Steward's Sons, The
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In His Brother's Shadow: 5. Advice and Oathtaking
“Here, Boromir,” he offered the dish to his brother in turn. “This should satisfy you more than your apple did.”
Boromir scowled ferociously at Faramir, taking the platter and serving himself a substantial portion, then let his face relax into a grin.
“Don’t mock me, brother!” he said. “I may not be growing the way you are, but I still feel it when I miss a meal. If I had not known that dinner would be ready for me at this hour, I imagine that I would have cadged a slab of horse-bread, or even a handful of oats, in the stables.”
“That’s something to think about, actually,” he added. “An army travels on its stomach; if your men aren’t getting regular and adequate meals, they’ll not fight well. So supplying them properly is very important! Not that you’ll be responsible for such matters any time soon, but tuck it away for later.”
“I suppose the same holds true for the country as a whole,” said Faramir, serving himself a large helping of cabbage and passing Boromir the bowl. “Not just in times of major famine, but anytime there is a dearth of some necessity. I wonder if it would be wise to encourage the lords of the different towns and regions to establish stockpiles of, oh, grain for instance, against such lacks.”
“Some of them do already,” mumbled Boromir through a mouthful of beans. He swallowed and continued, “I know uncle Imrahil does, for instance.”
“Actually,” Mithrandir interjected, “as early as Meneldil’s reign some did. And after the plague of the seventeenth century, King Tarondor required all those who governed territories in which at least fifty thousand people dwelt to create similar granaries. That was one of the laws I ran across today – I read a few things from relatively more recent times by way of comparison to the early records we were working on most of the day,” he said to Faramir.
“I should have known that such an idea would already have been thought of and put into action,” Faramir said.
“Well, but I doubt that the first to do it was only fourteen,” Boromir pointed out. “You can’t expect that every good idea you have will be unique, after all.”
“I suppose not,” Faramir admitted. Wishing to turn the subject, he added, “Did you make all your arrangements today, then, Boromir? Since you gave up the noon meal in their pursuit?”
“That I did,” Boromir replied. “Eradan and Hallas were both very helpful, and the supplies should reach my company within a fortnight. So we won’t have to worry about boiling our shoes for soup,” and he nudged Faramir, who had just taken a large spoonful of the same.
Faramir spluttered. “All right, all right. I’ll give up with the food comments if you will,” he complained.
Boromir raised his right hand. “Truce then,” and the two clasped hands in a ritual they had had from childhood, to end a disagreement.
“And how about you?” Boromir asked in return. “What did you accomplish today?”
“Master Mithrandir and I,” Faramir inclined his head toward the wizard, “looked for old records of Gondor’s dealings with the Elves, mostly. And then I had arms practice, of course. Do you know Baranor, in the Third Company of the Citadel? I was practicing with his son Beregond today. He’s really quite good. I thought I’d show him that move you were teaching me yesterday.”
“Just don’t forget what I told you about your own practice,” Boromir reminded him. “If you rehearse each movement and position until you are positively weary of it and it is sunk into your very bones and muscles, I think you’ll find sword practice much easier.”
“Well, if you really think that will help, I suppose I’ll try it, although it sounds extremely tedious,” Faramir agreed.
“I do think it will. It is like, like, tying your shoes. When you were first learning you had to stop and think about it each time, did you not, which lace went where and all that. But now you can tie them automatically, even while thinking or talking of something completely different, right? Same principle here, then,” said Boromir.
As the brothers talked, Mithrandir had watched them quietly. He himself and Denethor, though observing all the proper courtesies, had never seen eye to eye, and the wizard hoped that would not be the case with Boromir. The way that the Steward’s heir interacted with his younger brother suggested that Boromir would at least be willing to hear advice from others, whether or not he later chose to follow it.
Now the private conversation between the brothers was interrupted as the two captains sitting beyond Boromir called on him to settle a point regarding the clustered islands on which Osgiliath had been partly built. Faramir, who had not yet visited the ruined city and could not partake in the soldierly talk, turned to Mithrandir instead.
“What think you then of your studies so far?” he asked. “Will Gondor’s records serve your purpose? Will it indeed take you a month to sift through them?”
Mithrandir nodded, saying, “In many ways there is more there than I had dared hope. It could take me rather more than a month, in fact, but I do not think I will stay much longer than that this time. I have other responsibilities to see to. But I imagine I may well return within the next year or three, to add to my knowledge further.”
Faramir grinned. “Should I still be in Minas Tirith then, I would gladly assist you again, if my father is willing.”
