16. Out of Doubt, Out of Dark - Part I
Faramir spent much of the morning pondering Merry's words, bitter as they were to him, and slowly coming to acknowledge their justice. The halfling had the right of it. He would not find the answers he needed by skulking about, watching his brother from afar, and listening to the gossip of household servants - or even of close kin. He must talk to Boromir himself and learn the truth of what had happened to him during his months away from Minas Tirith. Only then, perhaps, would he learn to know his brother again.
It hurt Faramir deeply to admit that he no longer knew Boromir. The halfling, a chance acquaintance met upon the road, saw far more clearly into Boromir's heart than his own brother did, and this was a source of great pain for him. The longer he dwelt on the enormity of his loss, the deeper grew his regret, his sorrow, and his longing to find his brother again.
It was this longing, more than his sense of duty or justice, that finally drove him from the House in search of Boromir. To his surprise, he found that his brother had quitted the grounds and, refusing to take a guard with him, gone off in the company of the halfling. The two soldiers posted at the garden gate told him that their captain had ordered them to remain, stating that he only meant to go as far as the Citadel and would need no escort there.
Faramir frowned at this news, worried that Boromir would venture into the city without his guard, but he could not fault the soldiers for following orders nor insist that they dog their Steward's steps against his wishes. If, in fact, Boromir had gone to the Citadel, he would be safe enough. Feeling a mixture of irritation at his brother's careless behavior and curiosity as to what had drawn him to the Tower, Faramir bent his steps toward the seventh circle.
The Tower Guard, resplendent in their black and silver livery, saluted him as he came through the upper gate. Faramir stepped into the Court of the Fountain and hesitated. It was empty, but from the tall, ornate windows of the council chamber at the back of the court, he heard voices. One he recognized as Lord Taleris, his father's chief advisor. Another had all the clipped, formal manner of a soldier addressing his superiors. Then a third and infinitely familiar voice interrupted them, growling,
"Enough! The man has escaped. That much is clear."
Faramir turned immediately to the great doors of the Tower. The thick stone walls muffled his brother's voice, so he did not hear his next words, but Boromir was still speaking when Faramir strode into the council chamber.
"There is only one place a soldier can hide for any stretch of time. If he escaped the city before dawn, he has fled with the army."
"We must warn the King," Taleris insisted.
"Aye." Boromir bowed his head in thought and left the others to wait in guarded silence upon his decision.
Faramir hung back in the doorway, unwilling to force himself into the Steward's business without invitation, and watched the others closely. The great chamber was dim and cool, for no torch or candle was lit, and the afternoon sun had moved behind the tall peak of Mindolluin to cast the windows into shadow. Boromir sat on the deep sill of one of those windows, overlooking the court and the mournful fountain dripping from the branches of the dead tree. Lord Taleris and the Guard lieutenant he had met last night stood close to Boromir, while the halfling sat in one of the carved, polished chairs at the council table, munching an apple and trying not to appear too absorbed in the affairs his lord. He looked absurdly small in such surroundings, swinging his feet a handspan above the floor, dwarfed by chair, Men, and the wide, lofty chamber.
Faramir smiled privately at the picture Merry presented, then he turned his keen gaze on the two men who waited upon the Steward. Taleris and the lieutenant kept a prudent distance between them and shared no glances or whispers, making it clear to Faramir's eyes that soldier and nobleman did not trust each other. The Guard supported Boromir without question. Faramir had seen for himself how loyal was this soldier, in particular. Which could only mean that Taleris had been less than wholehearted in his support of his new Steward and had not been canny enough to keep his doubts to himself.
"A single rider can reach the army before they march tomorrow," Boromir said.
Taleris grunted assent, though he still looked none too happy.
"They have passed Osgiliath by now and will be drawing toward their camp. I will prepare a dispatch for Aragorn, warning him of a possible conspiracy against him among the southern armies."
"I would be honored to compose such a letter, my lord."
"I'll do it."
Taleris bridled at his harsh tone but did not dare to venture a protest. Shifting his ground, he said, "Had the lords of the city been forewarned of this threat, we might have taken counsel with the King ere he marched, mayhap even have delayed that march until the assassin was caught and punished."
