1. The Private Chamber
Faramir approached the front door of the Golden Boar and the doorman snapped to attention. “Captain Faramir, what a pleasant surprise. You have been absent far too long.” He said as he opened the door.
Stopping to for a moment, Faramir replied, “Thank you. I would dine here often, but I am seldom in town. Is my brother here yet?”
“No, he is not”, The doorman said. “Shall I tell him you are here when he arrives?”
“Please, I shall be in the common room”, Faramir answered, and entered through the open door.
Faramir stood with his back to the crowded bar, sipping a dark ale out of a large earthenware tankard. He was searching the crowd for a friendly face at a table with an open seat. There were several tables with people he knew but did not care to sit with, no matter how welcome he might be. Courtiers seeking the favor of the Steward would gladly buy him dinner and an evening of drink, but he did not wish to be beholden to such jackals. Besides, he would have to spend the whole evening hearing the praise of whatever it was they were trying to sell Gondor at inflated prices.
Then he noticed her, sitting all alone at a small table in a dark corner, drinking by herself. Her movements indicated she had been drinking heavily, and her demeanor showed that she was attempting to drown her sorrows in wine.
His mind went back to that summer, when he was thirteen and Boromir was eighteen. They were visiting Uncle Imrahil. Míriel was visiting her grandparents, whose beach house was next to Uncle’s. He had a terrible crush on her, but she only had eyes for Boromir. They were always sneaking off and returning looking flushed and disheveled. He laughed remembering how jealous and under age he felt. She had only been fifteen, but acted like those two years placed her far above him.
He often wondered why Boromir had not continued to court her. There had been so few women in his life since then. She would have been a fine match; one father would have approved of. Daughter of a wealthy lender and landholder, beautiful, well mannered and sophisticated, her dowry likely would have been more than Boromir’s inheritance.
That summer, all she could talk of was art, theater, music, and dance. He often wondered what she saw in Boromir. It seemed he spent every evening trying to cram his brother full of information on those subjects, an impossible task. He laughed to himself, picturing Boromir in Uncle’s library; art history book in lap, trying to force-feed himself a subject he could never be bothered with before he met Míri.
Míriel never did marry. She continued her art education instead. In place of a husband, her father secured her a post as Minister of Public Art, which placed her in charge of all public art works in Gondor. This was a new position, commonly believed to have been created in return for some favor her father had done for Denethor. She didn’t need a salary, just an office and title, her stipend was far more than high ministers were paid. When she was done redecorating her office, it rivaled the unused Royal Office for elegance and opulence, if not in size.
Those who thought she was only interested in a title to add to her collection, a bauble to wear to garden parties, were in for a surprise. She set about her job with a vengeance. Statues were repaired, murals cleaned, tasteless works were replaced with gems she unearthed in old warehouses and basements. Money was raised and new works were commissioned. In a few short years those who had once joked about the rich girl buying a title were praising her for restoring Gondor’s tradition of supporting high art as a public good.
Faramir’s reverie was interrupted by a confrontation at Míri’s table. Old Gamling, the owner was in some sort of argument with her. Since she was an old friend, in her cups, he decided to intervene.
“Who cares if I am drunk, this is a public house,” Míriel said as Faramir approached.
“Madam has had enough, it is time to go home and sleep it off”, Gamling replied.
“Faramir!” She said, eyes lighting as she saw him standing there. “A knight, come to rescue the distressed maiden.”
“What is the problem here?” Faramir asked the two of them.
“The lady has had enough.” “He won’t shell me another bottle of wine.” They answered at the same time.
“I quite agree with our host. You have had enough,” Faramir said. “Come, I will escort you.”
Míriel thought to argue, but one look at Faramir and she realized that she was not going to win this one. She collected her things and staggered to her feet.
“I am expecting my brother to meet me here,” Faramir said to Gamling. “When he arrives, explain the situation to him. If I do not return, have him pay my bill. I may or may not return tonight.”
“Tonight, your bill is on the house, Captain”, Gamling said. “I will inform your brother.”
Míriel took Faramir’s offered arm and he guided her out the door. Out front, her carriage was waiting. The footman held the door open and lent a hand to steady his mistress as she made her way up the steps.
“Take your mistress home”, Faramir commanded the coachman, as he climbed into the carriage.
Faramir sat down opposite her in the coach as it jerked into motion. “Well Míri, it has been a while. Last time we met, you were smiling and sober.
Instead of a spoken response, she just put her head in her hands and began to cry. Faramir took out his handkerchief, crossed over to sit next to her and gave it to her. She dabbed her eyes and then turned to him and said, “Oh, Faramir, I am so, so.” She could get nothing more out but just put her arms around him and began to cry on his shoulder. Faramir felt very awkward about this, but he hugged her and patted her back gently.
Soon they were halted in her courtyard. Faramir made her sit up before the footman opened the door. Faramir exited the coach first and helped the footman guide her down the steps and onto the drive. Several of her servants were waiting to take their lady inside. Faramir spoke to the housekeeper. “She has had a lot to drink. I came along to see she got home safely. She needs to sleep.”
The housekeeper listened politely. She was going to answer when a look of shock came over her. “You, you are Lord Faramir, are you not sir?”
