Of Stewards and Rangers
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Phrygian Flute, The: 3. Sons of the Steward
“…O dear son Edgar,
The food of thy abused father’s wrath!
Might I but live to see thee in my touch,
I’d say I had eyes again!”
Gloster in King Lear
HE WATCHED THE grey dawn creeping over Osgiliath; it lit but did not warm the walls once white, but blackened now by blood, and the soot and stains of many fires. It brought no warmth to the men who slept the deep sleep of the utterly spent, only a cold comfortless mist that masked the eastern shore. A merciful mist, he thought bitterly.
Sleep, Boromir, sleep.
He tossed on his pallet, listening to the hushed voices of those who kept watch over the silent city, and the soft groans of the dying. The bitterness of defeat rose in his throat like bile. He was a defeated commander, he, Boromir the victorious, beloved of Gondor. What could he say to Denethor now? Father, I have lost you the east bank; the strength and blood of our people are spent, their bodies broken upon the black spears of the Enemy? That fair Ithilien was lost to Mordor and that the Enemy stood now on the very threshold of Minas Tirith?
Sleep, Boromir, sleep.
He would never sleep again. How could he, when the blood of so many cried out for vengeance? The sons, husbands and fathers who would never come riding home again? The battle of the night before still held for him something of a nightmarish quality. Perhaps he had only to wake, and find that it was all an ill dream. But it was no dream. He was sodden still with river water and stiff with cold. He remembered the icy embrace of the dark waters, and how he sank, down into the blackness, before he rose again, lungs bursting, to the burning night air. And he remembered too, the helping hands that hauled him into a boat, and later, the desperate search for his brother.
Beside him, a man groaned.
Faramir. His brother lay still in the pale light of the morning, and his eyes were closed. Someone had staunched the wound in his shoulder; and his left hand, bound in bloody linen, and stripped of its gauntlet and vambrace lay lightly on the hilt of his sword. Long, slender hands he had, like a poet’s. It had pained Boromir, even as a child, to watch his young brother take in his quiet, uncomplaining fashion, blow after blow, sword cut after sword cut on those fine hands of his, that were so like their mother’s, till they became as raw and war-hardened as his own. Now, there would be another scar to mar their beauty.
His young brother. Not so young now, for twenty summers of war in the wilds of Ithilien was apt to age a man. The years had touched his temples with frost, and put a deep line between his brows that did not ease even in sleep. There was so much in his face that had not been there in the old days, and so much of the laughter had gone out of it.
There were times when Boromir hated his father. There were even times when he hated himself. He turned over and gently smoothed the fair waving hair from his brother’s brow. The scar was there still, undiminished by time, a deep white seam at the corner of his right eye. It was the only time that Denethor had ever laid a hand on either of his sons.
Suddenly, the eyes opened, and long fingers seized his sword. A fleeting fury twisting, serpent-like, in the beloved face. With the swift practiced ease of a warrior, Boromir’s hand closed over his brother’s wrist. Gently, he said, “It is only me, little brother. There is no one to hurt you now.”
Slowly, the thing passed, and Faramir was Faramir once more. For an instant, pain crossed his face. Boromir quickly loosed his grip. “I am sorry.”
A ghost of a smile, “Fooled you.”
“You fool nobody,” Boromir said wryly. “A winding sheet has more colour in it than you. Here, have some bread and ale, if you can sit up.”
“I think not. I seem to have swallowed half the river. It is apt to make a man full.” Slowly, and with difficulty, Faramir rose, and propped himself against the wall. For a long moment, he bent his face into his hands and did not speak.
“Brother, what is it?” Boromir’s low, anxious voice came to him as though from a distance. The burning of his wounds stole breath away, and a strange sound, much like a child’s choking cry rose in his ears, and in the darkness, star-burst of coloured lights. Then, the moment passed.
His hands came away, and shaking his head, Faramir said, “Nothing. How came I to this place?”
“Well, the bridge went, and you went down with it. We found you in one of the sapper’s boats, drifting out to sea, and it was low in the water, laden with the dead. As to how you got there, no man knows. Clinging to your sword still, you were too.”
A shadow of a smile. “I am as you know, tenacious of life. Who was it that brought me off?”
“I daresay,” smiled Boromir, “that a number of us had a hand in it. Damrod and Mablung, Anborn, myself and a few others. You are not as light as you look, and it was no easy thing, hunting for a ranger in the night, when he is not minded to be found.”
“And what news of - of my men?”