"Which is precisely why I did not tell you," Boromir snapped. "The King's business is with Mordor. Mine is with Minas Tirith. No concern of ours can delay him. I am loath even to distract him with unformed doubts at such a time, when it seems unlikely that this assassin is any threat to him."
"You cannot know that!"
Faramir deemed it time to interrupt, before Taleris goaded his brother beyond endurance. As he stepped forward, he caught the halfling's eye and nodded a greeting. Merry immediately got to his feet, rounded the end of the table, and approached him with all the dignified courtesy of a trained squire. The halfling's bow was as precise and practiced as the rest of his bearing, but as he straightened up, a smile lit his face.
Faramir could not resist the creature's charm, however impudent it might be, and he smiled in answer. "You see I have taken your advice, Master Perian," he shot a speaking glance at Boromir and the petulant Taleris, "though I might have chosen my time better."
"I think your timing is perfect. Come, shall I announce you like a proper door warden?"
Faramir's twinkling eyes took in the half-eaten apple and hastily abandoned chair. "Is that your office today?"
Merry shrugged. "Whatever Boromir needs. Hurry, before he gets too angry to listen to anyone."
With a soft chuckle, Faramir followed the halfling up to the row of tall windows. At the sound of their approach, Taleris broke off his latest complaint and all eyes turned toward them. Taleris' face softened with relief when he recognized Faramir, but the young lord moved past him with no more than a cold glance. He had great respect for Lord Taleris' skill and knowledge, but he had never liked the old lord, and he would not now give Taleris any encouragement to count him an ally.
"Your brother is here, my lord," Merry piped up, forgetting his offer of a proper introduction.
Boromir's bandaged gaze fixed unerringly on Faramir, and he got hastily to his feet. "Faramir? I thought you still hostage to the healers."
"I bought my freedom with a promise to return." His keen eyes flicked from the lieutenant's face to the nobleman's, then lighted again on his brother. "This was not my true errand, but I am glad I came when I did and heard of your fears for the King's safety. I have news that bears on this."
"What news? What know you of the assassin?"
Now that it came down to it, Faramir found himself loath to speak in front of the others. This touched his family too nearly, involving as it did a kinsman. Another moment of reflection served to remind him that such treason, if treason it was, could not be concealed, and he said, "Nothing of the assassin himself, but I may know something of those who set him on to murder."
A murmur of surprise escaped Taleris, and the lieutenant's sword hand twitched reflexively.
"I was approached by one near to us in blood," Faramir went on, "and told of a... a conspiracy, for I can call it naught else, to remove the rightful Steward and put me in his place."
This time, the lieutenant's hand closed about the pommel of his sword. "Name the traitor, my Captain! Name him, that we may lay hands on him!"
Boromir silenced the man with a gesture and said, "Who approached you?"
A disbelieving silence met his words, in which Faramir could almost hear Taleris sweating. Only Merry dared move, slipping between the tall men to reach Boromir's side. He stepped in close to his lord, and Boromir's hand dropped instinctively to the halfling's curly head.
After a brief, fierce struggle with himself for some semblance of calm, Boromir asked, "While he was tempting you to treason, did our kinsman mention a murder in the offing?"
"He did not. He spoke only of using my influence with both you an the Lord Aragorn to persuade you to step down."
Boromir ground his teeth together audibly, and Faramir could well imagine the host of angry questions forming in his mind, foremost among them being the demand to know what answer his brother had given Imrahil. Training and caution won out over temper, however, and he held his tongue.
"You called it a conspiracy," Taleris ventured. "Were others named?"
Faramir hesitated, looking for a middle road between his loyalty to his brother and his own sense of justice. There was no way to satisfy both in this unhappy event, but he knew what choice he must make. When he finally spoke, reluctance made his voice hard and his words heavy. "I'll not place another man's life at risk with rumors or suspicions. It was to Imrahil and Imrahil alone that I spoke."
"But the Prince named his confederates," Taleris persisted.
"You have my answer, Lord Taleris."