“Yes, I am. I have known your mistress since we were children.” Faramir answered. “Is that so strange?”
“It is just that you seem so like your father, er, I mean look so much like him.” The housekeeper said.
“Many have said that, I would not know.” Faramir answered.
“Please do not go.” Míri said, interrupting Faramir’s conversation with her housekeeper. “I would speak with you for a while. Then my coach will take wherever you are bound.”
She took Faramir’s arm and they walked up the wide steps into the large white stone house. She was a bit unsteady on her feet and held onto Faramir tightly, but walked proudly beside him. Faramir noticed that when she stood up straight, she was quite tall. A picture book daughter of Númenor, tall, slender and athletic, with straight black hair and silver gray eyes. Her family had been among the Faithful of Andúnië who fled with Elendil, so her countenance and stature were not surprising.
Faramir’s boots echoed on the tile floor in the great central hall as they walked. It was lit with many lamps and had statues, and paintings down its length that would put many art museums to shame. He wanted a chance to stop and admire the artworks, but his errand would not allow that this night.
Soon they reached a set of arched doors, which were open and turned into them. Two maids were lighting a fire and setting out a serving cart with tea and pastries. At the sight of their mistress and her companion, they finished up quickly, bowed to her and scurried out, closing the doors behind them.
“Please, sit down. Allow me to serve our tea.” Faramir said to her.
She complied; sitting on the two-person couch that was sideways to the fire. She was alternately dabbing her eyes with Faramir’s handkerchief and twisting it in her lap.
“Make mine with honey and lemon please.” She asked.
When he had made two teas, Faramir set them on the low table in front of her and deliberately sat on the chair opposite her rather than joining her on the small couch. He watched her as she picked up her tea and sipped it, looking at the fire. Her eyes were swollen and red, she looked like a broken person. Something bad had happened to her. Faramir thought that perhaps if she talked about it, she might feel better.
“What has happened?” Faramir asked. “What could drive you to becoming drunk in a public house and then crying on the shoulder of a man who is naught but a childhood friend? A great lady does not do such things lightly. I would know what grieves you so. Perhaps I could help.”
She looked at him, tears running down her face. “Oh Faramir, you are a jewel. If I needed more proof that I make bad judgements of men, it would be you.” Then she just sat looking at him, with red swollen eyes, puffy lips, and the strangest expression.
Faramir felt very uncomfortable. He could not read her, or what she was getting at. “What could I have done?” He asked.
“You have done nothing, other than show me what a gentleman is like. A lesson I should not have needed.” She said with quivering voice. “I am drawn to men with callused hearts, like a moth to the flame. It will be my undoing.”
“Has someone toyed with your affections?” Faramir asked. “If you wish I am willing to speak to him, to attempt to persuade him to do the honorable thing, or if he refuses to be your champion. I will not stand idly by while a lady is treated dishonorably.”
She looked at him, tears running down her cheeks and laughed. “Please Faramir, you are beating me over the head with the enormity of my bad choices. You are everything my lover is not.”
“Has this man hurt you, or left you compromised?” Faramir asked. “He cannot be a gentleman if he has done either.”
“He has done worse.” She said. “I have been the secret lover of one of the country’s most powerful men for thirteen years. I do not know how I let it happen. At first, I was drawn by the secret nature of it all. I was doing what others only wished they could do. I thought our little secret made me special. I really loved this man. I now know his heart is cold and he is incapable of love, yet I love him still. To make it worse, he no longer is coming around. I am finding that secret love was better than no love at all.”
Faramir sipped his tea, and thought for a moment or more. “It sounds to me like you are well rid of this fellow. Give it a month or two. You will realize what a cad he is and you will feel lucky he is gone. When you are recovered, I know a number of unmarried officers who are fine gentlemen. I will give a party and invite both you and them.”
“If it were only that easy.” She sighed. “I see this man all the time at work. To make it worse, I have to be insulted by seeing my replacement at his side. He has hired some farm girl to serve coffee in his office. She can barely read and write. Friends of mine have seen him slipping into her chambers at night. It is as if he is rubbing my nose in it.”
“What of his wife?” Faramir asked. “Surely his wife must know something is amiss. His treatment of her is even worse than his treatment of you.”
“He is unmarried.” She said. “That was the bait which kept me in the trap. I had convinced myself that if I just loved him hard enough, he would love me in return and we would wed.”
“Well, this man, if I dare call him that, is a fool. Were you to become Queen of Gondor, none would say you were unworthy.” Faramir said.
To his surprise, her jaw started to quiver, and tears rolled down her cheek as she sat there frozen in pain. She buried her face in her hands and began to cry again.
Faramir was shocked. Then a terrible thought crossed his mind. He spoke it at once. “Please, tell me we are not speaking of my brother.”
Through the sobs, she said, “No, no. Boromir is dear to me, but we are just friends. Please go now. I am overwhelmed. I can not speak further tonight.”
“Only if you are sure you will be alright.” Faramir said.
“I am going for a bath and bed now. I will be right in the morning.” She said, standing up. “Please have the coachman take you wherever you wish. I owe you that much.”
“You owe me nothing.” Faramir answered. “It was my pleasure.”
She grabbed him into a strong embrace, and kissed his cheek. Stepping back she said, “Take care fair knight. Gentlemen are a rare find.”
