11. An Uneasy Peace - Part I
"Dead? What madness is this?" Boromir shouted, his distress and exhaustion fraying his nerves into misplaced anger. "I have heard no whisper in the city of the Steward's death! How can it be that my father is dead?"
Gandalf, as weary and worn as the man confronting him, yet managed to rein in his temper and answer calmly, "By his own hand, Boromir. He commanded a funeral pyre built for him in Rath Dínen, in the House of the Stewards, and burned himself upon it. "
"Nay, this is not possible. It is madness or lies..."
"It is neither. I watched him climb onto the pyre and light it, and I carried Faramir from the tomb myself."
"Faramir!" That brought Boromir up short. His face paled, and his hands clenched into helpless fists. "You told me that my brother lay in the Houses of Healing, guarded and cared for against Aragorn's coming."
"He does now. But your father deemed him beyond help and took him into the houses of the dead, thinking to burn his child with himself. Had it not been for the quick thinking of Pippin and the valor of Beregond, your brother would now lie in the smoking ruins of Denethor's tomb."
Boromir gave a strangled gasp and staggered under the weight of this blow. Aragorn's hand closed on his arm, steadying him, and the Ranger guided him a few steps to a stone bench, where he collapsed and buried his face in his hands.
It was late evening and the stars were out, gleaming fitfully through the last shreds of unnatural cloud that clung to the mountain's peak. Torches and watch fires glowed yellow from the plain below, turning the scene of the day's vicious battle into a twinkling carpet of grounded stars to rival the canopy above. Fires still burned in the city, a dull red in the darkness, and the streets were gripped with an exhausted stillness, but the fear was gone for this night, at least.
The beauty of the night was lost on the three companions gathered in the garden to talk of flame and death. All three had known great elation, great triumph, and great loss this day. All three had fought to the limits of their endurance and lived, only to face the long, cold, filthy and heart-wrenching business of cleaning up after battle.
Boromir had not rested since his last brief halt with the Riders, in the stonewain valley, a full day and night past, and he had not slept even then. After his ride from the gates, he had spent many hours laboring to organize the city's defenses, remove the refuse and the dead from her streets, and reassure her frightened people. Then he had sat at his brother's bedside, listening to Faramir mutter and cry out in his fever, until he was beyond the reach of beauty or comfort. Only pain still seemed able to reach him. The heat and urgency of battle had cooled to bloody ashes, and his triumph at the gates was forgotten in the grim aftermath.
Now, he sat in the calm, lovely gardens that surrounded the Houses of Healing, listening to Gandalf tell him of his father's cruel fate and wondering why he had struggled so hard to come home... to this. His city on the brink of ruin, his father dead, his brother dying, and all his efforts to regain his honor and his place reduced to hollow mockery. Aragorn sat beside him in wordless support, but Aragorn was as disbelieving as Boromir at the news of Denethor's madness and did not know how to react.
"When you met us in the street," Gandalf went on, remorselessly, "we had only just come from bringing Faramir to the Healers."
"I rode into the city through Rath Dínen." Boromir clutched at his head, as though the pressure of his fingers could force the unbearable words from his mind and memory. "I choked on the ashes... my father's ashes, and I wondered what treachery had brought flame and destruction to the very hallows of Minas Tirith."
"It was treachery, indeed. Sauron's arm has grown long, but even he could not reach into the hallowed places of this city, without the Steward's treachery to open the way for him."
"You dare to call my father traitor?!" Boromir growled, bristling with renewed hostility.
"What other name would you give a man who opens his heart to the whispers of the Enemy, is blinded to hope, driven to despair, and finally delivers himself to the death plotted by his foe?"
Boromir fixed his bandaged gaze on the wizard. He felt the truth of Gandalf's words, like the ache of an old wound in his heart, but that truth gave him no comfort.
Gandalf, responding to his unspoken question, said, "Your father had one of the ancient Seeing Stones, the palantíri, which he used to keep watch over ally and enemy alike. He cast his gaze too far and took no heed of danger. The Eye and will of Sauron snared him, and the palantír became enslaved to the Enemy, but Denethor would not believe that his great weapon had been turned against him. He was too proud to consider that a will greater than his own might control the palantír, or that the weapon itself was not meant for such as he to use. He believed what he saw in the stone and would listen to nothing said that contradicted his visions."
