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Adraefan: 29. Long Day and Longer Night
A debate. Arguments. Speeches and testimonies. The crowded Hall closing in, growing smaller, smaller, uglier, with each passing hour.
Lord Boromir has ever been our captain! they cry. And a brave captain, and a wise captain, ever the first to charge into battle –
Lord Faramir did lead us through the most trying of conditions, as the Enemy closed in upon us from all sides –
Not three years past, Lord Boromir did retake the bridge of –
Ever has Lord Faramir proved his valor, and he did save my life in –
Loyalties on both sides. Guardsmen and Rangers. Politicians, governors – who currying what favor when from whom and, above all, why. Political orchestrations, for if Boromir was made Steward, he would favor the army and strengthen Minas Tirith above all the rest of Gondor. Political orchestrations, for if Faramir was made Steward, he would expand the city and the realm, and would favor the farmers and the merchants and the…
They seemed to have forgotten Aragorn was King; though it was, admittedly, a new idea.
Six hours. Six hours of debate, where the two concerned, the two quarreling brothers, the two competitors for Gondor’s Stewardship, hardly spoke a word. Rather, they sat, listening to each side, looking to King Elessar, watching each other for reaction. No one had expected it to take this long. No one had expected the veritable mutiny as the military leaders rebelled against the possibility of Boromir losing his titles. No one had expected the complex web of alliances and interests which suddenly revealed itself when the idle question was posed: Who, then, shall be Steward?
And on and on, they argued…
And what of his madness? Have you not heard the tales?
Finally someone mentioned the rumors. Boromir tensed visibly; Faramir looked away. Gandalf coughed lightly.
Lies! Lies spread by villains and his enemies! For any enemy of Captain Boromir is an enemy of mine! And what should the city fall again under attack, Lord Faramir favors the taxes to be spent on the roads and leaving the defenses –
Nearly treasonous. Shouting. Yet King Elessar could not yet wield too much blind authority, for he had been King less than a month, and to do so would cast a poor light on his reign, in a time when, above all, he needed to be sympathetic to all. He did ever say he would listen to any and all opinions, and he did indeed call this council in order to make a more just decision.
But the debate had long since dissolved into a shouting match. The nobles – Imrahil, the lord of Lebennin, Hirlaeg of Pinnath Gelin – sided with Faramir. The military commanders – Eumond the Tall, Beregond of the Guard, Amlaith, even the heavyset captain of Anórien’s soldiery – sided with Boromir. The Rangers were divided.
After a particularly explicit insult was thrown, Aragorn finally stood, raised his palms.
“Friends!” he called. Everyone fell silent. “I have heard enough, and it grieves me to see such rivalry. But, in the end, as you all know, the decision rests with the King. I believe we have gone on more than is needed – and so I will take my council now, with Mithrandir to advise – and will announce my decision within the evening.”
Muttered remarks. Bows. Outside, a crowd had formed.
And as Boromir and Faramir walked out of the doors, walking abreast, they immediately split up and walked in separate directions, weaving through the crowd, through their supporters. The debate continued outside. The soldiers jostled and clapped Boromir on the shoulder, speaking secretively with him, eyeing the other camp. And, on the other side of the crowded antechamber, Imrahil and the nobles and governors nodded to Faramir and murmured to him and whispered smoothly in his ear.
And in the center of this rivalry, the Fellowship. Some sitting, some standing, all in that state of agitated boredom. Arms crossed, kicking a leg forward, toeing a crack in the stone floor, eyeing each other.
“How long do you think it’ll be?” Pippin asked Merry, who sat beside him on the cold stone floor.
They had long since abandoned any sense of formality or proper comportment, as Merry had begun complaining – rather artificially – of the pain in his arm, saying if only he could relieve his legs for a minute his arm would be fine.
And so the hobbits, all four, had sat, with Gimli resolutely pacing before them and Legolas standing rigidly still. The elf seemed to be listening intently to the chaotic roars and buzzing whispers coming from the each side – Boromir and the soldiers to his left, Faramir and the nobles to his right.
Merry blew his breath out, leaned back on his elbows. “Oh, I haven’t the faintest idea, Pip. They were in there for hours, surely Aragorn’s nearly there with a decision. It shouldn’t be much longer, I reckon.”
“Well, I’m hungry.”
Sam dug through his traveling pack, which he had apparently brought, and tossed Pippin an apple.
“Here ye go, Mister Pippin,” Sam said.
Frodo, who had been leaning back against a column, perked up. “You brought food, Sam?”
Sam shrugged. “Always better to be prepared, eh, Mister Frodo?” His eyes narrowed as he glanced about the hall full of quarreling, discussing, debating Men. “’sides, this didn’t seem a matter so easily resolved.”
At that moment, a cry went up from another part of the hall. A young Man with dark, curly hair, standing in the midst of Boromir’s supporters, a Guardsman, was yelling red-faced at one of the nobles standing beside Faramir. A larger dark-haired Guardsman was holding him back, but the younger Man could not be contained.
“I would swear here and now you have never even seen a battle!” the younger Man cried.
“Iorlas, Iorlas, calm yourself,” the older Man, Beregond, urged.