The Golden Boar was less crowded when Faramir returned. The dinner crowd was gone and what remained were drunks, gamblers, and courtesans.
“Is my brother here?” Faramir asked the hostess, upon entering the common room.
“Yes, follow me.” She said, turning to lead Faramir to the gaming room.
In a small side room, where the tables were mostly filled with soldiers drinking and gambling was Boromir. He was playing cards with several other men, and had a fair pile of coin in front of him. As Faramir approached, Boromir threw his cards on the table in disgust and watched another man pull a large pile of money to himself.
Boromir looked up, saw his brother, and flashed a drunken grin. “The Rangers have arrived to save my ass.”
“I gave up fighting hopeless causes years ago.” Faramir answered, and the whole table laughed.
The men closest to his brother slid their chairs over, Faramir took a chair from the next table and sat next to his brother. The next few minutes were passed greeting old friends and exchanging jibes. Every man there was a high officer in Gondor’s army.
“Deal you in?” The man shuffling the deck asked Faramir.
“No, deal Boromir out. He is going to eat dinner with me now.” Faramir answered.
“A good plan. I have lost a month’s wages, I should quit while I am behind.” Boromir said.
Then he stood and tossed a gold coin into the center of the table. “For my share of the drink. It has been grand, but I have an appointment to dine with my brother who I see far too seldom.” He pushed his remaining money into one large hand with the other and left with Faramir.
Soon, they were in a different part of the Boar; quiet and dark lit only by the candles on the tables. They were alone except for a couple in a dark corner, and were sipping fine wine, awaiting their food.
“I heard Míri caused a scene tonight, and that you took her home.” Boromir said.
Faramir looked at him for a moment, assembling his words. “She is distraught. A man has been using her most foully. Her heart has been broken by a lover under false pretense.”
“Give me a name, I shall slay him with pleasure.” Boromir said with fire in his eyes.
“I already claimed that deed, but she would not name him.” Faramir answered.
Faramir then recounted the whole story to his brother, who listened carefully, but said little other than to question Faramir about the girl who had supplanted Míri.
“You sound as if you suspect someone.” Faramir said.
“No, just trying to get the facts straight.” Boromir said.
They were interrupted by the arrival of their food. Large grilled beefsteaks with hashed potatoes and sautéed mushrooms.
As soon as the waiter was out of earshot, Faramir asked in a hushed voice, “I know you too well, you know who it is.”
“I do not know, but I have a suspicion I will not speak until I am sure of what I say. I would not have this said about any man falsely.” Boromir answered. “Let us speak no more of it tonight.”
“Fair enough, if you swear to tell me when you are certain.” Faramir said.
Faramir opened the door to his father’s office and walked in. Instead of Halman, the aged scribe, a young woman who he doubted had reached her twentieth birthday greeted him. She was quite good looking, with the glow of youth, and a charming smile.
“Where is old Halman?” Faramir asked. “Who are you?”
“Halman retired.” She answered, in a sharp tone. “I would ask, who are you to barge into the Steward’s office and begin asking questions thusly?”
Faramir was taken aback by this greeting and was composing an answer when the door opened behind him.
“I see you have met my brother.” Boromir said.
The girl blushed and seemed at a loss for words.
“Faramir, this is Rose, our father’s new scribe.” Boromir said, being far more polite than was his usual manner. “Rose, this is Faramir, my brother, Captain of the South Ithilien Rangers, Military Commander in the South, and a member of the Defense Council. Please bring him some green tea and honey when you bring in my coffee. We will be in our father’s office.”
“Who is that?” Faramir asked in a quiet voice as soon as they were seated in the office.
“The eighteen year old daughter of a plantation owner.” Boromir said with a deadpan look.
Faramir sat there looking at Boromir, as if he were trying to read his brother’s mind, when she entered with Boromir’s coffee.
“I will return with the tea in a moment.” She said with a smile.
As soon as she left, Faramir looked after her with a look of exaggerated suspicion. Boromir put one finger to his lips and then raised a palm to Faramir.
“Here is your tea, Captain.” She said as she laid the cup and saucer on the desk.
“Well, I see you two are on time for once.” Denethor, their father and Steward of Gondor gruffly pronounced as he entered the office.
Faramir stood to greet him, Boromir remained seated and barely looked up from his coffee, seeming to be more interested in blowing on its steaming surface than greeting his father.
“It is good to see you father.” Faramir said cheerfully, and extended his hand to him.
Denethor walked right past the outstretched hand and went to his chair on the other side of the desk. Looking at Faramir he said, “I hope you bring me good news from the south.”
“It is not bad news.” Faramir answered. “We have….”
His father interrupted him, “It never is when officers report on their own activities.”
“Perhaps you should hear the news before you dismiss it as lies.” Boromir said, looking up from his coffee.
“I have seen the written reports.” Denethor said. “I never trust a man who writes like a scholar.”
“You write like a scholar.” Boromir said.
“No wonder he is weak.” Denethor said. “You always protect him. I am trying to make a soldier out of him, and you interfere.”
“You making a Ranger Captain into a soldier is laughable.” Boromir countered. “Rangers are the toughest men on Earth. I have never seen a better soldier than my brother.”
