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Ch. 18 - Third Age 2989 - Part Two
The morning dawned clear with the never-ending cold chilling him through the coverlets. As sleep left him, he realized two small bodies warmed his sides. He looked askance. He had not remembered them entering his chambers. Faramir's feet were freezing, but Boromir's breath blew warm on his face. His smile returned, though his head ached. Halfway through the night, the revelers had turned from drinking mead to something stronger. What concoction it was, Denethor had no thought, but it was potent, nonetheless. He vaguely remembered singing; thankfully, it had been in a group. If Amdir was there, he would have laughed. 'Shades of sorrow,' he thought. 'These thoughts come unbidden.' At that moment, Boromir stirred. Denethor smiled as the beloved gray eyes stared back at him.
"Ada," the boy whispered. "I missed thee."
"Thou didst not," he said as he kissed the lad on the forehead. "Too busy hast thou been to think of thy father." Denethor, still sleep lulled, slipped into Sindarin and immediately regretted it. Pain shot through his heart.
Faramir stirred, smiled at Denethor and hugged him tightly. "I am sorry, Ada."
Denethor frowned. "And what makes you sorry this beautiful day, my son?"
"Ion nîn, Ada," Faramir gently reprimanded him. His eyes filled with tears. "Am I not thine ion nîn, Ada?"
Closing his eyes, Denethor took a deep breath. Mayhap, as Indis had said, it would be too hard on his sons to change their family's speech. "Thou art and always wilt be my ion nîn, Faramir. Thou art right to remind me."
The boy's face glowed; he hugged Denethor again and moved back.
"Now, what didst thou say thy horse's name was?"
"'Tis not a horse," Faramir almost burst with laughter. "'Tis a pony, Ada, and her name is Snowflake and I may ride her anytime I want. Wilt thou take us out today, Ada? Thou promised such last night."
"I promised thee?" Denethor asked, puzzled.
"Ada," Faramir said patiently, "when we came into thy chambers last night, cold and affrighted and thou invited us to thy bed, thou promised us."
Denethor groaned quietly. 'I seem to remember vowing to Amdir that I would be careful in the amount of drink I took. Seems I have not learnt my lesson.' He turned to Faramir, took the little chin in his hand and kissed him gently. "Yes, Faramir. We wilt ride today, but thou must speak in the Common Tongue here. Théoden's people do not know our tongue and it would be impolite on our part. Get thee back to thy room and dress. We wilt meet in Théoden's hall, break our fast, and then ride out. Now, shoo!" and he pushed them lightly from the bed. The boys ran with speed, almost falling over themselves in their excitement, and Denethor had to stop himself from laughing aloud. His heart was peaceful here. Always, when he had dealings with the Rohirrim, some sense of peace and light-heartedness overcame him. He shook the feeling of laziness that would keep him to his bed, rose and quickly washed and dressed. No matter the speed with which he had prepared himself, his sons' speed was greater; they waited in the hall.
The Golden Hall shone this day with a light from the happy pair. They had spent many days secluded, and now had come forth for their first breaking of the fast as a couple. Théodwyn looked shy, her face brilliantly shining, but shy nonetheless. Éomund's face was nigh unto scarlet, but a smile was fixed upon that face and all laughed in joy that saw him.
Denethor frowned as he entered the hall; he had forgotten the day's festivities. Faramir would be disappointed. 'Nay, mayhap we may slip away ere the day is too far gone.' He walked to the king's table, gave a gracious bow to Théoden, then turned and kissed Théodwyn gently, lovingly. She accepted his token of friendship and then, bursting into tears, flung her arms about his shoulders. "Thou gavest good care to my Éomund whilst he was in Gondor. I thank thee from the bottom of my heart."