“And little use you would be on the field!” Iorlas roared, his face glowing red, spittle flying. “After what happened on the Pelennor!”
Boromir had appeared now, standing on the other side of Iorlas. The Fellowship could not hear well, but they saw him speaking quietly, urgently, in the young Man’s ear.
The nobleman Iorlas was shouting at, a tall, blond Man with a prominent nose and snidely curled lip, asked quietly, “Are you calling me a coward, Guardsman?”
Imrahil of Dol Amroth touched the other Man lightly on the shoulder. “Nay, Lord Hirlaeg, of course not. Gentlemen, please – ”
“And where were you, Lord Hirlaeg, during the Siege?” Iorlas continued, bellowing loud now so all could hear. And all listened, for the entire crowd of Men had fallen silent, as had the Fellowship. “Oh, we all know the tale, aye! You fling rumors at our Captain? Eh? What of brave Hirluin the Fair? What of your brother, Hirlaeg?”
“Iorlas!” Beregond urged, holding the younger back.
“Iorlas, silence, this will not help!” Boromir hissed, loud enough so that many nearby heard.
Iorlas turned to his two companions, the two at his arms, with wide eyes. Angry, blazing eyes. “Well, ‘tis true, is it not? Captain? Brother? The man dares call you a villain when all of us know how he coveted lordship over Pinnath – ”
“How dare you!” Hirlaeg snarled. “What do you imply, sir?”
“Nothing, Lord Hirlaeg,” Faramir soothed quickly. “No one has questioned your – ”
“ – a villain!” Iorlas roared. “A villain who sent his own brother to death so that he could – ”
He was cut off by Beregond’s hand on his mouth.
More voices. Shouts. Enraged cries.
“Silence that cur’s tongue ere I silence it for him!” Hirlaeg bellowed, and the hobbits could hear the emotion shaking through his voice, see it vibrating through his entire body.
“’Tis how all the military Men are, my lord!” another noble snapped. “Their loyalties lie with themselves – with their own kind – for see how quick they are to turn against liege lord?”
“And what would you know of that, my lord?” another voice, coming from the group of soldiers, cried.
And soon enough the entire antechamber dissolved again into chaos and noise. Merry snorted with soft laughter, shaking his head. Pippin pulled his knees up, tried to see over the crowd to Boromir. Frodo sat forward, straining to understand what was going on, while Sam ate another apple. Gimli kept starting forward and pulling back, his fists clenching, as if he wanted nothing more than to go plowing into the group of raging Men with his axe. Legolas, instead, remained absolutely still, his head cocked, his eyes closed, as he picked out each voice, listened for whatever it was only he could hear.
And so it continued. The windows dimmed. Night fell.
The quarreling Men soon enough fell silent, with many pacing with their arms crossed, while others gathered at the walls to lean against them, and some – soldiers, a few Rangers – simply sat in any free space they could find.
Boromir stood at one corner of the antechamber, his arms crossed, stance wide, staring at the floor. Listening as one of his Guard spoke quietly into his ear. The raging Iorlas had calmed, and he sat now with his older brother, Beregond, and a third Man, a red-haired Guardsmen. They were laughing quietly over a joke.
Faramir was leaning against another column, surrounded by the usual nobles, Imrahil constantly at his elbow, speaking with a still-angered Hirlaeg. A few Rangers lingered nearby, quiet. Mablung, Damrod. Faramir smiled at them, murmured something to them. Yet, Hirlaeg’s voice carried loud over their conversation. Apparently the Pinnath Gelin lord was still licking his wounds, for he cast several evil glares in the direction of the chuckling Iorlas. Judging by Imrahil’s mild gestures and slight smiles, it was clear his characteristic tact was currently employed to calm the Man. Faramir seemed to simply nod and agree with whatever Imrahil said, too fatigued to comment further.
By now, after so many countless hours of waiting, Frodo was leaning back with his head against Sam’s pack. Sam was sitting forward, smoking a pipe, lost in his own thoughts. Merry and Pippin had taken to amusing themselves with a game. One named a color and the other had to guess which stained glass window it came from. Even Gimli had surrendered pacing and chosen to sit, and he pulled at the braids in his beard in obvious agitation. The only sign of impatience or worry or anticipation in Legolas’ stance was the slight shifting of his weight every so often.
Pippin inhaled, stared up at one of the countless darkened windows. He found a small, blue square in the upper left-hand corner. At least, it appeared blue against the night sky.
“Top row, up in the corner there. On the left.”
Merry sighed, lifted his head from his hand to look. He squinted. Then, with a shake of his head, he leaned his chin against the heel of his hand again.
“Wasn’t the one I was thinking of.”
Pippin sighed as well, looked again. After staring blankly at the tall window on the opposite side of the room, he snorted in surrender. Instead of searching, he decided to stand and stretch. Merry watched him dully.
Pippin jutted his thumb in Boromir’s direction. “I’m going to go talk to Boromir.”
This made all the hobbits, Gimli and even Legolas perk up. They all watched him warily. Finally, Sam began to struggle to stand.
“I’ll come with you.”
“No, lad,” Gimli put in, grabbing the hilt of his axe. “Let me.”
“Nay, it’s fine,” Pippin interjected quickly. He chuckled. “I don’t need a guard.”
