Stewards of Gondor: Slashvese Arc
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From the Other River Bank: 6. Regret
Another evening and another moonrise! Boromir gazed out of the window of the furthest chamber of his suite and felt each second slither away like thick wax down a candle's corrugated side. There was that painful pause, when it seemed as though the moment would never pass, and then suddenly it slipped away, vanishing like smoke, and leaving a man wishing for just a little more permanence in time's shifting stream. Boromir bowed his head, wishing bitterly that he could retrieve lost time, that lost innocence could be returned him. Innocence not mine, but Faramir's! He had once thought that nothing could be more painful than his brother's ignorance, but he knew better now. I suppose I always have, or I would not have struggled to keep my secret for so long. To be betrayed--to betray myself!--out of a misinterpretation . But he seemed to know ! And so the circle of anger and hurt, denial and regret turned round. When he had left Faramir the day before, he had made it all the way back to his quarters before he threw up. He had retched 'til his stomach cramped and he had nothing left to vomit, but that had not rid him of the nausea, for it seemed to pervade his very blood, coursing through him like poison. He had huddled on the floor by the garderobe for hours, it had seemed, and his mind had been an utter blank except for the memory of the hurt and disgust and fear in his brother's shocked expression. In many ways, what he had felt was not unlike the shock he had experienced after his first battle, and he supposed that that was not so very surprising. He had suffered wrenching loss both times, and been made to look upon the destruction he had wrought. But if it hurts to see a stranger and an enemy reduced to so much flesh and spilt blood, how much more does it hurt to have wounded the one I love best?
With a sigh, he tore his eyes from the half moon and lowered his gaze once more to the book in his lap. For he sat now in a corner of his bedroom, foregoing the use of a chair or the bed itself, feeling displaced and ill at ease even here, where few came. It was a defensive posture and position, but he could do little to defend against himself. Indeed, he knew not why he continued to search through the volumes of half-legible writing that Faramir had lent him in aid of his search for Imladris. Except that I must do something, and I might as well continue this, for I have no mind for conversation of any sort! he thought, skimming through another page without success. Given his own dislike of such research, he had not even the faint hope of discovering the location of elusive Rivendell, but even had he been so arrogant as to think he might stumble across the information it would be a poor victory. Nevertheless, he felt compelled to search further. It comes down to duty once more, though he to whom I owe it would have no more of me, he thought. I am so far beyond atonement that I can barely fathom the notion. Forgiveness? What is that, when the offense is so grave?
From the time that the brothers had parted, Boromir had scarcely seen hide or hair of Faramir, and he began to feel painfully what Faramir must have felt when he had been driven to confront him outside of Denethor's council chambers. Faramir, whose tact and self-possession were usually such as to make him a very discreet presence, was now conspicuous by his very absence. Clearly, he avoided Boromir, and for one who had spent the better part of twenty years away from Minas Tirith, he had proved himself quite adept at disappearing into it. Only once this morning had his path crossed his older brother's, there in the halls that led to the western side of the Seventh Circle. Neither had spoken, and though Boromir had stared, unable to help himself, seeking even the smallest measure of acceptance in the other, Faramir had flicked but the barest glance at him ere he had turned away. In that brief regard there had been nothing fraternal, unless it were the boundless capacity for brothers to hurt each other. Shaken, but not truly surprised, Boromir had spent an awful morning at his father's side: his concentration in tatters, he predictably performed poorly. And though the steward had snapped at him once or twice, even his father's wrath could not pierce his grief sufficiently to command undivided attention.
The worst of it all was that Boromir knew that he had no one to blame but himself. At least I did not kiss him! he thought, and was disgusted that that was the most positive thing that he could draw out of that disastrous confrontation. Not that he had not been tempted, but he had not even dared to think of his brother's probable reaction to such a violation. Which was likely why one part of him--the part that, in spite of everything, still ached with desire--cried, Coward! And to that, reason and decency snapped back, Beast! Have I no shame at all? Why must I persist in wanting? Or is it a perverse sort of punishment, that even so painful a loss cannot purge me of this this flaw? If Father does succeed in this match, I should weep for Éowyn, for I doubt not that I shall be a poor husband to her! He knew not whether Denethor had even made the proposal yet, and he wondered if he cared. After losing Faramir so irretrievably, all else seemed to fade in importance. Let her come! Let her hate me if she will, what is that to me? A touch more misery, perhaps, but naught by comparison, he thought. For how, indeed, could a woman he knew not at all inflict half the pain that came of the breaking of a bond forged over decades? A bond so very integral to his existence that he could not remember a time when he had not loved Faramir.
