12. An Uneasy Peace - Part II
The next morning dawned clear and fair. Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, strode through the city toward the shattered gates, summoned to a council of war by his new king. Except that Aragorn was not yet his king, having withdrawn his presence and his men from the city to camp upon the battlefield, like some lesser knight awaiting an audience with the lord of the city. Imrahil frowned slightly at the thought. He saw the wisdom of Aragorn's decision not to throw Minas Tirith into turmoil by claiming his birthright at such a time, but he thought, privately, that the future king was unleashing turmoil of a whole other kind by his hesitation. Imrahil had heard rumblings through the night - discontented, troublesome rumblings from soldiers and leaders he respected - that he could not entirely ignore.
As he walked through the city, the Prince could not but marvel at the diligence of her people and the progress already made to restore her scarred beauty. All traces of the dead and injured were gone from the streets, along with the foul missiles fired by the orcs over the walls. A few fires still burned, but they were no more than glowing embers now. Even the gates had been cleared, the shattered wood hauled out upon the plain for use in the funeral pyres. The Prince, in his fairness, gave credit for the work to the man he knew held command in the city, and his troubled mind was eased somewhat by this evidence of the Steward's skill.
Imrahil walked through the open archway and onto the bloody fields of the Pelennor, toward the tents of the Dúnedain. Aragorn's tent was unadorned by device or standard. Only the sentries at the opening, grey-clad warriors with fell faces, set it apart from those about it. Imrahil accepted the guards' salute and ducked inside the tent.
He found Aragorn and Mithrandir awaiting him, with the sons of Elrond, Éomer, Boromir and Aragorn's lieutenant, Halbarad. Chairs were set close about a camp table, on which were piled maps and lists scribbled hastily upon scraps of parchment, and all those present, save Halbarad, were seated. The Ranger chose to stand in silence at Aragorn's back, like a protective grey shadow, apart from the council but ever watchful.
Imrahil took a seat between one of the Elven lords - he could not tell which - and the King of the Mark. Aragorn gave him a weary smile, then pushed a map into the center of the table, where all could see it.
"We are met here to choose the manner of our deaths, my lords."
The council that followed both stirred and daunted the Prince of Dol Amroth. He heard death in the king's words, despair in the wizard's prophecies, and he saw the fate that awaited Middle-earth with a new and dreadful clarity. And yet, he could not abandon hope, when Isildur's Heir sat before him and the Sword that was Broken shone before his eyes, reforged and tempered in the blood of Gondor's foes. Aragorn and Mithrandir did not counsel despair, for which Imrahil was grateful. Instead, they warmed his blood with talk of challenging the Enemy, and they spoke of victory. Of the Ring of Power. Of a desperate quest upon which hung all their hopes.
When Aragorn stated his intention of marching on the Black Gates, Imrahil felt his blood fired with pride and a grim excitement. He would march with his lord to the very walls of Mordor, and he would die in this last, desperate bid for freedom from the Shadow. The knights of Dol Amroth would be remembered in song and legend, should any Man live to write them.
Finally, after all the troop dispositions had been made, all the strategies decided, and the date set for their valiant, lunatic offensive, Aragorn sat back in his chair and turned to the man at his right.
"I am sorry, Boromir, but you cannot ride with us. And this time, I'm making it a command."
To Imrahil's surprise, Boromir only smiled wryly and said, "I had not planned on it."
"I count on you to hold Minas Tirith for me. If I do not return, the city and the last defense of Gondor belong to you."
Behind Aragorn, Halbarad stirred restlessly, and Imrahil caught the glint of his eyes in the dim light, as his gaze touched the Prince. Neither Prince nor Ranger spoke, and the sons of Elrond seemed unmoved by Aragorn's words. Only Éomer responded, leaning over to clasp Boromir's arm and say, "I, for one, will ride with a lighter heart, knowing you are guarding the road behind us."
Boromir said, "See that you march back down it, my friend."
"Then we are in agreement," Aragorn said, as he pushed back his chair and rose to his feet. "In two days' time, we march with our combined armies. Elfhelm and the main force of the Rohirrim will ride against our enemies in Anórien. Boromir will command the garrison left in Minas Tirith, including the Tower Guard, and will rule as Steward until my return."