Gandalf hesitated for a moment, then added, softly, "He believed in your death. He saw, by the Enemy's design, your fall and imprisonment but not your escape. Pippin and I both told him that you lived, but he would not hear us. We were mere creatures of flesh and blood - deceptive, treacherous, plotting against Gondor and her lord with our tales of rescue and hope - while the palantír never lied."
"He thought me dead," Boromir murmured, distractedly. A deep pain welled up in him - the pain of loss, but worse, of recognition. For try as he might to deny the truth of Gandalf's words, he knew that the wizard had seen clearly into his father's proud, disdainful heart and read him aright. "Another betrayal to add to my account."
Gandalf smiled wearily. "You cannot carry the blame for this one, Boromir. Yes, your death was a terrible blow to Denethor, but it was not, in itself, enough to drive him to madness."
Boromir's answering smile was wry and humorless. "You comfort me."
"I mean to. You have learned much since you rode from Minas Tirith in search of Imladris. Do not fall back into the old habits of arrogance and obstinacy."
"Is it arrogance to accept the blame for my father's death?"
"Yes, if the blame is undeserved and the guilt is naught but a means to magnify your own suffering."
Boromir pondered his words for a moment, then gave a shrug of acceptance and said, "You are merciless, Gandalf the Grey. And as usual, you are right. I will mourn my father, but I will not carry the guilt for his death."
"Very wise, my Lord Steward. Faramir will soon find that he is not the only clear-eyed member of the family." Boromir winced at his choice of words, but the wizard gave no sign of noticing. "I wonder how great a shock it will be to him?"
At the mention of Faramir, Aragorn stirred and rose to his feet. "I must see to the sick and injured. Ioreth will have found the herbs I require, and I must not tarry. Boromir, I grieve with you, and with all the city, for your father's death."
Boromir nodded, wordlessly.
"Will you go in? I would have you there, when Faramir wakes."
Boromir rose to his feet, though he made no move to follow the Ranger inside. "I will come, but first, I would speak a word with Gandalf alone."
Aragorn squeezed his arm in understanding and strode quickly into the House. Boromir waited until he heard boots on stone flags and the sound of a door closing, then he turned back to the wizard, who waited patiently for him to speak. Now that he was alone with Gandalf, he felt suddenly awkward and found it difficult to choose his words.
The wizard relented and asked, with unusual mildness, "What troubles you?"
"Then you would do better to question Aragorn. It is he who will save Faramir, if any can."
"This is not about his illness. I would know if you spoke to him, before he was stricken."
"I did, briefly. He was not long in the city."
"How did he seem to you?"
"Weary and full of grief." Gandalf paused, then his voice took on a keen edge. "You do not want to hear about your brother's battles with Denethor, nor are you interested in the state of the garrison in Ithilien. What is it you want to know, Boromir?"
"Did he speak of me? Of our parting?"
"Of your parting, no, not directly. He questioned me about your capture and Saruman. He did not believe the rumors of your death, for he, unlike Denethor, accepted my word that they were false, but he wanted to know all that had befallen you since leaving Rivendell."
"And did you tell him?"
"Only what I felt was mine to tell. Much of it, I had no part in and would not discuss if I had."
Boromir heard the strain in his own voice, as he asked, "What of the Ring?"
"What of it?"
"Do not toy with me, Gandalf! Did you tell my brother of my attempt to steal the Ring?"
"I did not, but he knew of it, already."
"What?! How could that be?"
"He met Frodo in Ithilien."
"Frodo..." Boromir whirled away, needing activity to vent his growing anguish, but he was adrift in an unfamiliar space and dared not move. His knee pressed against the cold stone of the bench, and he sat down heavily on it, muttering, "Frodo told him." A curse was wrenched out of him, as his hands clenched into fists upon his knees. "Frodo told him!"
"Do not condemn Frodo for indiscretion. I suspect Faramir guessed far more than Frodo said."
Boromir gave a harsh laugh. "I condemn Frodo? I would not presume so much."