Merry, leaned back against the column, folded his hands across his stomach, and grunted humorlessly. “Aye, wait until he strikes you, Pip.”
Pippin said nothing but waved them off and turned. Stuffing his hands into his pockets, he crossed the wide antechamber towards the camp of Boromir supporters. He passed a few scowling nobles, a few seated soldiers, one Ranger pacing silently around a column, a small group of elderly Men who seemed to be discussing some historical reference.
Boromir was seated against one of the low, wide windowsills. He was leaning back against the stained glass, drinking from his flask, while his usual Guard stood about him, talking. A chuckle. Someone nudged Boromir, indicated the arriving Pippin. Pippin waved, Boromir smiled.
“Come to join the treacherous curs, Master Hobbit?” Boromir joked. He took a long swallow from his flask.
“Aye, the treacherous curs who defended these soft-handed court rats from a quick death!” A burly Guard cried to uproarious laughter and cheers.
“Aye, the treacherous curs who kept the forces of Mordor itself at bay!” Iorlas concurred loudly.
Another cheer. Someone slapped Boromir’s shoulder, he grinned crookedly. A few nearby nobles looked up at this rowdiness, but they seemed too dulled by weariness and boredom to consider making any sort of response.
Pippin took a seat on the windowsill by Boromir. His feet dangled off the edge. Boromir handed him the flask, and Pippin leaned back – inadvertently imitating his friend’s slouched posture – and drank. When he gagged slightly and choked on his drink, the Guardsmen laughed again, loudly. Beregond took the flask from Pippin’s grasp.
“Aye, ‘tis strong for a halfling!” Beregond boomed.
Once of the other Guardsmen and soldiers were suitably distracted, Pippin nudged Boromir.
“How are you?” he asked, voice low.
Boromir’s heavy-hooded gaze wandered over to the group of courtiers and governors and lords still surrounding his brother. Faramir was nodding slowly at something a very old aristocrat was saying, yet when he saw Boromir watching him, he held his eyes steadily.
Boromir looked away. A slow, ragged, nervous inhalation.
“How am I? My knees ache, my gut has pained me ere this evil debate began, and my head already spins with what little drink is in that flask.” He scrubbed his face with one hand, murmured quietly. “I am tired, Pippin, tired.”
“Aye, me too,” Pippin exhaled, leaned further back.
They sat in silence for a few moments. A young servant boy came by to open the windows above them, as the antechamber was begin to grow stifling with all the lingering bodies and lit torches. The servant murmured a polite my lords, which caused Pippin to smile, and they both leaned out of the way as the lad pulled at the jamb and pushed open the above windows.
Once they were again alone, with the Guard having moved slightly further off, all grouped in a circle, recounting some past battle or war memory, Boromir grunted.
“How think you Faramir fares?” he asked.
Pippin peered across the room, found Faramir standing amidst the group of courtiers, his weight on one leg, his hands on his hips, head bowed as he listened and nodded.
“He looks weary,” Pippin remarked honestly.
“Aye… ‘tis nothing so unbearable as this waiting…” Boromir rubbed an eye. He chuckled softly. “I should offer him the brandy.”
“Ah, indeed,” Pippin smirked. “At least you’ve got the soldiers on your side. They’re a much merrier group than those old lords and princes and such.”
Boromir grinned, nodded. He seemed about to lean his head back and close his eyes, when suddenly the doors leading to the Great Hall began to open and everyone looked up. Energy renewed, tension escalating again, soaring, boiling, searing. Pippin watched Boromir snap forward, his gaze suddenly fierce, almost feral. Everyone stood, hurrying to the center of the antechamber. Boromir and Faramir emerged at the front of each large group.
A royal attendant stood in the doorway. Inside, one could see vague flickering fires; Gandalf pacing, staff in hand; Aragorn seated in the throne, hand covering his brow.
“My lords, the King has made his decision.”
Gimli, son of Glóin, was weary. It was deep in the night. The windows of Minas Tirith were closed; the lights of each home spent. A few torches lit the street, but apart from the crackling fire and the howl of mountain wind, there was no sound. Gimli’s chain mail clanged and clinked as he trudged along the cobblestone street.
He was loath to admit it to the elf, but today had been a tiresome day. The debate regarding the Stewardship of Gondor had begun in the morning and lasted well into the night. Aragorn had considered long and hard, seeking private counsel from Gandalf. Eventually, a decision was made and by midnight the noble governors of Gondor, as well as all those concerned, had assembled in the Great Hall. It was then that Aragorn announced Faramir as Steward of Gondor, to loud applause and murmured agreement.
Gimli sighed irritably. And it was then that the madman Boromir had sent the crowd screaming and the Citadel Guard running by exploding into a tirade of insults and threats which humiliated any who had once called him friend. The Guard had moved to restrain him, pulling him away and removing his sword, but not before he had landed a heavy blow on one of the younger guards. A certain Iorlas. And before the Guard had hauled him out of the room, Boromir had spit on the ground before Aragorn, sending a cry of shock and disgust from all those present.
A traitor to the crown, Gimli thought angrily. And a traitor to his friends. Pity they didn’t throw him in the dungeons.