And where is Faramir now? What might he do at this hour? One might expect him to be asleep after such an ordeal, particularly one that followed upon a week of little or no rest, but Boromir doubted that his brother's dreams, prophetic or otherwise, would allow him that relief. Likely, Faramir had gone whither he always had when in need of space and free air. Likely, he was even now upon that particular tower, where as a boy on the cusp of manhood he had hidden when he could no longer bear their father's harsh and unrelenting criticism. Once, Boromir had been the one to comfort him, to give his brother a reason to return to the earth and leave his troubles on high. But he had forfeited that right--nay, that privilege!--and for all that he wished he dared to follow his brother up onto that turret, he could not. And so he will have to find his own way back down, he thought sadly. He will, I am certain of it, but is it wrong to wish that in doing so he might reconcile himself to me? Boromir sighed and tilted his head back, hissing softly as he fought with himself. Doubtless it was wrong, for he deserved nothing if not his brother's contempt, and yet that did not stop him from wishing.
I must leave this place! I know not how, but I have no choice. Minas Tirith shall forever be my home, but one tainted by shadow, stained by grief and shame. Somehow I shall find a way out from behind its walls, and soon! Closing his eyes, he sighed softly. He would be forty with the coming of winter, and given the longevity of his line, he could be considered as verging on full maturity, on the prime of his life. And here sit I, feeling as though I were all of nineteen again: uncertain, racked with fear and guilt, despising myself for what I am! Not that he had ever completely left those feelings behind, but mostly they were muted; he had learned to live with himself, to be comfortable enough in his body in spite of his sexuality. Except in one damning case! Varda's skies, I am tired! So very tired of it all! His head nodded now against his chest, and though he willed to stay awake, to read further, the exhausting emotions of the past two days could not but exact their vengeance upon him. Back braced by the corner and hands laid limply upon the open pages of the book, Boromir fell asleep and cared not what dreams might come.
It might have afforded Boromir some small satisfaction to know that his guess was correct, for upon the western tower of Minas Tirith's inner circle, Faramir sat in his customary place, tucked into a crenel that frankly had been more accommodating before he had reached his adult height. But in spite of the cramped quarters, he would sit nowhere else, and at least he could balance his book against his knees. Atop the merlon behind him burned a small lantern that shed warm yellow light, challenging the bright moon above. But Faramir did not read, for he had tried all that day to do so without having managed even thirty pages. Even the prospect of poetry did not entice him: words were too complicated, too abstract, requiring a concentration he simply did not have. And so, rather than continue with the futile exercise, he had instead brought with him a somewhat battered sheaf of bound paper that had followed him from Minas Tirith to Ithilien. Not that he had much time for sketching in Ithilien, but perhaps once or twice in a four month period, he would manage an hour or two to himself. The book was a gift, something that his mother had bestowed shortly before her death, and as it had brought her comfort in her loneliness, so it helped him to achieve a measure of peace. There was a definite satisfaction that came of watching something take shape under one's own hands, particularly when so often those same hands wrought death. And usually, the act of drawing was utterly absorbing, enabling him to forget for a time his fears.
But tonight, his mind and hands worked against him, for without quite intending to, he had simply begun to sketch, to the best of his ability to remember, his brother. With a grimace, Faramir cocked his head, trying to decide whether he had put that last line at the right angle, and his fingers traced the mark carefully. Like Boromir's fingers yesterday! The comparison leapt to his mind, and with it the ghost of that caress seemed to burn down his jaw-line. Faramir hissed, jerking his hand back involuntarily. And just as quickly, he shook his head, annoyed with himself for having put the two together. 'Tis a drawing! And if I like it not, then why do I continue it? In truth, he knew not whence came his inspiration, for if he could have but one moment to relive, he would have chosen the moment he had decided to speak to his brother on the practice grounds. I should have held my tongue! I should have walked away and left him alone. He never asked for my help! He never asked for aught, and I what must I have seemed to him?