“I rather thought you might,” Mithrandir smiled in return. Then his expression became serious. “But do not be too eager for that; it seems to me that in Gondor now, prowess at arms rather than learning is most greatly valued. To have the respect of both lords and people, it would be wise of you to direct your efforts in the directions they prefer, at least openly.”
“Now, do not call that hypocrisy,” he continued, as Faramir began to object. “I do not tell you to cease your studies, far from it. I merely advise prudence. You and I both know that it is unnecessary to be skilled with a sword in order to direct the course of a battle, but not all would agree. So if you wish your words to be heeded, it is good to have abilities that will gain the respect of those you wish to listen to you. It will bring you an advantage not to be despised.”
Faramir shut his mouth and nodded slowly. Privately he thought, Certain lords, and others, are foolish if that is how they view the world, but if this is the only way I can gain their respect and attention, then I will do it. If they are unwilling to listen to me, how can I carry out my responsibilities as a member of the Steward’s family, as son and brother?
He sighed and spoke aloud. “I am sure that is excellent advice, and I will try not to give it the fate that most good advice has!”
“What, to be ignored?” Mithrandir laughed. “Do not worry, I am used to that result!”
“Really?” said Faramir in some astonishment. “I would have thought that anyone would listen to a wizard.”
“Some do,” Mithrandir returned, “but if they listen simply because of what I am, and follow what I say for that reason, they are not thinking for themselves – which is what I prefer. It is a difficult balance to maintain, for of course I have my own opinions of the correct conclusions they should draw from their thinking.”
Engrossed in their talk, the boy and the wizard did not realize that dinner had drawn to an end around them until Boromir nudged Faramir’s shoulder.
“I hate to disturb such a serious conversation,” he said, “but I think that they need to clear off this table now.”
Faramir stood up to see the hall was rapidly emptying. Denethor had paused in the north doorway, surrounded by a knot of men talking intently.
“The Lord Steward is going to be busy the rest of this evening,” Boromir added, placing his hand on Faramir’s back and gently propelling him away from the table. “He asked me to tell you, Master Mithrandir, that later on he would appreciate your presence in council, if you would be so kind. They are meeting in the White Tower as usual and he hoped you could join them in an hour or so; before then they will only be discussing matters in which you would have little interest, he thought.”
“Certainly I will attend Denethor’s council, since he desires it, but I confess myself surprised to be invited in such a way,” Mithrandir said.
Boromir shrugged. “As to that, you will have to ask him. I have been excused this evening; all I can tell of the current situation has already been said. But can I, in his stead, offer you a cup of wine or spiced mead to settle your stomach?”
The three began to climb the stairs towards the Steward’s family chambers.
“A cup of wine would not come amiss,” said Mithrandir. “I hope you will join me in it.”
To that Boromir assented. Faramir, as he preferred, took a well-watered glass. They sat as they had done on the previous evening, but talked only idly of this and that – the weather, the last harvest, the state of the roads.
After a time Mithrandir put his cup aside and stood.
“I suppose I had better go to see what Denethor wishes me to contribute to his council,” he said. “In case I do not see you before you leave tomorrow, Boromir, may I say that I am very pleased to have become acquainted with you, and please accept my best wishes for the success of your present command.”
“Thank you, sir,” Boromir rose and bowed.
Mithrandir bowed in return. “And Faramir, if we do not happen to meet to break fast in the morning, I will see you in the muniments room at your usual hour. Rest you both well tonight,” and he passed from the room.
The brothers resettled themselves in their chairs.
“I am glad that I need not attend the council meeting tonight,” remarked Boromir. “Cooped up in the White Tower, with dry and dusty conversation – even when they talk of military matters they make them dully practical! Give me a nice, straightforward fight against the filthy Orcs, and then a chance to talk strategy afterwards with the other captains, over a few tankards of ale or some good wine.”
“Although that sounds quite practical in its own way, too. Do you never speak of other matters besides the course of the war?”
Boromir frowned. “What, do you mean talking of our families, or of women, that sort of thing? Yes, of course, sometimes we speak of such things.”
“That is not exactly what I meant. I was talking with Master Mithrandir yesterday, about good and evil, and why men choose to turn to evil in their lives. Since you fight against wicked Men as well as the Orcs, I wondered if you spoke about them, perhaps thought about how they might be turned from their path and brought to be allies rather than foes,” said Faramir. “Or why they chose to follow the Dark Lord in the first place. Master Mithrandir thinks that there are many reasons why, but power seems to be the chief among them – the love of power, even if a person begins with good intentions, will ultimately be his downfall.”
