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From the Other River Bank: 8. A Father's Shadow
"Gentlemen," Denethor's voice cut through the babble of astonished and angry—And frightened, Boromir thought darkly—voices, instantly arresting the council's speculations. Across the table, Faramir sat back in his chair, hands steepled before his face as he watched the other councilors sit up (or sit down, whichever was required of them) and focus on the steward again. As always, he had said little this morning, and the news out of Rohan had elicited naught but a raised eyebrow from him. He and Denethor had remained silent and watchful while the rest of the council had erupted into amazed and despairing debate, and Boromir, though he had acceded to the questioning of his neighbor, Lord Torost, had also had little to say.
What, after all, is there to say? Shock and outrage avail us nothing, and fear but worsens our case, he thought. That was true enough, but a part of his mind sneered at him for his careful omissions. If he were completely honest, he would admit, if only to himself, that Faramir's presence and mood were affecting him, and he suspected that his brother was just as aware and troubled by their proximity as he was. For though Faramir habitually said little unless he had something of importance to say, his quiet observation generally gave no hint of brooding or willful inscrutability, seeming instead quite natural—the product of a circumspect temper. Today, however, there was a stony, determined quality to his silence that felt subtly wrong to anyone who knew him well. As I do. And as Father may! Boromir thought, flicking a glance at the steward himself.
Denethor, as was his wont, sat at the head of the table and his dark eyes touched upon each of the councilors until he grew quiet, attentive once more to the steward's will. It was rather like taming a pack of excited hounds, Boromir had long ago decided, and when his turn came, he quickly surrendered to that probing regard, dropping his eyes to focus on the piece of paper that lay beneath Denethor's hands.
A messenger had arrived in the dawn-light bearing Edoras' response to the news of the Shadow Riders, precisely one week after Denethor had sent a man west with the tidings. As the journey from Minas Tirith to Edoras was a hundred leagues, one would expect a certain delay, but either the messenger had tarried on his way or else Edoras' court had taken a good three days to ponder the tidings. That seemed hardly necessary, given their brevity and the fact that naught could truly be done to protect oneself against this menace. That their own messenger had been returned early and with no answer but a terse acknowledgment of the news and a promise of further communication had been ill-borne, so that there were now many on the council who read in Rohan's long silence a none-too-subtle insult.
Boromir was one of them, and he chafed at the bit in silence but managed nonetheless to restrain himself. Gondor had few allies who did not already pay her homage, and whatever the position of the court of Edoras, Minas Tirith could not afford to alienate Rohan further. For it is as Faramir and Father have said: there are many in Rohan, even those who hold rank, who are disturbed by Théoden's decisions in matters of war. They know their peril, and but that they are loyal to their king, they would act more openly. There is still hope that some may come to our aid in Théoden's despite! Truthfully, Boromir pitied those too-honest souls saddled with a king seemingly gone blind to reality, who were torn now between their oaths to their liege-lord and the need of not only their people, but of a people and nation that had been an ally and friend since Rohan's inception. Nevertheless, pity could not change the message that had come:
To Denethor, twenty-sixth in the line of the Stewards of Gondor, Lord of Minas Tirith. Regarding the matter of the Shadow Riders, so says Théoden son of Thengel, King of Rohan:
Report of the fell riders has come north through the Eastfold. We are aware of the danger and shall take what measures we may to secure Rohan against what threat nine riders may make. Such as they are, they remain a less urgent trouble than the bands of orcs that cross through Anórien, though we shall send word should they return through our land.
The closing formula, being required by legal custom, had done little to appease anyone, or to mask the blunt import of the message: Look to your own borders and trouble us no further! It was bare civility, and who knew how long that would endure before the break finally came? Denethor gazed upon the troubled faces of his council and Boromir sensed a certain grim contempt, as if the steward found their outbursts unworthy of Gondor's elite.
