Stewards of Gondor: Genverse Arc
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Father and Sons: 2. The Ones We Love
* Chapter title comes from the infamous line: "We only hurt the ones we love."
The rain continued unabated all that afternoon and into the night. It pounded against the glass window panes, and the guards outside were doubtless cursing their luck and hoping to fall ill just to escape the weather. Denethor sat in his chair near the enormous hearth and sorted through the various dispatches absently. Inlaid before him on the huge bureau was a map of Gondor and regions adjacent, and all about the map were stacks of parchment, scrolls, and markers, all neatly arranged. The steward despised untidiness in any form, but tonight the ritual ordering of his space served only to mask his discomfort, substituting a merely physical cleansing for a spiritual one. Guilt was foreign to Denethor, yet he knew beyond all doubt that he experienced it tonight. Raised to the burden of rule, and to a tradition that honored both warrior and scholar, he had learned early that those who governed could afford few apologies and that to doubt oneselfto show oneself vulnerable or indecisivewould cost lives in the long run. Guilt was an expensive commodity, properly belonging to the decadent or the lazy, and it galled him to think that he had warranted the torments of a guilty conscience tonight. That was an unforgivable offense, though no one but he and one other might ever know he had committed it.
Why had he erupted in Faramirs face? The question hung in the air, tormenting him. Surprise at hearing the name of Thorongil again, after so many years had contributed to it, but he had borne Thorongil himself without incident for years. Perhaps it was simply that Faramir reminded him too much of the stranger at times. The boys eyes were keen, and he knew that he was always looking, always judging others it was impertinent! And perhaps, Denethor decided, he himself was fatigued. His esquire had remarked that once, and had quickly learned never to mention it again. Denethor disliked others prying into his private thoughts and activities, particularly when such knowledge could prove dangerous to those of less hardy substance than himself. Oh yes, Denethor knew his will was stern as the rock of Gondors foundations, but even he grew tired in the use of the palantír. The weariness would pass, he knew, but it would take time to accustom himself to the stones trial of his will. Doubtless his fatigue had left him short-tempered and less able to control himself, and that was why Faramirs questions had angered him so
A grimace flashed across Denethors face, quickly concealed, and he set the dispatches carefully to one side. Then he leaned on the bureau and gazed down at the map, tracing with his eyes the movements of troops from Anórien to Umbar and beyond. It was a grim picture, and would grow darker still, he knew, before the age ended. Gondor might perish in that ending; indeed, he knew it was very likely that Minas Tirith would be reduced to ruin even if somehow Gondor survived. That was why he risked the use of the palantír, why he levied heavy tributes that even his subjects might resent, and why the army grew with each year. Every effort was warranted to find some way of saving somethinganythingfrom the coming carnage and here he stood unable to concentrate properly because of shame! Thunder rumbled menacingly, and Denethor glanced at the rain-streaked window, and wished briefly that the icy water could infuse him with his usual coldly collected composure.
A knock sounded, and his esquire hastened to answer. He cracked the door open slightly, then quickly pulled it wider. "My lord, your son, the lord Boromir, would speak with you," the lad announced as Boromir paused on the threshold.
"Let him come." Denethor waved a hand absently without taking his eyes from a marker that told of troops gathering south of Harnen. Boromirs steps echoed in the silence, and when he judged the prince but a few paces distant, the steward spoke, "What brings you to me, my son?"
"Good evening, Father," Boromir greeted him, and something in his tone drew Denethors eyes away from the map and his own silent recriminations. His son stood proudly before him, seeming to all intents and purposes his usual indefatigable self, but Denethor sensed a certain uneasy defiance in his voice and in the too tense shoulders. Straightening, Denethor rapped his knuckles once, sharply, on the wood and drew an unobtrusive breath.
"Something troubles you?" he asked.
"I have a proposition, Father, and I would beg you to hear and consider it."
"Ah?" This was not quite what he had expected. "Speak then."
"When last we discussed it, you said that Ithiliens Rangers were responsible for most of the reports on the Enemys southern movements, and yet they are a small force compared to some."
"True," replied Denethor, waiting for the point to be made.
"Then each man in it learns to do many tasks, and there would be much opportunity for a newcomer to prove himself," said Boromir.
"Again, true, though I know not why this should be of great interest to you."