Boromir spoke again. "Imrahil is gone with Aragorn to Mordor. What of these others? Are they gone, as well?"
"I know of only one, and he, too, is gone with the King."
"Which brings us back to the question of what threat they pose to Aragorn. Will Imrahil and his allies harm him?"
"They will not."
"You sound very certain."
"I am. I cannot be as certain that the assassins were set on by these men, but it seems likely, given the timing and the tenor of the lies that drove them. And if so, the conspirators will do their utmost to protect the King. They want only to end your stewardship, not to threaten the King's reign. Aragorn is safe."
"My Lord Steward, with all due respect, we cannot know what plots and betrayals may threaten the King, distanced as he is from all aid!" Taleris interjected, his face purpling with the strength of his passion. "We must send him more than a hasty dispatch in the hands of an unknowing messenger. I will go to the army. I can reach Osgiliath as quickly as any rider and bring a full report of all that has happened to our lord!"
Boromir ignored Taleris' outburst. Stepping toward Faramir, he held out a hand and said, curtly, "I would speak with my brother alone."
Faramir moved obediently into reach of his open hand and was startled when Boromir took his arm in a firm clasp. When Boromir started walking, Faramir went with him perforce and soon found himself piloting them both through the large, cluttered chamber toward the door. The nobleman and the soldier watched them in baffled silence, while the halfling quietly resumed his seat at the table.
They had nearly reached the privacy of the outer chamber, when Taleris mustered his courage to call out in protest, "My Lord!"
"I am in need of fresh air," Boromir snapped. Then he stepped through the doorway and into the cool, silent grandeur of the Citadel's main antechamber. "Outside," he muttered, tersely, and Faramir turned his steps toward the open doors that let onto the court.
As they crossed the antechamber, their footsteps ringing on the flagstones and echoing into the vaulted ceiling, Boromir spoke in a low, urgent tone, "Taleris is a treacherous cur and likely up to his neck in Imrahil's conspiracy, but he has a point. My King... my friend marches to war with traitors and assassins in his wake, with the Shadow before him and the Enemy at work all around, and I have naught save your word that he is safe to reassure me. It is only the love and trust I place in you, Brother, that keeps me from riding after the army myself to warn him."
"The other is Halbarad." The words were out of Faramir's mouth before he was aware of having spoken.
Boromir came to an abrupt halt and turned to face his brother squarely, gripping his arm with iron fingers. "Halbarad? The Ranger?"
"Aragorn's second in command."
Boromir could only gape at him, at a loss for words.
"You see why I did not speak before Taleris or the guardsman. We cannot spread suspicions of one so near the King without absolute proof, and to cast doubts upon Halbarad would be to cast doubts upon Aragorn himself."
"At a time when all Gondor looks to him for hope. Aye. This is for Aragorn's ears alone."
"You can also see why I have no fears for the King."
Boromir nodded and turned again toward the doors. Faramir fell into step beside him, more readily this time. "Halbarad will not harm Aragorn, whatever his plans for me."
They walked in pensive silence through the great doors and across the court. Faramir led them instinctively toward the western corner of the circle, where the curving outer wall met the shoulder of Mindolluin and where stood the doors to the great library of Minas Tirith. Here, none would disturb them. The sentries were at the far side of the court, the men inside the council chamber well out of earshot, and only the library close at hand.
It was this building that gave the spot its charm for Faramir. He had spent countless hours here, leaning against the stone parapet, staring ever westward and northward, dreaming of what lay beyond the reach of sight. When weary of the burdens he carried and of the sight of Gondor's troubled lands, he could turn his eyes inward and rest them on the cool, white walls of the library he loved, on the carven doors set deep in their pointed arch of stone. It gave him strength and a kind of peace that he knew nowhere else in his father's city.
It was his brother's city, now. Boromir's city. As he leaned his shoulder against the parapet and fixed his eyes on his brother's face, Faramir wondered yet again how he felt about the myriad changes that had been forced upon them, not the least of which was Boromir's homecoming.