"Gentlemen," Denethor repeated, "We are not come to indulge our outrage, but to determine what course we might take that would strengthen our cause. Rohan's message, uncouth and unwarranted though it may be, is not yet a breach of treaty and we cannot make it one. In Rohan lies our best hope of allegiance in arms, and to whom else, indeed, could we turn?" There was a dispirited silence, for all knew well the answer to that question: no one. Although Gondor traded to the north with the Bardings of Dale and Laketown, the distance was too great, and the resources of both kingdoms too strapped, to make supply lines and war-time allegiance feasible. They had each their own borders to protect, and as with Arnor of old, any help that either kingdom sent would likely arrive too late and leave he who sent such aid vulnerable. Eriador was a wasteland in terms of men and armies, and to the south, the wary contacts with the northernmost Haradrim had long since been broken. Dunland was hostile to Rohan, and Isengard seemed to disdain all such troubles and refused to intervene in any way.
"What answer, though, should we make to that, my lord?" Mirhal asked, indicating the scroll with distaste quite evident in his tone.
"To that I have already given thought," Denethor replied. "It is true that we cannot answer this latest insolence with threat, for the court of Edoras knows well our position. But there are other ways of conveying our displeasure. Messengers will be sent back to Edoras by various routes, and along their way they shall visit the Marshals of the Mark. The Marshals see reason, and know well that the safety of their borders is guaranteed in part by Gondor, and that however many orcs may traverse Rohan's fields now, more would come were our protection withdrawn."
"I thought, sir, that we sought to abstain from dealings with the Marshals," Faramir spoke softly, but many were the faces that turned to him. Father and son locked eyes, and Faramir did not back down, remaining impassive before Denethor's lancing regard.
"We do," the steward replied after a moment. "But a messenger may have more than one message, and not all of them need be official. What a man says as a private citizen is not the same as what he says as a herald."
"That seems a thin ruse, sir," Faramir replied. "Even with a marriage proposal as the carrot to the stick." That elicited another flurry of murmurs and gasps, and Denethor actually glared at Faramir for that indiscretion. Boromir simply bowed his head and wished he were somewhere else. Anywhere else! The borders of Harad are always active, and the watch on the Black Gate is ever in need of fresh blood! He had not thought his brother would dare to speak that far out of turn, for as of yet, Denethor had made no announcement of his scheme. Boromir certainly had not spoken of it to anyone. And though it made perfect sense to bring the issue into the open now, Faramir knew well that Denethor reserved that choice to himself.
What do you hope to accomplish, brother? Boromir wondered, unable to fathom this uncharacteristic behavior. Other than to rouse Denethor's ire? Unless he wishes Father to send him away… but that would not get him to Imladris. It might eventually see him to the inside of a cell! That last was highly unlikely, for Faramir was not that rash, but Boromir did not understand his brother's motives.
"Let it be transparently thin, Faramir, it does not matter so long as they say nothing of it. Which they shall not," Denethor replied in a rather clipped tone. "If you have naught of use to say, then I pray you remain silent!" All around the table, a stillness fell, as if every man held his breath, awaiting the response. The lord of the city rarely told a proven captain to shut his mouth, not in public, and no one was certain what to expect. Boromir, even, feared his brother's response, and he leaned forward, trying to catch Faramir's eye in warning.
But Faramir said nothing, only bowed his head in smooth acceptance of the rebuke and settled back into his seat as if he had been awaiting just such a dismissal. And though others cautiously relaxed, sensing that the confrontation was over ere it could truly begin, Boromir felt queasy, uncertain what to make of the gleam in the other's eyes. Denethor spared a moment more to glare at his younger son ere he turned to the others once more. "Since the matter has arisen, the content of the official message shall be a proposal to Éowyn of Rohan through her uncle, cousin, and brother. That excuses the employment of three messengers, for haste is needed, and we do but observe the custom of Rohan in alerting three male relatives of our interest. Now, such a proposal will be a matter for much discussion, and there are many who would see a match between Gondor and Rohan prosper, for it would benefit us both. Between Théodred, Éomer, and other such captains as must by law be present to discuss the idea, that may be pressure enough to force Théoden into a very explicit alliance with us. If successful, Rohan shall have little choice but to aid us. Either that, or Théoden must disown his sister's daughter." Which was highly unlikely, for however fallen Rohan's king, it was well known that he loved his niece. Of course, it was also well known that he loved his nephew, Boromir thought, and did not miss the look that Faramir tossed him. Clearly, his brother was thinking the same thing, but what point was there in bringing up the possibility of failure? The attempt had to be made, even if Boromir found himself feeling sick all over again at the prospect.