"You would rather your brother did not know of the trial you faced?"
"The trial I failed, you mean." Boromir forced his fists to unclench and spread his fingers open to grasp his knees, willing himself to calm, to acceptance. But the knot of fear, shame and sorrow in his innards did not ease. "Nay, Faramir must know, for my betrayal cannot be hidden. Yet I would rather it had been left to me to tell him. And I wish..."
He broke off to swallow the choking pain in his throat, and he fancied he could feel the wizard's keen eyes upon him, kind but piercing, reading his heart whether he allowed it or no.
"I wish this, my greatest folly, did not lie between us at our first meeting."
"Do you think it will make a difference to your brother? To his affection for you or his gladness at your return?"
"We parted badly," Boromir murmured, as much to himself as to the wizard. "He wanted to pursue the quest himself, and I forced my father to let me go in his stead. He was angry, but worse, he was hurt as I've never seen him. I fear that he cannot forgive that hurt, after I usurped his place and betrayed the quest that should have been his."
"Faramir is not a man given to bitterness. I think you will find the wounds deep but not beyond your power to mend."
"I hope you are right, Gandalf. I would find one thing, in all this ghastly ruin, that can still be mended."
"'Tis not all ruin," the wizard said, his voice gruff but strangely soft in the darkness, "and much that was broken has already begun to heal."
Boromir tilted his head up to feel the night wind on his face, and he took deep, sighing breath. "And much never will."
"We are no longer speaking of your father or brother," Gandalf said, shrewdly. Boromir shook his head. "Of what, then?"
"It is foolish of me to ask, for the road to Isengard is closed to me, Saruman's offers refused, and my chance lost. But ask I must." He took another deep breath and ground out, his voice harsh with strain, "Tell me, Gandalf, lest I drive myself mad with wondering, could Saruman have healed my injury, as he promised? Does he have that power?"
A long silence answered him, and Boromir felt hope and embarrassment warring within him, as he waited. At last, Gandalf sighed and said, "I do not know."
"You are of his order. You overpowered him at the doors of Orthanc and broke his staff. If you do not know, who does?"
"No one but Saruman, himself, and you would not get a straight answer from him. Yes, I was once of his order and worked closely beside him, but then his power did not lie in the making of rings or the healing of wounds. He was a lore master, strong, wise and subtle. Then his eyes turned east, to the Black Land, and the wisdom of Saruman was consumed by the evil of Sauron."
"You tell me nothing I do not know, already."
"In his desire to rival Sauron himself, Saruman has turned his great abilities to the mastery of arts not his own. He has usurped powers that do not belong to the wizards, mayhap not to any race yet living in Middle-earth. I do not know where he learned to forge rings of power or breed new strains of orcs, but he has. And I do not know how far those powers go. I have seen his ring and his Uruk-hai. I see your face, now whole and sound, though Aragorn vows it was crushed to bloody ruin by an orc's blade. These things I know Saruman can do, but I know no more."
Boromir ground his teeth in frustration and blurted out, "But what do you think, Gandalf? What do you believe?"
The wizard sighed again, and Boromir heard the rustle of his cloak as he sat down upon the bench beside him. "What I believe will not help you find answers, Boromir."
"It may give me peace."
"Very well. I do not believe that Saruman has the power to restore your sight."
"Yet he did heal my face."
"He healed what was broken, but that is not the same as restoring what is lost. Do you know the full extent of your injury?"
Boromir looked away, turning his face from the wizard's gaze to mask his emotions. "Aye."
"Then you know that there is nothing left for Saruman to heal. I am sorry, Boromir, but I do not believe he has power enough to recreate something that has been thus destroyed.
"No force of evil can truly create - shape, influence, perhaps hasten the effects of time and nature, but not create. That is why the dark powers of the First Age could make orcs only by misshaping elves. And that is why Saruman, a far lesser power than those whom he imitates, can do no more than refine the existing race of orcs to make his Uruk-hai. They are terrifying in their strength and intelligence, but they are only orcs, when all is said and done. To give you back your sight would require a power far more profound than any Saruman has shown."