“We are not likely to turn to such deep philosophical matters in the camps, that is certain! There are plenty of immediate matters to take our attention. I do not know why some men turn to evil; I have never given it much thought,” conceded Boromir. “I suppose I have assumed that it was merely in their natures. Had Master Mithrandir a purpose for such discussion?”
“A question I asked started the subject. But oh, one thing of which he told me you should surely know,” Faramir gave a shiver. “You have heard of the Nazgûl?”
“The Nazgûl? I do not recollect that name.”
“You may have heard tell of them as the Ringwraiths. Mithrandir spoke of them as an example of the corruption of the Enemy. They were Men greedy for power who fell under his control many centuries ago, and exist yet. Though they have not been definitely seen outside Mordor for hundreds of years, Mithrandir hinted that they might have returned to Mirkwood, near the northern border of Rohan,” said Faramir.
“No, that tale is not familiar to me. But if they are allies or thralls of the Unnamed, my men and I will certainly be wary of them, should we see them,” Boromir said.
He rose and began to pace around the room, his heels tapping sharply as he moved from carpet to stone floor. Faramir watched him toss his head as if trying to dislodge something unpleasant from his thoughts, and eventually asked if it was the idea of the Dark Lord’s growing power that distressed him so.
“No, it is not that. You seem to be getting on well with Master Mithrandir – how have you and Father gotten along, these past months?”
Faramir hesitated, not wishing to speak ill of his father and lord, and Boromir urged him, “Come now, brother, you may speak freely to me. Well do I know that you and he have often been like oil and water – is this still true?”
“It is,” Faramir confessed. “When you said that he had commented on my doings to you, I was astounded, as for the most part we merely speak civilly when we must, and I try to stay out of his way. When we do converse at greater length, he is wont to point out my faults and compare my abilities to yours, always to your advantage. Which is natural since you have five more years of experience than I! But the comparison is unjust, and once when I ventured to say so, he struck me across the face and said that I should be glad to get no worse for my impudence.” On the last words Faramir’s voice faltered and he turned his head, unwilling to let his brother see the tears in his eyes before he brushed them angrily away.
Boromir shook his head. “I had not known that matters stood thus between you.”
“What could you have done had you been aware, when your own responsibilities take you far from the city?” Faramir exclaimed. “He has always favored you, it seems you can do no wrong in his eyes – or at least if you do, his anger towards you burns cold, and never hot. Having had both directed at me, I assure you I prefer the former.”
“True, I have rarely felt the full impact of his anger,” said Boromir, “although remind me some other time to tell you how he acted the second time I swore in front of him. But I cannot see why he should act so towards you. Your behavior is neither disrespectful nor disobedient, less so than mine at your age, I should judge. And your talents are more like to his than are mine – I would expect that he would value them, not dismiss them.”
“Yes,” agreed Faramir with some bitterness. “He often quotes the saying ‘You cannot knit wool from a hen,’ as evidence of why a wise ruler uses the abilities of his people to best advantage, rather than trying to make them become what they are not. Except that this piece of wisdom apparently does not apply in the case of his own son. I think at times he does not even like me, and tolerates my presence only because he hopes I can be trained in soldiery sufficiently to be useful in service to his rule and someday yours.”
“That could be. I wish we could divine the reason for his antipathy, though, so that perhaps we could think of a way to overcome it. For it is clear to me that he does not entirely trust you, or your judgment. Perhaps because you are still young, but I do not think that is the only reason. Let me tell you what happened this morning, if I may?” Boromir asked.
“Well, I went to speak to Father as he had asked me, after breakfast. He had a few things to tell me regarding which purveyors he wished me to use for resupply, and so on. At the end of the interview he commented that I looked less like a bandit’s whelp that day than the previous, and asked if I had given any thought to his point about marriage. I made the suggestion about the King of Rohan’s niece that you had thought of. That surprised him, all right, and after a moment he wanted to know if it was my own idea. I told him no, it was yours, but I thought it a good one, since I had no immediate wish to marry and a renewed alliance with Rohan might serve Gondor well.”
Boromir took a breath and continued.