"There is little else to be done about Rohan for the present," Denethor concluded, after a long moment. Boromir, still gazing at the table top, felt his father's eyes slide off of him after that pause, and risked looking up. Mirhal, who sat directly across from him, was looking at him as if with pity, but Faramir was apparently absorbed by the table as well. Except that beneath the veil of thick lashes, Boromir caught the glimmer of the other's eyes, and realized that his brother was very carefully watching their father. The steward, fortunately, did not seem to notice, having passed to other issues. "We must turn to our own defenses once more, even as Théoden King would bid us do," said he. That got an uneasy spate of chuckling, but the mood did not lighten appreciably. "I have delayed our council this morning in order to give Faramir the time to reconsider his deployment in Ithilien, and also to let Boromir look more carefully into the matter of Osgiliath's garrison." At that, Faramir shifted his gaze to his brother, and Boromir, too, frowned slightly. He had not known that Denethor had requested that of his brother, and apparently Faramir had not known that Boromir, too, had been asked to address the problem of making their manpower stretch to cover the gaps in their borders. But in the end, that was a minor thing, and their mutual ignorance was none of their own doing but the product of their father's manipulation.
There are so many other points upon which to hang our grievance, after all! Boromir thought miserably. He listened in silence as Denethor laid out his synthesis of the brothers' solutions and recommendations, and others began to discuss the merits or deficiencies of the redeployment. In all fairness, it was likely the best plan they could manage, given their shortcomings, but Boromir had no heart for such debate today. He had hoped that perhaps Faramir might speak to him before the council had begun, but his brother had sent no word. Hardly surprising, now that he knew what he had been doing, though he was rather suspicious of his presence today. Denethor had made such a point of refusing to invite his younger son to participate, and of dismissing him from council that his inclusion, apparently at the steward's request, felt anomalous. Granted, it does make sense in light of Denethor's desire to discuss our movements in Ithilien and elsewhere, but I cannot be at ease with that excuse! Unfortunately, Boromir had no objective reason for such concern, and he needed what attention he could spare to keeping in check his troubled reaction to his brother. To be in his presence and yet have no opportunity to speak to him was torture; the need to conceal his suffering only worsened it. But Denethor's eyes haunted him, and he feared the occasional probing regard. At least Faramir is in better control of himself today, in spite of that misstep earlier, Boromir thought. His brother seemed much more alert, as if he might actually have slept for some length of time, and his attention was much more focused and less emotional. Denethor was far less likely to read anything from Faramir today, though what he might have gleaned from that awful meeting two days ago, Boromir still did not know. He himself had been very discreet in his father's presence ever since, and he had seen no further hint that the steward had discerned aught of the real issue that lay between the brothers. Mayhap I truly did imagine that look out of my own fearfulness!
"A question, if the steward will permit," Faramir's voice broke through his thoughts just then, momentarily putting an end to the discussion as all eyes turned once more to him. Denethor turned and locked eyes with his son, and for a long moment, the two strove thus in silence, while the others looked on uneasily. What now, Faramir? Boromir wondered with a sudden thrill of dread. You would not be so rash, would you? Valar help me, is this your response to my maneuverings? For he could think of naught else that would so occupy father and brother, and Boromir clenched his fists so hard under the table he felt his nails bite into his palms. A glance at Denethor proved that the steward was less than pleased with his younger son, but once again, Faramir's question could not be forever kept silent, and if he had brought it out earlier than Denethor might wish, there was now point in refusing it.
"Be brief, since I know well whereof you would speak," Denethor said after a lengthy pause.
"My thanks," Faramir replied neutrally, and for the life of him, Boromir could not have said whether that gratitude was sincere. "Whom would the steward choose to oversee these changes? For in our private words, it has become clear that we shall soon lack a captain." Everyone sat up straighter at this, and many a dark and doubtful glance was cast up the table to where Denethor sat, watching Faramir with a measuring gaze. "The only question, is which one?"
