1. Chapter I
[Small tribute to Sean Bean in Boromir's "light coloring." In the books, he has dark hair and grey eyes. In my personal head-canon, that's Denethor's coloring, whereas Finduilas is fair and passed that on to her children.]
Weakness and a bone-deep ache had become such a part of Finduilas' life, with these fevers that surged and waned, that they scarcely warranted mention. Even were she burning with heat, she wouldn't have minded the warm, solid bodies of her sons. Four-year-old Faramir was a heavy but welcome weight cuddled close in her left arm, while nine-year-old Boromir lay stretched out on the bed on her right.
"And then," she read aloud, "the third band of iron on the chest burst, and inside they found-"
"The missing shoe!" Faramir exclaimed, clapping at his favorite part.
"Ssh," she said with a light laugh, squeezing him, "your brother has fallen asleep. Indeed, they found the left shoe--Yes, my husband."
The shadow that fell through the door, tall and silent, could only be cast by one person, and he was not pleased.
"I am informed that Boromir is long since due in his lessons and nowhere to be found. He has been with you the whole of this time?"
"Yes, husband, I was reading to them."
"Old wives' tales," Denethor observed. He stared at the sleeping form on the bed without saying a word, as though he expected to be able to wake his son by the sheer force of his displeasure. It always unnerved her when he did that, and the more so when it worked.
It was working now: his sleep disturbed by the intrusion of a harsh, masculine voice, Boromir was stirring, stretching his limbs, and raising his head.
"Father!" he cried, alarmed.
"Herion missed you an hour ago."
"I'm sorry-I don't know what-" Frantically, he tried to shake himself into full alertness and grind the sleep out of his eyes.
"I asked him to come sit beside me," Finduilas said softly. In the powerful presence of her husband, she always felt the contrast with her own delicacy. Remembering the ease with which he had swept her up in his arms the first time she swooned, shouting for someone to summon a healer, or the knife he placed under the pillow of their wedding bed and every bed thereafter with an oath to protect her, she ought perhaps to feel safe. Instead, she felt only a great weariness that she had never been able to turn him aside from any purpose.
"You doubtless did not know that he would be leaving his tutor waiting."
By this time Boromir had pulled himself together and was standing at attention beside the bed. "I fell asleep, sir. I can offer no excuse."
Denethor nodded, less displeased with that answer than he would have been with any other. "Come, then. You can explain to him how you will make amends for failing in your duties." He gestured toward Faramir. "He is not disturbing your rest, my wife?"
"No, truly. Our sons are a great comfort to me."
"Very well, then, I leave you to your tales. See that you send for his nurse as soon as you begin to tire. You have not yet recovered your strength."
Certainly she lacked the strength to cross that void of understanding and explain that she was always tired, that she did not look to regain her strength, and that the children, however ill she might be, were the one bright spot in her day. Had she ever truly been able to explain anything to him, who knew his own mind so well?
After they had departed, Faramir whispered, "Is Boromir in trouble?"
As weary as any encounter with her husband always left her these days, Finduilas managed to summon a reassuring smile for him. "You know how he wants to be a soldier."
Faramir nodded. Boromir spoke of little else, and his mother respected that choice, even if she would have wished him more in life.
"So, your father's no harder on him than he must be, to teach him the discipline to be a good leader someday."
It was not quite a white lie: even if she found Denethor too demanding of his children, Boromir at least gave every appearance of thriving on it.
Faramir nodded, his concerns easier to allay than hers. "Then what happened, when they found the shoe?" he asked his mother, although he knew perfectly well.
As the day wore on, it became harder and harder to hold his hand steady, to the point where Boromir became, exceptionally for him, grateful that today he was meant to wield only a pen and not a weapon of any sort. At last, though, his shaking forced him to confess that he was sick, be shunted off to bed, and endure all sorts of pokings and proddings until he was diagnosed with a mild pox. He admitted that he had been itching beneath his tunic, but under constant supervision by adults reporting directly to his father, he had only rubbed surreptitiously and not gone in search of the source, or he would have found the spreading rash, which he now viewed with distaste.
"How long do I have to stay in bed?" Boromir grumbled, already envisioning days of tedium. "Can I go into the playroom if I start to feel a bit better?"
"Until your father says otherwise," answered Andreth, who had been first his nurse and was now his brother's. Boromir was known as a stubborn boy, but there was one name he obeyed with alacrity. "You may take it up with him."
Boromir narrowed his eyes, knowing he'd been outmaneuvered, but too sick to protest much, he submitted to his medicines and was glad of the light coverlet pulled over him.
"Besides, you don't want to be making your brother sick. We're hopeful he can escape this altogether."
Yes, she knew him too well.
Owing to Finduilas' constant illnesses, they no longer shared a bed, but from time to time Denethor would come and sit beside her for a few minutes in the evening. They had little to say to each other beyond the polite exchange of courtesies, but the children formed a tenuous bond that could stretch across even the formal distance that their marriage had become.
"Did you happen to notice if Boromir was fevered this morning?"
Finduilas sprang up in bed, eyes wide in distress. "No, but I might not." Denethor put out a hand to stop her from getting out altogether.
"A mild childish illness, I am told, and he's well enough to complain of boredom. You know he has the constitution of an ox." He nodded wryly when he saw her eyeing the breadth of his shoulders. Yes, it was well known where he came by that particular trait.