The man who occupied his thoughts so completely was lost in his own musings for the moment. Boromir stood with his hands resting on the wall, his black-shrouded gaze turned outward and his face upturned slightly to catch the fitful breeze. He looked weary and sad to Faramir's eyes, as though the burdens of his stewardship were no joy to him. Even in this, his brother had changed.
"So Imrahil is a traitor." There was no anger in Boromir's voice, only sorrow.
Faramir answered in the same quiet way. "For what comfort it gives you, he said nothing of treachery or murder, nothing of using force to gain his ends. He spoke only of persuading you to step aside. He is our kinsman, Boromir, as close in affection as he is in blood. I cannot believe he wishes you harm."
"Yet he traffics with traitors and seeks to draw my own brother into his conspiracies." Boromir turned his bandaged gaze on Faramir, and the younger man had the uneasy feeling that he could see through the dark fabric to read the conflict in his face. "Did he succeed?"
Faramir had been expecting this question, but he still could not force an answer from his lips with Boromir's lined, troubled face before him. Boromir regarded him for a moment, then turned away again with a sigh.
"I am sorry, Brother. For us both."
"I am no traitor, to Gondor or to her lawful Steward," Faramir blurted out.
"Nor is Imrahil, by your reckoning. Tell me, Faramir, what answer did you give?"
"I promised only to wait, to watch, and to consider his words."
Boromir seemed to brace himself against the grief that welled up within him. His shoulders stiffened and his head lifted more proudly, but there was defeat written plain in his face. "I know you well enough to understand such an answer."
"Do you, in truth?"
"You will not choose until you are sure, and you cannot be sure of me." He paused, then murmured, "You never were entirely sure of me, were you?"
Faramir could only stare at him in dumb sorrow, taken completely off guard by his brother's sudden candor.
"I do not blame you," Boromir went on. "You know too well my weakness, my folly, my guilt... You alone, among all those who would condemn me, know the true depths to which I have sunk. You alone have the right to stand in judgement."
"I do not want to stand in judgement on my brother."
"You have no choice. It is not in your nature to turn away from the truth, or to flinch from the burden laid upon you. Imrahil knew that when he came to you and planted the seeds of doubt in your mind. He chose his judge wisely."
"He chose me because I, like him, want no more than to safeguard our King and our people."
"And I do not?"
"I believe you do, Brother, but I am not certain that you can."
Boromir turned to face his brother squarely for the first time, shifting his stance so that his attention was fixed all on Faramir. "My rule hangs in the balance, it would seem. My brother stands before me, poised to let fall his weight upon either side, offering me my stewardship unchallenged if I... what? What must I do to keep my birthright?"
"Nay, Boromir. I am not here to lay down conditions! Nor do I hold your stewardship in my keeping!"
"Prudent Faramir. Ever modest and humble. Do not waste your humility on me, Brother, for we both know the power you wield. Only tell me what I must do."
Faramir studied his harshly drawn features for a long moment, trying to read his intentions and failing. "Would you know, in truth, what I desire?" he finally asked.
"To hear what befell you on your road home."
Boromir's mouth twisted into a grimace of pain. "Will such a tale of horrors help you sleep at night? Or do you seek the means to soothe your conscience, when you condemn me before my King?"
"I seek only to lay my doubts to rest, to still the whispers that torment me."
The grimace turned yet more sour, and Boromir said, "So do I, but not in the memory of my dishonor and downfall."
"I am afraid, Brother," Faramir urged, willing Boromir to hear and understand. "I cannot rest, cannot think beyond the fear that grows daily within me."
"That I will lose you, as I lost my father, to darkness and despair."
"That is your fear? That I will end as Denethor did?"
"Aye. Imrahil mouths lofty phrases about Gondor's weal, but I will not stretch the truth so far. I am not afraid for Gondor. I am afraid for myself, for you, and for the cruel fate that awaits you, should you share Denethor's weakness as you do his pride."
Boromir seemed to regard him steadily through the dark bandage, then the Steward bowed his head. "You are not alone in this. I have wondered, myself, how much Denethor's son I am, and I have toyed with the idea of ending my trials as he did."
The doubt within Faramir congealed into dread at these words, but he said nothing, allowing his brother to reveal himself in his own time.