“They do well enough. Something over two-thirds strength, licking their wounds, like we all are.” Then, a shadow passed over his face. “Mardil is dead.”
“So. May he be at peace. He was a good man,” said Faramir, with a heavy sigh, and closed his eyes. And when he opened them again, he found Boromir’s anxious gaze searching his own.
“Something troubles you. I see it in your face.”
“Death… and a dream, nothing more.”
“An ill dream?”
“No, not ill at all, only that it was a strange one. It has come to me before.”
A pause. Neither of them spoke of the defeat of the night before, for each understood its meaning.
“Ah. Let us speak no more of it then. Such dreams are better forgotten. And the wounds? Come, you’d best let me see them.”
“A scratch, a scratch,” said Faramir, laughing, and waving his good hand. But there was a whiteness about his eyes, and his laughter rang hollow.
“Indeed,” said Boromir dryly, “A scratch. I’ll wager you this horn of mine against anything you like that it will be a while and a while before you put that hand to a blade again. Or that shoulder of yours to any use at all.”
Laughter again, but this time, low and warm, with none of the hollowness in it. “Your horn? Whatever will father say? Nay then, not your horn, but I’ll take up your wager nonetheless. A new cloak for me, against…” Faramir paused for a moment, frowning, before the slow smile came back into his face, “A barrel of Lossarnach mead I have in Henneth Annun. Is that a fair bet?”
“Aye,” said Boromir smiling in spite of himself, “Though I think that you will lose your mead and your new cloak, little brother. You had best learn to fight with your right hand, as other men do.”
“Well, we shall see. Meanwhile, let’s strike hands on this bargain.” And so the brothers struck hands. For a moment, they forgot the pall of death and defeat that lay over them; and their laughter lingered still in the air, when a shadow fell in the ruined doorway, and a man in the livery of the White Tower bowed low and made his obeisance.
“I have a message for Captain Boromir, from my Lord Steward of Gondor.”
Boromir did not have to look, to know that beside him, his young brother had stiffened. In the long summer days of their boyhood, they had shared joy and sorrow, and every feeling that came between; and there were times that he felt that Faramir was so much a part of himself, that every agony, every fear that assailed his brother became his own. And so it was still. For a moment, he caught his breath, and slowly, very slowly let it out again.
“So. Speak then; what does my Lord say?”
The errand rider looked from one brother to the other. Both grim, both weary, but one much the worse for wear. “My Lord bids you make haste and ride now to the White City. He wishes to have word of last night’s battle.”
“But the despatches have gone.”
“Aye, sir. But those are my orders. I know no more.”
The man saw a look pass between the brothers. Then, Boromir said, “Very well then, I will do as my father bids me.” He turned to Faramir. “I leave Osgiliath in your keeping until I return.” And when Faramir made to rise, he put out his hand and whispered fiercely, “No! Your place is here. Stay, and let me tell him all that is needful.”
Then the man said uncomfortably into the silence, “My Lord says that you are to take Captain Faramir with you.”
“He is wounded, man! Can you not see that?” Boromir cried. He was on his feet now, heaving with rage, so furious that he felt as though his heart would burst. The man gave back a step, surprised, then courage returned.
“My Lord says,” and for a moment, his eyes strayed in pity to the young captain, propped against the cold stone wall; he was still, and pale as death. Then, he took a deep breath, and said quietly what he had been charged to say. “My Lord says that if Captain Faramir does not come of his own will, he must be taken by force.”
Boromir started, and he would have spoken, but what words he would have said they never knew, for a quiet voice came from the corner by the wall. A weary voice, but calm and firm as ever.
“I will come, since my Lord commands it.”
* * *
LIT BY THE westering sun, the White Tower glowed like a spire of rose and gold. And the men of the Tower Guard kept still their ceaseless vigil, their keen eyes looking far to the East, the grey ruins of Osgiliath, and the glittering Anduin to the wine-dark shadows of Ithilien beyond. There was little enough to tell of the carnage and death of the day before; the river did not run red, as they did in battle-songs of old, nor did the smoke and smell of burning mar the fiery sky. Only, if a man looked hard enough, he would see the dark circling wings of ravens, tiny as black moths that circled a candle flame, and hear their faint carrion-cries in the still air.
In the hall of kings, the sons of Denethor knelt before their father. Covered with grey dust from their long riding, they rose at his command, and stood waiting. For here, in the great hall, they were his captains, and it was not for them to speak until the Lord Steward bid them. For a long while, Denethor said nothing. Dark eyes surveyed them, and took in the open, restless gaze, the battered armour of the elder son, and the silent impatient shifting of his fingers on the hilt of his sword; the preternatural stillness of the younger and the wariness in his exhausted face.