Her halting Sindarin touched his heart, and he smiled, gently extricating himself from her embrace. "Thy husband wast a great help to Gondor. I thank thee for allowing him to aid us against the Enemy." He quickly moved to Éomund's side and crushed him with a hug. "Your wife is beautiful and kind. It is I who am in your debt for your part in reclaiming Osgiliath. That is a gift beyond measure. I had not the time nor the wit to thank you then. I do so now and renew my pledge of Gondor's continued support in the Eastemnet. Mayhap we might spend some time, ere I leave, to discuss your plans for that part of the Mark?"
"I will try to make time, but," and here his face turned a deeper shade of red, "she is most demanding."
Denethor burst into laughter. "And well she should be. Forgive me for even requesting such a thing at this special time!" He again hugged his friend and walked to the banquet-laden tables. Just as he sat, a rush of wind blew past him and behold! Boromir and Faramir stood at his side.
"May we go now, Ada? I am not the least bit hungry!" Faramir entreated, tugging at Denethor's sleeve.
"What say you to that, Boromir? Will you miss your meal to accommodate your brother?"
Boromir's eyes looked longingly at the table. Denethor could almost see the saliva pooling at the corner of his mouth.
"I can manage without food for a time, Ada, if Faramir truly wishes it."
Denethor sat in stunned silence. Boromir's devotion knew no bounds. Having pity on him, Denethor said, "Faramir. I would take you out immediately, but my stomach grumbles. Would you wait a moment more, while I eat a little?"
Faramir's mouth opened into an 'o' and then closed. "Forgive me, Ada. Nanny said I was much too selfish." He sat quietly and pulled Boromir down next to him. Boromir immediately grabbed a plate, eating as he filled it.
When the meal was finished, Denethor looked about him. The guests were still in the midst of their festivities; he deemed they would be little missed if they left now. Motioning to the boys, he walked out of the hall into the bright sunlight. Stopping to blink, he almost fell as two little ones ran into his back. "If you knock me down, I will not be able to ride with you,' he laughed loudly. Some soldiers nearby looked towards him and smiled. The boys, having been in Edoras for the last two months, had won the heart of many a Rohir.
They walked to the stables, Faramir chattering all the time about Snowflake and what a wonderful pony she was. Denethor could not understand the radical change that had come over his son. Only last year, still hardly speaking unless spoken to; now, it was difficult not to tell him to stop!
'It has been too long,' Listöwel moaned to herself. Her sword arm was not near as strong as it had once been. How had she let herself become so weak?
Eledhwen laughed. "I am glad to see that you feel your lack. It shows wisdom. But not much. For it would seem it would have been wiser to have continued your practice after I left Minas Tirith. You did not need me as swordmaster. Denethor has many who would have sufficed. Your arm is as weak as a child's!"
"Do not chide her o'ermuch, Eledhwen. She only returned to the City this year; we only began practicing again a few months ago. Give us time. We will return to the warrior women you remember."
This time it was Eledhwen's turn to laugh. "Warrior women! I remember no such women. Even at your best, neither one of you hardly held the sword high enough, nor took cuts strong enough. Only my Morwen shone brightly."
"You are narrow-minded, sweet Swordmaster. Your allegiance is to the Lady of the Mark. We will forgive you," laughed Indis. "Now, stop your chiding and teach us. We would once again win your favor."
They practiced the entire morning and well into the afternoon. At last, Eledhwen stopped. "You are too tired to even lift your swords. I suppose you crave sustenance?" Her eyebrow arched in mock annoyance.
"Sustenance or no," Indis cried, "we have not the strength to hold our swords any longer, never the mind even trying to make a parry or a thrust. You are a hard taskmaster; I had forgotten."
"You have forgotten many things, but I will remind you." She smiled suddenly and the warmth of Rohan filled the chamber. "It is good to be amongst you again."
Morwen lowered her sword. Of the three, she was the least taxed by their practice. "Come. We will to the dining hall. I am sure there are wine, ale and mead to sate our thirsts. Also, a lamb was slaughtered this morning, and awaits our pleasure. Come, beloved sister-friends. I have waited for this moment since you arrived."