"Then it was merely another lie," Boromir said.
"So I believe, but if you choose not to believe the same, there is none will blame you."
"Nay. I trust your wisdom in this." Boromir hesitated, marshaling his courage to ask the final question in which lay his last hope. He could feel Gandalf's presence beside him, and he sensed that the wizard was waiting for the question, expecting it. "But what of you, Gandalf? You are the most powerful wizard of this Age. Can you do it?"
The answer was soft and sorrowful, but emphatic. "No, I cannot. If I had that power, I would have done it outside the walls of Isengard and spared you this time of doubt and darkness." Boromir nodded slightly, his face tightening with the effort of holding his pain in check. "I do not believe that such power exists in Middle-earth."
Boromir nodded again, more firmly, and said, in a clipped and strained voice, "I thank you for your candor."
"I am truly sorry. I would that I could give you hope, instead of more darkness."
"It is, in some measure, a relief. I can, at last, turn my back on Isengard and Saruman's lies."
"That is good." The wizard rose to his feet, leaning heavily on his staff. "Very good. I begin to have real faith in you, Boromir of Gondor."
Boromir ignored the rather sideways compliment and asked, "Do you go to find Aragorn?"
The man stood up and started to lift his hand toward the wizard, then thought better of it and let his arm fall to his side. He drew himself up stiffly and said, "I must be with my brother when he awakens."
"That would be best." Neither of them spoke for an awkward moment, then Gandalf said, a laugh in his voice, "Come with me."
As he caught Boromir's arm in a firm clasp and started along the path to the door, the wizard added, "The next lesson you must learn, my stubborn friend, is to ask for help when you need it. Otherwise, you will spend far too much time standing about, looking dignified, and getting nowhere."
Boromir gave a wordless grunt of disgust and followed Gandalf into the House.
They stepped into a cool, stone-flagged hallway that was redolent of fresh herbs and soap. There was not room for two men to walk comfortably abreast, so Boromir fell into step behind Gandalf, using the wall and the tapping of the wizard's staff for guidance. He was relieved to be free of Gandalf's clasp. It was one thing to accept a guiding hand from Merry or Pippin and another thing, entirely, to place that kind of trust in someone he had only just learned to accept as a friend.
He followed Gandalf around a corner and heard voices just ahead. Aragorn spoke in a low, insistent tone, and another man answered him. At the sound of that second voice, Boromir felt a surge of elation fill him and, forgetting caution, he stepped eagerly forward. Before he had taken two strides, he was stumbling backward, the sound of shrieked protests in his ears while fabric tumbled around him and tangled his feet.
He caught the wall for balance and righted himself, then he tried to kick the fabric away from him.
"My linens!" a vaguely familiar voice cried out. "You're trampling them!"
"I beg your pardon," he muttered, half in embarrassment and half in annoyance. He could hear his brother's voice, speaking softly to Aragorn, and he was anxious to reach him, but a treacherous morass of spilled linens and scolding females barred his way.
A startled gasp made him frown at the woman in confusion. "My lord!" she said in a strangled way.
"Do I know you?" Boromir asked.
"Nay! That is... we... we met in the street, near the Citadel gate."
Recognition dawned, and Boromir felt a painful flush rise in his face. He stood in stiff silence, not sure whether to vent his anger and humiliation on her, or to stalk coldly away and leave her with her ruined sheets. Then the humor of the moment struck him, and he gave a rueful chuckle.
"I beg pardon for my rudeness, lord," she said, her voice wooden. "I did not know you for our own Steward's son in your foreign garments."
Boromir could not resist asking, "Are you only gracious to Denethor's sons? Or is it only to soldiers of Minas Tirith?"
"I was in a hurry, lord, and that frightened by all the noise. And you did spill my herbs," she added, a touch of the old acerbity in her voice.
"Aye, so I did, and now I've spilled your linens, as well. I am sorry."
She had resumed her wooden, humble manner, when she said, "'Tis no matter, my lord. Pray do not trouble yourself."
Boromir was in the process of crouching down to help her gather her scattered burdens, when Gandalf strode over to him, trampling the cloth beneath his booted feet.
"Come, Boromir, you are needed."