Once, Mithrandir had said that he played his sons as a man would play a lute. He remembered the occasion with some bitterness, and the hard words and harder parting that came after. For no man’s counsel could sway the Lord of Gondor, nor any wizard dictate the manner in which the he chose to govern his sons. After all, were his children not his own, to rule as he pleased? And were they not bound to obey, and do as he, their Lord and father bade them? His hands - a warrior’s hands still - tightened on the white rod of the Stewards.
His black gaze came to rest on his younger son.
“Where are your men now?”
Silence. Then the brothers’ eyes met, and quickly parted. But in that brief moment, Denethor had read in them surprise, a deep uneasiness, guilt.
“Answer me, Captain Faramir. Turn not to your brother!”
Flushing, Boromir stepped forward, his spurs ringing on the grey stone floor. Always Boromir. A flame of anger kindled in his heart.
“Father, as I am Captain General, do you let me speak for us both -”
“Be silent, Boromir till I bid you speak! I would hear from your brother. Answer me, Captain Faramir, and swiftly.”
Laying a hand on his brother’s arm, Faramir shook his head. He had the look of a man riding into battle, a sharpness about the eyes, a quiet watchfulness. And under it all, something else. And Boromir, who understood his brother more than any other, drew a deep breath and said no more.
His voice was clear and low. “They are in Osgiliath, father; where should they be?”
“So you have abandoned Ithilien to the Enemy? Tell me, who guards our borders now, save the carrion birds?”
For a moment, Faramir made no answer. The sun, shining through the high casements touched his hair with gold, and lent health to the pallor of his cheeks. But three days ago he had been in Ithilien, where the very same sun had warmed and comforted him. Now his limbs were cold, and he was tired, so very tired. What answer could he make, save the truth?
“I withdrew them all to Osgiliath, to strengthen it against the Enemy. They have fought a hard battle my Lord, and suffered great loss. The men must rest a while before such of them as are fit may ride out again.”
“So. A kind and generous captain indeed, who bids his men rest and sleep while our borders are unwatched and unguarded. Nay, but there is more.” Denethor’s voice was quiet, as quiet as the day before the breaking of a great storm.
“Your men are our eyes and ears on the frontier. How was it that the Enemy’s forces came so far, unmarked and unmolested into the heart of Ithilien?”
Slowly, Denethor rose to his feet, and their eyes met, the blue and the grey - and held. Faramir said nothing. Only his hands tightened, and every line of his weary frame grew taut. So it had always been.
“I did not send you to Henneth Annun to creep about like a worm, and cower in caves while orcs roam freely through our lands. It seems to me, Captain Faramir, that you have much to account for.”
Then the storm broke, and the white rod of the Stewards crashed at his feet. “Answer me!”
Boromir, thrusting between the Steward and his other son, cried, “Father, the fault is not his!”
“Is it not?” Fury shook his voice. “Then tell me, Boromir, why was it that word of the Enemy’s coming came so late to Osgiliath?”
They stood close now, father and son. So close, that Boromir saw at last the black rage in his father’s eyes; a bitter wrath so implacable and terrifying that for a moment he could say nothing. In the stunned silence they heard a sharp, in-drawn breath behind them. Then, Boromir turned away.
“I know not.”
It was colder now, despite the sun, and his wound had bled again. He felt the warm wetness of it; but it would not show, not through his leather harness, and the dark battered cloak wrapped close over his shoulders. Somehow, he made his way to Boromir’s side, and met with compassion, the shame and anger in his brother’s downcast eyes.
Turning to his father, he said steadily enough, through the rising sickness in his throat, “I have no better answer than what my brother has given, save that perhaps they came by secret ways unknown to us, or by the dark arts of the Enemy, for our scouts never returned.”
“Do you admit then, that the blame for this defeat lies with you?”
And the Steward swept down from his high seat. He was a tall man, taller even than his sons, and now, looking down at Faramir, with the light of the golden afternoon shining upon him, he seemed like a great king of Numenor when her power was at its noon-tide. There were few who could bear the gaze of Denethor without turning away, for his eyes were stern and so keen that it seemed to all that he could read the dark secrets in the hearts of men.