“Your good nature will be your undoing. I do not know who will rule when I am gone. A fool or a dreamer, we are doomed.” Denethor said.
Denethor then picked up a piece of paper on his desk and began reading, signaling an end to the conversation. Boromir and Faramir exchanged sidelong glances.
Boromir took a sip of his coffee and said, “On that cheerful note, I think it is time we go to the Defense Council meeting”, and stood up to leave.
Faramir stood too, picked up his tea, and followed his brother out of the office.
Denethor grunted and made a feeble wave in their direction as if he were dismissing them as they left.
Once they were a ways down the hall, Faramir looked at Boromir and asked, “You do not suspect?”
“I am all but sure,” Boromir answered.
“It just seems so farfetched,” Faramir said.
“Númenóreans age slowly”, Boromir answered.
“Father is in his eighties,” Faramir said.
“He looked healthy enough just now,” Boromir answered.
“What are we to do?” Faramir asked.
“Find the truth”, Boromir answered.
“Where?” Faramir asked.
“From the one person who knows for sure”, Boromir answered.
The reached the doors to the meeting room, and entered. The room was filled with important officers and members of the government. Boromir and Faramir took their seats as greetings passed across the table.
The meeting took hours, with reports and debates. Denethor grilled everyone without mercy, and all were relieved when it was over.
As soon as they were down the hall and away from the rest, Faramir asked, “Where are we going.”
“We are going to take Míri to lunch,” Boromir said.
Boromir opened the door to her office and led them in. Faramir had never been in there before. He just stood there taking it in. Fine wood and marble were in abundance. The tall ceiling had a circular mural depicting the history of Númenor and Gondor. Paintings and statues decorated the corners and walls. The floor was ornate parquet. Even the furniture appeared to be works of art. It looked every bit the office of a queen.
The scribe appeared stunned by their entrance. Important artists were commonplace, tall handsome military commanders, girt with swords, in their dress uniforms and capes were rare.
“Lords, what brings you here?” The woman asked, rising to her feet and looking flustered. Then gathering her wits, she asked, “You are the sons of the Steward, are you not?”
“That we are madam,” Boromir said in his most charming manner. “We have come to speak with the Lady Míriel.”
“I will see if she is available,” The scribe said, then she went and knocked on the door to Míriel’s office very lightly and after waiting a moment let herself in.
“I should have her decorate my office,” Boromir said.
“You had better have her pay for it too,” Faramir said laughingly.
They were standing there staring at the office like two schoolboys at the fair, when the door opened again. Míriel strode out looking radiant, wearing a beautifully tailored and embroidered dress of rich green with gold trim.
Faramir stared in shock at the transformation from the night before. Her eyes were clear and bright, her posture straight and proud, a beautiful smile on her face.
“Boromir, Faramir, what a pleasant surprise”, She said graciously, “Please step into my office”.
Her office was a far different from what was typical of a high official of Gondor. It was more like a lady’s sitting room, large plump chairs in a circle about a large low round table of beautifully inlaid and polished wood. Tall windows filled it with light. Beautiful paintings adorned the walls, and each corner held a different sculpture. The colors were all soft pastels, which evoked thoughts of flowers and fruit. There was a lovely smell of fresh cut flowers in the room.
“I am afraid to be in here,” Boromir said. “It is all too clean and delicate for a soldier’s rough hands.”
She laughed, “You never change, do you? And what of you Faramir, are you afraid to soil my lair?”
“Nay, fair lady, but Boromir speaks true, this room is suited for artists and gentlewomen. Rough men of war seem out of place here.” Faramir answered.
“You two do not look rough.” Míri joked. “So, what brings two old friends here?”
“We would speak with you on private matters.” Boromir said in a soft voice. “It is noontime, and I thought to buy the three of us lunch somewhere quiet and private where we may speak freely.”
“I know just the place,” Míri answered.
There was a small park near the cluster of crown buildings in the Sixth Circle. From it you could see vale of Lossarnach, the Anduin, and across to Ithilien on a clear day. It was a popular place to eat on fine days, and vendors sold food from pushcarts.
Boromir paid the vendor for a basket filled with bread, cheese, fruit, and wine and a blanket for them to sit upon. They walked out into the park until they found a place on the lawn away from anyone else. They spread out the blanket, sat and passed around the food and had a nice outdoor lunch.
While they ate, they spoke for a while of old times until that was played out. Then there was an awkward silence. Boromir and Faramir looked at each other, hoping the other would begin. Finally, Boromir was about to speak, when Míri spoke first.
“I think I know what you are here to ask me about.” She said. “You have solved the riddle, but need me to verify that you are right.”
They both looked at her, dumbfounded. Faramir looked like he wanted to speak, but could not find the correct wording.
“I am surprised you never found out. I guess your father’s reputation protected our secret.” She said. “No one would suspect him. They would suspect me with anyone else, they would suspect either of you, but not him.”
“This is just such a shock.” Boromir said. “You are our age, he is fifty years older than you. You are so different. It does not make sense.”
“Does it not?” She asked. “You are blinded by your feelings for him, both good and ill. He is a powerful man, a great man, handsome, with a fine intelligence and a keen wit. A heady brew for a twenty year old girl.”