The Dwarf decided to push the thoughts away before his temper ignited. He was too tired, and it was too late, to work himself up over the ranting of a lunatic. Even if that lunatic had once been a noble, fair leader of Men, a friend who had fought with Gimli and laid a consoling hand on Gimli’s shoulder at the site of Balin’s tomb. But that friendship, indeed that mind, had disintegrated long ago on the slopes of Amon Hen.
How many circles more? Gimli peered up in the night sky, trying to judge his distance from the Citadel and his bed. Bah, inefficient city! Dwarves never bothered with frivolities like sprawling streets that wound around the mountain, preferring instead the labyrinthine passageways of their underground dwellings. And it was better that way, if one asked Gimli. Better than toiling on, back and forth, up and around the endless semi-circles of Minas Tirith. Better to take the more direct route, going straight through the mountain’s heart.
He was dragging his feet along the fourth – or fifth? – circle when he saw, several hundred paces ahead, a chaotic scene. There was a tiny pub, squeezed in between towering walls and the archway leading up to the fifth – or sixth? – circle. Standing outside the pub, a crowd had gathered, some people jeering, some laughing, many yelling. Gimli exhaled angrily. What mischief is this?
He hurried forward, laying a hand on his axe’s hilt, and elbowed his way through the crowd.
“Ho!” he growled. “What noise? ‘Tis the very dead of night! Ho, let a dwarf pass!”
He pushed his way through the mass of bodies, earning several surprised glances and annoyed curses, until he reached the very center of attention. There, the source of all the noise, was a duel. Two Men fighting, both stumbling, waving their swords wildly, sweating and swearing. It was clear by their clumsy swings and near misses on the laughing, encouraging crowd that both were intoxicated. Gimli heard a familiar battle cry and closed his eyes. Nay, sweet Eru, do not say it is the lunatic. He opened his eyes to the grim reality. It is he.
“Boromir!” Gimli roared.
One of the Men stopped fighting. He staggered back, eyes bleary, and dropped his blade heavily against the ground. His clothes were disheveled, ripped and stained, and his hair hung lank against his brow. Gimli could smell the drink on his breath from where he stood, near fifteen paces away.
“Aye, ‘tis Boromir the Mad!” the opponent cried.
The crowd hooted and roared. It surged forward with cries both for and against the son of Denethor. Boromir raised his sword and hurled it around, catching the other Man in the thigh with the flat of his blade. Screams and cheers from the crowd. The Man howled in pain and flung himself at his opponent, bringing his elbow back and crushing Boromir’s nose. The crack rang loud.
Gimli rushed forward.
“What rascality is this?” he cried. “Stop! Cease! Both of you!”
Blood streamed from Boromir’s nostrils and the other Man’s thigh. Before Gimli could intervene, Boromir brought his blade down against the Man. The opponent raised his sword to deflect and, using his free hand, landed a heavy blow in Boromir’s gut. Boromir stumbled back, gasping for breath, his arms hugging his torso. The mob cried out in indignation. Someone threw a bottle of ale at the other Man. The Man ducked and faced the people with a laugh.
“Why so quick to defend him, friends?” he cried.
“Shhh, let him speak!”
“Let the dwarf through!”
“Eh? ‘Respect for our prince!’” the Man replied loudly to one of the crowd’s chaotic shouts. “He’s as mad as his father!”
Gimli rushed forward, axe unsheathed. Boromir was hunched over, holding his stomach, trembling with pain. In one swift movement, refined over years of battle, Gimli brought the axe up against the other Man’s throat.
“Speak one more word, treacherous villain, and I will cut your throat.”
A hush over the crowd. Someone giggled.
The Man froze. His smile faded and he watched Gimli with wide, shocked eyes. After a moment of silent fear, he growled: “’Tis not your business, dwarf.”
“Aye, ‘tis my business indeed. For I am friend to Aragorn, King Elessar himself, and,” he hesitated for a heartbeat, “your prince, Boromir, son of Denethor. And your treason disgusts me. What is your name, rogue?”
The Man swallowed without answering. Gimli pushed the axe further.
“What is your name?”
“Delhir, son of Dalhir.”
“Well, Delhir, son of Dalhir, you are coming with me. To the Citadel and to the dungeons!”
A hand on Gimli’s shoulder startled him. He turned to see Boromir standing before him, pale and still with an arm around his stomach. His nose was crooked, obviously broken, and dark circles already formed around his eyes near the swelling.
“Nay, Gibli,” Boromir said thickly. “’Twas I who challenged him. Let him go.”
Gimli eyed the other Man suspiciously, considering his options. He hesitated for several moments. The crowd watched him expectantly. Finally, he raised his axe and nicked the Man’s cheek with his axe. The Man stumbled back, clutching his bleeding face. He glared at Boromir, but did nothing else save turn quickly without bowing. The crowd parted and he stumbled off.
Now all watched Gimli and Boromir.
“Well?” Gimli roared. “Disperse! Back to your beds!”
Mumbling and eyeing Boromir, the people soon drifted away, moving off in various directions, back into the pub, up the street, to their homes. A few bowed to Boromir, but most ignored him. They watched him out of the corner of their eyes as they disappeared into the night. Once all was silent and the street empty, Boromir hunched further and exhaled shakily, hugging his stomach with both arms. With bloodshot eyes he met Gimli’s stern gaze.