"What mean you by that?" Mirhal demanded of Ithilien's commander, adding a "my lord" hastily to the back of that sharp question.
"Yes, what new counsel is this, my lord steward?" Húrin asked, daring to address Denethor directly. And when the steward spoke not, he turned to gaze at Boromir. "My lord?" For if Faramir knew, then it was understood that Boromir did as well, and had for longer at that. But neither brother spoke, instead choosing to leave the matter now with Denethor, and the steward glanced from Faramir's direct gaze to Boromir's reluctant one and then back again.
"Counsel I would not call it," he said at last. "But nonetheless, we must deal with it, though I had thought to keep it awhile longer." The rebuke was unmistakable, but Faramir refused to retreat, and the steward continued, "The line of Mardil dreams true still, it seems, and we have been set a riddle. A rhyme that may contain the seeds of our salvation… or else our doom." Denethor's heavy gaze swept the room, and no one stirred, bound now to silence by a sort of eager, yet dreadful, fascination. "'Seek for the Sword that was Broken: In Imladris it dwells/ There shall be counsels taken stronger than Morgul-spells./There shall be shown a token that Doom is near at hand,/ For Isildur's Bane shall waken, and the Halfling forth shall stand.' So Faramir and Boromir both report, and have sought to discover the meaning of these staves. As of now, I have had no more success than they in this task—" which news was greeted with the exchange of ominous looks "—and though I am loath to dispense with the services of either, it is apparent that short of sending a messenger to Imladris, we shall never know the answers to our questions."
"And what is Imladris?" Húrin asked.
"It is the home of Elrond Half-Elven," Denethor replied, which caused Boromir to flick a glance in Faramir's direction. His younger brother, too, seemed surprised by this, but a thoughtful look settled on his face as he considered this new bit of information. Elrond Half-Elven… Gil-galad's herald…. But other than the role he had played at the battle of Dagorlad, Boromir knew nothing of Elrond's history. He desperately wanted to ask whether Faramir knew more, but even had they had the chance, he could not be certain his brother would tell him. Not as things now stand between us! "Imladris lies somewhere in the northern reaches of the Misty Mountains, and is or was an Elf-haven. But long since has it passed from the knowledge of Men into vague legend. Yet it may be that we shall rediscover the truth of the matter, for as Faramir correctly discerned, it is there that we must go. I would gladly send a herald or an errand-rider were it a simple matter of alerting a neighbor of long standing. But we know naught of that land, and I fear I must send someone of greater rank… and also greater knowledge."
"Whom will you send, my lord?" Torost broke in, unable to contain himself, and from the attention of the others, it was clear that the same question occupied every mind at that table. Boromir found himself holding his breath, and he noted that his brother leaned forward slightly, back tense.
"That I shall not yet declare," Denethor replied after a moment, and immediately, protests arose. Faramir sank back into his seat and closed his eyes, partially shielding his face from view as he leaned his forehead against his hand. Boromir read the other's frustrated disappointment, and indeed, he also felt it. Perhaps that was all he wished, to push Father to an open decision, Boromir thought suddenly. But why would he choose to do so in council? It was well-done, but almost reckless, I should say, if he hopes to go himself! Unless he hoped that others would speak on his behalf and so convince Denethor to let him go. Faramir, will you not speak to me? Tell me what you think! Alas, his silent demands went unmet, for Faramir appeared not to notice him at all. Indeed, he seemed to have withdrawn into himself, away from the clamor of the others and beyond his brother's reach.
The council ended in confusion, which was a rare thing, and Faramir wondered sarcastically if he ought to count that an accomplishment on his part. After he had arisen that morning, and just ere he was ready to leave his room, Verethon had arrived to tell him of Denethor's commands concerning Ithilien. "The steward would have you be present in council to answer any questions, my lord," the boy had added, which invitation had been most unexpected. Faramir had pondered it all that morning as he had worked to fulfill his father's command, wondering at the motive behind it. He had thought he had guessed it, for what else could Denethor want than to declare himself in the matter of the rhyme? There was literally no other reason for Faramir to be present there, for Denethor was quite capable of presenting his own work to the others and of handling any queries. And yet I guessed wrong, it seems! Curse it all, why do you toy with us like this, Father? Can you not for once trust us? Even Boromir knew not what your intentions were! That much he had read easily, and also his brother's alarm over his own seeming-brashness. And his pain. Faramir gritted his teeth, fighting against his own conscience which whispered ever and anon that he must speak to Boromir. He owed his brother that much at least, and yet he could not approach him. I am afraid of what I may say… and of what I may see in him!
