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End To Innocence, An: 13. The Hands Of A Healer
And through that glow dragged the massive battering ram. She'd heard the cry when it had first appeared, its black steel head the shape of a snarling wolf, and seeming to move in the dancing firelight. Drawn by armored beasts and flanked by warriors, it was followed by creatures so large that Maggie had suddenly felt the world was out of proportion. In confusion, she'd turned to the soldier beside her.
"What are those things?" she'd asked. "Those things behind the battering ram?"
"Mountain trolls," he had answered, shaking his head. "Mountain trolls to wield it," and his voice had been that of one who has abandoned hope, and now stands only because to die facing death seems no more a horror than to die fleeing it, and easier.
So now she watched. The grenades were spent, had been used up on the catapults and the siege towers, and in a vain attempt to destroy the wheels of the housing that carried the ram. No fire would catch on it, and the grenadiers hadn't been able to reach the wheels - the Enemy had understood their strategy, and had blocked them with the bodies of soldiers. For every cadre of Orcs and Men that was torn apart by explosions, more rushed forward to replace them, and so the desperate defenders had finally used the last of the missiles. Still it rolled on, now dripping gore, and Maggie knew that the Gate would not hold. Not against this.
Then, cutting through the darkness, she heard Boromir's voice. Frantically her eyes sought for him, and found him finally, and with him Gandalf, and Imrahil, Gandalf mounted on Shadowfax, the meara gleaming pale silver even in the ruddy light of the battle. Boromir and Imrahil dismounted their own steeds as one, climbed the steps to the battlements, their armor glittering, their swords drawn. "For Gondor!" they cried, "Now, for glory! For country and comrade, rise, and stand!" and where they walked, the soldiers seemed able to throw off the terror that had stricken them, turning again to the field and loosing volley after volley.
But still the great ram came forward, and Maggie could not take her eyes from her lover as he strode the battlements. In the black haze that shrouded her mind, even as her heart leapt at his strength, bringing his men back from despair with the power of his courage alone, all she could think was that she wanted him down, gone, away from here, someplace where he didn't stand shining in the glare from the flames, didn't make such a tempting target for the enemy.
The enemy. With a gasp, she tore her gaze loose from Boromir and rose to a half crouch, raised the rifle to her shoulder. Eyes flickering over the field, she pushed back the terror that had overwhelmed her and looked now for enemy missiles, for enemy archers, for all who would threaten the defenders - all who would threaten him. She fired, and they fell, and she felt it in her throat and in her gut when she struck, crushed velvet wrapping a gaping wound, filling her mouth with the bitter taste of absinthe and sweet poison, and she lost herself in killing.
And then, drums in the darkness, rolling like thunder. Over the bodies of the slain rode a gruesome figure, cloaked in black, astride a black steed with hooves washed in blood from the corpses it trampled. Fear and awe overcame her, freezing her, and Maggie felt her rifle drop to the stone battlements from numbed hands. The Rider raised a sword then, long, gleaming like ice, and on the walls, no bow sang, no rifle, and stillness covered all.
Twice the great ram struck. Twice the Gate held, and Maggie screamed aloud at the sound, the terrible tremble of the stone battlements. She cowered where she knelt, her head bowed between her arms, her hands clutching each other behind her neck, her eyes squeezed so tightly shut that red stars swam in her vision.
A third strike, and a crack of lightning, the wall shaken as if the very earth were torn asunder. In a terrible flash of light, the Gate was broken. Maggie could not move, could not unclench her hands, could not open her eyes, nor did she want to. She would rather die here, on the cold stone, than risk seeing the terror that was below. Her mind crawled in upon itself, crawled deep into the blackness that the Riders had opened, and she waited for death.
Long moments passed like years of torment as she knelt there, and she couldn't be sure whether she lived, whether she felt the stone beneath her or the press of her own hands. Voices seemed to carry to her on the air - Gandalf, his tone commanding, and another, the scrape of unclean claws on bone, and she shrank further into the darkness of her mind.