Halbarad spoke for the first time, his voice soft and grave. "And if you do not return?"
"Then all will be as it was before we rode from the black ships and unfurled the banner of King Elessar above the smoke of battle. It will be as if the King had never come." Aragorn stepped to the doorway and lifted the tent flap. Framed in its opening, they could all see the soaring walls of Minas Tirith and, if they tilted their heads well back, bright upon the highest tower, they could see a white banner snapping in the stiff breeze. Aragorn did not need to speak. No one in the tent missed the significance of that simple, white banner floating above the Tower of Guard, as it had done for more years than any mortal among them could count.
The princes, kings and lords filed out of the tent in thoughtful silence. Imrahil stepped into the fresh sunlight and moved slightly away from the guards, his eyes dwelling on the walls that rose before him. Éomer and Boromir strode past him, making for the shattered gates. Imrahil made no move to greet or delay his kinsman, but let them go ahead of him. He was gazing after them, unmoving, when another figure came up beside him and a soft voice murmured in his ear,
"In two days time, we ride against Sauron."
Imrahil turned to look at Halbarad, wondering why the Ranger had chosen to speak to him. He could see nothing in the other man's face but calm and remove, the grey eyes fixed unwaveringly on the two figures now approaching the gate, but when Imrahil glanced down, he saw that Halbarad's left hand was clenching and unclenching upon the pommel of his sword.
Cautiously, Imrahil responded, "To death, it would seem, and yet I cannot despair of life when I ride with such as are gathered here. I do not see death in the lord Aragorn's face."
"You are wise. It is not those who ride with the Dúnedain who should fear but, mayhap, those who wait behind."
Imrahil turned to face him directly, his manner wary, and demanded, "Speak your mind plainly, I beg you."
"Very well. In plain speech, I am loath to ride away to war, leaving Minas Tirith in the hands of Denethor's son. I do not trust him to hold it in the king's name, nor do I trust his motives in seeking the favor of his liege lord."
"You speak of one who is close kin to me, one whom I hold in the deepest affection."
"Aye, but does your affection for Boromir blind you to his faults?"
"What do you know of his faults?" Imrahil retorted.
"I knew his father well - too well for my own comfort - and I know how like the father is the son. Denethor was ever hostile toward the exiles of Númenor. Think you he taught his son any more respect than he felt himself? Think you the proud Boromir will set aside his own ambitions and his father's teachings to walk a pace behind Aragorn throughout his life?"
"I saw no pride or ambition in Boromir today, only loyalty and a willingness to serve his king."
"Perhaps." Halbarad gazed steadily at the Prince, as though turning over his words carefully, giving them due consideration. "Perhaps he has put aside his own ambitions in deference to the king. But why?"
"Because Aragorn is a Man who commands such deference. Have we not all done the same?"
"We are not all Boromir of Gondor." Halbarad paused, letting that statement lie between them for a long moment, then he said, softly, persuasively, "If Boromir has accepted second place to Aragorn, it can only be because he knows himself unfit to rule."
"You will never convince Aragorn of that, or the people of Minas Tirith, who love him dearly."
"Aragorn is bound by a vow he made under extreme duress. He is a man both generous and noble, and he would not see another creature in needless pain. He made a promise to Boromir, when he believed them both destined for the most terrible suffering and death, and he must now live with that promise, however recklessly given. But if the nobles and allies of Gondor gave him an honorable way out, if we could persuade Boromir himself to release Aragorn from that vow, then he would choose a more suitable partner for his rule."
Imrahil said nothing, and Halbarad took his silence for agreement. Throwing all his urgency and conviction into his voice, he said, "Whether Boromir is merely biding his time to claim the crown for himself, or whether he is truly as broken in spirit as he is in body and no longer able to rule well, he does not belong at Aragorn's side. You know this to be true, for you spoke of it yourself on the battlefield. And if we two know it, how many more of the princes and captains Aragorn trusts will step forward to help prevent this evil?"
"Evil? You call my kinsman evil?"