The woman held her tongue, even when Boromir rose to his feet again and walked over her linens in Gandalf's wake. The wizard tossed a gruff apology to the woman as he led Boromir swiftly away. He obviously had something of much more moment than dirty sheets to occupy his mind, and Boromir caught the edge of excitement in him.
They reached the doorway to Faramir's room, and Gandalf halted abruptly. Boromir stopped, with one hand on the wizard's shoulder, and waited for some sign from the men inside the room. He heard Faramir speaking in a low, weak, yet strangely elated voice to Aragorn, calling him king. A smile spread over Boromir's face, as a cold fear he had not dared to examine was lifted from him. Faramir lived. He lived, and he knew his king!
"You must rest now," Aragorn said to the injured man. "Rest, heal, and walk no more in shadow. Here is someone you did not think to see again, who will help you forget your evil dreams."
As Aragorn spoke, Gandalf stepped aside, and the Ranger caught Boromir's arm to draw him up to the bed. Boromir halted when his leg bumped the mattress, and he gazed down at the place from which his brother's voice had come with a slight, awkward smile on his face.
"Boromir?" The younger man's voice sounded incredulous, but whether he felt joy or regret beneath the surprise, Boromir could not tell. The mattress rustled, as Faramir pushed himself away from the bed to sit up, and feverish hands took Boromir's in a firm clasp. When he spoke again, there was no mistaking the joy. "Boromir! I knew Gandalf spoke the truth! I knew you would come!"
"Aye, Brother." Boromir did not know what more to say. He was lost in a flood of mingled relief, sorrow and gratitude that left no room in him for words.
With a tug on his hand, Faramir pulled him down to sit on the bed, then he caught Boromir in an embrace as heartfelt as any he had ever given him as a child. Boromir returned the embrace, holding his brother's body, still warm with fever, and remembering all the years of affection, conflict, peril and adventure they had shared. How could he have doubted that Faramir would welcome him home? How could he have feared that the one man in all the world who knew and loved him for who he truly was would fail to forgive him?
"Our father told the Council you were dead," Faramir said, his voice thick with unshed tears, "but I did not believe it. We heard your horn blowing from the west, and I was afraid, but I could not give you up for dead without some sign..."
"You are ill and weak," Boromir chided, slipping easily into his role as protective older brother, "and Aragorn has commanded you to rest. Lie back and be still."
Faramir obediently lay back against his pillows, but he held Boromir's hand tightly in both of his own, as though afraid that he would vanish if let go. Aragorn, who had stood quietly to one side while the brothers greeted each other, now moved up to stand over Faramir again.
"I must see to others in this House, so I will leave him in your care, Boromir. He must rest. Do not let him rise, and do not tire him with much talk. You may stay with him 'til I return."
"My lord King," Faramir said the words reverently, yet simply, as if he had been saying them all his life, "did you bring my brother home to Minas Tirith?"
"I played only a small part. 'Tis a long tale, Faramir, and one that will have to wait. But if you want to thank someone, start with the halflings, Meriadoc and Peregrin."
Aragorn dropped a hand to Boromir's shoulder and murmured, "Tell him what you deem wise, but do not burden him over much."
Boromir nodded understanding. "What of Merry and Éowyn?"
"I go to them now. I'll bring you word."
Aragorn left, taking Gandalf and the healers with him and leaving Boromir alone with his brother.
In the sudden quiet that descended on them, Faramir tightened his hold on his brother's hand and murmured, "It heals my heart to see you again, Brother."
Boromir smiled sadly, remembering the bitter words exchanged at their parting and his own absurd fears. "I thought of you often, wishing I had your wisdom to guide me on my journey."
Faramir laughed, and the tears in his voice only made the sound that much sweeter. "You would not have heeded me. You never did. Ah, Boromir, I have missed you!"
"And I, you."
The two men fell silent, overwhelmed by the rush of emotions, by the myriad questions that must be asked, the tales that must be told, and the many subjects that must be skirted at this first, uncertain meeting. Neither of them knew where to begin, nor could they master their voices to speak with the dignity they demanded of themselves. Finally, Faramir shifted his grip to clasp Boromir's forearm in a soldier's greeting - a gesture of respect between equals - and Boromir returned the salute.