But then, far away, as unexpected as a green leaf in a pit of fire, a sound - a rooster crowing somewhere in the stricken City, heralding the dawn. And answering it, horns, challenging the Enemy and calling out to the defenders: finally, allies have come. Finally, finally, Rohan has come. With the sound of the horns, it seemed a great wind swept over the City, and on it were voices raised in terrible song, a terrible, joyful song of slaughter and of terror to the Enemy.
The darkness lifted. Slowly, Maggie unclenched her hands, and brought them to her face. Slowly, slowly, she opened her eyes, her heart loosed from its black cell, her mind returning, reaching for the light that somehow, as if by the hand of God, finally came to the world again. She turned her gaze to the sky, and though it was heavy with coming rain, and the light of the rising sun barely a glimmer of hope, dawn approached. The darkness of Mordor was breaking.
On the horizon the grey sky grew as bright as silver, and the wind smelled of the sea. She held her hands up to touch the breeze, looking around her as though her eyes had opened for the first time. Turning her gaze to the field, she saw that the battle still raged, and as she looked, the sounds reached her, now that her ears could hear any sound but her own heartbeat and fear. She picked her rifle up again, remembering in a flash the rage that had come on her and the fierce joy she'd taken in killing the soldiers that threatened Minas Tirith. Her stomach turned, sickened, but she took a deep and sudden breath and shook her head. "Stop it," she muttered to herself, shutting her mind to it, then raised her head again and looked around to see if she could find any that she knew.
On the other side of the broken Gate, up on the battlements, Maggie caught sight of olive skin and dark hair, a slim, rounded figure holding an M16 machine gun. She smiled, and made her way down the steps to the street, carefully through the ruins of the Gate, and called up. "Mira!"
The other woman turned, and grinned, took the steps two at a time and threw her arm around Maggie's neck, hugged her tight with the hand that wasn't holding the weapon. "Not dead yet?" she asked with a laugh.
"Not yet," Maggie answered, smiling. "Who else, do we know?"
Mira's laughter faded, and she frowned, saying, "None killed, but Greg and Jack are both hurt, and just over half of Chip's people. They're in that hospital they set up on the - whatchacallit, the Third Circle."
She shook her head. "Not sure. I think as soon as they can, they're going to move the worst of them up to the Houses of Healing. Some of them," and she met Maggie's gaze, her own puzzled, "it's like they just don't wake up. No head wounds, nothing that would put them in a coma or anything, just," and she paused, then shrugged. "They just don't wake up."
"Like Faramir," Maggie murmured. "It's the Black Riders, I think. They - there's some kind of... thing they do."
"You mean apart from the bone-numbing, mind-shattering terror and despair?" Mira asked archly.
Maggie chuckled. "Well, sort of along with that," she replied. "Boromir said he saw a man die of it once. Greg and Jack," she said softly, looking at her friend. "Do they...?"
Mira had paled, and she nodded. "Greg. He's out cold with nothing but a bad gash on his arm." She paused, then said, "It was weird. We bandaged it, and he should have been fine, but he just kept getting more tired, and... more weird. By the time I got him to the aid station, he hardly knew where we were. He kept talking about Lila."
"Shit." Maggie shook her head. Lila was Greg's girlfriend, or had been until she died in a firefight with the Black Hand. "We should go see him."
"There's still a war on, babe," said Mira, "and he's not - he wouldn't know if we did."
Suddenly there was a clatter of hooves, and the women turned to see the knights of Dol Amroth and what must have been all the men inside the walls who could still fight, riding towards the Gate, Imrahil and Boromir at the head of the column. Maggie and Mira stepped back, up the stairs, to watch them go by. Boromir shot her a quick glance as they passed, and with a jerk of his head indicated she should leave the wall, but she just smiled, and blew him a kiss, and then he was gone.
"Now there's a sight," said Mira. "Damn."
"Indeed. Almost makes me want to enlist," and she nudged Mira and grinned.
Mira laughed. "Though you already had, babydoll. Come on, what should we do? Go see Greg and Jack, or haul our useless carcasses out there and see if we can do some more damage to the enemy?"