“And you!” the dwarf seethed.
Boromir said nothing.
“Drunk in the street, brawling with gutter rats!”
He grabbed Boromir’s arm and jerked him upright. The Man gave a cry of pain.
“A disgrace to the House of Stewards!” Gimli snarled and pushed Boromir forward.
They began the unsteady march up towards the Citadel, Gimli keeping an iron grip on Boromir’s arm, every now and again pulling him forward. Gimli was further annoyed since he had promised himself a calm return to the Citadel. But now his blood was up and his anger boiling. Every time the Man beside him stumbled or leaned against the wall for support, Gimli would twist his arm, wrench him straight and push him forward. He did not care if the Man had an ancient, troublesome wound in his stomach. Gimli’s evening was ruined, and he had little sympathy for mad, drunk royalty.
They walked in silence, making their way past the Houses of Healing on the sixth circle and up, finally, towards the Citadel. The courtyard, the White Tree glowing in the moonlight. The guards at the entrance of the main doors raised their axes.
“Halt! Who treads by the Citadel gate?”
“Gimli, son of Glóin, and Boromir, son of Denethor and Prince of the White City.”
“You may pass.”
The guards could not help but steal glances at the reeking figure of Boromir, with his swollen nose and bloodied face, as he stumbled past. Gimli followed, glaring at each young guard until they resumed their formal stance of vacant stares.
Inside the Citadel, all slept. The torches burned low, every room and hall was dark and silent. As Boromir and Gimli passed, nocturnal guards saluted, their swords clanging loudly against their armor. A few bashful-looking attendants skittered out of the way as the dwarf and Man trudged up the wide, spiral staircase leading to the upper floors. But, excepting these few ghosts, none still walked the Citadel halls.
The main hall of royal bedrooms was empty, save for one silhouetted figure at the far end. Gimli, feeling finally a marginal sense of privacy, gave Boromir a glare and a grunt.
“Let us hope the drudges and watchmen hold their tongues, my drunk companion,” Gimli hissed angrily. “For tonight you are a shambling mess! Bah! Why, do you not remember the days of Imladris? You were once a proud, upright, honorable Man! And now? Eh! A stinking drunkard!”
Boromir, who had been in a sort of daze, turned with bleary eyes to Gimli and shook his arm free from the dwarf’s vehement grip.
“Gimli-son-of-Glóin,” Boromir slurred, “I did not ask for your help.”
“Ha!” Gimli barked. “I doubt you would have been able to find the path back up to the Citadel without aid! And I know what troubles you, oh aye, I do. I have a keen mind, Boromir-son-of-Denethor, nothing escapes a dwarf!”
Boromir watched him uneasily. He did not notice the silhouetted figure moving towards them.
“Think you are the first to return from the very depths of darkness? Why, the father of Thorin Oakenshield, Thrain the Second, was tormented by Sauron himself in the pits of Dol Guldur! Aye, he too succumbed to madness, wandering the lands, witless and lost. Think you to be the only one carrying scars of the Dark One? It is not an easy thing to forget, I agree, yet you disgrace us all if – ”
Both Man and dwarf snapped around to see Faramir, Steward of Gondor, approaching quickly. He was still dressed as he had been at the meeting during the day, and his red-rimmed gaze and sunken cheeks revealed much of his troubled vigil. He now neared them quickly. He stared, shocked, at Boromir’s appearance and cast a questioning glance at Gimli.
When Boromir turned to look at Faramir, the blood on his face reflected in the dim torchlight.
“Brother, you bleed.”
Boromir nodded vaguely, though his head was tilted as though he listened to other sounds. Without hesitation, Faramir took hold of Boromir’s shoulder and pushed him down the hall. The dwarf fell into step behind them, mumbling and muttering to himself in annoyance.
They reached a large bedchamber with tall ceilings and a huge, vacant bed. A solitary attendant, an elderly man with red hair and white beard, dozed in a nearby chair. As Faramir entered and closed the door behind the group, the attendant awoke and scrambled into a standing position.
“My lord?” he croaked, rapidly blinking the sleep from his eyes.
Boromir staggered forward and hit his knee against the bed railing.
“Get bandages and hot water, Rúnyafin,” Faramir ordered. “And then get you gone.”
The attendant bowed and exited hastily, shutting the door loudly as he left. As soon as they were alone, Boromir sank down into the bed, seemingly ignorant of his two companions. With a groan, he straightened and seemed to fall asleep on the spot. Faramir and Gimli glanced at each other.
“What has happened?” Faramir demanded.
“I,” Gimli began, emphasizing each word, “found… your brother… dueling-in-the-street-with-a-common-ruffian!”
“Outside a squalid drinking establishment in the fourth circle, under the arch.”
“The Skulking Squire?”
“I know not the name.”
Noise by the door. The attendant returned carrying a bowl of steaming water and some cloth. He laid them against a low table and then, without a word, bowed and hurried out. There followed several moments of silence, punctuating only by Boromir’s labored, gurgling breaths. Gimli placed his hands on his hips.
“Boromir, do you sleep?” Faramir asked.
“I do not,” came the muffled reply.