"Denethor himself fell into evil, ere he died. Is Boromir of sterner mettle than his sire? I dare not hope it. And I tell you, in confidence, that the son of Denethor did great evil upon the road from Imladris. I know not what deed he did, for Aragorn does not speak openly of it, but its shadow weighs upon the heart of the king and all the Fellowship. Having fallen once into evil, how will Boromir withstand it at such an hour? When faced with such an Enemy? We all ride to our doom, yet methinks Boromir has already met his."
Imrahil eyed him narrowly, his face carefully neutral. "If I were to do as you suggest and persuade Boromir to refuse the Steward's chair, who then would take his place?"
"Denethor has two sons."
"Aye, but the greatest fault you lay at Boromir's door is that of being Denethor's son. Is not Faramir his son, also? Does he not deserve the same distrust as his brother?"
"You know them both well, Prince. What say you?"
Slowly, reluctantly, Imrahil answered, "I say that Faramir, more than Boromir, is like to Denethor in ability, but he has none of his sire's pride or haughtiness. He is... the noblest of a noble race, wise, just and honorable. There is none I would sooner trust to lead my people, save the King himself."
"Then why do you hesitate?"
"Because Faramir's worth does not make Boromir's any less. I value both my kinsmen, and I distrust your reasons for pressuring me thus. Tell me, Halbarad of the Dúnedain, why do you concern yourself with Gondor's Steward and Gondor's affairs?"
"They are my affairs, too. Think you I am some nameless wanderer of the North, recruited to fill the army's numbers? Nay, Prince Imrahil. I am Aragorn's kinsman, his trusted friend, his chief lieutenant and councilor. Through all the long years of his exile, I have fought at his side, because the same blood of Númenor flows in my veins, and the same longing to come home again. To Gondor. To Minas Tirith. To kingship, our birthright, and the return of our lost glory. I have earned the right to stand at his side, when he places the crown of Eärnur upon his brow, and to stay at his side through all the years to come. So speak not to me of Gondor's affairs!"
The prince smiled and gave a small bow. "I beg your pardon. And I begin to see."
"See what?" Halbarad demanded, his calm ruffled at last by his own impassioned outburst and by Imrahil's amused tone.
"Your true motives. Nay, Ranger," he held up a hand to silence Halbarad's protest, "I mean no offence. And in truth, I am more inclined to aid you, knowing why you ask it of me. But do not think you fool me with your lofty claims of protecting Gondor and her people from an unfit ruler."
He stared straight into Halbarad's blazing eyes and said, flatly, "You are jealous of your lord's affection for another. You would remove Boromir from the halls of power, so that none might challenge your place at Aragorn's side."
"If you believe these are my motives, why even consider siding with me?"
Imrahil's smile died, and his face grew grim. "Whatever your motives, your reasoning is sound. And my motives will remain my own."
Halbarad was momentarily taken aback by his hard tone, but he recovered his poise and asked, smoothly, "You will speak to Boromir?"
"Nay, he will not heed me! There is only one man yet living who might sway him."
"His brother, Faramir."
"Boromir would step aside, at his brother's urging? Giving that brother his birthright and place of power?"
"If Faramir asked it of him, I believe he would."
"And what will convince the Lord Faramir to ask such a thing of his beloved brother?"
"His own judgment that it is right and necessary."
"We must wait, then, upon Faramir's judgment?"
Imrahil bridled afresh at the Ranger's mocking tone. "I will speak to Faramir, sound him out on this matter. But be careful what you ask for, Halbarad. Faramir is no less formidable than his brother, and you will find him no easier to control or brush aside, should he sit in the Steward's chair."
Halbarad drew himself up, stiffly. "You choose to see me as a jealous hound, guarding a bone, but you do me an injustice, Prince Imrahil. In all good faith, I look for no more than the glory of Gondor and the welfare of her king. I do not like the Lord Boromir, I admit it. That dislike is born of years of bad blood and distrust between our lords and lands. Yet, I am willing to accept your word that his brother is not of like kind to him and may serve my liege lord in all honor and faith. I am willing to help another son of Denethor to the Stewardship, if you deem him worthy, as I would defend the current Steward, regardless of my dislike, if I believed him fit for that title."