Maggie chuckled and looked away. "I don't know, babe. I'm used to - urban warfare. Houses and streets and buildings." She paused, glancing towards the Pelennor as though she could see it through the wall. "It's so open out there. I'm not sure how to take care of me or mine when there's nothing to hide behind."
"You did it at Helm's Deep," said Mira.
Maggie thought about it. "Yeah," she said finally, "but I was mounted. It - I - " and she hesitated again. "It seemed different."
Mira shrugged. "Well, it's a fair point," she said. "We're not much on the 'open field of battle' paradigm. How 'bout we find Chip, see what he says?"
"Yeah, okay," Maggie replied, her brow furrowed. "I'll tell you what - can you do that? I - I want to just sit a minute and kind of collect myself."
"Good enough. You can keep an eye on the - well, where the Gate used to be, and try to keep it so we don't get the urban warfare thing going on in Minas Tirith."
Maggie had sat quietly on the wall as dawn broke and morning came, beside her a tall, rangy woman named Cassandra, who had come with Chip. She was a sharpshooter as well, though during the battle she'd acted as one of the grenadiers. She and Maggie had taken turns dozing in the cool, damp morning, and no one had approached the Gate, or what was left of it. It was mid-morning by the time had Mira had returned, and she, Chip, Michael, Paul, and five others had formed a squad and ventured onto the field. Two fire teams flanked Chip, one led by Michael, and the other by a heavily-scarred older man with a heavy Northern England accent. "They called him Tank," Mira had said, "but his real name is Winstead. And Maggie," she'd said in a whisper, "I swear, I think I'm in love, I don't care what his name is." And in a wedge they'd advanced southward.
Maggie and Gus remained at the Gate with Cassandra, in case the enemy did try to gain entrance, and to provide covering fire for as long as the squad was in range. The battle was turning against Gondor, and Maggie watched as the squad made its way southeast through the chaos on the field. Gus spoke quietly into the headset he now wore, appraising Chip of what he could see from where they were on the battlements, and Maggie and Cassandra watched the field with alert eyes, picking off whatever enemies came into their sights, or threatened the squad.
The wind had picked up, bringing rain with it, and suddenly there was a great gust from the south, clearing away the clouds so the sun shone on the field, and on the wind Maggie heard voices raised in alarm. "South," she heard Gus say, and she and Cassandra looked where he pointed. Raising binoculars to her eyes, Maggie saw what had caused the cry.
"Ships," she said. "Black sails. I don't know what it means."
"Well, the horse people don't like it," said Gus. "Check it out. They're - hey, Chip," he said, "get your asses over there - the banner, the green one with the white horse on it. They've been cut off. Cut 'em back in again."
"Fuck," Maggie said softly, turning the glass to the hillock where Éomer had set the banner. "Damn it, he's - hey," and she hesitated, saw him raise his sword and seem to laugh, and she turned again to where the black sails came up the river. "Hey! Hey, that's - wait a minute. What?"
Gus and Cassandra looked as well, seeing the standard break on the foremost ship - a white tree, and seven stars, a crown above, blazing in the silvery sunlight as though wrought in fire. "What? Mags, what is it?"
"Well, I'm not sure," she said, "but I don't think it's an enemy. The White Tree, that's for Gondor. I'm not clear about the stars or the crown, but I - yeah, it looks like the cavalry's coming."
"I thought Rohan was the cavalry," said Gus.
"Well, okay," said Maggie, "the Navy then. The Navy's coming. Ashore."
It was some time later before Maggie again viewed the field not through the scope of her rifle. The squad's ammunition spent, they'd come back to the City and reconnoitered at the foot of the battlements, where Maggie, Gus, and Cassandra joined them. All had returned safely, though not unscathed. Mira bore a cut on the side of her head where she'd been struck a glancing blow by a Southron arrow, and the body armor, while it had saved several of them from being skewered, hadn't saved them from the impact - Paul and Chip both breathed painfully, and Maggie knew that bruises would be flowering beneath the vests, and hoped nothing had been broken. Tank limped from a bolt that had struck his heavily-muscled thigh, and Maggie was pleased to see that Mira had taken the opportunity to get her arm around him. He leaned on her with the air of one who isn't sure whether to be annoyed that he needs the help, or pleased at the attention.