Yet Faramir had never looked away; never as a child, and not now. For a long while, the battle raged mutely between them, as it had often done before and Boromir listened in anxious silence, knowing that there was no place for him in this thing between his father and brother. He had never ceased to wonder from what depths of his brother’s gentle spirit sprang this manic courage. It was never Faramir’s words that drove his father to fury, but the quiet resistance in his hand and eye, as immovable as the mountains. But so was the will of Denethor, and it was not often thwarted.
Then, with a deep breath, Faramir said evenly, “No. It was a thing beyond my power, and that of my men. Nevertheless, I will take the fault upon myself if my Lord wishes it and I will bear whatever punishment there is alone. Let your doom fall on no other.”
For a moment, it seemed that Denethor would strike him. His stern face trembled, and his hand with its great signet ring clenched and shook. “You are proud, Captain Faramir. Always you clothe yourself in a mantle of nobility and wisdom, yet your pride denies the error of your ways!”
Faramir said nothing.
“Is that what the wizard Mithrandir has taught you? If so, I rue the day he ever set foot within the seven circles of this city! Long has he had your heart in his keeping, and I see now that he even turns you against your kin!”
“He has taught me many things, my lord, but of wisdom and nobility, I had hoped rather that I would learn them from lore and the high deeds of the Elder Days, and from others who now pit their strength against the Enemy, puny though that may be against the might of Mordor.” For a moment he paused, then, there was a great bitterness in his voice, “Let you know, my Lord, that Mithrandir is a friend to me, and a friend to Gondor and never once has he spoken an ill word against you, or any of my kin.”
“Indeed,” said Denethor. “But this is no time for noble deeds, Captain Faramir. We have fallen from our ancient strength, and the glory of this realm was spent long ago. So we must fight with what weapons that are given to us. Do not think that I am unaware of what you do in Ithilien, and how you deal with the servants of the Enemy. Gentleness avails no one now in these evil days!”
“Gondor is weak. Another defeat, and we may fall. What then? Will you let the light of this city be quenched forever, and the remnant of our people hide in holes like the mean creatures that crawl the earth? Will you let the tongue of our people become no more than the speech of slaves, our pride and lore trampled and forgotten? Remember that, Captain, before you spend needlessly the lives of your men!”
His composure broke at last, and before he could stop himself, Faramir said hotly, “Do you think that the lives of my men are any less dear to me than they are to you? They were my men. I loved them, my lord, for they were father and brother to me. I would have given -” Then Faramir saw Denethor’s eyes, and the words died in his throat.
Eyes like black ice.
Whatever strength he had gathered to himself suddenly left him, and for one dreadful moment, the ground bucked beneath his feet and the high seat of Denethor swam before his eyes. Desperately, he turned to Boromir, as he had so often done as a child, and a look like a touch passed between them.
“Well, Captain what would you have given?”
Slowly, he met Denethor’s gaze, and felt the wound in his shoulder bleed again.
Behind him, Boromir exclaimed and started forward.
“Hush, my son, let him finish.” And Boromir, turning from his father, stern and grey as the stone kings of old, to his brother, straight and slender as a spear, fell silent.
“I see that I have displeased you my Lord.” His blade came from its scabbard cold and lifeless in his unaccustomed right hand, and he dropped heavily on one knee. The bright tip of his sword grated on the stone floor. “There is nothing I can offer you in return for the blood of the fallen, save my oath of vengeance. Or if you wish it, I will go out tonight and fall on my sword. Thus blood will be repaid with blood.”
For a long moment, Denethor said nothing, watching the bowed head of his younger son, and the slender, scarred fingers clenched whitely on the worn hilt of his blade. The hands he had from his mother, the bright eyes and the fair, waving hair too. Odd, how both his sons had taken so much from her, and yet seemed so different. Coldly, he thrust the thought from his mind.
“Father, you cannot let him do this!” Flushed with fury, Boromir came between them. “The fault was mine too, for the east bank was my command. It was I who gave the order to cast down the bridge. If you must lay the blame on either of us, then let it be on me!”
Denethor closed his eyes and began to laugh, softly and mirthlessly. “Stand aside, Boromir. This is not your fight. Your brother is a man grown, and his battles are his own. I have read the despatches and I know very well where the fault lies. Oh, I know it well indeed. Seldom have I seen such a stunning display of incompetence on his part.” He paused, “But no blame attaches to you, Boromir.”
“No blame?” he blazed.