“I can see how a young girl might be attracted, but father never took time for anything but work. Where would he even have met you? We only knew you because of Uncle Imrahil.” Faramir asked.
“I was a dancer, in the classic style.” She began. “Faramir even saw me dance several times. I know because we were always informed when important people were in the audience. At the age of nineteen, I was a lead dancer in the Minas Tirith Classic Dance Troupe. We performed at the Citadel, a charity event to raise money for the families of soldiers killed in action. Afterwards, there was a reception and I had a chance to have a drink with him and speak privately for a while. I was filled with passion for art, and suggested a plan for restoring Gondor’s tradition of public art. He told me he thought it a grand idea, but there were no funds available. Every penny he could lay his hands on was spent on defense. He said that unless a miracle happened, there would never be time for art again.”
Boromir laughed. “That is one thing I never pictured father doing, having a drink with a lovely young dancer at a society reception.”
“He can be quite charming when he tries”, Míri said, and continued her story. “Later that year, I fell in a rehearsal and twisted my ankle badly. It was a bad enough injury to take me off stage for a year or more. I was walking with a cane, when I walked at all. I had to decide what I was going to do with my life. I asked my father if he would fund the art restoration project. He agreed to give me seed money and to support my household and me but said I would have to raise the money for the restoration from donations. I wrote Denethor, asking only an official commission and an office. Much to my surprise, I received a letter in his own hand inviting me to meet him in person and present my proposal in detail. When we met, he agreed to the project and let me take my pick of unused offices in the Ministry.”
“Everyone thinks your father paid him to let you create this post.” Faramir said.
“Everyone is usually wrong about everything.” Míriel said angrily. “I created that post. It was my idea, and I talked my father and Denethor into it.
“What I want to know is how father ended up in your bed.” Boromir asked. “I cannot picture him seducing anyone.”
Faramir just chuckled at the images that drew in his mind.
“I seduced him.” Míri answered, without pause.
The shocked look on both the brothers’ faces made her laugh.
“You think me incapable of such a thing?” She asked. “He is the leader of our country. He is not a king, but he is more important than any king of men. This is the most powerful nation in Middle-Earth. I thought I could be its lady.”
“What went wrong?” Faramir asked. “I do not see why he did not marry you. You would have been acceptable to all. If anything, your family is of nobler lineage than ours. The people love and respect you.”
“That I can not answer”, She said. “I tried everything. I gave him time. I dropped hints. I made logical arguments. In the end I begged and pleaded. For the longest time, I thought it was just reluctance on his part to change his ways. Then Rose appeared and he just disappeared from my life. It was over without so much as a good by or thank you.”
“That is beyond cruel, but I can believe it.” Faramir said.
“That is dishonorable, and I would not tolerate it in an officer of mine.” Boromir added. “I would judge such a man unfit to command. Such a man will fail when facing a real test. I have seen it too many times.”
“Yet, your father has never failed us.” Míri said. “He has defended this realm for the last thirty years.”
“He defends nothing.” Boromir said. “He sits safe behind seven lines of stonework, manned by the truly brave and honorable, and criticizes that which he does not do himself. My brother and I defend this land along with the brave men we lead.”
We agree that father has behaved dishonorably, and treated Míri badly. What is to be done about it?” Faramir asked. “Last night, I offered to face her abuser in a duel. I think we all agree that is out of the question.”
“Were he any man but my father, I would call him out to a field of honor.” Boromir said angrily, “I am sick with disgrace that my father has done this to a friend.”
“It is worse than you think.” Míri said. “I have friends who are terrible gossips. Within a few weeks of her arrival, they could not wait to tell me she had bedded him. From their manner I was sure they had no idea she had replaced me. I kept it a secret for 13 years, she barely managed 13 days.”
Boromir slapped his forehead. “I do not believe this. He has left himself open for blackmail by agents of enemy if she is not one herself. This could create a serious danger to the safety Gondor. How many people know about her?”
“Likely every woman of rank in Minas Tirith and their maids and their maid’s friends by now.” Míri answered.
“We have to do something to stop this before it causes a serious problem.” Faramir said.
“I see two tasks before us.” Boromir said. “Getting rid of Rose and preventing father from taking up with his next scribe, or worse.”
“Getting rid of sounds a bit harsh to me”, Faramir said.
“I mean send her someplace else.” Boromir answered indignantly.
“I like the idea of getting rid of Rose”, Míri said with a sly smile. “But I agree that no harm should come to her.”
“I would like a few days to gather information, and devise a general plan of action.” Boromir said. “I propose we meet again in my office around lunch time, the day after tomorrow.”
“That sounds good to me”, Faramir answered.
“I will be there.” Míriel said.
Boromir’s office in the ministry was far different from Míriel’s. The walls had not been painted in 20 years. His desk was large, and historic. It had first belonged to a Captain General 400 years ago who had brought it to this office and it showed every one of those 400 years of use. The chairs were mismatched, but comfortable, large, and beat up enough that men of war would feel at home in them. Along one wall was a large brown leather sofa that doubled as Boromir’s bed when he was too tired to go home. The walls were decorated mostly with corkboards, which were several layers thick in plans, notes, and maps. The only artwork was a framed charcoal drawing depicting Elendil setting foot on the shores of Middle-Earth, on the wall above the couch where Boromir could see it as he worked at his desk.