Imrahil smiled, but it did not touch his eyes. "Save your speeches for the King's council chamber. I have said that I will speak to Faramir, and I will, but I make no promises beyond that. It will be no easy task to persuade Faramir that he should put his brother aside, and it will be an even harder task to persuade Boromir after him. Then there is Aragorn. I leave you to judge how ready our king will be to break his vow."
Imrahil smiled again, faintly, at the certainty in the other man's voice. "I bid you good day, then, Ranger." He turned, before Halbarad could speak again, and strode toward the city, headed for the Houses of Healing and a meeting he wished that his conscience would allow him to avoid.
Imrahil found Faramir in his room in the Houses of Healing. He lay quietly in bed, his gaze turned to the window that opened on the gardens and the city ramparts, and his face sad. At the sound of booted feet on the flagstones, he turned his eyes to the doorway. A smile of welcome lightened his shadowed face. He held out a hand toward the Prince.
As the prince crossed swiftly to the bed, he noted Faramir's pallor and the heaviness of grief in his eyes. He looked like a man suffering from wounds of body and spirit alike. Clasping the offered hand warmly, Imrahil said, "I am glad to see you awake and mending, Faramir."
"We have the king to thank for that."
Imrahil smiled at the warmth and wonder in the other man's voice. "Aye, for that and for many things. He won a great victory, yesterday."
Faramir's face grew even more drawn, and his eyes went back to the window, to the black shadow that still loomed to the east like a portent of doom. "But what has it gained us?"
"Time. A brief, uneasy peace, in which to marshal our strength and prepare for the final battle."
Troubled grey eyes fixed on Imrahil's face, and Faramir said, quietly, "You have come from the king's war council."
"What say Aragorn and Mithrandir? When will the final blow fall upon us, and what will they do?"
"Go swiftly to meet it." Imrahil sat down on the edge of the bed and let his gaze stray to the window. His face, though he knew it not, was as drawn and grim as that of the sick man lying before him. "In two days' time, the armies of the West will march to Mordor."
When Faramir made no comment, Imrahil turned curious eyes on him and said, shrewdly, "This does not surprise you?"
"Nay. It is the only path left to us."
"We cannot hope to breach its walls or shatter its gates. Sauron's armies will o'erwhelm us."
"There are other ways to win a war than with armies."
A slow smile appeared on Imrahil's face. "You know something of Mithrandir's secret hope. Have you, then, your father's long sight?"
Faramir's mouth tightened in pain, and he turned his head away from his kinsman's gaze.
"I am sorry, Faramir. I forgot, for a moment..."
Faramir spoke in a whisper so soft that Imrahil had to strain to catch his words. "Alas for my father. Alas for Denethor, son of Ecthelion."
"Alas for us all," Imrahil added, bitterly.
"Why do you speak thus?"
Imrahil now had Faramir's undivided attention, and he found it unsettling. The grey eyes seemed to pierce his flesh to plumb his very heart. "Does not all Gondor grieve for the death of the Steward?"
Faramir's gaze became even more piercing. "I know you well, Imrahil, and I know that you felt little love for the Lord Denethor. Respect, aye, and the bonds of kinship. Vows of fealty that you have never broken. But love? Nay. I do not need my father's long sight to perceive some other meaning in your words. I beg you, do me the courtesy to speak plainly."
Meeting that direct gaze, Imrahil silently cursed Halbarad's insinuations and cunning half-truths. The Prince of Dol Amroth would not stoop to such tricks, nor would the son of Denethor fall prey to them. If he, Imrahil, was right about the fate of Gondor and her new Steward, then Faramir would see it, too, and act to protect his people. If he was wrong, then Faramir was the man to tell him so. That left him only one course - to tell Faramir honestly what was in his heart.
Dropping his smooth and courtly manner, the Prince said, abruptly, "I do not weep for Denethor. I weep for his city and for his sons, whom he has left in desperate straits through his own arrogance and folly."
"'Tis not my father's fault that Sauron rises again."