When Denethor opened his eyes again, they came to rest on the stricken, upturned face of his younger son. “No blame at all,” he said, pretending to misunderstand. Then, he rose and circled his sons like a bird of prey, the one standing proudly with wide planted feet, the other swaying a little on his knees. Robes of sable fur swept the ground silently, for Denethor was light footed. He had been a warrior once, long ago, and would be again, if the need arose.
“A noble offer indeed Captain Faramir. But we stand now at the twilight of Numenor, and the time for such heroics is long past. They died with King Earnur of old, when he rode out to Minas Morgul, never to return,” he said dryly. “Sheath your sword. I command you to live. Live, and remember always the faces of your dead, for that will be your punishment. ”
“Get up and leave us now. I wish to speak with your brother alone.”
The words reached him through a gathering mist, and the broken snatches of it echoed in his heart. “…your dead … punishment… live and remember… leave us…” The mist was thicker now, and he could only hear the blood roaring in his ears, and the hall growing black before his eyes. “Your dead… leave us… remember…no blame…” He never knew how, but he got to his feet, like an old, old man, and dimly, he saw Boromir reach for him, through the dark. He fended off the helping hands; and somehow, his sword hissed back into its scabbard with a jerk.
He made his obeisance, and turned. Denethor’s eyes burned out of the growing dark. “… his battles are his own…” The words pealed like a bell and reached him through the beating storm in his ears. He would not fall, not now, not before his father. Not before Boromir.
He was halfway down the hall, when the blood rose suddenly in his throat, and burst through its linen bindings.
Father and son watched him. He seemed steady enough on his feet, and slowly, Boromir’s outstretched arms dropped to his side. They saw how he checked, swaying for a moment, before he fell to his knees, then slid silently to the ground.
With a cry, Boromir left his father’s side, and his spurs rang like the clashing of swords in the great hall. Faramir lay very still in his arms, and his lashes were dark against the whiteness of his face. Slowly, Boromir drew away the cloak, the hand that still clutched the wounded shoulder, and the cramped fingers came away crimson. There was blood, blood everywhere now, on his own hands, in the dampness of Faramir’s dark tunic, and great smudges of it on the stones. Wordlessly, he held his brother close, and for a moment, he could have howled his grief like a dog.
“What is it?” And he found Denethor looking down on them both, his face inscrutable.
Boromir took a deep uneven breath. “He was hurt during our retreat; we held the bridge together, and he was cut down as we thrust the Enemy back to gain a breath more of time for the men hewing down the bridge behind us. Then the bridge went, and much later, I found him in one of the sapper’s boats, half-drowned, with that sword thrust in his shoulder, and a great gash in his sword arm.”
“You did not tell me he was wounded.” Denethor stooped and with unaccustomed gentleness, laid a hand on the pale brow of his other son. Briefly, a shadow crossed his face. “He burns. It is a deep thrust, though I think, not a fatal one. He will live, but you had best send for a healer now.”
Then, Boromir looked up, and there was grief and anger in his face. “I told you, father,” he said softly. “Did I not send word this morning? Yet you turned my man away. You would not listen. You never listen.” Suddenly, he felt unutterably weary. “There are other hurts on him too, that are not the making of the Enemy.”
Denethor gazed at his son in silence, till at last Boromir looked away. “This I will say once, and let you listen, for I will not say it again. Every man bears the scars of hidden wounds, Boromir, but it is not given to all to endure them with cheerfully and with courage. That your brother must learn, or he is no child of mine.”
“The eyes of the White Tower are not yet blind. I see a great many things, Boromir. I have seen your brother’s heart; I know his uses, and they are few. He is weak, and you are strong. Gondor needs you; I need you! I know what you are, Boromir - you are my own true son. Do not let your brother’s foolishness come between us.”
For a long while, Boromir stared at his bloody hands, quite unable to speak. Then, when he found his voice, Denethor had gone, as soundlessly as he had come, and the brothers were alone at last in the great hall.
* * *
THE NIGHT WAS dark, but in the Houses of Healing, a light burned yet in a quiet room that overlooked the garden. It smelled of herbs and summer flowers, but under it all, was the sharper scent of blood. There was no one now in that room, save for the man who lay in the narrow cot under the window.
His brother had laid out his sword and gear on a kist, and close to the bed, was a low stool and a small table bearing a lamp, linen and little jars of strong aromatic herbs.
Sleep had never come easily to him, and even now, he walked in the realms of dream. He was a light sleeper, used to waking at a touch, or a whispered word in his ear, but now drugged and fevered, he had sunk deep below the waking world. So, he never knew when his visitor came, for the robes of sable fur made no sound as they swept the ground, nor did the swift silent feet.