Míriel felt as out of place here as Boromir and Faramir had in her office a few days ago, as Boromir’s adjutant showed her in.
“This is different,” she said. “It is manly, and serves a purpose. I like it, it has your aura,”
“It is a place of work,” Boromir said. “I have no need of finery, the war is run from this room.”
Míri gave him a dirty look and said, “You are as hard to compliment as ever.”
“Faramir will be here in a minute or two.” Boromir said. “May I get you a drink? I have a full stock of spirits, wine and ale, or my adjutant will bring you tea or coffee if you wish.”
“I think I will pass, thank you.” She answered. “What have you cooked up? You look like a man with a surprise to spring.”
Just then the door opened again and Faramir entered the room. The adjutant closed the door behind him and he took a seat next to Míri.
“I have gotten a great deal of useful information from my best spy.” Boromir said. “There is a secret hallway behind father’s office.”
“You slide one of the panels in the storeroom back to reveal a door.” Míri said. “The door opens into a secret tunnel leading to the Citadel. It was built to allow the King and his high ministers to escape to safety in case of an attack.”
“I had to bribe the caretaker to find this out.” Boromir said indignantly. “I see father has revealed all our secrets to you.”
“Gondor is lucky I am not a spy.” Míri answered with a smile.
“I have a key to get into this hallway through the caretaker’s storeroom.” Boromir said. “I propose to investigate. The caretaker says there are a number of locked rooms and I suspect father might have a private bedroom in one of them. Perhaps we could catch them together and blackmail her out of the ministry.”
Míriel laughed and started to dig through her handbag. She produced a ring with three keys on it. She held them up. “These are the keys to the door which enters that hallway from my office, the hallway door to his office and his secret bedchamber.” She said with a look of triumph.
“I see I have been asking the wrong person.” Boromir said. “I assume you know which room is the bedroom.”
“I should hope so.” Míriel answered, with a knowing smile.
“How do you know father has not changed the locks?” Faramir asked.
“He would not know who to ask, he is afraid of exposure.” Míri said. “I had the tinker from my household come, pick locks and make keys. He is most discrete. The old ones were lost in antiquity except for the back door of the Steward’s office. Nobody knew of the secret bedchamber until I found it in some old construction drawings.”
“You would make a formidable spy.” Boromir said.
“Thorough preparation and attention to details are the key to my job.” Míriel said.
“We have the tools and the advantage of surprise. We need to work them into a battle plan.” Faramir said.
“Let us go for lunch. I shall buy. We have several hours. Your father is a creature of habit. I am sure he accompanies Rose to the chamber right after he closes his office. I know a tiny inn that serves exquisite meals, and will give us a private dining room where we can plot in secret.” Míriel said.
“I am going down the hall.” Rose said to Denethor, “I shall be ready in a few minutes.”
“I have to read this and sign it, then I shall join you.” Denethor said. “Is the front door locked?”
“Yes sir.” Rose said as she walked into the storeroom. She slid the panel out of the way to reveal a heavy oak door with a brass handle. She unlocked it and stepped into the hall. Although the hall was always deserted, being a secret passageway, she still looked up and down as if she was afraid to be caught. When she was satisfied that the way was clear, she walked quickly down the hall to an unmarked door. Unlocking that door with the other key on her ring, she entered quickly and closed the door quietly behind her.
The room was not a storeroom, but had tall windows that faced a tiny walled in balcony open only to the sky. The balcony held a small round wrought iron table and two matching chairs painted green. Heavy curtains were on the rods that could filter out all light when closed. The windows hinged like doors to give access to the small court. The room was dominated by the large bed centered on the back wall, and bracketed by small tables with lamps on them. The front wall had a large ornate closet and a privacy screen next to it, which shielded the chamber pot. There was a painting of a garden on the side wall.
Rose opened the closet and quickly removed her clothes, carefully hanging each item as she went. She took a white silk nightdress from its hangar and put it on. She then stepped around the privacy screen to relieve herself. The shock of seeing another woman standing there made her jump.
“Oh! What? What are you doing here?” Rose asked, trying to catch her breath and regain her usual air of superiority. “You are that art woman. Who let you in? You do not belong here. You better leave or you will be in big trouble.”
Míriel just stood there, with her arms folded staring at Rose, a confident smile on her face.
“I mean it. I work for the Steward, and this is his private room. I will call the guards.” Rose threatened.
“Call them.” Míri said.
Míri began to walk forward, seeming to tower above Rose as she stepped backward keeping a distance between them. Soon, she was backed up against the bed.
“Sit.” Míri commanded.
Rose complied, as a look of confused fear was spreading across her face.
“Do you like my room?” Míri asked. “I decorated it. That was after I cleaned it and painted the walls. It would not do to have the caretakers working on the Steward’s secret hideaway, would it?”
Rose said nothing, looking at the floor as Míri spoke.
“The bed and furniture was already here. The bedding, curtains, rugs and art I bought.” Míri continued. “I research the history of art and architecture every day. I researched this room. It has been where Kings and later Stewards have tristed with their mistresses for seventeen hundred years, since Narmacil I had the tunnel built, and quietly added this little room for his kept women.”