"So we're out of ammo, and not really in fighting trim," said Chip, wincing, "but hey, we're all here. Which is pretty good, considering the odds."
"But y'all need to get patched up," said Maggie. "And when was the last time anyone slept? or ate?" She looked at them sternly, and no one answered. "Come on now," she said. "I know it's been since before I came to get you - and that was, what, like, seven in the morning your time, yesterday? And now it's mid-afternoon. Come on - let's get y'all some medical attention, and then someplace to crash for a while."
Maggie left them at the aid station on the Third Circle, fully intending to return to her apartments in the Citadel, but when she came to the Sixth Circle and the Houses of Healing, she remembered that she had teammates there, as well as Janet, and Faramir. She hesitated. "I'll just go in for a minute," she murmured finally. "Just to see." But once she stepped inside, she realized no one was going to have time to help her find her friends - everywhere was movement, men and women hurrying to and fro, and Maggie could hear the sounds of people in pain coming from down the long, busy hallways. She started to leave, then thought of Faramir, and knew that at least she could find his room, see if he'd somehow regained consciousness.
She found the hallway the woman had taken her down, found the turn, and came then to the door to Faramir's room. It was standing slightly open, and she pushed against it gently, and peeked inside. No one was there. Only Faramir, his eyes still closed, his breathing light and shallow. Maggie slipped into the room and set the door only slightly ajar behind her, as it had been, then moved to sit in the chair Boromir had occupied when she'd found him here before. The silver bowl and pitcher were still beside the table, but filled with fresh water, and the air in the room was still. Everything seemed far away, everything except the man who lay before her. "Faramir," she murmured. "Where have you gone?"
She touched his forehead, and the skin was hot. Taking one of the clean clothes that lay folded beside the bowl, she wet it, and wrung it out between her hands, then placed it across his forehead. Repeating the process, she set the second damp cloth on his throat. She didn't know if that was the right thing to do or not, but she remembered once having a fever that lasted for days, sometimes spiking up to over a hundred three degrees, and she remembered how it had seemed to help, the cool cloths at her face and neck. She sat with him for a while, re-wetting the cloths as they warmed from his fever, and trying to picture him as the boy Boromir had described. Tried to see him laughing with his brother at the fox that had escaped, and the hound that was left scratching at a hole in a cave wall. She tried to imagine him as the boy who had run away, and then been grounded because his brother had come looking for him. She wondered what Denethor must have been thinking at the time. Did he know that punishing the younger was the best way to punish the elder? Had he known it when he'd ordered Faramir to spend a week shut up in his room?
"Faramir," she said softly, leaning on the bed and gazing at his face. So like his brother's. "You can't leave him, you know," she said, her voice gentle. She took the cloths from his face and neck, and lay them in the bowl. She felt too tired to move, and didn't want them to dry hot on his hot skin. "You can't leave him," she murmured again, and leaned forward to lay her head on her arms, intending just to close her eyes, not for long. "Come back to him," she said softly. "Come back to him."
Slowly, she became aware of voices in the room. "...with the Steward's other son."
"Do you suppose he sent her? Perhaps to see that we watch him close?"
"Nay, I think not. He knows we know our business. But she should wake now, for that chair is no good for sleeping."
She turned her gaze and saw two women by the door. "I'm sorry," she said, sitting up and putting her hand to her neck, wincing at the soreness of the muscles. Her right hand was asleep. "I just came in to see him - I didn't mean to fall asleep on him."
"No harm done, my chick," said the older of the women, coming forward to help Maggie rise. "But you should find your own bed, and your own rest now, and let old Ioreth see to the young lord." Her eyes sparkled, and the strength in her hands belied the grey that streaked her hair. "Can you find your way?" she asked, and Maggie nodded, then looked towards Faramir again.
"Is he going to be all right?" she asked, turning back to face the woman, who held her arm gently.
