12. Day 12: Bitter Duty (Faramir, Mablung)
For not to know we sinn’d is innocence.”
Faramir finished with the last of his report and, as was his custom, sat with a hot cup of tea and thought about all he had written. So much had happened that he ought to tell; so much had happened that he ought to conceal, but he had given Frodo his word and his promise of aid and, for good or ill, the matter was out of his hands.
He took another, longer sip. It was not his best tea, by all accounts, but he was grateful for the occupation. The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that the Steward had known somewhat of the ring; that must have swayed him to let Boromir go. It had to be that, surely it had to be that! What would he say when he discovered that the same ring had fallen right within his grasp and he had not even asked to see it? Which was why he had not mentioned that in his report. No doubt his father would read from his account more than he had written and find fault with what he had, which was why matters of such nature could only be discussed in person.
He was forming just such a resolution to leave for Minas Tirith the next day, when his lieutenant came in to gather the report to add to the dispatches that were to leave in the morning.
“You may reassign the riders, Mablung,” Faramir said, “and assemble an escort instead. We ride for Minas Tirith at first light.”
“Aye, sir,” Mablung said, but instead of making to leave he stood fixed in place.
“Yes, Mablung?” he asked, gesturing to the pot of hot water and the cups, but Mablung still stood at the entrance.
“It may be--” Mablung began with some hesitancy. From long knowledge of his moods, Faramir knew that only meant he would voice an opinion that he might not approve of, and braced himself for it. “It may not be the best time for that, sir.”
What he knew must be a rueful smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Do you mean to say that we should not make for Minas Tirith?”
“No, sir. I mean to say you should not go.”
It was tempting. He dared not think what form his father’s wrath would take, but going back was the right thing to do. Everything was crumbling around them, and he would not find himself shirking his duty at the last.
“Have some tea, Mablung,” he insisted, and poured some of the brew for him. “It is a little too bitter; I let the water boil overlong.”
“I’ve had worse,” Mablung said as he took a tentative sip. “Don’t ever let Galdor get his hands on your tea water.”
“Yes, I learned that the hard way.”
They sat in silence for a while, neither of them saying what they most wanted to say, all the while painfully aware that the other knew exactly what that was. Some things could not be said aloud, despite their being known to all, and yet at times he felt like he owed something to his men—his men, who had given him so much, who had become a family to him—that something that as a Captain he could not give them. Setting his tea aside, he leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest.
“I was disobedient, once,” Faramir began, searching for Mablung’s reaction to that.
“When, sir?” he asked, betraying a hint of eagerness, of interest.
“I was thirteen. We had an old horse—I had begged to keep it, it was one of my grandfather’s remounts and I was rather fond of it. He was not to race, that was the deal; no hard riding for him, he was too old. It would be a mess nobody wanted to deal with.”
Mablung held fast to his tea cup, watching the leaves float adrift on the water.
“We—I…” What to say? I screamed at my father and stormed out of the room before he found a way to make me regret it? “I quarreled, and left in anger. I ran to the stables in the Sixth Circle, sneaked into Nightshadow’s box and left with him.”
Mablung was downing his tea quite fast by now; it made Faramir feel guilty for having brought the whole thing up.
“It was a foolish thing to do,” Faramir said. “I was only thirteen. What skills I had were not honed; could not possibly have survived anywhere alone.”
His tea gone, Mablung had nothing else to do but to look back at him.
“What happened?” he asked.
Faramir leaned forward then, felt the frown form across his forehead, his jaw tighten. The horse broke his leg and my father made me watch as they put him down. It had been the only humane thing to do, his mind knew that.
To Mablung, he simply said, “I learned my lesson.”