"Not to me, perhaps, but I think now of Faramir," Boromir said at last, looking Denethor squarely in the face. And yes, there was that defiance, Denethor thought with a cold smile that did not touch his lips. Boromir clearly knew of the argument between Faramir and himself, and had come to ask a boon for his brother that would put him far from Minas Tirith and any future outbursts. And if I am not mistaken, Boromir is not the author of this proposition. Likely it was Faramir who put it into his head to make the request, the steward decided, feeling a little spasm of disgust at such obvious manipulation. He was half-prepared to reject the idea, but then he paused, turning the notion over in his mind. On the one hand, he had thought to put Faramir in the Tower Guard simply because he was young, and also because Denethor did not trust his judgment in the same way that he trusted Boromirs. But he could not afford to coddle the boy either, or to mistrust him too thoroughly. Ithilien was a different sort of company than most, being essentially a large scouting force distributed all along Anduins course, from Cair Andros to Poros. It required discipline of another sort than that practiced in more traditional units, and a mind accustomed to picking an answer out of disjointed bits of evidence a scholars mind, in many ways, and Faramir had that at least.
And truth be told, he probably owed the boy something after the afternoons shameful altercation. He hated to admit it, but the conclusion was inescapable. Denethor knew that if the lad remained in the city, there would doubtless be more arguments, and that would ruin Faramir as a commander, leaving him with a resentful, worthless tool that might fail at the test. Better, then, to send him away while there was time, and if Faramir had already identified the one unit in which his talents would be best put to use, then that spared Denethor the trouble of discovering it for himself. It was not as if he could not keep watch on the boy from afar, especially now that he had begun to master the palantír. And Boromir clearly supported the move, or he would not have agreed to act as an intermediary in this matter. "I see. Very well. Faramir may go to Ithilien, and I will see to it that he leaves with the next runner. If he does well, he may inherit command of it eventually. At least the boy has sense enough to pick a company whose duties suit him," he added, to be certain Boromir knew that his father understood his reasons for coming. There! I have paid my debt! Denethor thought, gloweringly.
His eldest son nodded, his eyes narrowing just slightly as he regarded his father, and Denethor read in that minute betrayal uncertainty; a further question, perhaps, for Boromir loved his brother well "Father," Boromir said, and his voice was more forced and troubled than usual, "I do not mean to pry, but Faramir is not a child. Why then did you strike him?"
Beneath the ice, there was always heat, and Denethor could feel it rising in him. Fortunately, he had had several hours to recover his self-control after his last glance in the Seeing Stone, and so it was in a coldly clipped tone that he replied, "Your concern for your brother is laudable, but the matter is settled. Do not presume to tell me how to deal with Faramirs foolishness." Denethor paused and held Boromirs gaze long, til at last Boromir lowered his eyes in acceptance. "Good. Now, you are due to leave for Osgiliath tomorrow. You should ready yourself for that journey."
"Yes, sir. May I tell Faramir of your decision?"
"Yes, please do. Have him come before me tomorrow after the third hour. Good night, my son." With a nod, Boromir bowed and left quickly, though his step lacked its usual vigor. Denethor, sensing the dejection in his eldest son, felt a sudden thrill of alarm, heavily laced with angry frustration. Almost he succumbed to the need to call Boromir back, to try to explain what could not be explained, but then the fit passed, and the ice was back in place, stifling the impulse. He will forget it soon enough, he decided. Boromir is given to quick emotion; this will pass. And if that was the voice of rationalization speaking, Denethor cared not, seeking only a way out of this nightmare of a day. Rest, perhaps, would do him good.
With a sigh he straightened the dispatches once again, then looked toward the door in the southern wall and hesitated. It led to his chambers, but as usual he felt a sort of shadow fall over him, remembering the days when Finduilas had waited for him beyond those doors. She was dead now ten years and no trace of anything of hers remained there to remind her husband that she had ever existed. Denethor grimaced inwardly, chastising himself for useless sentimentality. Still, that empty chamber, with its narrow bed and bachelors furniture filled him with loathing. If he went there now, sleep would elude him all night. And so, after he dismissed the esquire with orders to see that no one disturbed him before the third hour, the steward of the city rose and went not to his bed, but climbed slowly into the tower above the council room. An inviolate haven, he had removed a great part of his private study to the topmost room, and he went there now, turning for solace to the other constant in his life: work. The palantír called him, and he girded himself to face it once more.