In the mean time, he waited in silence for the other councilors to leave, steeling himself for the inevitable lecture and carefully marshaling his defenses so that Denethor might not read more of his troubles than met the eye. For I at least am not a traitor! So said forlorn pride and despairing love, and as the door shut behind him, he raised his eyes to meet Denethor's. His father's expression was carved flint, and Faramir rose and stood as one before a judge without being asked. "I suppose you regret your actions, Faramir," the steward said coldly. "Confusion, bewilderment, chaos… we cannot afford such luxuries in time of war, as you well know, and yet you have brought them upon us. What have you to say?"
"I am sorry, Father, that the council parts divided, but I thought the issue could wait no longer."
"Sorry, are you?" Denethor snapped, and Faramir felt his cheeks heat in response. "Do you think that a steward's son can waste energy on being sorry? If you will challenge me, then best you forget regret for you cannot afford it! Have you learned nothing over the years?"
"If my actions were wrong, then it is only meet that I regret them! That at least you taught me! But was I wrong, Father, to bring this matter to their attention? Is it not the council's place to know of all that may affect the governance of this realm?" Faramir responded, striving to answer with logic his father's demands. For as the sun rises, I dare not flinch too badly before him now!
"That is my judgment to make, wretch! I did not ask you here to speak of these matters."
"Then why, Father, did you ask me here? What purpose, a councilor who will not speak his mind? Or did you wish only a mindless repetition of my report? That you could have done yourself, and have done often enough since you will not have me be present at these sessions! Boromir could have done it, had you asked him," Faramir responded tautly, meeting his father's gaze once more. "I would gladly learn my purpose here, and do whatever it is that duty demands, but you will not speak plainly to me in such matters!"
"Your purpose here is to learn, nothing more! And to teach me the matter that lies between you and your brother," Denethor shot back coldly, and Faramir went very still. Teach me the matter… Valar protect us! "I know not what it is that sets you now against each other," the steward continued, advancing slowly toward him. "But I will have an end to it! Well? Speak! You have said that you would do as duty required of you, so hold to your words, son of mine!"
Faramir tried to swallow, but his mouth was dry, and he felt suddenly very light-headed. I cannot tell him! If he were to know…. And yet if I do not, he will never forget it or forgive me my silence! Is this what Boromir felt all these years? Is this what he felt when I faced him that night and demanded an answer? When we sparred in that courtyard? Trying to quell the rising tide of panic, Faramir took a deep breath and frantically searched for some plausible lie that he could offer up. "I did not wish him to go to you with this, sir," he managed, which was true enough at least.
"That I saw quite readily, and so find your indiscretion today ironic." A hand caught his chin and forced him to look into his father's eyes, which flashed now with cold fury. "Do not think to feed me a half-truth, Faramir. This is more than a broken promise, for I saw it in you the moment you entered my chambers two days ago. Before that, I saw it in Boromir's distraction, in your avoidance of each other. What has happened?" A half-dozen curses chased through Faramir's mind, and he wished the creativity that had spawned them would inspire him to answer his father's question. But nothing came to him. His mind seemed to have shut down, as if to protect the secret, for what he could not even articulate to himself could not be betrayed so readily. Denethor's grip tightened to the point of pain, but he still said nothing, enduring the other's merciless gaze. "Faramir…!" The lashing intensity of his father's voice made him recoil involuntarily, which only caused the steward to clutch him more strongly and Faramir fought his gag reflex as the steward's fingers stretched further to grip higher, closer to the juncture of his throat. He was beginning to feel as though his jaw would be dislocated, and Faramir clutched blindly at his father's arm, nails digging in automatically in defense. Yet to no avail, for he felt not flesh but… metal! His eyes widened in surprise at the feel of fine chain mail hidden beneath the steward's clothing, and Denethor's eyes narrowed as he released him suddenly. Just as quickly, Faramir let go, sensing that the steward would take it very ill if he continued to hang on. Folding his hands tightly behind his back, Faramir refrained from rubbing his aching jaw and drew a deep breath. I must not show weakness! No more than I already have!
