enough of himself to invite Denethor's scorn. He does have a stubborn streak in him, and in that more than in anything else, Faramir is like Father. I wonder, does he realize that? Boromir wondered idly as he stared at the younger man's back, tracing with his eyes the lines of tension. From the tight shoulders to the white-knuckled grip that Faramir had on the window ledge, down the rigid line of his back, such was the intensity of the other's radiated fury and humiliation that Boromir felt his gut knot in sympathetic reaction, while his protective instincts, honed over many years of struggle to a fine edge, fixed upon Faramir with singular focus. Perhaps his brother felt that stare, for he turned his head just enough to catch Boromir in his field of vision and said softly, "Sometimes I think that this war, even if we should win it, will leave nothing but ashes in its wake, though Minas Tirith stand tall as it ever has!"
"I do not follow you," Boromir replied, frowning, as he eased to one side a few paces, the better to see his brother's face.
"There are measures that we must take to protect ourselves as best we can, but this law… it is wanton, Boromir. We kill when we must, and that too often, but under such a law, I fear that there will be many who simply cease to think! They will slay whenever they find anything out of place, regardless of a creature's worth or intentions."
"Mistakes are always made in war, brother. 'Tis part of the tragedy," Boromir responded.
"Yes, but this is not one captain who panics, or who ignores evidence of an attack mounting, or who burns a village in his own territory because he believes it is filled with traitors. This is now a law of the land, and it makes legal the sort of indiscriminate killing that we abhor when Mordor perpetrates it! Do you not see that we grow more alike with the passing years? For to oppose the Dark Lord, we must touch that darkness as well, and I fear that of late it has begun to twist us in earnest," Faramir sighed. "Denethor is… he can be a cruel man, and I fear that in him. For all of our sakes!"
"Father can be a hard man, that I grant you," Boromir said carefully, coming to lean upon the wall near his brother. "And perhaps that does lead to a certain cruelty, but it is not his wish to be cruel for no reason."
"And so he is cruel with reason!" Faramir glanced at him, shook his head and then began to pace in an agitated manner, like a caged wolf. "That is a deadly conjunction, and I like it not at all. Add that he has the power to affect every man, woman and child in Gondor and beyond, and I begin to doubt in earnest what shall become of us!"
"What precisely do you mean?" Boromir asked, eyes narrowing as he watched his brother's restless movements. Although it pained him to admit it, there was something compelling about the way Faramir moved when he was truly upset. There was a hard-edged grace to the way his lithe body flowed through the motions, and Boromir found himself fighting the spell his brother, all unwitting, cast over him. This is not the time for distraction! he reminded himself, forcing himself to focus. For he had never heard his brother speak thus before of their father, and felt deeply uneasy, wondering whither this internecine strife would lead in the end.
"There is something at work in him that I like not," Faramir replied, seeming to grope for words for once. "Something that overpowers his reason… or no, that is not right, for he has that aplenty! It is as if reason were all that he had left, and he knows not of feeling any longer, or of faith. There is only logic and Gondor… and the power to preserve both those entities." A pause, and then in a voice low and doubtful came the admission, "And I no longer know whether to trust the gleam in Denethor's eyes."
"Are you certain that your own anger does not distort your vision, Faramir? Or that you do not judge him more harshly than is your wont?" Boromir asked quietly, and his brother sighed, bowing his head and clasping his hands tightly behind his back. For a while he did not say anything, continuing to pace, though much more slowly now as if the raw edge of frustrated, fearful anger had abated, draining away to leave only the hurt and confusion behind. And as he passed before his brother, Boromir felt an overwhelming desire to reach out and pull him close, to hold him as he once had when both of them were still innocent. But if I do, I shall not want to let go, and that would be… awkward, Boromir decided, and so he settled for folding his arms across his chest, as if to restrain himself. Still, he knew that were he deaf and blind, still he would be able to feel when Faramir's course brought him nearest. It was like instinct, like contained lightning or the pull of a current both strong and deep—invisible and irresistible.
"Perhaps—nay, certainly!—it does cloud my judgment but this has been too long in my mind to dismiss it, Boromir," he sighed, at last ceasing his agitated pacing to stand before his brother. "Or can you tell me now that you are free of all concerns about the lord steward our father?"
"You know I cannot. And I do not ask you to dismiss your worries, only to examine them again… which doubtless you would do anyway!" That evoked a brief smile from the other, who nodded in wry acknowledgment of the truth of that comment. "If you have failed to convince the Steward to share your opinion, then there is little to be done while the war lasts, I fear."
"While it lasts, you say. And how long shall that be? Once begun, it will be swiftly over, for one side or the other," Faramir replied. "And brother mine, do you think that Gondor could possibly stand for long?" When Boromir made no reply, he continued, "I suppose that hope is unnecessary to fight a war, though to win one without it is another matter. And still, that dream haunts me!" Faramir raked his fingers through his hair and seemed to wish he could with that gesture extract said dream from his memory and discard it.
"Have you gleaned aught of its meaning yet?" Boromir asked, curious. It had been several days since Faramir had complained of it first. Indeed, it had come the night of the attack, in the early hours of the morning when the whole camp had lain in exhausted slumber amid the reek and ruin of bridgeless Osgiliath. And since then, it had troubled Faramir night and day, to the point that Boromir had begun to be gravely concerned for his brother's sanity.
"Only that Imladris must be found. As for the rest…." Faramir turned his palms upward and shrugged, clearly at a loss. "Nothing I have read or heard tell of begins to touch upon such matters in any substantial way. 'Tis but rumor and legend, and all of it vague!" So very frustrated did he sound that Boromir, without thinking, reached out, caught his shoulders firmly and pulled him closer. He did stop himself before a fraternal enough gesture became an embrace, and the anxious worry that crossed his features could at least be passed off as concern for his brother rather than alarm over his own actions.