They returned their swords to their places, laved their faces in the bowl by the door, and walked together, arms wrapped around each other's waists, into the Golden Hall.
"With all the preparations for the troth-pledge, we have barely had a moment to speak," Morwen began. "Now that the guests are leaving, I would spend time with you. Mayhap we can embroider tonight. I have a garment I am making for Théodwyn and have reached an impasse. I know not what else to do. Listöwel, you learned much at Elleth's side, mayhap you will help me?"
They fell silent at the mention of dear Elleth's name.
"Faramir," he said as he threw the stone into the stream, "what didst thou mean when thou said thou wert selfish? Wast it Listöwel who told thee such?"
Faramir's eyes widened. "Nay, 'twas the angry one, the one who put her hands always on her hips and tapped her foot." Faramir threw his own stone into the stream. It skipped twice, but he hardly noticed. He had turned to Denethor, put his hands on his own hips, tapped his toe, and scowled, "You are always thinking of yourself, Faramir. You never think of how tired I might be."
Too shocked by the words to smile at the excellent impersonation, Denethor froze. Faramir, seeing his father's look, thought he had done something wrong. He started to stutter an apology when Denethor fell to his knees in front of him. "Ion nîn," he pulled the boy to his chest, hugging him fiercely. Then he turned towards Boromir, "Why didst thou not tell me?" he asked, trying to keep his anger and shame in check.
Boromir looked at him in surprise. "Ada, thou knowest everything."
Tears sprang to Denethor's eyes. The utter trust he saw in his eldest moved him beyond words. He swallowed hard. "I do not, Boromir. None ever know everything." He paused for a moment, thinking hard. "Thou mayest help me, Boromir."
"Oh, mayest I help too, Ada?" Faramir chimed in, looking up at Denethor.
"Yes, thou must tell me how hard one must throw thy stone to make it skip across the water three times. And," he held Faramir at arm's length, "thou must forget this foolishness. Thy nanny wast mistaken. Thou art most giving. Listen to thy father, Faramir. It was thy loving thy Nana that made her smile in the morning, and the giving of thy time to read to her in the afternoons that caused her to sleep so peacefully at night, and the giving of thy love to me that gives me courage to face the day and all the Orcs of the Enemy. Dost thou understand this?"
Faramir's eyes had widened as Denethor spoke. "Yes, Ada," he whispered. Then his little face took on a look of consternation. "I give thee courage, Ada?"
"Yes. Thou givest me courage and thou makest my heart light. Thou art precious to me, ion nîn."
Faramir's breath left him as he lunged forward and hugged Denethor.
After he extricated himself from Faramir's arms, he led them to the raised lip of the dell they had walked down earlier. Under the shadow of a thicket of trees, he stopped. Faramir lay down next to him. Boromir sat on his other side.
"I have one question of you, Boromir," he said as he lay on the cool grass. He picked one of the Elven Crown blooms from the ground and put the end in his mouth, twirling the long-stem with his teeth as he lay back upon the ground. "Thou hast been most quiet these past months. I wouldst know why the change."
Boromir turned his head away. "I am as I always have been," he murmured.
The gentle slap of the stream, hurrying over its rocky bed, was the only sound that disturbed the air. Denethor waited.
Silence still. Denethor picked up another flower and twirled it in his hand. The little crown that surrounded the seed pocket bobbed with the movement. He wondered indeed if it resembled an Elven crown.
"Ada, are there really Elves?" Faramir watched his father intently, seeming to read his mind. It startled Denethor.
'Sometimes it seems silly to train,' Indis thought. Morwen was strictly forbidden to go out on sorties, let alone go to battle, Listöwel definitely did not have the old fire that had once caused her to hatch the plot that had first started them on the path of warrior women, and she herself was care-worn and tired. Though their time here in Edoras was lovely, it was but a pause. Denethor now had full rein of Gondor and needed her more than ever. She had learned so much as she helped Ecthelion. Their father had woefully lacked in the training of Denethor. And poor Denethor was well aware of it. This time away would have to be brief and yet, she had already been here two months!