"Whatever this matter be, it is between us, Father," he finally managed, and his voice sounded harsh and unnatural to his ears, but fierce nonetheless. "And only between us! This is not your business, Steward of Gondor!"
Denethor stared at him for so long that Faramir began to think that he had struck too hard with that last denial. But it was said, and could not be retracted now. And I do not wish to retract it, he realized. This is not his business! Not as the steward, and at least as concerns me, not even as my father for he has been none for too long a time now. Indeed, Faramir had never thought that the steward's interrogation had aught to do with concern for his, Faramir's, sake. If the steward had any worries, they were for his first-born; and if he asked Faramir to speak now, it was only because the steward viewed him as the weaker of the two and thus more readily manipulated. That stung his pride, but also his resolution: he would not be used against his brother. Let him ask Boromir, if he is so concerned! Let him ask the one he loves and leave me be! For Boromir can defend himself well enough! Denethor hissed softly in apparent frustration, which frightened Faramir badly. He had never seen his father lose control so badly before, and as one who might be considered a connoisseur of Denethor's wrath, that was saying much. "May I leave, Father?" he asked, and felt greatly daring for having done so.
"Get out!" Denethor said softly, in a tone that would have chilled the fires of Orodruin. Faramir did not even bother to bow ere he turned and walked away. As soon as the door had shut behind him, he began to run, and there was but one thought in his mind: I must tell Boromir! I must warn him!
Boromir was on his way back to the library with an armload of the books he still had, courtesy of Faramir, when running footsteps caught his attention. Probably one of Father's servants, for who else has cause to rush to this place? he thought. His own esquire had very helpfully made a start at the task, but Boromir had dismissed him for the afternoon once again. Poor lad likely feels unappreciated, I have used him so little! But he was in no mood for company, and even though it was a menial task, it was physical, and gave him something to do other than worry about what Denethor must be saying to his brother. Certainly it was better than wondering how under Varda's stars he would approach Faramir himself if the other came not to him in the next day or so. And it helped distract him somewhat from the uncertainty that the steward's refusal to declare himself had awakened. Unfortunately, all three concerns together were too much to forget in the doing of this one insignificant chore, and he was quite preoccupied as he strode towards the library entrance.
"Boromir!" His head jerked up at the sound of his brother's voice calling him, and he turned to see the other careen around the last corner, apparently having caught glimpse of him just in time to follow.
"Faramir? What—?" Boromir quickly glanced around, fearful of eavesdroppers, and he lowered his voice. "What is it? What is wrong?"
"We need to speak. Now!" Faramir half-wrenched a book from his grasp and hailed a man whose dress marked him as one of the librarians. "Return these for us, good sir," Faramir ordered, darting a look at his brother that would brook no delay or refusal, and Boromir wordlessly surrendered his cache to the man. "Thank you. Come!"
"Come whither?" Boromir demanded as he followed in Faramir's wake, confused, unsure of what to make of this sudden urgency. On the one hand, he was relieved that his brother even spoke to him, but Faramir's obvious fear filled him with foreboding. It did not take him long to realize where they went, and he suppressed a sigh as the two of them made for the western tower of the Seventh Circle. Whatever it is that troubles him now, it must be serious indeed to bring me to this place once more! he thought as they began the long ascent. Boromir followed Faramir up the ladder and through the trap door onto the platform, and as a precaution, he drew up the ladder ere he shut the door.
Faramir was waiting for him when he turned around, and the glowing intensity in those grey eyes sent a shiver down Boromir's spine. Whatever the news, it seemed terrible. And yet despite the urgency of the moment, Faramir remained silent, watching Boromir like a hawk, seeming to try to read his thoughts and mood. Boromir, for his part, frowned slightly as he noticed something like bruising beneath the stubble that covered his brother's jaw-line. Faramir preferred to be clean-shaven, but of late he had had too many other cares to worry overmuch about incidental things like shaving. Perhaps I imagine things…. Boromir took a step closer, but froze instantly when Faramir eased back to hold the distance between them open. "Faramir… I will not touch you," Boromir promised, spreading his hands at his sides as if to show himself unarmed. "I only want a look at you."
