My son stirred and moaned softly. I leaned close, straining my ears to catch any words that might have passed his lips parched with fever, but heard none.
“Faramir… please, answer me, son…” The words caught in my throat; my own voice sounded as if it belonged to someone else, so shaky and pleading it was. It struck me that long ago I begged my wife to hear me in the same manner, but she just slipped away, leaving me so dreadfully desolate that for days and days I refused to heed anyone, my own children among them.
So, it was four days after my wife passed away and was laid to rest; I was nearly crushed by her death, quite sure I could never recover. It was then that my duties as a Steward became less onerous: they helped me to keep my mind off the things that were circling in my head incessantly, dark thoughts that threatened to send me into a bottomless pit of despair. I would bury myself in the paperwork, never leaving my office and snapping angrily at any intruder, for fear they might catch a sight of tears on my face. For, however hard I tried to occupy myself with matters of state, occasionally among the papers there would be a forgotten embroidered handkerchief, or a hairpin, or a funny drawing of a striped cat chasing fat mice – that one she had made together with Faramir, and I remembered them giggling like a pair of conspirators, Boromir standing a little apart and pretending not to take part in such a childish play, and then pointing out that the mice in the picture were the size of the cat, and so it was wholly unnecessary for them to flee…
Such cute and small things, and yet each of them was another dagger in my already bleeding heart. Besides, they made me face another challenge, the children.
For Finduilas’s final months, they had acquired a nurse: their mother had been in constant pain, I tried to stay with her as much as I could, and I did my best to shield them from witnessing her torment. She herself had recommended the girl to look after our boys; the latter’s name was Linwen, and I had to admit the choice was good. Linwen was very young, but amazingly efficient with her little charges, and they loved her almost immediately. She was unusually petite, for a one of Númenorean descent, but had a truly fiery personality and an indomitable spirit, igniting everyone with the sparkles of her big grey eyes that changed to green whenever she was under a strong emotion. I was (and am until now) enormously grateful to her for lifting the veil of sorrow which had seemed to shroud us all for most of the time.
She would burst the door open and proudly announce, ignoring the indignant hisses from the healers, “My lady, I deeply regret troubling you, but your two little rascals make it so hard to keep my wits about me! How could such noble parents have given life to this pair of Orcs, I wonder?” Next she would produce the aforesaid rascals, usually covered in mud or dust or cobweb, occasionally bruised, and plunge into a long account of how our precious little ones had come about those marks of honour.
The whole thing would develop into a lengthy discussion, towards the end of which Finduilas looked pale and weary, but there was a smile on her lips as she gently berated the boys for giving Linwen so much trouble, and long after the visit she would be much livelier than before it. I suspected that was exactly what Linwen had aimed at; moreover, it very effectively screened the boys from the terrible truth for yet another day.
And yet, the day came when even Linwen’s cheerful manner faded away. I had seen her at the funeral out of the corner of my eye, holding Faramir with one arm, his face buried on her shoulder, another wrapped tight round Boromir, who stared at the funeral bier with an expression of disbelief mingled with anger: death was something he had until that moment known from afar, a thing that usually happened to ‘someone else’ and certainly should not have befallen his own mother. Only when Finduilas’s body disappeared in the crypt did tears tumble down his pale face; he pressed closer to Linwen, shaking all over with violent sobs.
She tried to comfort him, to embrace him tighter, but that was no easy task with Faramir still in her arms; he was a five-year-old by then, and quite heavy for a girl of her built. Appearances forgotten, I crossed over to them and attempted to take Faramir from her, but my son had his small arms securely round her neck and refused to be passed to me. Looking back, I understand that poor boy was clinging to her because she was a woman, and therefore had some of his mother in her, and for no greater reason, and yet it had hurt me so much seeing my child turning away from me! Signing, I went to Boromir.
I spent the rest of the day with my elder son, first simply holding him and letting him weep, then bidding the servants to bring us some food and making him (and myself) eat a little, and, finally, putting him into my own bed, as he fell asleep in my arms and I did not want to wake him. I did so in the following days, too, for he seemed so unwilling to leave me and I so dreaded the moment I remained alone in my chamber that I used to share with my wife, that I had not the heart to send him back to the nursery.
One night, I heard a soft rap on the door.
“Enter,” I said.
It was Linwen. One change was surely brought about by Finduilas’s passing: our nurse learned to knock before entering.