"If there is aught we can do assure it," she replied, "we shall, but you must not worry yourself. You've your own ills to tend, I dare say, and should be seeing to them. Now hurry on, and let us do our work."
Maggie nodded, and slipped past the younger woman and out into the hallway, rubbing her cold hand and wishing she had an aspirin. Her head ached. Groggy and sore, she made her way back through the halls, and into the yard in front of the building, to find that evening had fallen while she slept, and stars glittered in the deep blue of the sky. She raised her face to the breeze that still blew, feeling the dampness that clung to the air after the rain. Glancing towards the tunnel that led to the Seventh Gate and the Citadel, she knew she should go up, but instead, turned to find a low bench near the wall, and sat down wearily, stretching her legs in front of her, and breathed.
Still the world seemed far away, and she felt apart from things, and watched in silence as figures approached. She knew the stride of Boromir, the particular way he displaced the air, and beside him she recognized the blue of Dol Amroth, and the Prince Imrahil. With them, another figure, though she wasn't sure who, but from the starlight gleaming on his pale hair, she thought Éomer. And approaching from another direction, the tall, white-haired wizard, and one cloaked in grey. They met in the shadowy yard, not twenty feet from her, and she didn't speak, but watched them as if she watched a dream. They spoke quietly, and Maggie felt a sort of vague surprise to hear them say that Éowyn was inside, and near death. She started to sit up, and as she did, the cloaked figure stepped forward into the light.
Unnoticed, Maggie stood and stepped closer.
There was a moment's silence, then Boromir gripped Aragorn's arm. "My friend," and his voice was low. "Why are you here, after what we spoke of? I thought you camped on the Pelennor tonight."
"I would," he replied. "I will, but Mithrandir came to me. Boromir," he said, "why did you not tell me of your brother's injury?"
The other man smiled wryly. "Why, Ranger, were my words unclear?" he asked. "I thought t'would be better if you came not to the city while my father is in his madness. Does no one follow my commands but my own men?"
Aragorn returned the smile, and said, "But I am disguised, do you see?" his tone teasing. "A Ranger may avoid being noticed if he chooses, and I am naught but a captain of Rangers."
Boromir arched an eloquent brow, and Aragorn shook his head.
"I do not dismiss your warning, friend," he continued, serious, "and I have some idea what it may have cost you. But I would not have you gain a King and lose your brother."
Gandalf spoke then, words of urgency, but Maggie scarcely heard them, and she stepped forward to touch Boromir's arm. He turned to her as the others went inside, and smiled. "You are here," he said. "Come, we shall see to Faramir."
"Wait a moment," she answered, drawing him into her embrace. He gazed at her questioningly, and she turned her face from his and rested her head on his shoulder. "Just for a moment," she breathed, "let me feel your arms around me."
He obliged, and she felt strength coming back to her from the strength in him. He stroked her hair, and after long moments had passed, he said gently, "How fare you, love? Is - is all well with you, and with your companions?"
She nodded. "Some of them are here, though I haven't seen them. But I don't think we've lost anyone. Yet, at least." She raised her head again and looked into his eyes. "Some of them are like Faramir," she said. "I don't know how we'll make them better."
He pushed a stray lock of hair back, and kissed her forehead, then drew her close again and held her in the cool evening. At last, he said, "The lore says that the true king has the hands of a healer. Aragorn may have the skill to wake them." His hands were gentle around her waist. "He healed me of the poison at Amon Hen. He may heal greater hurts than that."
"Can he heal the hurt your father has done you?" she asked wearily, then put her hand to her mouth, her eyes widening. "Oh, I didn't mean to say that," she said.
He smiled at her. "You are right, though," he said. "My father has done me an injury, and not only to this face you so admire." She touched the bruise, and he turned to kiss her fingers. "But I need not Aragorn to heal those wounds," he went on. "A man's mind may clear somewhat in the heat of battle, beside good comrades. He might remember his strength, and his own will." His eyes on hers were clear in the starlight, and he kissed her softly. "Come, lady. I would see Faramir."
When they reached Faramir's room, however, the sight that greeted them froze Maggie's heart.