"How much I am my father's son you know better than any, but there is one great difference between us. And one great flaw in all your reasoning. I have already visited the darkness, already tasted the despair that ended my father's life. I have slept and eaten and dreamed them. I have wept for the weight of them upon me and prayed for death to free me. There is nothing of darkness or despair that you or any Man can teach me, Faramir, for they are my constant companions."
"Even as they were for Denethor," Faramir said.
"Nay, do but consider. I had the chance to die - many chances - yet I live. I may live in darkness, but I live, and the darkness holds no sway over me. Do you not see? I made my choice, as our father made his, and I chose to come home."
Faramir felt tears prick at his eyes, and he made no attempt to hold them back. "Aye, you are home, but at what price?"
"Is any price too dear for the chance to stand upon the walls of Minas Tirith again and hear the music of her trumpets upon the wind?"
"That is said like the brother I know!"
"I am your brother, Faramir, in spite of the scars I carry. I thought that your eyes - the keenest in all Gondor - would see past this bandage to the Man beneath."
"'Tis not the bandage that gives me pause."
"Is it not? I felt you shrink away, when I took your arm."
Faramir forced himself to look straight into his brother's face, into the black-shrouded gaze and the pain that festered so terribly beneath his proud mien. "I did not shrink from you out of revulsion or contempt, but only from surprise and, mayhap, from pity. I need time to accustom myself to your blindness."
"So do I."
The sour humor in Boromir's voice made Faramir's throat ache with unshed tears. He longed ever more desperately to find some connection with his brother, some way to banish the image of the scarred and bandaged stranger in the garden and feel, in his heart, that it was Boromir who stood before him.
"I am grateful that you chose to return to me, Brother" he said, his voice far more calm than he had expected. "I see how you rule our city in the King's absence, and my heart swells with pride. I think of all that you have suffered to find your way home, and I grieve for you. When you speak to me with Boromir's voice, chide me in his caustic way, brush aside my counsel with his arrogant assurance, I rejoice to have him beside me once again. But then you turn away - turn back to your strange haunts, your unfit companions, your lonely brooding - and my brother vanishes. I am left with a man I do not recognize."
A small, bitter smile touched Boromir's lips. "My arrogance reassures you? Here is a strange turnabout. You would chastise me for too little pride, in the company I keep and the places I frequent, when you have so often heaped reproofs upon my head for an excess of that same pride. You, who have urged me to change times beyond count, now draw away from me because I have done exactly that. Change."
"Boromir..." His own voice sounded plaintive in Faramir's ears, but he could not bear the lash of his brother's tongue in silence. Boromir neither shouted nor raged. He spoke in the same low, thoughtful tone that he had used throughout their conversation, but his words burned the very air between them.
"Either I am too proud or not proud enough, too guarded or too exposed. You ask me to tell you of the darkest moments of my life, yet when I turn to you for guidance, you flinch at my touch."
"I am sorry for that!"
"I have said I do not blame you for your doubts, and I do not. I understand that you need time to accustom yourself to me, and I will not press you. But if we are ever to stand together as brothers again, you must learn to accept the man I have become."
"This is all that I ask!" Faramir cried. "I want to know you again. I want to look at you and see Boromir, not a distant stranger with bandaged eyes!"
"I cannot make the bandage go away, even for you."
"But you can let me know the man who wears it, as I once knew my brother."
"Tell me about Orthanc."
Boromir's face tightened, and without moving, he seemed to withdraw from his brother. "Why are you so eager to hear this tale?"
"Those dark moments - the darkest of your life, you called them - lie between us. They cast a shadow upon you that is an agony for me to see. All our lives, we have fought together as brothers, inseparable and unconquerable, but when you fought your greatest battle, I was not beside you. Now the shadow is upon you, and I am left alone."
"You are not alone. I am still Boromir, though I bear scars from battles we did not share."
"I know you are he. But I am lonely and afraid, and I want the closeness that we once had - the utter certainty in each other that upheld me through so many trials. I want my brother."
"How can I return him to you?"
"You mean, bare my wounds to you."
"Trust me, Boromir. I'll not betray that trust."