* * *
In the hall that led to the council room, Boromir stood silent and his face was drawn as he pondered what had just happened. For he was filled with confusion, and asked himself: how could he both love and loathe someone? He had occasionally been subject to his fathers disapproval, but that had never caused him to feel ambivalent about his love for Denethor. This time, however, his fathers cold rebuff had felt different, though he could not define that difference in words. He knew only that as he had looked into his fathers eyes, he had seen a gleam there that had seemed to him pitiless, even cruel. With that cold rebuff, he sensed that he had at last been granted a dim understanding of what Faramir must have felt so much more intensely all of his life. But how could I have overlooked this for so long? Surely if it were real, I would have seen it earlier? That was reluctance speaking, his unwillingness to doubt what he had always "known" before, namely that his father was a just man who always acted with reason. And yet if that were so, how to explain his treatment of Faramir? This was but the latest and most violent incident, if his brother's vague tale were true which it must be, surely. He loved Faramir dearly and so was the more disturbed by the picture that was beginning to emerge, for he liked not the feeling that he was failing Faramir somehow. That he had failed him repeatedly and for years. But then again, how could he doubt Denethors own authority to discipline his sons as he saw fit? Yet because neither Denethor nor Faramir had told him the full tale of this latest grievance, he could not judge what, if anything, to believe.
I could stand here all night and debate this, and I would come no closer to the truth, he realized. Boromir had never been one to deliberate overmuch, and so he made a swift decision and strode away, heading for his brothers rooms. There was surely one person who would not refuse him an answer to his questions, after all, and then he would know where he ought to stand.
* * *
When the knock came, Faramir set aside his writing and rose to answer it, knowing that it would be his brother. And he was right, but he opened the door to a rather troubled-seeming Boromir, which was a sight in itself. Father refused him! That was the first thought that sprang into his mind, and the dread that accompanied it was almost physically nauseating. But before he could so much as greet him, Boromir said, "It is done. You will go to Ithilien with the next runner." His brother entered the room, but instead of going to sit, as he usually did, he paused in the middle of the floor, staring at his surroundings. Faramir secured the door, then turned to regard his brother. Boromirs eyes strayed from the bookcase with its collection that lined the eastern wall to the maps of Gondor and far countries that hung in place of tapestries; he looked then to the trunk which contained a few musical instruments, and the writing desk with pages spread out carefully atop it so that the glistening ink could dry. Finally, he sighed and stared down at the carpet that covered most of the flagstones. Faramir had rescued it from among their mothers possessions, for Denethor had locked it in a storeroom upon her death. But his father never came to his chambers, and so he had had it moved into his room some three years ago. An abstract pattern of blue and green, brown and red spiraled out in intricate detail across its surface. It lent a certain warmth to the room, and Faramir found that the pattern helped him to think. Boromir had shaken his head over the whole matter, saying laughingly that it made his eyes hurt to stare at it for very long.
Now, though, he seemed to be trying to follow the ornate curlicues and knotted spirals, as if seeking meaning within its twisting lines. "Will you not sit?" Faramir asked, puzzled and worried, indicating the guest chair before the hearth.
"Nay, I have a few errands of my own tonight. I leave for Osgiliath tomorrow," said Boromir, looking up from the carpet and fixing him with an intent stare. "And glad I am of it, for I think it will do father good to have us both out of his sight for awhile."
"What happened?" Faramir asked, feeling the echos of his earlier fear begin to stir. Had Boromir somehow alienated their father this evening? He felt a chill run through him at the very thought, for if anything happened to break Boromirs hold on Denethor, then who would provide balance for the lord of the city? Boromir might not be the most subtle intellect, but at least he was generally sensible in matters of war and governance, even if he was not brilliant in the latter.
Instead of answering directly, Boromir turned and gave him a close look, reaching out to touch his right cheek briefly, probing the swollen flesh there. "I suppose that could be worse. Still sore, I wager?"
"It gives me little pain. Truly, I have had worse in sword drills," Faramir replied, unwilling to make more of the injury than that. After all, the pain was insignificant beside his fears about his father. And now Boromir was acting strangely, not like his usual confident self. He wanted to shake his brother, to wrest the news out of him, but that would do no good and much harm. Instead he stalked over to his writing desk and absently collected the dried manuscripts into a stack to put away.