Denethor, tall and proud, stood at Faramir's bedside, his hand on his younger son's motionless form. Imrahil, Éomer, and Gandalf were behind Aragorn, the warriors' hands on their swords, and Aragorn faced the Steward and Boromir's lieutenant Beran, whose own sword was drawn, and the tip pressed to Aragorn's throat. The room, large though it was, seemed close, and full of menace held barely in check.
With a growl, Boromir entered. "Beran, sheathe your weapon," he commanded, and after a moment's hesitation, and with a sideways glance at Denethor, Beran obeyed.
Denethor's voice was hard when he spoke. "You shall answer for that, lieutenant," he said, "but first I shall deal with your Captain and this usurper."
"Aragorn has made no claim," said Boromir calmly, coming to stand beside his friend, "and as such can be no usurper. He is here as a captain of the Rangers, and to do what good he can in healing the hurts of those who fell under the Black Breath."
"'The hands of the king are the hands of a healer,' is this your thinking?" Denethor said scornfully. "Is this how you would prove his claim?"
"Such lore is no proof of kingship," Boromir replied. "I care not for that, but only that he might bring my brother back to me."
There was silence in the room, Aragorn and Boromir shoulder to shoulder in front of the Steward, Imrahil and Éomer's hands still on the hilts of their blades, and Gandalf watching the tableau, his thoughtful gaze resting on Boromir. Beran stood tense, between his Captain and his Steward.
"I have no mind for strife with you, Lord Steward," said Aragorn softly. "The Enemy is at our throats; let us not be at one another's as well."
Denethor glanced at Beran. "Lieutenant, I told you to take this one from my sight. Do as I have commanded."
Beran turned to Boromir, whose gaze had not left his father's face.
"Do you all defy me?" said Denethor angrily. "Boromir, recall my words to you. Obey me now, and have the throne, and you can make this woman you so desire a queen instead of a whore, or stay a beggar to this Ranger, and your brother and your woman will feel the consequences!" His voice broke then, and he scowled. "You are my son," he said, "but I will take from you all that you love." But he sounded now not so certain, nor so hard as he had in the throne room, and Maggie saw that his hand remained on Faramir, gentle, despite his tone.
Boromir shook his head slowly. "I am your son, my lord," he said, "but I am no man's boy, to be coerced with threats and promises." Denethor started to speak but Boromir stopped him with a commanding look. "You raised me to know my own mind, Lord Steward, and to do my own will in all things," he said, his voice steady and strong. "And for all my life, your will has been mine, for always you have acted with wisdom, and clarity." He hesitated then, and Maggie could see him gathering himself, calming himself, to show his father neither anger to fight against nor weakness to scorn. "You try now," he continued evenly, "to thrust me onto so terrible a path that I know it is not your will. Not your will. I am your son, my lord," he said finally. "I am the man you made me."
Denethor watched him, doubtful, seeming uncertain how to contend with one who neither raged nor pleaded, and behind Boromir, Maggie saw Imrahil begin to relax, and place his hand on Éomer's, where it rested on his sword hilt.
Boromir sighed. "Would that I had never undertaken the journey to Imladris," he said sadly, "that I might have been here to see what shadow fell across you, defend you from it as I should have. Then would perhaps my brother, whom you love, not lie so stricken," and Denethor's gaze faltered, strayed to Faramir, and Maggie thought she saw regret in his eyes, "unwaking, and walking the paths of his own mind."
"Or perhaps you would lie so," said Denethor, "and what would I have then? No son at all - only a..." but his voice faded, and he brought his hand to his brow.
"Your heart will not let you finish such a thought," said Boromir softly. "Not now, here, in the very room in which he lies. No, you do love Faramir, for all you know not how to understand him. 'Tis a puzzle to me," he went on thoughtfully, "for you are so alike." Denethor's eyes returned to Boromir's face, somewhat of the wariness returning with them, but Boromir didn't falter. "It is true," he said, a small smile beginning to play about his lips. "Both wise, both thoughtful, ever mindful of the whole. Where I see my course and take it, you and Faramir see the map, and study it, and all its pieces."