"Look then from where you stand," Faramir replied, but though there was tension in his voice, his tone held none of the scathing contempt and anger that it had held two days ago. There was discomfort, certainly, and a touch of fear, but Boromir could not honestly begrudge him that. And so he nodded slowly and clasped his hands behind his back to drive the point home, feeling his own tension ease a bit when Faramir relaxed slightly.
"As you wish. But what is that on your face?" Faramir traced the darker area and grimaced slightly.
"Denethor…." he growled, low under his breath but Boromir caught it.
"Did Father strike you?" He could not keep the incredulity from his tone, for it had been long indeed since their father had raised his hand to either of them.
"No, he grabbed me," Faramir replied darkly. "He did not wish me to be able to escape him, for he would know what matter drives us apart!" Faramir folded his arms across his chest and leaned back against a merlon almost defensively, though there was now anger in his voice as well. "I know not what he suspects, but he has known of this for too long already: since the day after we fought, if not that same day!" Boromir felt himself go absolutely rigid with fear and he closed his eyes, counting his heartbeats until he felt as though he might be able to breathe again.
"And… learned he aught from you?" Boromir asked hoarsely, opening his eyes once more.
"Do you truly believe me to be that hard-hearted?" Faramir asked, cocking a brow and gazing candidly at his brother.
"No… I … I meant it not thus…."
"Or perhaps I am, I know not!" Faramir sighed softly and released his brother from his gaze. "I told him nothing, only that it would remain between us, and that it was not his affair."
"Thank you," Boromir breathed.
"There is naught to thank. For it is between us alone, and Denethor has no place in this," Faramir replied, and then surprisingly, he laughed softly, incredulously. "I told him that! He will not forget it, ever!" Just as quickly, though, he sobered once more and raised pained eyes to Boromir's face as he admitted, "But who knows how much he may have read in my despite? Something in my face or manner may have betrayed us, I know not!" Betrayed us… betrayed us… not 'you'… 'us'…. Boromir knew quite well that his brother could not love him, not the way that Boromir loved him or would love him. But that he did not reject him utterly, that he still counted himself somehow bound to Boromir in spite of it all, was more than Boromir would have dared to hope and relief flowed through him like water. "He will summon you, brother. He will ask you, and he will expect you to tell him. I cannot even guess what will happen when you refuse, but be cautious! He was in a fey mood today, and I know not why this should matter to him so. Perhaps because he sees that it upsets you, but I like not the feeling that I have now. There is something dangerous in our father, Boromir, and I know not how to counter it. Nor even what it is!" Faramir slid down the merlon to sit with his knees drawn up and his arms locked loosely about them as he gazed up at his brother. Boromir stood there, looking back, and fear and dread warred with relief, hope, and concern. After a moment, he sighed softly himself and let himself down a good arm's length away, though he sat cross-legged so he could rest his elbows on his knees.
"I never thought," he said slowly, "that I would account Minas Tirith more perilous to me than orcs!"
"Nor I, though I have rarely been easy here." Faramir replied. A pause followed, and Boromir darted a look at the other out of the corners of his eyes. Faramir seemed to be struggling with himself, considering his next words apprehensively… nervously. Finally: "Do you recall our conversation that night upon the high tower when we spoke of marriages?"
"Only too well!" Boromir sighed, running a hand through his hair to cover in part his discomfiture. How could I forget?
"I asked you then, whether any woman of Gondor had caught your eye, and you said no. I realize now why that is, but…." Faramir flushed, which was hardly like him, and he cleared his throat ere he continued softly, "I would still know… was there ever anyone in Gondor whom you have loved?"
"Only one," Boromir replied, meeting his brother's tormented gaze. "And though it be quite hopeless a love, he has still my heart in his keeping. He always shall, for I have never met another who was his match! Nor shall I ever." Which confession and promise only unsettled Faramir further, he could see it; but after a moment, his brother drew a deep breath and nodded, as if in acceptance of something he could not change.