"'Tis your father's fault that Minas Tirith and all Gondor are unprepared to meet his coming. And 'tis your father's madness that has bereft us of a leader when most we need one."
"The king leads us."
"Aye, but he will not accept his crown until the war is done. And in two days' time, he rides again to battle, taking all the nobility of Gondor and her allies with him, with no hope of victory. Even if this other, hidden weapon they have sent against the Enemy should succeed, what certainty have we that Aragorn - or any of us - will ride back again, alive, to Minas Tirith?"
"None. That is war."
"That is war, and we are soldiers. But what of those who are left behind? If Aragorn falls before the Black Gates, who will rule Gondor in his stead?"
Imrahil hesitated for a long, tense moment, then he asked, "Have you spoken to Boromir?"
"Aye. He was here when I awoke last night."
"How seems he to you?"
Now it was Faramir's turn to fall silent, as he searched his memory and weighed his words. When he finally spoke, his voice was both thoughtful and sad. "He is grieving for our father. He has ridden from battle into battle, from sorrow into sorrow. He is weary and troubled, beset by worries, and scarred by deep wounds that still pain him. I have never seen him so burdened by care."
"So I think. And I deem it our duty to relieve him of his burdens before they break him."
A frown darkened Faramir's face. "What are you saying?"
"That Boromir is no longer fit to rule Gondor - either as Steward to Aragorn's King, or as sole ruler after the king's death. You bid me speak plain, Faramir, and that is the plain truth as I see it."
"By what right do you make such a judgment?"
"By right of kinship and affection. As one who has known both you and Boromir since childhood, loved you well and watched you grow into the men you are. And as one who knows that you will not turn from the truth, no matter how painful it might be."
Faramir lay very still, absorbing his words, and Imrahil felt a deep regret that it had fallen to him to force a brother's hand in this way. Faramir alone, among all the people of Gondor, saw clearly who Boromir was, and yet loved him all the more dearly for it. He forgave his brother's faults, even as he acknowledged and condemned them. And he would not refuse to see them, now.
The look Faramir gave his kinsman was grave and calm, but colder than was his wont. "You believe my brother cannot rule, because he cannot see."
Imrahil opened his mouth to protest, then thought better of it and held his tongue. He had offered Faramir the truth, and so it behooved him to give it, no matter how unflattering to himself.
"I had thought better of you," Faramir said, quietly, and Imrahil flinched under his soft reproof.
"It is true that I find your brother's blindness troubling, but not for the reasons you presume."
"I presume nothing."
Imrahil had the sudden, uncanny feeling that he was facing a younger and more soft-spoken version of Denethor, with all the old Steward's needle wit and utter implacability. He caught himself licking his lips with nervousness, as he had done as a boy when confronted by the terrifying lord and required to admit some childish prank.
"Of a certainty, Boromir can no longer lead armies," Imrahil said. "Even if the soldiery will follow him, it is madness to send a blind captain into battle."
"As I'm sure both Aragorn and Boromir are aware."
"Yet he did just that, yesterday."
"He what?" Faramir's calm abruptly shattered, and he pushed himself up on his elbows to demand, "Do you mean that my brother fought in the battle?"
"Aye. He led the Guard against a company of orcs and drove them from the gates. He saved the city."
Faramir gaped at him, astounded. "Aragorn allowed this?"
"Aragorn knew nothing of it, until Boromir rode up to us on the field. In fact, it seems that the king had commanded Boromir to stay in Rohan until sent for - a command he chose to ignore."
Faramir collapsed back against his pillows, a rueful smile on his lips. "Aye, he would." The smile became a chuckle. "How like my brother."
Faramir sobered at the harshness in Imrahil's voice. "Boromir has fought all his life to safeguard Minas Tirith and her people. Would you have him stop now, when the survival of all Middle-earth hangs in the balance?"
Imrahil shook his head. "I, too, would expect nothing else from the Captain-General of Gondor, but therein lies the problem. Think carefully, Faramir. Think beyond your love and admiration for your brother to the man that he is. A man who cannot live but by the sword, who cannot bear to come second to any, who cannot accept anything less than greatness in himself. Is that the man you know?"