With a grunt, Boromir lifted himself off the bed and took some of the cloth. He dipped it in the boiling water, scalding his fingertips, and began dabbing at his nose. Wincing and occasionally missing his target, he looked up at the other two. Faramir and Gimli mirrored each other’s expressions of shock, annoyance, anger.
“Was he seen?” Faramir asked.
“Aye! Seen by half the city and heard by the other half!” Gimli exclaimed. “There was a mob to goad him!”
Faramir groaned. “It will be tomorrow’s gossip, and all of Minas Tirith will know of it by dusk.”
Gimli snorted, a sound which indicated agreement with the Steward’s comment and disgust at the predicament. Boromir had apparently given up with the cloth and collapsed back onto the bed. Faramir held his face in his hands in a gesture of helpless weariness.
“Who was the other man?” Faramir asked in a low voice.
“Delhir, son of Dalhir.”
Faramir’s brow creased. “I know Dalhir. He is a butcher on the fourth circle.”
“Have you nothing to say, brother?”
“Aye, I have nothing to say,” Boromir mumbled from the bed. “You are the Steward, the city’s gossip is your responsibility.”
“Zounds! Think you I have enjoyed today? They spoke of you as a traitor ere you left the Hall! I know not for what reason, but Aragorn defended you, and since all judgement rests on the King, the critics were silenced. But, brother, you have thrown off all honor and title you once carried! Is this how you wish to live your days?”
Boromir suddenly sat up with a scowl. “Mayhap I have lost my honor, but it were you and your King that robbed me of my title!”
“Pfft!” Gimli intervened. “What fool would trust you as Steward?”
Boromir stood, bristling. Despite themselves, both Faramir and Gimli took a step back. Gimli suddenly cursed himself for not confiscating the lunatic’s sword after the duel.
“Brother, you are unfit,” Faramir said, forcing calm into his voice. “You must accept this.”
“I have been labeled unfit by knaves and villains!” Boromir raged, his voice rising.
“Calm yourself! You shall wake the entire Citadel with this ranting!”
“Should have taken his sword…” Gimli muttered.
Boromir turned to the dwarf, “What say you?”
“I said I should have taken your sword ere you lop off both our heads!” Gimli responded angrily.
Boromir barked a laugh and unsheathed his sword abruptly. Faramir gasped and moved forward to stop him, but Gimli had already retrieved his axe and stood in defensive position. Before either could do anything, Boromir tossed his sword aside with a hollow laugh. It clattered loudly against the stone floor.
“Is this really how I am seen? Truly, a madman?” he whispered, almost to himself. “Brother?”
Faramir, who stood as if he was about to restrain Boromir, stepped back with eyes lowered. He did not speak. Gimli growled and sheathed his axe. The air hung thick with tension.
Finally, Boromir moved away and sat heavily in an ornate chair by the window, slouching down with legs wide. His pale eyes dimmed and his expression grew stony. Gimli shuddered. It was in these moments that the dwarf hated Boromir and pitied him as a wretch. Too often at meals or in the halls, he would pass the Man with this very same expression – grim, vacant, dead. He imagined the dark corridors the Man thought of, the snapping torches and whips and chains. He knew little of such horrors, but he well remembered the sparse tales from his father, Glóin, when he spoke of Thrain’s torment and death.
Feeling he could bear the heavy silence no longer, Gimli snorted gruffly and moved to leave. He cast a sidelong glance at Faramir, who was watching Boromir intently. Faramir caught his eye and, shoulders sinking, he too moved towards the door. As they opened it to leave, Boromir’s head suddenly snapped up.
“Ho! Where to?” he asked.
“To bed, that’s where!” Gimli exclaimed.
“What?” Boromir asked, bewildered. “Nay.”
“I wish no more arguments,” Faramir murmured.
“Nay, not to argue,” Boromir stood quickly. “Mayhap – mayhap to talk idly. Come now, it is not so late.”
“It is too late for my head,” Gimli said.
“Brother, surely you will not leave so soon?” Boromir asked, stepping towards Faramir. Faramir looked away, failing once again to meet his brother’s gaze.
“Gimli is right, it is late.”
“Not so, not so!” Boromir said, his manner growing desperate. “Come, may we not speak of Gimli’s adventures over Rohan? Master Dwarf, I know you revel in the telling of those tales.”
“What? Now? How much have you had to drink, Boromir?” Gimli asked. “Soon the birds of dawn will begin singing. If you are so keen on hearing tales, we shall speak during the daytime.”
Boromir clutched Faramir’s arm. “And you? Will you not stay?”
“What chills your heart that you insist on our presence, brother?”
Casting a quick glance to Gimli, Boromir hesitated. “Faramir, do not leave. I hear them.” He lowered his voice. “Whispers in the night. Stay, let us talk a while – I am sorry for today. But stay, speak of elvish tales or what have you, else the whispers consume me.”
“Whispers in the night?” Faramir repeated slowly.
“Bah!” Gimli exclaimed. “The common folk are right, Boromir the Mad, indeed! And I suppose ye want us to hold your hand and sing ye a cradlesong, eh?”
“Peace, Gimli,” Faramir ordered, his voice stern. The dwarf’s cheeks burned. Faramir turned back to his brother, his voice softening. “What whispers, Boromir? Wherefrom?”