“My lord Denethor,” she said. I nodded and pointed to a chair. She shook her head and crossed over to the bed to look at Boromir. “Just wanted to see how he fares,” she explained. “I feel I am neglecting him a bit in favour of his brother,” she added apologetically.
“You need not worry over this,” I said. “Naturally, as Faramir is so young, he needs more attention.”
She gave me a sharp look. “He needs more of your attention, my lord.”
I shrugged. “He seems pretty comfortable with you, Linwen. Hardly says a word when I try to talk to him.”
“The poor child is in a terrible shock!” she cried, springing to her feet and starting to pace the floor restlessly. “All he knows is that his mother suddenly left, his brother and closest friend would not play or talk to him, and his father is too busy!”
“What would you have me do, then?” My temper started to rise. “Whenever I try to talk to him or hug him, he just stiffens and mumbles something, and then curls into a ball on the bed and falls silent.”
She seemed to soften slightly. “Men are so…” she swallowed one of her epithets. “My lord, Faramir is a difficult child to talk to, but not impossible. As he matures, this could even develop into a strength – I mean his stubbornness and reticence – but until then, he will need a lot of support. Do you know why he behaves so with you? He is mortally afraid that--”
She was interrupted by a patter of small bare feet, and in an instant the subject of our conversation appeared in the chamber.
Faramir burst into the chamber, then stopped halfway between the door and us, short of breath. It took me an instant to realize the child was distraught, his cheeks flushed, tears streaming down his face.
“Mother?..” he gulped.
For once, I was quicker than Linwen to snatch him into my arms meaning to shush him, but suddenly his little hands became hard fists battering against my chest.
“No… don’t want you, want Mother! No, no, no! Let me go! I hate you!”
I was so stunned I nearly dropped him. His cries became unintelligible but for an occasional ‘hate you’, his feet started to kick me, he was gulping for air and seemed to be unable to exhale. It took great strength to hold that tense kicking bundle that was my five-year-old son, so quiet and placid only hours ago!
Linwen put an end to it. She turned Faramir to face her, I still holding him, and slapped him quite hard across the face.
“What are you doing!” I roared, blazing with rage.
“Just what is needed here,” she replied calmly, passing to the bedside table and pouring a glass of cold water from a jug. “Here, Faramir, drink. Slowly… there’s a good boy, now come, I am here, and your Father… it’s all right…” She gently took him from me and settled him on the bed, where was a frightened wide-eyed Boromir, his eyes still foggy with sleep. Fortunately, he grasped what was needed from him in an instant. He put his arms round his little brother, whispering into his ear, and gradually Faramir’s eyes calmed, though his breathing was still rather uneven.
I took Linwen by the arm, none too gently, and pulled her as far from the bed as was possible. “What were you thinking you were doing?”
I hissed. “You struck my child!”
She freed her arm and sighed. “The boy was hysterical, my lord. That was the most effective way to bring him back to his senses. I hated doing it, but it might have ended in a cramp.”
“Oh… I am sorry then. Have you seen it happen before?”
“Not to him.”
“But why… why was he saying all this? About hating me, I mean?” It had pained me so much, trying to bring some comfort to my child and hearing such terrible words.
“Definitely not because he felt it. The boy needed to release his emotions and you were the first person he came across. Had I been first to catch him, these words would have been poured out at me. Now I am going back to bed, and it is your task to find out why your son was so distraught.”
Mortified, I caught her by the arm again. “Surely he would tell you more readily?”
“Oh, surely? And is that a natural thing, to confide into a stranger rather than you own father? No, my lord, forgive my outspokenness, but he is your child and I will see you less of a coward in facing your responsibilities as a father even if I have first to bang your head against the wall!”
Involuntarily, I laughed at the picture in my mind, this chit of a girl fit to be my daughter herself, banging my head against the wall beside the fireplace… I would have to crouch, for her to perform the task successfully. “You are a dear, Linwen. How do you do that? I mean, make people feel so unburdened in you presence?”
“No idea,” she answered solemnly, smoothing her skirt like a good schoolgirl. “Some things just make me raving mad, like most men willingly stepping aside from raising their children and then blame their wives and nurses and the children themselves for not being able to be and do what their fathers expect them to… No, I do not mean you, my lord Denethor, not yet, there is still some hope left in your case.” She gave me a sad smile, the agitated green in her eyes subsiding and giving way to her usual calm grey. “But come, let us have this conversation some other time. Go to your sons, they need you more than ever.”