He drew up the low stool. It was far from comfortable, but then, he was not a man who set much store on bodily comforts. He found that it was not an easy face to read, even in sleep. The fair hair was damp, and the face flushed with fever, yet the likeness was there, even after all the years between; even after the winds and rains and suns of twenty years had scoured away the boy to reveal the man. There was something in the set of his head, and the eyes, when they were open held the kindness and pity that always reminded him of her. Faramir, her own true son. Yet was there not something of himself also, in the closed, subtle lips, the guardian of so many secrets?
Kindness, pity. Weakness.
There, on his slender hands were the marks of war; and there, the worry line between his brows, and the shadow of a deep, abiding sorrow.
“There are other hurts on him too, that are not the making of the Enemy.”
And so there were. He did not have to search long to find it. A deep scar, white against the flushed skin, just below the right eye. It was he who had made it, and he remembered it well, for he had never raised his hand at either of his sons till that day. And thereafter, never again, for her sake.
And how many other hurts had he taken, not to the body, but to the soul?
For many years now, he had longed to break this wayward child to his will. Skilfully, he had wielded words like a sword against this headstrong younger son, and each time, he had drawn blood. He remembered the flinch in hand and eye and the sudden, subtle pallor in those cheeks. Long ago, he had understood the power of words. He had understood also, and exploited without mercy the defencelessness, the guilt and punishment that Faramir had taken upon himself. Where the body healed, the soul did not.
He knew too the power of his rage. Today, like a storm tearing through trees, it had stripped away conscience, pride, and at the last, dignity. It was perhaps, too much for any man to endure without breaking.
Yet he had not broken.
Only, he had been hurt, and far more deeply than any of them had expected.
So, here he lay, this indomitable, vulnerable son of his, in his unquiet sleep. He spoke now, murmuring in a voice unlike his own, so harsh and broken with grief that it shocked his father. The words stole softly into the half-dark; words from nightmare and memory, half-remembered songs and poems, each one inflected with a sorrow and longing so profound that tears sprang unbidden to Denethor’s eyes. Even alone and in the half-dark, he did not give way to feeling. They trembled on his dark lashes like dew on the edge of a leaf, yet they did not fall.
It was too late now. Too late. The words rang in his heart, and its every echo was as the pealing of funeral bells. Long ago, he had lost this son to the green shadows of Ithilien. And between father and son flowed the waters of a river as great as the Anduin, and there was no bridge now for either to make the crossing.
There lay his sword. The Steward did not need to draw it to know that it was fell and beautiful, for he was its giver. It was a ranger’s blade, long, light and bright-burnished; and its notched cross-piece and the battered scabbard were embellished with the swan of Dol Amroth graven in leather and gold. She would have wished it so.
Had twenty summers passed since he swore faith, tears and blood running down his cheeks, and his eyes so like her own?
“Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the Lord and Steward of the realm, to speak and be silent, to do and let be, to come and to go, in need or in plenty, in peace or in war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I Faramir, son of Denethor Lord Steward of Gondor.”
And he had answered:
“And this do I hear, Denethor son of Ecthelion, Lord of Gondor, Steward of the High King, and I will not forget it, nor fail to reward that which is given: fealty with love, valour with honour, oath breaking with vengeance.
Hear now the will of the Lord of Gondor. You shall ride to Ithilien on the morrow‘s morrow, and there you will stay, till I bid you return.”
It was three summers before he saw his son again. He had gone, a lonely child banished by his father’s will, and the boy had never returned. A man had come in his place, made in her image.
What am I to you then, save the Lord and Steward of this realm? Am I not your father too? And he remembered what Faramir had said, and the taste of it was like gall on his tongue.
“I loved them, my lord, for they were father and brother to me.”
And his heart hardened within him. Slowly, he rose, looking in silence upon his son, and in that moment, pain and memory came flooding back. Another face, another time, and another place. It was as though she lay there still, her rose-gold hair dulled with illness, her fairness faded, and her life leaving her little by little.
Sharply, he drew breath, and his trembling hand reached for her. Finduilas.
Then he saw it was not her, but another, and his fingers curled into a fist, and dropped to his side.
He shut the door, and outside, the cool night greeted him. He did not know how long he stood in there the garden; but when he looked up, the moon had set and the dark vault of sky above with its myriad stars brought no comfort.
In the window, a candle burned still.
Why had he lived when she had died?
* * *
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