Never in his life had he thought to feel so badly conflicted--he, who had thought he had learned the measure of troubled love through his father's contempt. On the one hand, he was horrified by the passion smoldering in his brother's eyes, and felt himself repulsed by the very idea. Even had Boromir not been his brother, Faramir felt naught but disgust for the thought of loving another man thus. And yet, as he reviewed all the days of their lives together, he could not hold himself blameless. How could I have been so naïve? There is so much that I missed, that I took for granted! Unimportant things, little things that defined the channel and course of our love. A kiss, a laugh, a touch expressions of a love that I thought natural enough, simply the affection that grows out of a lifetime of companionship. So many words and deeds, harmless enough in themselves but seen now through hindsight, they became damning instances of temptation. Unwitting temptation, perhaps, but Faramir was too honest to deny that his own behavior had likely fueled Boromir's lust almost unbearably. I understand now why he sought to place a wall between us after Osgiliath. And I, like a fool, would not let him! His fall is in part my fault! He would have begged his brother's pardon for that, but he simply could not face him. The pain, the sense of betrayal, of having been used, was too great.
Still, he had almost weakened that morning when he had passed Boromir in the hall. His brother's face had frozen, and those grey eyes had been pleading, filled with a world of regret and anguish. And love! Faramir had felt his blood congeal, and he knew that his own eyes had gone absolutely blank as his mind had sought to ignore, to simply not see, what had lain before them. His legs had held their course without faltering, and before he could even have considered another response, he had brushed past his brother and gone on his way. Since then he had managed to avoid the other. For all the good that that does me! His face and feel haunt me so that I might as well stand before him, Faramir thought with a soft sigh. And I ought to do so before ever we risk appearing jointly before Father, for whatever my brother's fault, I would not see him exposed to Denethor's wrath. But how shall we conceal this? Is it even possible? At the moment, the court of Gondor was embroiled in matters political, in the problem of Rohan and the news out of Osgiliath and Cair Andros. But for the distraction provided by war and intrigue, someone would surely have remarked the sudden change in the brothers' relationship with each other. I never thought to be grateful for ill tidings, but I confess that I am. So long as all eyes are drawn towards Rohan and towards Mordor, none shall remark the trouble at home.
If he thought about it too much (which of course he did), he could grow angry beyond words for the very fact that he had now to look askance at his brother. Why did he say aught? I never suspected him, truly! Could he not have kept silent? And now I must wonder, is it only to me that he turns? Or have there been others... and if so, how many? Faramir did not want to contemplate such things, but he could not help himself. He was too familiar with an army's routines to think that even a commander could not steal a few hours with a lover at need. Or even at will! Thus far, he had never had to discipline anyone for "inappropriate conduct with another man," as the formal phrase went, but that did not mean that he never would. And now I am complicit in that crime. Were I at all concerned with justice, I would denounce my brother, but I shall not! How could I? And how could I think that way about Boromir? He is not that shameless a man, or that cruel! I hope . Faramir groaned softly and closed his eyes. In his heart, he still trusted that his brother was fundamentally an honorable man, but that one glaring fault cast the pall of doubt upon all such certainties. Indeed, Faramir felt himself torn in two, caught between wanting to believe that Boromir would never have acted on his desire, and inbred suspicion of someone who could lie so well and for so long.
A poor liar I called him! The irony was sickening, and Faramir opened his eyes again, shivering as he recalled all over again the feeling of warmth along the length of his body as Boromir had leaned close to whisper his confession. Almost without realizing what he did, Faramir raised his hand to touch his face where Boromir's hand had lain. He had not managed his brother's oddly graceful retreat yesterday, and as soon as Boromir had disappeared, he had sunk to the ground, shaking. When at last he had managed to find the strength to rise again, he had gone swiftly to his own quarters, stripped out of his clothes and washed thoroughly, feeling absolutely filthy. But water could not wash away guilt, or the feeling of spiritual contamination, and though he had washed again this morning, he still felt dirty. Dirty--because Boromir loved him as he should not; because Faramir had misled his brother, however unintentionally; and because in the end, beneath the anger and hurt, he still loved Boromir and could not bring himself to tell him so.
Stop thinking of him! he ordered himself, closing the sketchbook with sudden resolve and wiping the charcoal off of his hands on a rag. But he could not, and his gaze drifted south to the tower of Ecthelion. White and tall it stood, shimmering in the moonlight, and a greenish light flickered in the highest window. Faramir frowned, wondering at that, but only briefly ere his eyes darted to the windows that he knew were his brother's. Does he sleep, I wonder? Or does he wear the night away as I do? For a long while, he simply stared and thoughts came and went, drifting on the tide of heedless speculation.
Seek for the Sword that was Broken/In Imladris it dwells!