Faramir's voice was still thick with unacknowledged tears, but he had mastered himself enough to speak evenly. "I knew you were alive, and I never lost hope that I would see you within the walls of Minas Tirith again."
"You must have known that no power in Middle-earth could keep me away from my city in such an hour, if I still lived to wield a sword."
"Our father despaired of you."
"He was betrayed into despair by the Enemy."
"And yet, he saw your fate clearly enough. He spoke of your capture and torture..."
"I do not know what he saw, or thought he saw," Boromir growled, cutting him off, "but it matters little now. I am neither dead, nor lost in the pits of Isengard, but here in the White City where I belong."
"Matters little?!" Faramir spluttered.
Boromir heard the outrage in his brother's voice and felt his own face harden. "I do not wish to speak of wizards or orcs or dungeons," he said, stifling Faramir's threatened outburst. "They are of no import, now that we are free of them and Aragorn is come to Gondor. I have brought you your king out of legend, Brother. Content yourself with that and leave the rest."
"You brought the king?"
"I did my part, as he did his in bringing me home." Boromir paused, feeling a twinge of disappointment that his brother seemed so doubtful, so disbelieving of his role in bringing the king to his throne. He went on, in a voice softened by sorrow, "I hoped that his coming would help to heal the rift between us, Faramir. I hoped that it would give you back your faith in me."
"I never lost faith in you."
"Even when Frodo told you about the Ring?" Silence answered him, and Faramir's clasp on his arm slackened. "Aye, Gandalf told me about your meeting with the ringbearer. I do not blame you for withdrawing from me. I would do the same, were it any other man, and for a time I did give myself up for lost. But Aragorn saw me through that despair. He persuaded me to hope, and he offered me a way to redeem my honor. I vowed to send Isildur's Heir to Gondor, to his throne, to save her from the Shadow in the East and to save me from a traitor's death. I have kept that vow, Faramir, for you, for myself, and for all Gondor."
Faramir did not speak for a few moments, and when he did, his words came slowly, almost reluctantly. "I understand why you want it. It would give you all you have ever desired."
"It would give me - has given me - nothing but grief and pain. It is an entirely evil thing, and I am grateful that fate and the halfling have carried it far beyond my reach."
"Yet you want it still."
Boromir's mouth tightened into a hard line. As ever, his brother's piercing insight and ready tongue annoyed him, but he swallowed his usual angry retort and forced himself to answer with equal candor. "I want it still, but I am on my guard, now. I will never again believe its vile whispers." Giving Faramir a twisted, humorless smile, he added, "You do not hear the whispers, do you, Brother?"
"Nay, it does not speak to me. The Ring holds no temptation for me, only fear and dread."
"Then you are both wiser and stronger than I."
"You lack neither wisdom nor strength, Boromir, but you are much like our father," Faramir murmured.
"Aye, so I fear."
That caught Faramir's attention. His voice sharpened abruptly. "Fear? What mean you by that?"
Boromir sighed and rubbed his face, trying to banish his weariness and his grief to find a gentle way of telling his brother that their father had burned himself to death in his madness. His tongue had betrayed him, leading him into a conversation he did not want to have and setting doubts in Faramir's mind that he would have spared the sick, weakened man. It was enough that Denethor was dead and the Steward's chair held by a blind man in this time of terrible crisis. Faramir did not need to know how near he had come to sharing Denethor's fate, nor how closely Boromir's own journey of betrayal and despair mirrored his mad father's.
"You are troubled by more than memories," Faramir said, shrewdly. "What grave news do you keep from me, Brother?"
With another sigh, Boromir straightened his shoulders and turned a determined look on his brother. He knew that his features had hardened and his voice grown harsh, but he needed such armor against the pain of his own words and Faramir's reaction.
"Our father is dead, Faramir."
"Denethor? Dead?" Faramir shifted an elbow beneath him, pushed himself away from the mattress, and reached to clutch at Boromir's arm with his free hand. "How can this be?!"
"I told you that he was betrayed by the Enemy..."