"Ever did your thoughts stray in Minas Tirith, Indis," Morwen laughed. "Still, they stray here. Will you not answer your sister-friend? Is this too plain?"
Indis laughed as Morwen held out an exquisite case for a pillow. "Too fancy for the plains of the Mark. Mayhap 'twould be better for her to keep it in her rooms here at Edoras."
Morwen blushed at the compliment. "Thank you. Now, I entreat you. What were you thinking of just now. Your forehead was furrowed."
Indis looked up and full into her friend's face. "I was thinking of how poorly Denethor was raised. Of the uphill battle he now has to govern Gondor. He is ill equipped for much more than waging war. At that, he is very good."
"Gondor needs a battle-hardened leader, Indis. Even here in the Mark, the forces of evil sally forth, attacking at will. We are hard-pressed to guard our own borders, let alone Gondor's."
"Well I know it. As does Denethor. He is most grateful for Théoden's allegiance."
Morwen sat back. "I did not mean to say aught against Gondor, Indis. I only consider the burdens that lie upon my son's back."
Indis had to laugh. "The same burdens that lie upon Denethor's. See, we are sisters in need also!"
"When I was younger, Faramir, my father took me to Dol Amroth and I met your adadhron. I was sleeping in my own room when I heard a sound; some small sound woke me. I still do not know what it was."
"An Elf," Faramir stated with certainty.
"Yes, I believe 'twas an Elf, but Faramir, Elves do not make noise. I do not know why I heard him, unless 'twas his will that I did. I looked towards the window and he stood on the sill, looking at me quietly. Then he smiled and slipped onto the balcony. I ran to try to speak with him, but he was gone. I do not know how he left the balcony. It was high up and the cliffs of the Bay dropped straight down. There was no balcony nor door to right nor left of my own. I still do not know where he went that night."
"Mayhap he flew!" Faramir's eyes were wide with wonder.
Boromir hid his mouth with his hand, trying to stave the laughter that tried to escape his lips.
Denethor smiled at the lad's discomfiture and thought how kind of him not to gloat nor tease his brother. "I do not think Elves fly, Faramir. I have never heard tell of one with wings."
"A dragon, Ada," Boromir offered.
Faramir liked the idea. "A fire-breathing dragon, Ada, with great black wings and a tiny head, and a saddle for the Elf. I can hear the wings now. Boromir, cannot you hear them beating?"
At that moment, a wind blew up and both boys looked in astonishment, not a little fear flickering across their faces.
Denethor shook his head. This was not where he wanted his tale to take them - to fear. "Nay, Faramir. Elves ride on eagles. I am sure of it. Great, swift eagles with a wingspan as wide as the tunnel is long at the Sixth Gate: fair and strong are they. I believe the eagles speak to the Elves. At least, that is what I was told as a child by your mother's mother. The Elves ride at the eagles' pleasure. Eagles are not beasts of burden, like the oxen of the Pelennor, but free." He smiled as their shoulders relaxed again. "Then, when I was older and had fallen in love with thy mother, I slept the night in her garden. She did not know it. I was afraid - "
"Ada," Boromir was perplexed, "thou art never afraid."
"Boromir," Denethor laughed, "where didst thee get these ideas? I am a man. I have fears and..." He stopped. If the boy needed him to be fearless, then he would be fearless, at least for a time. "I didst not know if thy mother loved me, so I waited outside her window and hoped that she would look out. An Elf appeared from nowhere. He walked to my side, motioned for me to sit on one of the marble seats, and stood before me. I was a little afraid, Boromir, just a little. He was much taller than I and his hair was golden, but not the yellow of Théoden or Théodred; it shone brightly in the moonlight. His face was thin, but fair. I started to speak, but he put his finger over his mouth. I waited. He looked at me for a long time. I felt he delved into my very being, but said naught. Then, he turned and disappeared."