With a hiss of pain, Faramir clutched at his temples, gritting his teeth as the vision took him again, exploding into his mind like a dwarven mine-stick. Will this never end? Faramir doubled over, panting, feeling cold sweat soak him in a heartbeat. If we must find Imladris, could we not at least be told where it lies? I would go if I knew! He knew not to whom he addressed such complaints, but as the vision spun itself out and faded away once more, Faramir winced as he probed his lower lip and tasted blood. I know not how much longer I can withstand this, he realized. Between Boromir's disturbing revelation, Denethor's continued cold treatment of him, and this merciless dream that plagued him, he was fast approaching the limits of his endurance. I cannot change Denethor's heart, and I doubt me that I could change Boromir's; that leaves the dream, and that I must answer, if I can, for the sake of my sanity! And so, though it seemed every muscle protested, he rose and gathered up his belongings and began the long descent. There were books stacked high on every surface of his room, and one of them had to hold the answer. If he worked through the night, perhaps he might find it!
Boromir woke suddenly, a cry upon his lips as the dream faded. White tower dark mountains Seek for the Sword that was Broken . The words echoed in his mind with such force that he did not doubt what he had dreamt. But why? The line of the stewards still pulsed strongly with the blood of Númenor, and it was given to many over the long years to dream true. In his generation, such gifts seemed to have passed from Denethor to Faramir alone, and Boromir had never envied his brother his foresight. But it seemed his immunity had just been shattered, and the steward's heir shook his head sharply as he rose, setting aside the book in his lap. Am I certain that I dreamt it truly? he wondered, irritably brushing hair out of his eyes. I have heard that rhyme so often now, searched so many records for mention of Imladris or Isildur or Halflings that perhaps it is but a confusion of waking memory and dream. But such excuses rang hollow, for they could not explain the terrible urgency that he felt now. Indeed, he wondered how Faramir had borne the strain of that unfulfilled command for so long. Imladris! Curse it all, what is it that calls us there? And where is it? Confound it all, where?! The skies made no reply to his mute appeal, and Boromir sighed softly.
"We can do little more than we have done already," he murmured, thinking aloud. "If Faramir has not succeeded, there is little chance that I will! But we cannot let this lie ." A glimmer of inspiration struck suddenly, and he wondered that he had not thought of it before. Likely because it was Faramir's quest, and habits of thought are difficult to escape. Faramir had confided in him, had asked his help, and because of that, Boromir had kept the matter between them, never thinking to look further. But if we wish to succeed, then I think we must. Distasteful as the prospect might be to his brother, Denethor might know enough to help them. His brother's intellect was no less precocious and subtle than their father's, but the steward had had many more years to explore the vaults of the library. If anyone knows, he would! But how shall I broach this with Faramir?
That gave him pause, for even had nothing passed between them the day before, he would have been hard pressed to find a way to convince his brother to go their father with this matter. Faramir had invested too much sweat and frustration in the effort to unravel the rhyme to surrender it to another's keeping, and Boromir knew well that once their father knew of his brother's search, it would all be out of their hands. Denethor, in his inimitable fashion, would brush them both aside and take the task upon himself, and that would deal a blow to Faramir's sense of worth. Boromir had seen that happen too often before, and he was not eager to see it again. But if Denethor did know something if it were possible that he might help, then Boromir must make Faramir see the necessity of going to the steward. Though in point of fact, and all things being equal, he would usually have done little convincing; rather, he would simply have approached the other with the idea and appealed to Faramir's sense of duty. And failing that, to his trust in me! But Faramir had been searching for a week, and was running himself ragged in pursuit of duty, and after the fight . He will not hear me, for that trust is broken. Boromir clenched his teeth against bitter self-hatred and tried to focus. No use! If this is truly as important as my heart now tells me, then I may not balk at the asking.
Nevertheless, though he was certain that Faramir slept not, he remained where he was, thinking. And it seemed to him that he could almost feel his brother's restless energy, and knew that all was not well with him. If I go to him now, he may refuse to listen to me at all, and why not? And I know not what I shall do when I see him! Boromir bowed his head, tormented by that truth. If Faramir slammed the door in his face, he knew not what he would do; but if he seemed to admit him, to listen, if only reluctantly, then would he, Boromir, be able to focus solely on the task at hand? Or would he weaken to the point of begging forgiveness? That must not happen, for then I doubt not that Faramir shall think I came only for that reason, and will not hear me on other matters of more import. Valar curse it, what a twisted path I walk! Leaning now upon the window sill, Boromir swore viciously, futilely wishing that he could trust himself to have strength enough to forebear such pleading. But he knew he had it not; and so, as the moon rose to its zenith and began its descent, as the sky grew paler and the sun began to blaze over the dark and dreary peaks of the Ephel Dúath, Boromir remained where he was, and cursed for the hurt he was about to do his brother once more.
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