“Then Father frowned, and said that it was not a poor scheme, but that it would be better had I thought of it for myself. And he said something I did not understand, about you being too witting to serve your purpose. Then abruptly he seemed to change the subject, and asked if I purposed to follow your advice often. It seems he overheard you say something to lord Mithrandir yesterday about acting as my chief counselor, when the time came. He said naught to you at the time, but now he warned me that I should be careful of the choices I made lest they not turn to my advantage. He spoke obscurely, but I understood his intent. For reasons of his own, he wishes to divide us. The only explanation I can think of is that by this means he expects each of us to be more loyal to him – but that makes
little sense, either.”
Faramir had heard his brother’s story with increasing dismay. “What can Father be thinking? How could he believe I would be anything other than loyal to him, or to you when you become Steward in due time? I have never done or said or even thought anything that should suggest otherwise.”
Boromir lifted his shoulders in a shrug and dropped them, saying, “I do not understand it either. But whatever Father may think, I do trust you, Faramir.”
He paused for a moment, thinking, and then continued, “And I wish to show it, even if Father would disapprove. Steward though he may be, his judgment here is mistaken to consider you unworthy. I am no fool, but I know well that I am more at home on the battlefield than in the council chamber, whereas you are like to be the opposite. It would suit both our abilities well for you to stand at my shoulder; I to be the strong arm to defend our land, and you to be the keen mind to guide her people. Though it may be presumptuous of me, when no man knows what the future may bring, I would wish now to seal our long-ago pact that you should be my chief counselor. Come, brother, let us take an oath together on it!”
Hardly believing his ears, Faramir found himself risen to his feet and clasping Boromir’s two hands with his own.
“I swear to you, my brother, that as Steward, I will do my utmost to protect the land and the people of Gondor in honor, ruling justly, and turning to you as my first counselor in all matters,” Boromir said.
“And I in turn swear that I will serve you honorably in all duties you may require of me, but most by giving advice for the preservation of our land,” Faramir responded, through the lump in his throat at the thought of the trust being placed in him. Should our father die unexpectedly, I might be called on to do this sooner than we think.
The unexpected gravity of the moment brought them both to silence, regarding each other’s faces; then Boromir spoke again.
“Well, and though I did not intend that when we began to talk tonight, it is well done.” He gripped Faramir’s hands more tightly for an instant, then released them.
“Do not speak of this yet to any other, if you will. Father has already made clear how he feels, and tales can grow in the telling until common report bears no likeness to the truth. I can do nothing to change his opinion of you at present, it would appear, but it will not help either of us to have him mistrust me as well,” he said.
“I will be silent, if you wish it. None except Master Mithrandir – and Father – knows that we had long planned for me to advise you, and I need not tell the wizard we have taken oath,” said Faramir.
“Very well, then,” said Boromir. “But the hour grows late, and I must depart early in the morning.”
“Will Father go to see you off?” asked Faramir cautiously.
“I doubt it greatly – it would be unnecessary, time better spent elsewhere,” Boromir answered. “At least to his thinking.”
“In that case I will come to bid you farewell. I think it would be best if I do not see Father if I can avoid it for a day or two, lest I be unable to keep from asking him why he dismisses me so. Despite everything I owe him respect as my lord, even if at present I am angry with him as my father. And I would not create a scene in front of all the city, or even in our own quarters with Master Mithrandir about and likely to overhear any quarrels.”
“I will look for you early, then.”
Boromir rose, stretching. “I am surprised that Father and Mithrandir have not returned, at this late hour. I had not imagined that the wizard would have any news of such import that it could not wait until morning, especially given that Father waited two days to hear it.”
“Unless he delayed for some other reason,” added Faramir thoughtfully.
He too stood. “But whatever is brewing, we will learn of it or not as Father chooses. And I think I would rather be safely in my room before he does return. In his current frame of mind he might imagine anything, if he saw us sitting up together so late.”
Boromir could only agree to that, and they parted until the morning.
Once again it was his brother’s insistent tapping on the door that roused Faramir from his dreams.
Water... falling water... but a wave or a waterfall? And grave peril... He shook his head to clear it of the images now fading to splintered shreds.
“I am up,” he called, and hastily pulled on whatever garments came to hand most readily.
Boromir eyed him dubiously as he slipped out of the room.
“I hope you don’t run into Father before you can change clothes again,” he snorted. “You look as if you belonged to a group of traveling minstrels. All you lack is an instrument. And perhaps some bells on your shoes!”
Faramir glanced down at himself. He had managed to select an outfit in which no two items made any pretense of matching: and ancient and patched mustard-yellow tunic, blue belt, and bright green trousers, with a knitted red vest over all.
“Perhaps I should change,” he admitted, and was careful to choose more sober garb on his second rummage through the clothes-press.