Denethor frowned, but the suspicion had left his countenance. "My son," he said, "you wrong yourself. You are as fine a Captain as any could wish for, as fine a strategist in battle, stronger, more valiant than any I have known."
Boromir nodded thoughtfully, and said, "I play to my strengths, Father, as does Faramir. But you, and Faramir, you have the wisdom, I have said it often." He looked into his father's eyes, then, his gaze clear and steady. "You see into men's hearts, do you and my brother," he said. "You saw mine, and truly." Denethor seemed to catch his breath. "Aye," said Boromir, nodding, "you saw truly. I would be King."
Maggie froze, and her eyes flickered to Aragorn, to Imrahil and Éomer. But though the tension in the room had peaked, and the very air seemed tightly drawn, Aragorn made no move, but waited to hear what Boromir would say, and the others, she supposed, waited for Aragorn.
"I would be King," Boromir went on, his eyes never leaving Denethor. "I would rule Gondor as her shepherd, and her champion. I love her with every breath in my body, and I would see her glory return, and our people prosper." He looked to Aragorn and smiled, the smile genuine and unshadowed, though rueful. "You know this, my friend," he said, a wry humor touching his voice. "I do fear to give her over to another, whoever he may be, whatever his lineage. She is," and he hesitated, then said simply, "she is my home. She is my heart." But he shook his head then, his gaze returning to the Steward. "You saw truly, my lord, but you did not see deeply enough. For though my fear for Gondor in the hands of another is great, and my love for my brother as strong as death itself, I will not have you drive us into civil war, no matter the cost to me, or to you."
The words hung heavy on the air, and Maggie counted her heartbeats as Denethor and Boromir regarded each other. Long moments passed, their eyes locked, before Denethor reached gently towards Boromir, his fingers touching the bruise on his face, the two shallow cuts his own rings had made. Boromir didn't move, and Denethor's gaze changed from angry, to regretful, to weary, as he held his son's face in his hand.
Finally Denethor sighed, and turned to sit heavily in the chair behind him. "But what of Gondor, my son?" he asked. "What of her fate in his hands?" and he nodded towards Aragorn. "He does not know her," he said, his voice low, and tired. "He does not love her, or how could he have stayed away for all these long years?"
Boromir moved to stand before the Steward, and then he knelt down, taking his father's hands in his. Maggie was struck by the difference between this, now, and the terrible scene when Boromir had discovered Faramir's mission to Osgiliath. Now, the son was giving strength to the father, and Denethor seemed aged, and weary. His hands trembled in Boromir's. "I will make the choice, Father," Boromir said. "You must trust in me. And you must let Aragorn heal your son."
There was a long moment, and finally Denethor spoke. "The hands of the king are the hands of a healer," his low voice carrying in the still air of the room. "So much anger, so much bitterness," he said, closing his eyes. "I have held the white rod of the Stewards for too long, Boromir," he murmured. "You must take my place, now, and do as you will. I ... I am weary of this struggle." With that he stood, Boromir beside him, and he seemed suddenly frail, and old, all his years come on him at once. Boromir's face was grave, and he nodded to Beran, who came forward to take Denethor's arm.
The older man shrugged him off, saying, "I am not so frail as that, Beran, that I need a nursemaid to carry me from here to the Citadel." And straightening his back, he gave one final glance to Faramir, and walked from the room, his footsteps heavy and slow.
Boromir's voice was soft when he spoke to Beran. "See that my father returns to the Citadel," he said, "but keep him from the upper chambers."
"Yes, my lord," Beran replied, and then hesitated. "My lord, would you..." and he looked at Boromir questioningly, and didn't finish the thought.
Boromir smiled gently. "There will be time enough later to understand the... to understand my father's wishes. For now, make it known that the Lord Steward is," and he hesitated, "indisposed. And that I shall command the City in his place, for now. And Beran," he said, and his lieutenant turned to him. "Beran, keep my father from the upper chambers of the Tower," his voice stern, but worried. "If he troubles you on this score, send for me."
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