There was a moment of silence as Boromir shifted uncomfortably and the other two strained their ears, trying in vain to give credence to his claims. They could hear nothing save the occasional creak in the wood.
“Everywhere,” Boromir spoke, rough and low. “Out of the walls, in the wind.” He dropped his voice to a whisper, trembling. “They speak of Barad-dûr.”
Faramir sighed, his expression fell. He placed a comforting hand on Boromir’s shoulder. “There is naught to fear, brother. Barad-dûr was destroyed, its evil perishéd.”
“Yea, but I hear it still.”
“And only you!” Gimli exclaimed before he could control himself.
“Gimli!” Faramir spun around, eyes flashing angrily. The frustration quickly dissipated and he once again resumed his weary posture. “Go,” he said softly, “leave us.”
Gimli looked first to Faramir, with his sunken eyes and strained expression, and then to Boromir, nose broken and swollen. For a brief moment, the dwarf imagined this to be the pitiful end of the House of Stewards. But he chided himself hastily for drawing such grim conclusions. The dark days have but passed, he thought, even if some are slow to recover. So be it, Aragorn will know what to do.
“Very well,” the dwarf bowed. “Good night, my lords.”
Faramir nodded in silent salute and Boromir lowered his gaze. Then, muttering to himself, Gimli turned and left. As soon as he closed the door behind him, his anger and frustration faded. Perhaps it was the weariness, or perhaps the elf’s influence was beginning to erode his natural stolidity, but he began to feel a new sentiment regarding the lunatic. Pity, but also sympathy. Mayhap even understanding. Aye, did not my father speak of Thrain with respect, even when there was no honor left?
They could hear the dwarf’s chain mail clanging noisily as he disappeared down the hall. Once all was again silent, Faramir turned to look at his brother. They did not speak, and in truth Faramir was weary of the day. He had spent the better part of the evening pacing the halls of the Citadel, ruminating endlessly on the events in the Hall. The announcement of his becoming Steward was not so unsettling as his brother’s reaction. Indeed, as Aragorn had commented, it would be difficult for all to adjust to this changed Boromir. But they could not judge him too brashly, nor condemn him too quickly. They could only hope that the former Man had not faded too much.
Still, Faramir was tired. He had no desire to remain and attempt to comfort the stranger before him. He met Boromir’s gaze, who watched him expectantly.
“Sleep, brother,” Faramir said. “You are strained and your mind clouded with drink. The day was long, and ere I reach my own chambers, the sun will rise. Come, tomorrow we will speak of this.”
Boromir’s expression darkened. “Do you not believe me?”
“Aye, I believe you,” Faramir hesitated. “I believe you hear the echoes of Barad-dûr.”
“Come, then, we can yet drown them out. Tell me of the months in Ithilien. Or Osgiliath. Have you no adventure to relate?”
“Nay, not in the very dead of night. And my time in Ithilien and Osgiliath was not the happiest. I would not speak of it now.”
“Then what of other tales? Surely Legolas has regaled you with new elfish songs and myths from his people?”
Faramir smiled slightly. “Aye, that he did. But it was nothing I did not already know.”
Boromir returned the smile.
“You rival Mithrandir in lore.”
Faramir chuckled, but his laugh faded quickly.
“Good night then, Boromir.”
Boromir’s brow creased and he turned sharply from his brother. Faramir watched as he leaned against the windowsill and his shoulders tensed. Something beckoned him to linger, and he waited for his brother to speak.
“You are ashamed of today, during the King’s announcement,” Boromir muttered, his voice thick.
“Attribute it to the ramblings of a madman, Faramir!” Boromir turned from the window and laughed with over-bright eyes. “But do not abandon him so soon! The darkness closes in too fast for my taste, and I like not the sounds it brings.”
Faramir turned his head. He did not want to see his brother weep.
“They are but illusions, brother…”
He heard Boromir stifle a sob and sink again into the ornate chair. When Faramir braved to look at him, he saw Boromir holding his face in his hands, sitting very still, very quiet, taut. Faramir’s instinct was to leave the room immediately, to abandon this situation and force it out of his mind. But Faramir was ever a sympathetic soul.
Boromir interrupted his feeble consolation, however:
“’Tis such cowardice, I know.”
“Nay,” Faramir looked away. “Ne’er a coward. You have braved the very blackest of places, seen things we shudder to even think of. Ne’er a coward, brother. You have returned from Imladris much changéd, but you have returned, and that alone satisfies me.”
Before pulling his hands away, Boromir wiped his eyes hastily. He nodded. Crooked grin under crooked nose. “Go, then. ‘Tis late, and all my senses are spent. Get you to bed. We shall talk perhaps tomorrow.”
Faramir hesitated. He desired sleep, his bones longed for it, ached for it, and yet he knew his brother enough to sense the forced lightening of mood.
“For sure, that you are well?”
Boromir laughed, muffled by the bloody nose. “Aye, well enough to know that you are too tired to sit with a drunk brother. Nay, I mean that in jest. Go, go, in truth I am well. I did not mean anything about the whispers. It was nonsense.”
Faramir paused again. He watched his brother force another smile.