“Much better,” Boromir approved, when Faramir reappeared wearing dark blue trousers and a creamy linen shirt. “You don’t want to give Father such an easy excuse to snipe, do you?”
“Not without you here to distract him,” and Faramir dug an elbow into his brother’s ribs. “If he’s been critical of your attire, imagine what he would say to mine. ‘You have a responsibility to your rank, boy. Never forget that,’” he intoned in a passable imitation of Denethor’s voice.
Boromir smiled. “And don’t let him catch you doing that, either!” He tousled Faramir’s unbrushed hair affectionately.
“Humph. As if I would around anyone but you. Are you ready to leave? Have you broken fast yet?” Faramir asked.
“Almost, and no. I’ve packed my bags and sent them on to the stables, but I thought to eat with you before going to the gates. Come on.”
They hurried down to the Great Hall, where the laden tureens and platters were just being set out. Boromir piled his plate high.
“Back to camp food after this,” he remarked over a forkful of egg-filled pastry.
The brothers were sitting at one end of the high table, far from any of the other early arrivals for the morning meal. Nevertheless Boromir glanced around carefully before continuing in a quiet tone.
“Look, Faramir. I wish I did not have to leave immediately, but I must. Still before I do, we need to speak further of – what we discussed last night. The more I think on it, the more certain I am that our oath must be secret.”
“You do not wish to revoke it, though, do you?” said Faramir.
“Of course not. But until we can learn why Father seemingly bears a grudge against you, you must not give him any cause for further mistrust – or you will not be able to fulfill your vow. How exactly you can avoid provoking his anger and distrust I do not know. Have you any ideas?” Boromir gazed at his brother, his eyes thoughtful.
Faramir looked down into his mug. “Well, he clearly puts as much faith in you and your skills as in any other man…”
He paused, and recalled Mithrandir’s advice from the previous evening.
“Perhaps,” he said slowly, “perhaps it would be best for me to try to follow in your footsteps as closely as I am able. By my oath I must continue to study in order to serve as your advisor, and indeed I would not wish otherwise. But maybe if I put more effort into the military side of things – Father values those skills more, at least that is where his comments are always directed.”
“That seems like a wise thing to try, at least,” Boromir agreed. “You can write to me and tell me whether it seems to be working. If it does not we can think of alternatives. And remember, too, that in a few years you will almost certainly be out of Minas Tirith, with your own company, and not under Father’s eye. Then he will not be able to judge you as closely; perhaps distance will give him the perspective to value you.”
“Yes,” but Faramir avoided his brother’s gaze.
I wish I did not have to do this, he thought unhappily. It is not so much the swordplay and the horsemanship and learning all the military skills that I do not like, it is deceiving my lord and father. Can that ever be right? Even if it does him no harm, and is intended for the ultimate good of the land. If we knew he would have forbidden the oath we made, were we right in taking it? But it is done, now. And if Father sees that all I do is to be like Boromir, maybe he will relent in his feelings for me.
“All right, then,” said Boromir, after waiting to see if Faramir would add more to the bare affirmative. “Time for me to go.”
They walked down the tunnel to the stables, where Boromir collected his horse and checked to make certain all his gear was safely stowed in the saddlebags. Though the streets were not yet crowded this early, since Faramir was afoot he chose to lead the horse rather than ride the winding path back and forth across the face of Minas Tirith to the final gate.
In silence they walked, surrounded by the early-morning sounds of the waking city. At last they reached the outer, eastern gate. Boromir swung himself up into the saddle and leaned down to clasp Faramir’s hands in his own.
“Remember, brother, what honor demands and where your loyalty lies. We do nothing but look to the future.”
Faramir gazed up. The sun stood several handspans above the horizon now, and shone around his brother’s figure, making it blaze as if with the glory he would seek and find in battle with the Orcs and other minions of the Enemy.
I stand in my brother’s shadow, he thought. And that is where I wish to be, where I may be safe from my father’s disapproval and yet be loyal to both of them.
“Farewell, Boromir. Good luck to you,” he said.
“And to you as well – you will need it more than I, I think. Do not forget to write and tell me how Father takes your new approach. I shall probably not be here for the celebration of yestarë at midwinter, but I hope perhaps for tuilérë in the spring. No doubt we will each have much to tell. Farewell!”
The same sun that edged Boromir in light shone full upon Faramir as he stepped back. Boromir lifted his horn and let it sound to mark his departure, and with a final salute to his brother, he was gone into the eastern morning.
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