“Thank you, Linwen,” I said as she was closing the door.
“Whatever for?” she raised her eyebrows.
“For caring for my children so. I am sure you will make a good mother when time comes.”
She gave her usual nonchalant laugh. “Do not doubt that. As for caring for the boys… am I not paid for that?”
And, with another laugh, she was gone.
Faramir was still watching me with wide unhappy eyes, exhausted after his outburst. His brother was sound asleep, so I reached for my little one, extracted him from Boromir’s arms, and went to sit in an armchair by the fire, settling the child in my lap.
He sighed and buried his face in my chest, and so we sat, pressed close to each other, until finally I thought he was asleep and made to get up to put him back to bed. But Faramir stirred and looked up at me, and I was shocked to see that his face was glistening with tears again.
“What is it, son? Are you ill? Please, tell me.”
He lowered his gaze, then whispered: “I’m a bad child.”
I pulled away a little and took him by the shoulders. “What stupid things you say, Faramir. You are a very-very-very good child, and we all love you so much. Will you not tell me what happened?”
He sniffled miserably. “I had a bad dream. I was so scared, and I wanted Mother, and she was not there…” He trailed off, trying to catch his breath.
“What was the dream about, Faramir?”
He shook his head so violently that his hair flew into my eyes. “No, no… I can’t. It was bad, scary… dark, so dark… Oh Father, I’m scared, so very very scared!”
I held him close again, feeling the little body shudder beneath my hands. I became concerned, remembering something Linwen had started to tell me before Faramir ran into the chamber, something about fear and his odd behaviour towards me. I had to get it out of him, if only to calm him.
“Son, you must tell me. It will do you good, the dream will not be so scary if I know about it. Please, Faramir.”
He nodded and finally told me.
“I saw you, in a dark room… it was so dark, but I just knew you were there. I was afraid, and I called you, and you started to walk to me, and then there was a ball, and… and…” he sobbed, clutching at my tunic.
“What ball, child?” I asked, baffled.
“Don’t know… it was black… and it took you, and I cried and cried, but you didn’t come back… like Mother…” he broke down completely now, tears streaming down his face and onto my hand, which he had in his grasp. “You… you…left…left me… and Boromir was not there, and it was so dark…”
I stroked his head with my other hand, whispering some soft nonsense one would say to a young distressed child, feeling tears prick at the back of my eyes. How could I be so blind? Well of course that was what Linwen had meant! The poor child had just lost his mother, the loss and the grief of such scale happening for the first time in his life; surely he would be mortified at the thought of losing his other parent as well! And a thoughtful and quiet child like my Faramir too.
But what was that talk of the ball about? A strange image. I would not be surprised at being carried away by an Orc in my son’s dream, but this…
Gradually, Faramir calmed down. I turned him so that he was facing me sitting astride my lap, and cupped his face.
“Now listen to me, Faramir,” I said gravely. “No damn ball or whatever it was you saw in that dream of yours can take me away from you. I am your Father, and now that your Mother is gone, I will always be with you. Do you hear that, son? Always, even if I am too busy at my office, I will still think of you two and love you with all my heart, because I have only you left now. Even if I am angry or tired or in a bad mood, never doubt that I love you.”
He looked into my eyes, still troubled. “But I am a bad child. I said I hated you. I shouldn’t have.”
“You were upset, that is all. You do not really hate me, do you?”
“No!” he paled with horror.
“Remember, once I told you that when people are angry or sad they would say things they do not really mean?” He nodded. “It happened to you too, and it is no great shame. You just missed your Mother.”
“Do you, Father? Do you miss her?” He put his hot little palm to my cheek, and the awkward gesture was enough to shatter all my self-control. I tried to turn away from Faramir, but he threw his arms around my neck and nearly strangled me, whispering hotly in my ear: “Linwen said it is good to cry, because otherwise you may hurt inside for very long. I don’t want you to hurt, Father, I don’t.”
So we sat there until I had no more tears left, my little son holding me tight and comforting me as best he could.
“Father?” he called me after I finally laid him next to his brother. “Mother would be angry with you if she were here.”
“Oh? And why would that be so?” I smiled tiredly.
“You said *damn* ball!”
I found myself smiling when I remembered this moment at my grown son’s bedside.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.