Rose still said nothing, just staring at the floor and tapping her foot
“I have been where you are now, as have a hundred more before us.” Míri said. “I was once twenty and swept away by the access to power I could gain just by laying with an old man. Denethor is easy to like, which makes it easier to swallow. Handsome, wise, witty and above all powerful.”
Rose said nothing, and continued to stare at the floor.
Míri put two fingers under her chin and lifted her face to look her in the eye. “I really believed that if I just was pleasing enough, and loved him enough, he would love me back and marry me. Do not make my mistake.”
Rose was shaking, tears trickling down her face. She made no sound other than the occasional wheeze in her sharp breaths.
“One day, after ten years or fifteen have passed, some fresh young girl will be his new plaything and you will not be coming to this room anymore.” Míri said, looking her straight in the eye. “It will be a painful awakening. More pain than I am causing you now.”
Rose pushed her hand away. She looked at Míriel with hate in her eyes, “You do not scare me. The only pain I feel is for you. It must be hard growing old. He wants me now. I can give him what you can not.”
Míri looked at her for a moment and then laughed. “You are right. I have no innocence left to give. I no longer believe the unsaid promise; I know it for the illusion that it is. I had hoped to persuade you with the truth, to save you the heartache of learning for yourself. We are going to have to do this the hard way.”
“Go away”, Rose said. “Your time is past.”
“I plan to, but you are coming with me.” Míri said.
“Why should I go anywhere with you?” Rose scoffed.
“Because you have no choice.” Míri answered with an evil smile. “You father sent you here to catch a rich husband, did he not?”
“Ridiculous. What makes you say that.” Rose said.
“I know your father is near financial ruin.” Míri answered. “If I were him, I would send you to find a rich husband while you could. Once he goes broke, a stupid farm girl will be far less attractive to the young lords of this jaded city.”
“You speak nonsense. My father is a powerful landholder.” Rose protested.
“My family gathers its riches lending money to and then foreclosing on landowners when they cannot pay up.” Míri said dryly. “We have been doing it for generations. I checked with my father. You father is heavily in debt to us. His plantation is not doing well. He has missed several payments. If I ask, my father will call the loan. Do you know what that means?”
“No, father never talked about money with me.” Rose said, looking at the floor again.
“It means he will either have to pay us, which he does not have the money to do, or we take title to his lands.” Míri said. “That means no more allowance for you and no home to return to. You will end up as a bar wench at a tavern for rough men.”
“You would do this to my family?” Rose asked, with a weak voice. “You are this cruel?”
Míriel again lifted Rose’s chin to force her to look her in the eye. “No you will do this to your family unless you do as I say.”
Rose put her face in her hands and began to cry.
Míriel said, “No time for that. I want you to get up, get dressed and come with me.”
Rose complied. She was sobbing quietly as she dressed herself. Míri cracked the door, looked in the hall to be sure it was empty and then motioned Rose to follow her.
The two women moved quickly and quietly down the hall to Míriel’s office. Rose was too upset to notice the two figures standing in the shadows a bit further down the hall.
Denethor finished reading the annual crop estimate, dipped his quill on ink, signed it and placed it carefully in the done basket on his desk. He then went and checked the front door for himself. After that he locked the door to his office, testing it to be sure. He walked into the storeroom, opened the door and entered the hall. He looked up and down to be sure it was empty and quietly shut the door behind him.
Denethor quietly opened the door to the secret bedchamber and was frozen in shock by the sight that greeted him.
“Please come in”, Boromir said, sitting on the bed, pillows piled behind his back to make a chair, hands behind his head, legs stretched out in front of him.
Denethor stepped in and looked around. There, leaning against the far wall was Faramir. Rose was nowhere to be seen.
“What are you children doing here?” Denethor said after a long stunned pause. “This is my private room.”
“Children? That is the best you can muster?” Boromir said with a laugh. “We quit being children when we were invested as knights and took up fighting in the war.
“If you were the king returned, you would not have the right to invade my private bedroom or interfere with my private affairs.” Denethor said. “That my children are doing this is unthinkably disrespectful.”
“What I see here is a matter of honor, which is the business of your brother knights.” Boromir said. “You may be master of our order, but that does not exempt you from our laws.”
“This is absurd. I can lay with a woman if I chose. She is an adult.” Denethor said.
“If you recall your oath, you swore to never do to bring dishonor or danger upon our order or country.” Faramir said. “Also never to lie by misstated fact, implication or omission, nor tolerate these acts in brother knights.”
“Name the lie, danger or dishonor. I challenge you.” Denethor said.
“Laying with Míriel while letting her think she had a chance for marriage for 13 years.” Boromir said.
“I never offered her a thing.” Denethor said.
“If you wish I can get a sworn statement from her and read it at the next meeting of our order.” Boromir said. “Or I could have her testify in person.”
“Do you seek to ruin me? I have done naught to deserve this.” Denethor asked.
“You deceived and wounded the heart of an old friend to Faramir and myself.” Boromir said. “You embarrassed us, our family and our order. I would never tolerate such behavior towards a lady in a subordinate. Bedding a lady under false pretense defines poor character.”
“You also have to consider the grave danger you have placed Gondor itself in.” Faramir said. “Míriel is discrete. No one had any idea what you were doing with her. It is common knowledge that you are bedding Rose.”