“Nonsense brought on by mead of poor quality, Faramir. In truth.”
“The Skulking Squire is a tavern of poor quality.”
“I shall avoid it from now on.” Boromir grinned again, pushed himself to his feet. “Go, the Steward of Gondor needs his rest. Get you to sleep.”
Faramir sighed. “Very well. Good night, brother.”
They looked at each other for a moment – just enough time for Faramir to see that Boromir was lying, that perhaps there was something more to be said. But the day had been long, and the night was almost spent. Faramir nodded once, forced his own empty smile, and left the room. He closed the door and walked quickly away.
And did the whispers return, once Boromir was left alone? Did they creep in from the walls, out of all the crevices and irregularities in the stone? Did they rattle with the wind, snap with the torches, creak with the bedsprings as he lowered himself onto it?
Aye, there they are…
Boromir grabbed his sword, laid it unsheathed by his side. He kept the windows open, the door closed, and his eyes scanned the empty room continuously. At every minute sound, his hand jerked towards the sword, raised it. He did not change his clothes, but chose to remain atop the bedcovers, dressed in all disheveled cloak and poorly done doublet. His vision was blurred at the edges and swam back and forth. His hands, his legs, all numb.
And yet he could hear them – yes, there. Skittering along the edges of the wall, so that when he snapped his head around, dizzied, they were already gone. He could hear the dim laughter – high-pitched, confused, tittering. Or the low, dull roar of the Eye, speaking the Black Tongue, whispering in his ear…
Throquûrz, gortag? Pushdug thlûn, akrum-uk, glu-bûb. Nûl-izgu golug, ashûk agh zogtark! Yet ulur-lat izgûr, glu-bûb!
In the silence, when the city slept, Boromir could hear them clearly. He hated it, wished only for noise, for something to drown out the cries of Third One in the other cell. He moved, shifted his position, sat against the headboard, waited. The sound of leather rubbing cloth, of the old bedsprings under strain. For a moment, the soft echo of Barad-dûr disappeared. But as soon as Boromir fell still, and only his heavy, ale-soaked breathing could be heard, the echo returned, louder this time, as if offended that he should try to ignore it.
And who could ignore it? Boromir was sure he could feel an orc growling at his shoulder, even though his back was to the wall. But was it the cell wall? Irregular, black stone, pointed, spiked, burying into him, propping him up whenever he threatened to sink down. He felt again: when they removed the mask, and the foul air was too much, and he could not bear to hear Third One screaming, and so he would drag his face along the cell floor, rip away his beard, cover his head with his hands…
No, no, no.
Boromir forced the memories away, pushed them back into a far corner of his mind. He needed movement. He clambered off the bed, stood, swayed from the drink, steadied himself. Keeping his sword in his hand, he walked diagonally to the cabinet by the window. It was very dark out, still night. Checking over his shoulder, clearing his throat occasionally to break the silence, he fumbled with the cabinet doors, opened them. A few bottles, irregular in shape, short and fat or tall and thin. Which was the strongest?
…And there, coming out of the walls, the distant howls. Third One’s voice, that had been so young, innocent, untainted, now scraped and ruined from screaming. Elvish screams in the dark, and Boromir hears every word, every grinding of the machine the orcs use, every crack of the whip tearing into flesh. He drags his face along the jagged stone floor, digs his nails into his skull, begs for silence.
“Silence! Valar, please! I do not want to hear this! I cannot bear it!”
(The Valar-Gods fidget.)
And again and again, on and on, endless: Third One, screaming. Boromir, face bleeding, weeps, burrows himself into his naked, shaking shoulders. Eventually, there is silence. Blessed silence. And Boromir is hauled off the floor by rough orc hands, dragged away to the room Third One screamed from. And then there are his screams echoing down the Barad-dûr halls. And he is wishing for death instead of silence. He is coming close, very close. They drop him back into his cell. He feels that his face is cracked, he sees his own body, black and red and yellow, unfamiliar. And shaking, always shaking. Yes, he is very close.
Once, only once, but that is enough, the Eye comes. It pries into his mind, forcing it apart, tearing through it, thrashing here, probing there. As this happens, Boromir is as a beast, roaring with pain, base instinct, suffering, delusion. He hears words in his mind, not his own, questions. But he cannot remember what a ring is, he does not understand, he cannot answer. And so the Eye leaves him, the burning-ripping fades, and his mind is left in tatters, to piece itself back together in whatever way it can.
Boromir took the first bottle he saw – dimly recognizing it as strong liquor – uncorked it and drank. It spilled unevenly down his chin and over his hand. But the echoes continued, insisting. Boromir! Help me! Please!
He needed noise. He needed talk. Pippin, maybe. Pippin was always willing to talk, tell stories, laugh. Perhaps he was only person willing to talk with him. Was Pippin awake? Or Legolas, who never slept, it seemed. The elf could tell him of elfish history, songs, anything. Gandalf, even. Gandalf was surely awake. Anyone. Perhaps he should go look for them.
No, no. Don’t be a pitiful fool…
Boromir drank, took a seat in the chair by the window, drank again. He did not notice, as his mind was dulled and the whispers of Barad-dûr finally silenced, that the first light of dawn was glowing softly over the eastern horizon.
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