"Now think... what will that man do, when all that he has known, all that he has looked upon as his birthright, is taken from him? The crown of Gondor goes to Aragorn, her armies to you, and what is left for Boromir?"
"The Stewardship, for which he was groomed since birth."
"Not like this. Not without the true power to rule or command of his armies. I see only two paths before him. Either he defies all reason, defies the king himself, to keep his place with the army..."
"Which would mean his death," Faramir murmured.
"Or he hangs his sword and shield upon the wall to gather dust, and he becomes everything he despises. Powerless, useless, weak. A discarded soldier with no strength left in him."
Faramir said nothing, and Imrahil leaned forward to clasp his arm, throwing all his sincerity into his next words, willing the other man to understand and believe him. "I am afraid for him, Faramir. When I look at him, I see only defeat, despair and the slow wasting of a valiant man."
"There is a third path."
"My brother accepts his fate, learns a new duty and serves his king in the ways left to him."
"It is not in his nature to accept such a fate."
"You do him small justice, kinsman. Boromir is a strong man."
"Do you not mean proud?" Again Faramir fell silent, and again Imrahil pressed him. "He has the pride your father taught him, and the arrogance to confuse that pride with strength. But what will become of his strength, when his pride is laid in the dust and his life is confined to trailing after his king in darkness?" Faramir winced, and Imrahil paused to let his harsh words sink in. Then he went on, with quiet intensity, "Tell me honestly, Faramir, do you believe your brother has that kind of strength? Or do you merely wish it?"
It took Faramir some minutes to answer. He lay staring out the window, his face a mask of pain, while Imrahil waited patiently for his decision. When he finally spoke, his voice had gone flat and hopeless.
"I do not know. The brother I remember would not endure such a life as you describe. He would..." Faramir broke off to swallow the tightness in his throat.
"He would end as his father ended," Imrahil supplied.
"Pride and despair are a deadly brew."
"But the man I spoke with last night is not the brother I remember. He is changed."
"The poison is already in him. He fights it; he covers it with bravado and wild acts of valor, like his ride from the gates, but the desperation is there, consuming him."
Faramir shook his head. "I do not know. Perhaps you are right, but even so, I cannot think that denying him his place as Steward will help him. Will it not trample his pride all the more completely?"
"Aye, and that pains me. But you and I, for all that we love Boromir, must think first of Minas Tirith. If I am right and Boromir is destined to follow his father into despair, even into madness or death, there is naught that we can do to save him. We can only hope to keep his fall from inflicting yet another wound upon a battered and bleeding land."
"So you would have me take my brother's place at Aragorn's side and lock him in a dark closet, where his gibbering will not disturb the dinner guests?"
It was Imrahil's turn to flinch, but he did not back down, for all the brutality of this crudely-painted picture. "I would have you persuade Boromir that it is his duty to Gondor, her king and himself to step aside and let you assume the mantle of Stewardship. He would do it, for you."
"Aye," Faramir's voice had gone dangerously soft, "perhaps he would. This is why you came to me, instead of going to the lord Aragorn with your concerns."
"Lord Aragorn has made a vow that he will have Boromir for his Steward, or he will have none. He will not break that vow, unless Boromir himself asks it of him."
Faramir gazed steadily at the prince, his face unreadable. "Ah. I begin to see. I am persuaded to approach Boromir, he is persuaded to step aside, and Aragorn is thus persuaded to foreswear himself. 'Tis a twisted road you travel, kinsman."
Imrahil looked away, unable to meet Faramir's eyes. "'Tis a hard and ugly road, but I must see it to the end. I cannot shirk my duty."
"Who set you upon it? You are not alone in this, nor did you choose such a plan of attack."
"'Tis true, I am not alone. The lord Halbarad, of the Dúnedain, asked that I sound you out, but there are others. Many others."
"There would be. My brother has never lacked for rivals or enemies."
"Some of them are old rivals, I admit. And I would warn you that Halbarad is not to be trusted. He speaks of Gondor's weal, but he is driven by envy and dislike of your brother, no higher motive."
