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Ch. Twenty-Five - Third Age 3018 - Part Four
“So it comes to this,” Denethor said quietly, “ I must send one or the other of my sons on this quest?”
“It appears so,” Húrin smiled sadly. “Of course, you could send me. I have had the dream also.”
“Though you are a great warrior, Húrin, the journey will be long and arduous. Boromir speaks rightly; he is the one fit for such a mission.”
“You cannot send Gondor’s Captain-General.”
The Steward watched as his eldest son shifted in his chair. He knew Boromir did not like them talking about him in such a fashion, as if he were not in the room, but this was too serious a matter to be overly concerned about hurt feelings. Faramir did not seem to understand that.
His youngest squirmed. “I had the dream first and more oft than either Húrin or Boromir. I am familiar with finding my way in strange places. My woodland skills are beyond reproach.”
Faramir spoke quietly, but Denethor could feel the tension flowing from the boy. “You only want to see another Elf,” he gently chided.
“That is true, Father! Besides Faramir, most of what you speak of you learned from me.” Boromir laughed and Faramir’s eyes rolled
“And it would be true also, Father,” Denethor noted Faramir’s taut jaw line as the boy spoke in his low, quiet voice, “but Lord Húrin is correct – Gondor needs her Captain-General. Better I should go. Besides,” and finally Denethor noted a twinkle in his youngest’ eye, “I have a better sense of direction.”
Boromir made to protest but Denethor stayed him with but a gesture. “The matter has been placed on tomorrow’s Council agenda. You are both invited. We will listen to the Lords’ thoughts and we will decide.” He watched Faramir’s shoulders sag and noted Boromir’s concern. Obviously, both thought the other would be sent. He sighed and stood, walking to the window. “Would that I had had the dream.”
Húrin’s brow rose. He saw the strong back of his Steward straighten and asked in alarm, “You would not consider going yourself?”
Denethor turned back and looked at the three men in his chambers. Húrin was a great warrior indeed, but his time had passed for wandering in the unknown reaches of the world. Boromir was Captain-General and most needed at this time. Faramir, though not a child, did not have the stamina for such a long journey, though he did have the heart and, it seemed, the right.
That very morning, he and his sons had poured over what maps could be found. The archivists were told to continue the search as there was almost nothing once one crossed the River Gwáthlo, the Greyflood as the Rohirrim called it. Tharbad, if Denethor remembered correctly, had been flooded so badly during Turin’s Stewardship that the port finally closed and the people dissembled. The bridge had been washed away or collapsed; he could not remember which. A few scratches on paper showed a river or two, and a town or two sprinkled across the land, but naught of note. If this Imladris was near Fornost, it would take at least two months time to travel there. None knew how populated the North was; the Palantír would not see that far. Then another two months to return. Denethor could not hope for such a speedy trip; at the least his son would be gone four months, more likely five. December. Mayhap he would return by Mettarë, or earlier.
“Boromir,” his eldest stood next to him in but a moment’s time, “This blackness came from Mordor?”
“It did. From there.” He pointed to near where they both new Minas Morgul stood.
“Father,” Faramir stood next to them, sensing that Boromir would be the one chosen. “Send me. I beg you. I have seen the dream almost every night. I know it in my very bones.”
Denethor turned, his face grim, his lips pulled into a taught line across his face. “We will listen to the Lords,” he said patiently, “and then I will give my decision.” He put his hand on Faramir’s arm. “You will obey me.”
Faramir blushed and Boromir cursed. Denethor continued, “I have not forgotten your last foray against my will, Faramir.” He walked away from them and sat at his desk. “Have you met with Mithrandir?”
Faramir blanched. “He is not in Minas Tirith.”
“You have met him elsewhere in days past… perhaps he has been to Henneth-Annûn?”
Faramir drew his shoulders back. “I have not seen the wizard since last year.”
“Father,” Boromir interrupted what was surely going to turn into another of the nasty ‘wizard’ battles that had become more frequent since Mithrandir’s last visit. “Is there anything known of Imladris besides the fact that it lies north? Faramir and I have spent the last week with the archivists and have found not a word. Even the scrolls of the Battle of the Dagorlad are vague about the Elves that fought there.”
“Vague indeed. Yet, you looked in the wrong place, my son. Perhaps if you had opened a tome of the men of Númenor you would have discovered part of the answer. Tar Minyatur, Númenor’s first king, had a brother. Faramir, you must know this! Elrond Halfelven, a renowned loremaster even to this day. Elrond is said to live in Imladris.”
Boromir shivered. “Another wizard!”