A long, grim silence met his words. Finally, Boromir lifted his shrouded gaze to Faramir's face and asked, harshly, "Did our father tell you what he saw in the palantír?"
"Some small part, only. He... told me of your capture and your imprisonment. Of your torture at Saruman's hands."
"The stone did not lie. Aragorn and I were taken by Saruman's orcs to the dungeons of Orthanc, where we were tortured for his amusement and to further his treacherous plots. He wanted the Ring." Boromir laughed without mirth, his face hard with strain. "He thought Aragorn would give it to him."
Boromir abruptly turned away from his brother's stark, pitying gaze and rested his hands on the parapet again. His face tilted up to catch the breeze. His voice dropped to a distant murmur, edged with pain. "I remember little of my time there, beyond the horror of Saruman's voice and the agony in his hands. But the dungeon is etched into my memory.
"It is a terrible place, Faramir. The air is hot and thick, so that it seems to crawl over your flesh. Everything is stone and iron and stifling heat. And always, the torches are burning. Burning." Boromir braced his hands on the wall, his fingers digging into the unforgiving stone, and bowed his head. "I cannot abide them."
"Or stone walls or the sound of approaching footsteps... The boots of orcs make a distinct sound against stone floors. Saruman walks silently, but he is never without his orcs, and I can hear them as they come down the passage..."
Faramir shivered, as if a sudden chill had touched his flesh. He fancied, for a dreadful moment, that he could hear the tramp of orc boots in the distance, and with that imagined sound came understanding. "That is why you shun the Tower," he said, shooting Boromir a piercing glance.
Boromir nodded. "I thought that I would die in that noisome pit, hemmed in by stone, choked by fumes and lies. I longed for but one taste of clean air to ease my going."
"Did Saruman promise you freedom, if you betrayed the Ring?"
Another mirthless laugh was forced from him. "What did he not promise me? But it was lies... all lies. Lies so beautiful and vile that they burn like poison in my blood, even now. First the Ring, then Saruman, pouring that poison into my ears, into my heart, until I did not know myself."
"But you did not lose yourself, did not succumb to the lies. How did you withstand them?"
"Aragorn. Aragorn gave me the will to stand firm. I'll not say the strength, for there was no strength left in me, only the certainty that I saw my duty clear and the resolve not to falter in it. I had betrayed my king and my quest once. I could not do it again and live. Nor could I add to Aragorn's torment by letting him see me shaken.
"At the last... at the last, I may have cried out to him. Begged for his mercy. I am not certain. But he was not there to hear it, and I think he would not have blamed me for my weakness. I did not betray him or the Ring, even when Saruman offered me my sight in exchange for that betrayal..."
"He what?!" Faramir hissed.
"He offered to heal my wounds and restore my sight, if I told him where to find the Ring."
A murmur of pain was forced from Faramir's lips. "'Tis no wonder such a lie haunts you! Beautiful and vile, indeed! Does Aragorn know what sacrifice you made?"
"Aye. He made the same choice, before it fell to me. He is a king, Faramir, a true king, and he could do no less. Would you have him betray his people for me?"
Faramir shook his head in wonder. "Nay."
"I'll not pretend it was easy. Sometimes, I deem, hope is the most exquisite torture of them all. Even when it is a lie." Boromir lifted his head again, letting the sun fall upon his face. It seemed to Faramir as though he were weeping, though no tears wet his cheeks. "I will never be free of the memory, though I run all the length of Middle-earth to escape it. The bite of harsh stone in my flesh, the stench of torches, the foul caress of the wizard's voice, and the vision... the vision of white walls soaring above me, gleaming in the sunlight, beckoning me home." He swallowed convulsively and whispered, "It is an agony I will carry within me all my days."
"Are you so certain it was a lie?" Faramir ventured.
"And you trust his judgement?" Boromir nodded wordlessly. "Then so must I, though it grieves me to stand by so helplessly."
"There is naught to be done, Faramir, but to learn to bear it as best I may. If you love me, you will do the same."
"I will try."
Something approaching a smile touched Boromir's lips then faded as quickly as it had come.
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.