"Treachery within our city?! Who would dare harm the Steward of Gondor?"
"Only the Steward himself, hounded to it by the lies of Sauron. He died by his own hand."
"Nay..." Faramir collapsed back against his pillows, and his hand went slack on Boromir's arm. "Nay, 'tis not possible... Denethor, son of Ecthelion, take his own life? At the very moment of our doom? 'Tis madness."
"Were you there? Did you speak to him ere he died?"
Boromir shook his head. "I came too late to curb his madness or to bid him farewell. I did not know until Gandalf told me, just before you awoke, what had befallen him."
"How... how did he die?"
"The full tale can wait. It is enough for you to know that Denethor is dead and I am, for the moment, Steward of Gondor."
Faramir, as was his wont, pounced on the unexpected phrase and would not let it pass unnoticed. "For the moment?"
"Isildur's Heir has come. Gondor has a king, and all has changed."
"Aye..." Faramir's voice trailed off into thoughtful silence, then he mused, very softly, "Our father is dead, and the Stewardship is ended with him."
"Aragorn will need a Steward to support his reign."
"But not to rule Minas Tirith and Gondor in his stead, as you were trained to do. Or to rule as king, as you have long hoped to do."
"All has changed," Boromir repeated, firmly. He did not like the doubtful note in his brother's voice or the unspoken, but painfully clear reminders of the long disagreement between them about the future of Gondor's throne and Gondor's favorite son. Only time would convince Faramir of his sincere loyalty to the king, and until Faramir believed, he would not put aside his doubts or his lingering hurt. As always, Gandalf had seen the truth of the situation.
"The king will make his choice," Boromir went on, his tone of voice brooking no argument, "and we will abide by it. I trust in his judgment."
"As do I," Faramir murmured.
"Then we have only to wait and safeguard the city against his coming."
Faramir hesitated, then said, "I will rest easier, knowing you have our city in your keeping. I and all Gondor have missed you sorely, Boromir. "
"You missed my sword, at any rate." Boromir forced wry amusement into his voice in a bid to dispel the gloom that hung about his brother. "I come home to find the city in chaos, the enemy pounding at the gates, and you taking your ease in bed. Clearly, you cannot manage without me. I should have listened to you and stayed home."
Faramir chuckled softly. "You should always listen to me."
"Aye. Between you, Aragorn and Gandalf, I am beset with great minds. I feel at a grave disadvantage." Boromir scratched his chin thoughtfully, then added, "I think I will take up farming and leave the affairs of Men to wiser heads and clearer eyes than mine."
Faramir laughed again, but Boromir heard the note of doubt in his laughter, as though he were not sure his brother was joking.
"I have talked enough of my own adventures and mistakes. Tell me something of yourself, Faramir. What has befallen you in the months since we parted?"
"They have been hard months - for me and for our people."
"I do not doubt it. Tell me."
Faramir heard the note of longing in his voice, recognized the hunger in him for some news of the land and people he loved so single-mindedly, and promptly launched into the tale of all that had passed since his departure. He spoke of the long, grim war, the abandonment of the garrison in Ithilien, the loss of the last bridge at Osgiliath, and the coming of the winged shadow. He said little of their father, but Boromir was wise enough in the ways of his family to recognize his father's hand in much of what his brother had done. And he knew that every careful gap in Faramir's tale could be filled by another strained and bitter scene with Denethor.
Boromir listened with a growing sense of guilt for having left Faramir so long, without his older brother's shielding presence. He had to remind himself that Faramir was a grown man with years of experience in dealing with a cold, critical father. And he took a perverse comfort in the fact that Denethor had chosen to take Faramir into death with him - a last, desperate, ill-timed gesture of love. When Faramir was stronger and ready to hear the full tale of his father's death, perhaps he, too, would take some comfort in the certainty that Denethor had loved him.
In the middle of Faramir's narrative, Aragorn walked into the room. He brought the Warden of the Houses of Healing in his wake, and the old woman, Ioreth. When Faramir's gaze touched his king, he broke off his story and fell into a waiting, respectful silence. Boromir turned to meet the new arrivals, a frown gathering on his face, until he heard Aragorn's voice.