“Nay. Loremaster. An Elf.”
“So he will be difficult to find?”
“I think that assertion is correct. But we will discuss this no further. Both of you, and you Húrin, join me for the breaking of the fast on the morrow, then we will join the Council.”
The Council met and fruitless were its deliberations. It was still undecided when the Steward dismissed them, for Denethor had despaired of receiving a wise judgment from his Council. Most of the Lords of Gondor were appalled to even think that their Captain-General would desert them at this most difficult time. They had been badly frightened by the attack at Osgiliath. Many had hitherto not believed Denethor, though he had spoken again and again of the encroachment of the Enemy’s forces and the need for more men. At least, because of this, the ranks of Gondor’s army would be fortified; each Lord pledged another number of their own men to Gondor’s main forces. The total came to almost a thousand. ‘Yet,’ Denethor thought, ‘we lost almost five hundred at Osgiliath, and they well-trained men compared to what we will be getting from the fiefdoms. Never the mind,’ he thought to himself, ‘we will have them trained quickly and out in the field before Yáviérë.’
Boromir was in Denethor’s chambers almost every hour of the day, haranguing his father to give him the quest. Faramir brooded in the Great Library whilst trying to find maps of better quality for the journey. Húrin hardly knew what advice to offer his Steward and all of Minas Tirith felt dread fall upon them. Many heard of the rumors of the unknown assailant at the battle, and, as rumors go, the tale became so embellished that it seemed four hundred riders on black horses with flames issuing from their mouths and eyes red as the fires of Mount Doom sought and turned the bravest knight into a mound of boneless flesh. The riders’ cries, it was said, could be heard all the way to Minas Tirith. Many, Húrin said, told that they too heard the cries and shuddered in fear. None however stated they were so frightened as to hide under their cots, yet, they told of soldiers doing such a thing. Even worse, and this was too true, the rumors circulating said that the cries turned soldiers against themselves and each other, some falling on their own swords in despair. Denethor shivered himself. The tales were beginning to undermine his knights.
There would be one more meeting – three hours past midday. He would make his decision sometime this morning and would speak it at the Council. Faramir and Boromir were told to leave him; he needed time to ponder this decision and their constant verbal sparring prevented him from concentrating fully. He smiled at the thought. ‘They are almost as when they were children. ‘Let me go. Me first, Ada. It is my turn.’’ But tears filled his eyes. How he wished they were still young and not able to be sent on fell deeds such as this.
Finally, he went to the parapet and looked out upon the Pelennor. The bow of the ship that was Minas Tirith was empty. Húrin, in his wisdom, had ordered nuncheon served in Merethrond. Only his knights still stood about, guarding the Court of the Fountain. He would send Faramir. Boromir’s battle skills and strategic planning were desperately needed. Though Faramir was by far the weaker, he would endure. The Steward decided he would send a company with the boy… ‘Boy. Yes, still in my thoughts Faramir is a boy. How can I send a boy into the wild?’ But Faramir was also a Captain of Gondor. Well-respected, loved by his men, and capable. The others who had captained Henneth-Annûn had left the hidden fortress weak. Faramir had brought it to strength. Though still hidden, it was now a thorn in the Enemy’s side.
But he could not send Boromir. He made his way back towards the Hall when he staggered and found himself slammed forcefully against the Tower wall. More and more he was assailed by this weakness of body. He must sleep; he could not remember the last time he had slept. But keeping watch in the Tower, holding the Palantír and making it do his will – this was what was needed to save Gondor.
Slowly, his breath returned to him. He opened his eyes and saw before him the Anduin. His head spun as he watched, in horror, the scene before him. Once again he saw it, Boromir in a boat – dead.
A blackness settled upon him, squeezed his heart, and filled him. His chest hurt. His eyes burned. And yet, duty still called. No matter that his body warred against him or that his mind would leave him at times. Duty called.
The only thing these days that gave him surcease from the assaults about him was the stone, the globe that constantly called to him. It was the only thing that did his bidding. The only friend he had. His brow furrowed at the thought. It was only a stone! It could not be a friend.
But when he held It between his hands and plumbed Its depths, he found he had control. He had lost control of every other aspect of his life, of the lives of his sons, but the stone would obey him. He could wield It easily; had been able to wield It with ease for at least the last ten years. It showed him what he needed to see, though It would still not show him his sons. This Elven gift was the only thing that kept him sane as horror and war loomed ever closer.
Sometime this past year, he had lost hope. He could not say the precise day nor the hour when it was taken from him. But he knew it was gone, and that knowledge left an ache in his heart that at times bled. Especially when he looked upon Boromir. Had his dreams or visions or whatever the hated things were, been true? Would Boromir die? And soon?