"And yet, you come to me at his bidding."
"I come to you, because I do have Gondor's welfare at heart. Sometimes, we cannot choose our allies."
Faramir got an arrested look on his face, and his eyes went distant, as though he were remembering some far-off scene. Whatever the memory, it was not a pleasant one, and the lines in Faramir's face deepened visibly. Imrahil did not dare to interrupt him, nor to press him for an answer. He could only wait, until the other man gave a weary sigh and turned his clear, grey eyes back to the prince's face.
"I know something of the trials my brother faced upon his journey. I will not speak of them, for that would betray secrets that are not mine, but I will tell you this. Boromir has met a much harsher enemy than Saruman, and he has struggled against a greater darkness than mere blindness. That he lives and smiles and enjoys the favor of the king is no small victory for him, and it gives me great hope. But I am also afraid, for I do not know what hidden wounds he carries that may yet poison him.
"I will not promise to side with you in this, Imrahil, but neither will I dismiss your fears. I will promise only to watch my brother and think on what you have said."
"There is not much time. The army marches soon..."
"And Boromir will keep our city safe against your return. Of that you can be sure. Be content, Imrahil."
"He is well enough, for the present, I suppose."
"He is. And should our last hope fail, should our army die in the jaws of the Enemy and the Shadow spread throughout Middle-earth, what matters it then if a blind madman leads us?"
"You will consider what I have said?"
"I will consider it."
"Then I am content." Imrahil got to his feet and clasped Faramir's hand in farewell. "I will come again, if time allows."
"Or I will come to you. I shall be up and about in time to see the army off."
"I am glad." Imrahil gripped his arm and smiled with real happiness. "I am most glad. Farewell, kinsman."
As Imrahil disappeared into the dim hallway, Faramir heard a murmur of voices from another part of the House. He recognized his brother's curt tone and the high-pitched voice of a halfling. They sounded as if they were drawing closer, but suddenly, they were interrupted by a loud crash and a cry of protest.
After a stunned moment, he heard Boromir say, "Gil?"
"Aye, my lord," a woman answered. "I beg your pardon, my lord. 'Twas my fault."
"Of course it wasn't. What was in the bucket, Gil?" Boromir sounded both resigned and foreboding, even muffled as his voice was by distance.
"Naught but the wash water, my lord." Was the drudge laughing? Faramir thought he heard a tremor of amusement in her voice, and he found the possibility of her laughing at his brother infuriating.
"Shall I help you mop it up?"
"Nay, my lord! 'Tis but a moment's... 'Ware the puddle!"
There was another crash and a curse, then Boromir's chagrined voice, saying, "I beg your pardon. I should not speak so in front of a lady."
"I am not a lady, and you did not offend my ears. But please, lord, go away... outside... somewhere dry, before you break your neck!"
The halfling piped up, saying, "There are no puddles down this way, and Merry's room is just around the corner. Let's see if he's awake. I say, Boromir, your cloak is dripping wet. And you squelch when you walk!"
"Aye, thank you, Pippin," Boromir growled. "I'd not have noticed, else."
"What a dreadful mess you're making. Only look at those tracks..."
"On your way, Master Perian," the drudge snapped, "and let me mind the floors."
"That's a fine way to address a soldier of Gondor," Pippin remarked, his voice trailing off as he moved deeper into the sprawling House. "Just as if I were a child, instead of a battle-hardened veteran."
Faramir lay in silence, listening for the sound of booted feet approaching his door, both hoping and fearing that his brother would seek him out. He heard nothing but the muted sounds of the drudge mopping up her spilled water, the bucket scraping on the stone flags as she moved it. When even that noise had died away, and Boromir still had not come, Faramir relaxed. Letting his weary head sink into the pillows, he closed his eyes and covered them with one unsteady hand.
Too much had happened. Too much had been laid on his shoulders, too hard on the heels of his own brush with death. But at least he had been spared this one ordeal - confronting his brother with Imrahil's dire warnings still fresh in his ears. He had been given a brief respite in which to think and gird himself for the next, more painful skirmish in the endless war that was the life of Denethor's son.
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.