"Twice now, I have told you that I depended upon you. Minas Tirith I could call my home only when you were there as well. After… after I learned how you felt about me, I felt beset, and I have had no peace—nor even hope of it!—since," he replied.
"Faramir… I never meant to tell you, but that it seemed to me that you knew already. When I realized that you did not…." Boromir fell silent, the words stuck in his throat. How indeed could he explain precisely the degree of utter dejection and horror that he had felt? Would even Faramir know words that could express those feelings? I doubt it! With an effort, he continued, "I would never have acted, for I knew well that you did not love me."
"I do love you," Faramir replied, firmly, but gave his brother a slight, sad smile when he looked up, "But not like that!"
"Then do not fear me, for I would never do aught to you. Can you not see that? I am still your brother, and a man not unconcerned with honor, in spite of my weakness! If you ask me not to touch you, I will not--not in friendship, nor even in play. And I will not look your way again if that is what you wish. But you cannot ask me to cease to love you, Faramir! Sooner ask me to be Denethor, for I might have a better chance!"
"Nay, you would fail, for to be our father you would of necessity have to learn to despise me, brother," Faramir replied dryly, with just a hint of real humor. "I am sorry that I doubted your honor, Boromir. And I have complained of you in my thoughts for misreading me!" He shook his head mournfully. "Unjustly, as I now perceive!"
"You could never be unjust, Faramir," Boromir replied, dismissing the possibility. "'Tis not in you to be thus."
Faramir gave a slight shake of his head as he raised his eyes to his brother's face once more. "You think too much of me, Boromir!"
"Aye, I do," the other replied, and miraculously managed to elicit a soft snort of laughter from his brother for that double-entendre. But Faramir's humor faded swiftly, and Boromir sighed. "It is too soon for laughter, I suppose."
"It is just… I wish that it were otherwise, but I need more time, Boromir, to learn to trust once more and fully. Were it not for Denethor, I would not have sought you out today." Which revelation hurt, but Boromir made himself accept it, and he nodded.
"Then take the time. And know that I am grateful that you did so, for at least I will not face our father unprepared." He stood then, feeling that it would be best to end this while there was a note of cautious optimism in the air. Faramir stood as well and hauled the trap door open once again, then waited while Boromir settled the ladder securely in the hooks in the ceiling. There followed an awkward pause, as both men hesitated, neither willing to make a move lest it be misinterpreted. At length, though, Boromir took the initiative, descending quickly, and he went and stood by the stairs, careful not to watch while his brother climbed down, afraid to jeopardize their fragile rapprochement. And to be perfectly safe, he led the way down the steep steps, feeling Faramir's eyes on him the while. At least he will look at me now. At least we have spoken, and perhaps one day we may retrieve something of what we once shared! It would never be the same, but so long as there was something solid upon which Boromir could depend, he would be well content. At least now I need not fear revelations!
"Boromir," Faramir said when they had almost reached the ground level, and the older man paused, turning to look up at the other. Faramir's face was downcast, but that hardly mattered at that angle, and so he saw the quick spasm of pain that rippled across the other's features. "You understand that I cannot promise you aught. Only that I shall try, in whatever time we have, for one of us must soon depart. But do not hope for too much!"
Boromir swallowed hard, then nodded. "I understand."
"Good. Then I shall go now and see to Ithilien, for it would not do to ignore my own advice in that matter!" His brother managed a slight smile for that, and then ducked past him, going quickly back towards the tower. Boromir, on the other hand, stood in silence for a long while, turning their words over in his mind. It was hard not to hope, and he knew not what constituted "too much" as Faramir had left it. But whatever the case, their conversation was something, and he was desperate enough to take whatever acceptance his brother could manage.
Set that aside now, Boromir, he told himself firmly, drawing a deep breath as he began his own walk back towards Ecthelion's white tower. And for the first time, that brilliant spire cast a shadow of dread over him. For I have still Father to face!
*Rhyme of Imladris from FOTR, 240 (In the Council of Elrond for those with different page numbers).
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