He closed his eyes as the memory engulfed him, caused his knees to betray him. With eyes still closed, he leaned against the Tower wall. Boromir lay in a boat – of Elven make, of that he was sure – with his sword clasped to his breast, his eyes shut in death, as the boat took him, flowing down the River to the Sea. Denethor bent over in horrified grief as agony once again assailed him through the vision. Sobs choked him, but he could not stop the sight. He saw Boromir’s beloved hands clasped in a death hold on his sword, hands that oft clasped his own in joy-filled greetings. He saw the face, deathly pale; the same beloved face of his eldest that consistently lit up with such a smile that Anor itself hid in shame. He saw the arrows at Boromir’s feet; arrows of his enemy laid in homage of a valiant deed. Boromir’s face lay serene and at peace as the vision brought it closer to him. But he was dead. Boromir was dead!
“My son is dead!” He wept aloud as his chest felt pain like unto the thrust of a sword piercing it. “Nay! Nay! Not dead. This is but a dream. It can be changed. This must be changed!” He would do as Boromir asked. He would send him to Imladris, to the Elves, and as far away from the Anduin as east is from west. And Boromir would bring back to him the weapon the dream spoke of. The sword that was broken. Denethor would have it re-forged and the Enemy could once again be vanquished. But this time, with Boromir wielding it, this time the Enemy would be soundly defeated, destroyed, and Minas Tirith would be safe. He could go to his final rest in peace. Boromir would sit upon the Chair of his ancestors and rule Gondor. Faramir would stand at his side, freed from the wizard’s wiles, and all would be right. Gondor would be saved. He could rest in peace.
He fell to the ground, totally exhausted, and wept. It was there that Boromir found him, raised him to his feet, and held him close. “I am taking the Quest, Father, whether you will it or no. Gondor desperately needs help, but if no help will avail us, then at least I will return with answers. You need this, Father. Faramir is too weak; the fever comes and goes. We know the journey will be long and arduous. He could not endure it.”
Denethor tried to speak, but Boromir put two fingers over his lips. “Hush. Let me take you to your chambers. There is still some time before the Council reconvenes. You will have time to regain your strength. You must be strong when you tell them I will be taking the Quest. They will whimper and whine and say Gondor can ill afford the loss of its Captain-General, but you will tell them Faramir will take my place. He is worthy of it, Father. I know you have thought upon this long and hard. I know you agree with me. I can see it in your eyes.”
He moved his arm around Denethor’s waist and began moving his father forward, towards the Tower. Denethor let him lead him, exhausted in his grief. When they reached Denethor’s chambers, Boromir motioned the servant away. He brought his father to his bed and sat him upon it. Kneeling, he removed Denethor’s boots, then he helped him to stand. He removed his cloak and tunic, took off the heavy mail amidst Denethor’s protests, and gently pressed his father to lie upon the bed. Covering him, he bent low and kissed his forehead. “If it is not too unpleasant, I would sit with you for a bit?”
Denethor closed his eyes; tears slipped between the closed lids. “Faramir?” he whispered.
“He is in the stables. His horse threw a shoe. He will be here shortly, if you so wish?”
Denethor nodded. “Please. I would tell him myself. Before the Council meets. He will be gravely hurt. I would spare him the humiliation.”
Boromir’s eyes burned with unshed tears. He pulled the chord and the servant entered. “Please send for Lord Faramir. He is in the stables.” The servant nodded and left. Boromir turned back to Denethor, but his father slept.
The Steward’s eldest leaned against the bedpost and wept bitter tears. Within the space of what seemed like a heartbeat, Faramir was at his side, cradling him, whispering words of comfort, for what, Faramir knew not, only that Boromir’s sobs tore his heart into a thousand pieces. At last, Boromir realized Faramir stood with him. He looked at him in wonder. “You came.”
“I always answer a request from Gondor’s Steward.” Faramir smiled as tears streamed down his own face. “Boromir, why do you weep?”
Boromir bit his lip, then clutched Faramir tightly to him. “I found father by the Tower wall. He was distraught, almost mad with what appeared to be grief. I had to help bring him home. I know not what horrors assail him. Faramir, we must find out what it is that has caused so many changes to him. Will you help me?”
“Of course. Here, sit.” He pulled a chair up next to Denethor’s bed, waited until Boromir sat, then sat himself on the floor at Boromir’s feet. “What is it you want me to do?”