“Let the gossips talk.” Denethor said. “What do I care of idle chat?”
“When such gossip reaches the ears of the enemy, it will be used against Gondor.” Boromir said. “I am Gondor’s protector. That makes this my business. I cannot brook such a breach in our armor.”
Denethor had no reply, but glared at his sons.
“If you care not for the honor of our family, think to Gondor. Consider that her father has loaned more money to the crown and given more money to war widows and orphans than any other man in the country. You are playing a dangerous game that affects the safety of our land.” Faramir said. “He is a true nobleman. I know for a fact that he has forgiven debt on war widow’s lands, asking nothing but anonymity in return. For you to treat his daughter in such a manner is folly. Would you have such a man know how you have treated his daughter? Would you have the Council know?”
“So, I have raised sons who would blackmail their own father.” Denethor responded. “I knew I had failed, but I never knew the extent. I should relieve you both and replace you with loyal officers.”
Boromir laughed. “You should have taken up acting. One could almost think you the injured party.”
“What else would I be? My sons believe the lies of a fallen woman and use them to threaten their father?” Denethor scolded.
“Fallen woman?” Faramir said, barely containing his laugh. “You sound as if it was someone else she was in bed with. Are you saying being foolish enough to lie with you discredits her testimony on the subject?”
“This is pointless, we all know the truth of the situation.” Boromir said. “You are going to apologize to Míriel in a manner she finds acceptable. Rose is leaving so she can resume her hunt for a suitable husband. If you think that harsh, consider what an enemy would do with this information.”
“This is preposterous. Who are you to force such terms upon me?” Denethor protested.
“My friends.” Míriel said, standing in the doorway.
They stood there staring at each other for a long moment.
“I see you have come to twist the knife.” Denethor said with a venomous voice. “My sons have hurt me greatly already. Why shouldn’t you join in the attack.”
“You are worse than I imagined.” Míriel responded. “You care not for the hearts of others, only for your self.”
“If I do not look out for myself who will?” Denethor asked. “I find the people closest to me conspiring in blackmail and you ask why I do not treat them well enough?”
“If I had wanted to blackmail you, I would have.” Míriel said. “Do you think the thought never occurred, the times you mistreated me, neglected me or said thoughtless things which wounded my heart? Yet I kept your secrets. I kept them because I loved you. You never loved me; you just took me as a perquisite of office. You believed that a young woman in your bed was a benefit of being Steward. It never occurred to you that I meant it when I said that I loved you. You just took that as a sign I had become a problem and it was time to look for a replacement.”
“What would you have me do?” Denethor asked. “Kill myself? Surrender my office? Pay you money?”
“I now realize that you are incapable of the one thing I wanted, for you to see how you hurt me and feel remorse. Your only worry is for your self.” Míriel said. “I am a fool. A fool for loving you and a bigger fool for thinking I could make you see the pain you have caused me. I want nothing from you. You have nothing to give that I desire anymore.”
“Then, if nobody wants anything from me, I’ll take my leave from this cabal of blackmailers.” Denethor said and pushed his way past Míriel and left.
“Míriel began to laugh. Boromir and Faramir joined in the laugh, but stopped as her laughter transitioned into sobbing and she sank to her knees crying profusely.
Boromir rose from the bed and knelt beside her, embracing her and trying to comfort her. After a minute, he helped her to sit up on the bed. “Are you alright?” He asked.
“No, I am not alright.” She sobbed. “This has been quite a trial for me.”
“I have had the same rush of passion after a battle. Boromir said. “It will pass as you catch your breath. You have been through a lot. You acquitted yourself well.”
“I just need to sit for a moment and collect my wits.” Míriel said.
“We should get out of here. “Faramir said. “This is the abode of Míri’s demons and a new locale would help her mood.”
Míriel sat up straight, wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and sniffling back her nose said, “Faramir is right. I have seen enough of this room.”
She grasped Faramir’s hand offered to help her rise, and paused to look around the room one last time. A strange smile came over her. She reached into a side slit in her skirt and produced a beautiful dagger, richly engraved and inlaid with gold.
“What are you planning?” Faramir said with alarm.
“Something that will do me a great deal of good.” Míri said.
With that she went into a fury, slashing the bedding, mattress and pillows until it looked to be snowing for all the feathers swirling in the air. When she had dispatched the bed, she turned her anger to the curtains, slashing them and then ripping them down, pulling the rods out of their mounts in the plaster. She then went over and smashed the privacy screen on the bed frame and threw the chamber pot against the wall, shattering it. Next she ripped the painting from the wall and smashed it on the wreckage of the bed. She was panting hard with a wild look in her eyes. She turned to look at the wood closet and punched it hard. It showed no mark, but her face was filled with pain, and she was holding her hand in the other.
“I bet that hurt.” Boromir said, wincing.
“I think I just broke my hand.” Míri said through clenched teeth.
“Let me see.” Boromir asked.
She held her hand out to his inspection.
“Just cut and bruised knuckles.” Boromir said. “I have seen worse.”
All three of them broke out into laughter.
“It is time to leave this chamber for good.” Míriel said. “I am feeling much better. Let us go somewhere and get drunk.”