She relaxed only slightly. "Still, he should have his mother to fuss over him a bit, even if he pretends not to like it." Her next words carried an unwonted barb. She wanted Denethor to recognize Boromir's attempt to hide his weakness, and at the same time to stop rewarding such attempts with praise. "I suppose you told him you were pleased with his forbearance today?"
The proud Steward was unlikely to apologize directly for the scolding, but it was clear he remembered and regretted it.
"I told him there was no great need to be quite so stoic if he was genuinely ill and treatment was to hand, though it remains to be seen how much he believed me." He continued with some satisfaction, "He will fare well on campaign."
"He wants to please you," she said, and he did not demur.
"At any rate, I told you not so that you would worry, but so you will not be alarmed if you don't see them for a few days."
"Oh, no, not Faramir too?" she exclaimed.
Denethor shook his head. "He's always at his brother's heels, and I expect him to succumb within a day or two. I'm having him watched."
He always thought of everything...a fact she found at once reassuring and overwhelming. She wanted to say, "Perhaps he won't," but he was always so sure.
"You as well. Lie down now, and I'll call your women back once I see you asleep."
She was reluctant to let her weariness win out, but she couldn't hide that she was always livelier in the mornings. Hoping that sleep would prove a restorative, she leaned into the pillows. Tonight she would simply let herself take comfort in her husband's presence, as though it were the early days of their courtship, before time and disappointment took their toll.
"Remember when we walked in my father's orchard?" she murmured with a smile, fighting off sleep for a few precious moments even as her eyes closed. "When you picked the apples I wanted that were too high to reach?"
"I remember," he told her. "Sleep now. You're safe," he soothed, the lie bitter on his lips. She was fading beyond his reach, and he did not know how to bring her back.
In the middle of the night, when Boromir was drifting uncomfortably in and out of sleep, the padding sound of feet entering his room broke the silence. He knew who it was even in the darkness.
"You too?" he said sympathetically. "Get in."
Faramir climbed into bed next to his brother. "They gave me medicine and I fell asleep, but now I can't sleep at all, and I keep itching."
"Give me your hands, then." Truth be told, he would welcome the distraction himself. "I'll tell you stories to keep your mind off being sick."
Growing up in the shadow of a bossy older brother, Faramir was accustomed to rendering obedience in return for being allowed to tag along with the big boys. He readily gave his hands up to be enveloped in Boromir's larger ones, but then he informed his brother of a flaw in his plan. "But I already know all the stories."
"All the stories?" Boromir teased.
"All," he confirmed.
"Well, that is a problem. What can we do about this?"
"I tell you stories," Faramir said importantly. "You slept through them, not me."
"And my history lesson," Boromir said ruefully, not from any sense of loss at the tedium but from failing at expectations. "You tell me what you know, then, and we'll see how quickly the night passes."
The next surprise visitor to Boromir's chamber was his mother, holding a finger to her lips with a look of fun in her eyes. "Ssh, don't tell your father."
"You stole out of bed!" He would have teased her about wishing he could do the same, but he'd worsened overnight. Each of his arms and legs felt as though it weighed a hundred pounds. All he'd managed yet this morning was to sip morosely at a bowl of soup, and give the rest to his brother, whose appetite was better than his.
Finduilas leaned over to stroke his hair. He might have his father's solid build, but his fair coloring was hers. "How's my baby?"
Boromir closed his eyes and sighed a little under her touch. "He's having more trouble with the scratching, but I think he's not as sick. He came in last night and we kept each other company."
Her hand didn't stop in its ministrations, but her expression changed as she looked at her son afresh. His face was losing its roundness and shaping into a model of his father's. For the present, the lines were still blurred and muted, and time would yet tell what manhood would make of him. "And you?" she asked tenderly, careful of his pride and not letting her voice betray her thoughts.
"I don't know. Faramir went off to have an oatmeal bath this morning, but I...I don't feel like moving. I thought I could take these things better in stride," he mourned, the corners of his mouth downturned in disappointment.
"This pox is a bit unfair that way," she comforted him. "It's easier on children than adults, and younger children than older."
Boromir frowned, thinking this one through. "So I can deal with a more serious case, because I'm older."
"Just so," she agreed, marveling at how much it mattered to him, to be the older one, the responsible one, the one who dealt with things.
He was still thinking. "Then it's better if I made him sick now? Because he might have caught it from someone else when he was older?"
"Have you been worrying about that?" She bent over and kissed him very gently on the temple, finding a patch clear of spots. "Listen. Your father's proud of you because you endure without complaint. I'm proud because you're kind to your brother."
Here she paused. She always put on a brave face in front of the children, and she tried never to give them cause to worry about her. Since they had few memories between them of ever seeing her other than bed-ridden, they accepted it as a normal part of their world and never gave it a second thought.
Now, though, she felt she had to convey to him her sense of urgency, still without frightening him. "You'll remember that, won't you? No matter what happens, no matter whether anyone ever again tells you so."
"Of course," Boromir agreed, bemused at her sudden intensity, but too sick to question it. "Father wants me to look after him too and set a good example, anyway," he mumbled into the pillow.
"Good, then you'll remember." She sat for a while longer, resting her hand lightly on his head, reluctant to leave. What would he be like as a man? What could she give him, to send him ahead on this journey without her?
The sun rose still higher, shortening the shadows cast into the room, as she pondered this question.
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.