"Tell me this: what exactly did you say to our father that made him strike you?" Boromir asked, not moving from his place, and the papers landed on the desk again with a slap as Faramir froze, tension rippling down his spine at that. He had thought Boromir had chosen to ignore the bruise this afternoon, and he had been glad. Now though in spite of his initial suspicions, had Denethor somehow convinced his brother that he, Faramir, was at fault for everything? No, that could not be possible; Faramir prayed it was not. But even so, would Boromir, his fathers favorite, be able to accept the truth? Would it not be better to leave the matter unsaid, for how could it help to tell his brother of the shameful things that had passed between him and their father that afternoon?
"Boromir, it does not bear remembering"
"Tell me what you said!" Boromir cut him off brusquely, and there was no arguing with that command. Why does this happen? Why can he not see that this can only hurt all of us? With all his heart, he wished he dared tell his brother to let the matter drop, but if he did, he sensed that he would jeopardize Boromirs faith in him. And he could not bear that. So in a low voice, and with much trepidation, he replied:
"He had asked me if I had learned of Thorongil from Mithrandir. I told him that I had not, that Mithrandir told me nothing of the most recent history of the city. He then said I must have learned the name from someone, and that only Mithrandir would be impertinent enough to tell me. And I swore to him that it was not so, but he only grew more angry." Faramir paused, feeling the words stick in his throat as if to strangle him. He swallowed hard, then continued in as natural a voice as he could manage, "He said that I should never lie to him again, and that if I did, he would thrash me for it. He said--" and here his voice grew hard and tight, "he said he would never tolerate a dishonest son, because such a son besmirches the honor of a high family. I was so stunned I could not speak for a time. When at last I regained my tongue, I asked him, furious, how he could accuse me of lying to his face. I would have asked if he thought himself so poor a father to raise such a child, but before I could embarrass us both, he struck me to silence me. Then he told me to leave, and I did. Truly, Boromir, that is how it happened."
There was a profound silence, broken only by the crackle of the hearth fire, and the poisonous confession hung in the air between them. Faramir closed his eyes and grasped the back of his chair in a white-knuckled grip, feeling as though his whole world hung in the balance. If Boromir did not believe him if he felt that Denethor was justified Always before, when he and Denethor had argued, Boromir had defended him without ever questioning their father, dismissing the stewards behavior because the tension between the lord of the city and his second son was as fundamental as bedrock in Boromirs universe. Those bouts were simply part of the order of life, to be endured without question. Now, though, Faramir thought, that is changing. Boromir had been gone for long periods of time in the past three years; he was growing more independent as his skill at command increased, and he had begun to open his eyes to the possibility that there was something unnatural in Denethors relationship to Faramir.
Whatever had occurred in his meeting with the steward, though, had crystallized that possibility and stripped the blinders away. No longer could Boromir blithely assume that that basic hostility was a part of the Way of the World, and any fight might force him to take sides. But how could he? On the one hand, he loved his brother and trusted him implicitly; but on the other, he was loyal to Gondor, and what was Gondor if not the steward of the realm? And Denethor was their father; how could Boromir possibly commit such a double treachery and choose Faramir over lord and sire? How, if he should turn away from me? Faramir wondered. What would I have? Where would I find strength, or do I have it in me to stand alone all alone forever? Still, Boromir said nothing, and Faramir began to feel desperate indeed. At last, he could stand the silence no longer. "Boromir? Speak, I beg you! What think you now?"
And Boromir, hearing the plea in his brothers voice, cursed softly but intensely, and saw Faramir flinch as if from a blow. That hurt, but he supposed Faramir had reason to feel threatened today. "I am sorry, brother," he said heavily, "I do but curse my own blindness." A pause, then, "Can you forgive me?"
"Only do not turn away from me, and I would forgive you anything!" Faramir replied fervently.
"Good. And never doubt it: I will never turn away from you," Boromir said, and strode to stand before his brother. "Look at me!" Faramir raised his eyes, and he continued, "Father commands you to present yourself to him at the third hour tomorrow morning for instruction in your new post. But do not let him see that you fear him, or that you grieve for anything that has ever passed between you. From now on, Faramir, you are no longer simply Denethors son, you are an officer of the realm, and that demands a certain dignity on both sides. Do you understand?" Faramir blinked, amazed to receive such advice from his brother, but Boromir was entirely correct. And how foolish was I not to see that aspect of it?
"I understand. I shall not disappoint you," he replied, and Boromir gave him a thin smile and nodded.
"I know you will not. Good night. And please," Boromir paused at the threshold, "do not dream!"
Faramir laughed at that, perhaps the first real laugh he had had for months. "If I do, I promise it shall not be of Númenor!"
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