"He turned into nothing?" Faramir misunderstood.
"Nay, he walked off into the night. But so quickly, I scarce saw where he went. So, Faramir, there are Elves. I have never seen one again."
"I want to see an Elf, Ada."
"Of course you do, Faramir. And you, Boromir?"
The boy did not answer. Denethor remembered his original question. He pulled another Elven Crown from the ground and lay still. Though Denethor had kept the pace slow and gentle as they rode to the river, it was more than Faramir was accustomed to. Soon he was asleep.
"Boromir, thou hast not answered my question."
The lad lay down beside his Adar. "I do not wish to answer it," he said shyly.
Denethor could not think of what to say. He was dumbfounded by Boromir's reticence. Something was clearly not right here. Yet what it was, he could not discover. He closed his eyes, hoping the child would relax and respond.
"Wast nanny a bad nanny?"
"Why dost thou ask?" Denethor asked, trying to imagine what prompted such a question.
"Thou said she made a mistake with Faramir. Mightn't she have made other mistakes?"
Denethor had never heard Boromir speak so quietly, nor so haltingly. "She didst not do what I wanted her to do. She made many mistakes. I was very happy when Listöwel returned, for I knew Listöwel wouldst care well for thee and Faramir." He looked towards Boromir and his heart constricted. Tears were streaming down his eldest's face. "Boromir, what ails thee?"
Boromir flung himself across Denethor's body. "She said Nana said I talk too much. That I was the cause of Faramir's lack of speech. I would do naught to hurt him, Ada." The sobbing shook the little one's shoulders. "I," a hiccup interrupted him, and Denethor remembered how tears always ended with hiccups with the lad. "I stopped talking because I wanted Faramir to talk. I remember thou said thou wouldst separate us if he did not talk. I wouldst die without Faramir, Ada, truly I wouldst."
"By the Valar, Boromir, I dost not remember saying such a thing."
"I wast not supposed to be listening, but I had a dream, and I came to your room. Thou and Nana wert talking about Faramir."
"Ah," he moaned, "I remember." Tears welled in his eyes. "I was so wrong, Boromir. I canst not promise that thou wilt never be separated. Thou wilt both be warriors someday. Thou wilst go to wherever thou art stationed. Thou knowest this. But thou wilt always return to Minas Tirith. There wilt be many reunions between us. But that time is long from now. Do not let it concern thee. I, as well as your nanny, wast wrong."
Boromir snuggled closer. "Faramir told me thou wast teasing. I am glad he was right," the lad said just before sleep took him.
Denethor sat there for a long time, pondering his mistakes - with his sons and his wife. Amdir's face came into his mind. 'Do not carry the weight of mistakes on you, Denethor, my friend,' he seemed to say. 'You learn from your mistakes as others do not. Rest now.'
Denethor awoke with a start. Was it one of his dreams or had Amdir actually come to him? 'Nay,' he thought. 'I am tired and disconsolate. 'Twas my imagination.' The sun was slipping towards the horizon. He motioned and his men, hidden in the background until now, prepared the horses and ponies, whilst he woke the boys. Faramir ran to the river to throw 'just one more stone' and Denethor laughed. Boromir held his hand tightly. As he looked down, he saw such love shining in the lad's eyes that his own welled with tears. Picking him up, he hugged him tightly. "I wilt not be able to do this much longer with thee, ion nîn. Thou wilt begin thy training in a few short months. I wilt miss these times with thee. Do not become too busy to visit your old Ada?"
Boromir sobbed and hugged Denethor back. "I wilt always visit thee, Ada, and someday, I will let thee rest and become Steward for thee. Then thou might laugh all thou wants and fish with Faramir. And I wilt watch over Gondor and care for her," he said solemnly. Denethor could only hug him; there were no words sufficient to express his love for the lad. They mounted and rode towards the West.
Ion nîn - my son
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