"'Tis time and past time that your brother was asleep, Boromir."
Boromir rose obediently to leave, but he stooped over the bed to clasp Faramir's hand again in farewell. His brother clung to him with surprising strength.
"Must you go?" Faramir asked, and for that brief moment, his voice was that of the young child Boromir had loved and taught and indulged and protected with such fierce devotion. It was long, long ago, but that pleading voice seemed to wipe the years away and throw him back into his youth, with his small brother clinging eagerly to his hand.
"I must, but I'll not go far." He rested his free hand on Faramir's rumpled hair, resisting the urge to bend down and plant a kiss on his fevered forehead.
"Thank you," Faramir whispered.
Boromir smiled, gripped his hand for a moment, then turned away and let Aragorn pilot him out the door.
"He'll mend?" Boromir asked, as he stepped close to the Ranger.
"Aye, and all the more quickly for having you near. For now, go to Merry. He is awake and asking for you."
"Merry?" Boromir perked up visibly at that and started down the hallway. He got only a few paces from Faramir's door when he realized that he had no idea where to find the halfling. He stopped abruptly and turned to ask Aragorn, but the other man had returned to Faramir's bedside, and Boromir could hear him talking with his brother in a low voice.
Nonplussed, he stood in the middle of the hallway and wondered how long he would have to wait for Aragorn and how foolish he looked in the meantime. Soft footsteps approached him, and a man's low, measured voice spoke to him.
"Can I be of help, my lord Steward?"
Boromir hid his awkwardness beneath a slight scowl and demanded, "Who are you?"
"The Warden of these Houses. I came to see to your brother's comfort, but he is in the best of hands and needs nothing from me. What of you, lord?"
"I am looking for the halfling, Meriadoc."
"Ah, the perian. I do not know which room is his, but I will find someone to show you." The man turned away, his clothing rustling like dried leaves, then he called out, "Gil! Come here, girl!"
Yet another set of footsteps approached. "Sir?"
"You know where the perian is lodged, do you not? Take the lord Boromir to his room."
"Your pardon, sir, but Ioreth told me to finish with the washing." Boromir detected something close to panic in the woman's voice, and he sympathized with her. His guide was none other than the drudge he had bumped into twice, with such uncomfortable results.
"Nonsense, girl. Your errand can wait," the Warden insisted. "Show Lord Boromir where to find his companion, and I will explain to Ioreth what has delayed you."
"Aye." Her voice had gone wooden and dull again. "If you will come with me, lord?"
Her hand slipped through Boromir's elbow, and he thought he could feel her fingers trembling. As she started down the hallway, drawing him away from the Warden, he took pity on her and said, "You needn't be afraid of me." Then his sense of the ridiculous got the better of him, and he added, "I don't have my sword with me tonight, so I'm quite harmless."
"By your mercy, my lord, forget I ever spoke such words to you."
"As you wish... Gil? Is that right?" He frowned at the odd name.
"Gilthaethil." Even using her wooden voice, she managed to invest the name with a wealth of distaste. "Ioreth named me. She took it from some ratty old legend. I know not which one."
"Ioreth? The old woman who never stops talking?"
"She is your mother?"
"All the mother I have." Again, beneath the flatness of her tone was a clear message that the subject was closed and she had no intention of discussing it further.
Boromir gave an inward shrug and fell silent. His guide was an oddity - sharp-tongued and shrewish one moment, humble and apologetic the next, with an abrupt way of speaking that made her sound angry, no matter what came out of her mouth. Boromir felt a mild curiosity about her, wondering what she looked like and how she had come to work in the Houses of Healing, but it was a fleeting interest. The sound of high-pitched, familiar voices floating down the hallway toward him drove all other considerations from his mind.
His head came up, and a smile spread over his face, as he heard Merry say, "What I'd really like is a bite and a nice pipe. And where is Boromir, I wonder?"
Gil pulled her hand from his arm and said, curtly, "It's straight ahead, lord. Best hurry. You're waited for."
Boromir nodded his thanks and strode quickly into the room, his smile widening into a grin as he was met with a delighted chorus of welcome and voluble demands for supper.
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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.