"Faramir… do not do this to yourself, I beg you! Such dreams as you have, and have had… who but a prophet or a soothsayer could begin to interpret them? They will make you mad, if you let them wind round you like this!" Boromir said in a low voice, searching his brother's face for a hint of the other's feelings. "And who knows whence this one comes? The Fell Riders remain west of Anduin, and we know not where they be at this moment. Can you be certain that this dream comes not from their witchcraft?"
"Nothing is certain these days but I think it comes not from them. It has not the same feel and the matter of the rhyme, though obscure, is not evil," Faramir replied, and narrowed his eyes as he gazed at his brother. "I did not know you harbored such concerns. Why did you say nothing?"
"The idea has built in my mind since you first told me of the dream," Boromir replied, and shrugged. "But I am not one to go seeking the uncanny."
"No, I meant not that! Do you truly believe that these dreams may drive me to madness?" Faramir seemed puzzled, skeptical… but Boromir perceived a hint of fear in his gaze as well, as if Boromir had wakened a sleeping doubt.
"Well… they have not yet. 'Tis perhaps my own uneasiness over such matters that speaks, and not reason," he admitted. And he gave a lopsided smile as he raised a hand and tapped his brother's left temple. "Only do not let this overpower this," said he, and dropped his hand to lay it firmly over his brother's heart a moment, ere he released him entirely and stepped back. Faramir gave a bark of low laughter and shook his head.
"I shall not, have no fear!"
"Good. Then Gondor has not Denethor alone: she has Faramir for her conscience," Boromir replied. "Surely she shall not be wholly ruined so long as you remain whole."
Faramir snorted at that, but gripped his brother's shoulder hard, squeezing gratefully, and where his hand lay Boromir felt his nerves tingle. "And she has Boromir at her heart, so I should have more faith, I suppose."
"You were ever too skeptical, brother mine," Boromir replied with a low chuckle.
With that, the crisis seemed to pass, and the atmosphere in the room grew noticeably lighter as Faramir relaxed. "Forgive me, I ought not to let myself become so upset over what cannot be changed. Of late, my patience has been lacking!" He sighed, and offered a slight, self-conscious smile as he regarded his brother, and added, "You ought not to let me ramble on like this!"
"If not to me, then to whom would you say such things?" Boromir quickly waved away the apology, feeling utterly undeserving of it.
"I should hope to no one," Faramir replied. Then, "I am a trial to you at times, am I not?"
"At times," Boromir admitted, and gave a slight smile, "'Tis a brother's prerogative, though."
"Thank you for listening, even if you should not," Faramir said anyway, giving his brother's shoulders a final squeeze. And then he went quietly out, leaving Boromir to stare after him. Once the door had shut, and his footsteps had receded into the distance, Boromir sighed softly and sank down onto a chair, wondering how it was that someone so ignorant could come so very close to the truth without ever realizing it. I ought not to listen indeed! I ought to keep as much distance as possible between us, except that such a break would be too obvious and would only draw him after me seeking a reason for it. And then I doubt not that he would discover all that I keep hidden. The irony of it! I may touch him as much as I please as his brother, but he does not know what feeling lies beneath fraternal gestures! Leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees and cradle his head in his hands, he grimaced, as the contemptuous voice of self-loathing mocked him and his dishonest passion.
More than dishonest, unnatural! No one born to the rarified heights of Gondor's social elite could possibly be ignorant of the fact that there existed—and had always existed—a small number of men who, though respectably married, preferred each other to their wives or to women in general. But Boromir, though he had always known of the phenomenon of homosexuality, was not one of the few who believed that love was its own justification. That he loved not only another man, but his own brother, by turns frightened and appalled him. But his fears could not change what he felt, and as he had tried without success to ignore his feelings, he had learned to disguise them. Deception might come hard to Boromir, but in matters of the heart, he was of necessity an adept liar.
In fact, his careful disguise was the more secure for the fact that he despised that small group who would not deny their sexuality. They were rare, for those who had power enough to protect themselves were usually quite discreet and cautious. But occasionally, there would emerge one or two men who, being born to privilege and heedless of the opprobrium of others, did as they pleased without fear of the legal consequences. But Boromir found such abuse of power disgusting, and even had he not, he loved Faramir too well to risk besmirching his honor along with his own.
There is a price to pay for every desire, he mused. That I know well, for Denethor dinned it into my unwilling ears for years. And the price of being allowed to live—and love— in peace is silence. There was, therefore, a certain perverse comfort to be derived even from his utter frustration: for, as traditional wisdom told it, every sin deserves its shame, and Boromir was not insensitive to such logic. It did not help him now, with the memory of Faramir's voice and body so very close, but later it would. Faramir wishes he could halt his dreams. If he only knew what trouble mine cause me! Boromir thought ruefully, shaking his head again. Of course, should Faramir ever learn of the very vivid role he played in Boromir's dreams, he would feel both disgusted and betrayed. But Faramir never would, and so long as he paid for them in the morning, Boromir was willing to enjoy them at night.
Speaking of night, it is grown late indeed, he thought, rising into a bone-cracking stretch ere he stalked to the window. All unconsciously, he assumed his brother's habitual stance there, and brooded on the summer sky that shone clear and hard outside. Of a sudden, he felt unutterably weary, and any thought of remaining awake awhile longer to consider his brother's latest fears about their father went swiftly to an early grave. Tomorrow will be soon enough. Father will hold us here another week at least ere he releases us back to our duties. Turning from the window, he stripped out of his clothes and crawled under the covers, not even bothering to blow out the candles. His last thought ere he fell asleep was an earnest wish that he would dream of his brother, rather than face the dead of Osgiliath again.
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