Boromir’s chin shook. Should he tell Faramir or let Denethor tell him? Nay, he could not. It would be a disservice to Faramir and to Denethor. What could he say? Holding his hands out before him, he splayed them open, then clenched them tight shut. Heaving a heavy sigh, he spoke quietly. “I love you, Faramir. More than I have loved any other. Would you please remember that?”
Faramir pulled himself closer to Boromir, knelt before the chair and cried aloud, “Where are you going? Is father sending you to Mordor? Or to Minas Morgul? Are we starting an offensive against the Enemy?”
“Nay. I am still Captain of Osgiliath. Faramir, it is just that my heart has been heavy of late. Your dreams, and then the same dream coming to me, have set my thoughts awhirl. Father’s decision will be known to the Council this afternoon. I want you and me to be right with one another before the decision is announced. No matter what he decides, you will remember I love you?”
Faramir looked long and hard at Boromir and suddenly, Boromir felt as if Denethor looked upon him. Faramir’s brow rose. “He has decided. He is sending you.”
Once again, Boromir splayed his hands, then clenched them. “He has decided. He is sending me. You will become Captain-General until I return.” Agony slammed against him as he watched his brother’s shoulders slump. “Do not be angry with me, please.”
“I will not. If that is his decision, I will abide by it. How can I not? When will you leave?”
“Be not so cold. Scream at me. Throw invectives against me. Anything but this, Faramir. I cannot stand this iciness.”
“I am not being cold, Boromir. Pragmatic. I somehow knew, as soon as the dream came to you, that father would send you. Why not? Are you not the…?” He stopped; he would not go there. He would not let those thoughts of inadequacy and failure pass his lips. He knew his father loved him dearly; they just did not understand each other. He stood and pulled Boromir to his feet. Embracing him fiercely, he whispered, “I love you with all my strength. What can I do to help you? When will you leave?”
Boromir hugged his little brother tightly. “At first light, I think. Father and I have not discussed it. I will go alone. Faramir! Please. It is best this way. Secrecy is uppermost on this Quest. No other should know. If I leave with a company, tongues will wag. I cannot allow that. When I saw Father on his knees by the Tower, I vowed I would go to save him. That is my only wish, Faramir. To save him and you and Gondor… and our City. And I must go alone.”
“Faramir,” the strength of the voice surprised Boromir.
“Father. It is good to see you,” Faramir turned and spoke. “I am sorry I did not come immediately, but my horse threw a shoe whilst I was riding, and I took him to the smithy. Are you well?”
Denethor nodded. “Your brother thinks I am a child and has put me to bed for a nap.” Denethor chuckled dryly. “I should have him thrown into the dungeons for it, but I can be magnanimous today. Do I not have both my sons at my side?”
“You do. Might I bring you some brandy?”
“Nay. Help me up, Faramir. I would speak with you.”
Boromir nodded, gripped Faramir’s shoulder tightly, then left them.
Denethor took a deep breath. “You have already discerned why I sent for you.”
“You are so like me,” Denethor said through clenched teeth. “I am sorry.”
“Why, Father? It is an honor to know you think me like you. You are a great and wise Steward. I can only hope to support you the best I can.”
“I would use some excuse as to why I send Boromir in your stead – that the fever still harries you, that you are not as strong as Boromir, that you are needed in Ithilien – but all these would only be excuses. I will tell you outright and you help me decide if I have chosen rightly.”
Faramir sat in the chair Boromir had vacated. “I will listen, Father. I cannot second-guess your choice. You know more than I of the comings and goings of the Enemy, where the greatest need is, what should be done. But I will listen, if you wish.”
“I wish.” Denethor looked down at the covers and smoothed them out. Then, embarrassed, he looked up. “You have dreams, Faramir. You always have. I too dream. I dreamt I saw Boromir in a boat, drawn down the River by the current, past Minas Tirith and headed out to the Sea. He was not sitting.” Denethor gulped back a sob. “He was dead, Faramir. He lay dead in the bottom of the boat, with his sword broken in his hands.”
Faramir shuddered. He took Denethor’s hands in his own. “So you send him away from Gondor to spare him this fate?”
“I do. The time of the dream is now. He is of the same age as he is now,” his brow rose in horror. “He must be saved, Faramir, at all cost. Do you not agree?”
“I do. Remove him from Gondor, send him North, and he cannot ride the River to his doom. Have you told him?”
“Nay! And I will not. He must go with courage; not afraid of a fate that may not be, a fate we can save him from.” His voice grew strong and fierce. “We can save him, Faramir.”
A knock interrupted him. Boromir opened the door. “The Council is to meet in one half hour’s time, Father. Might I help you dress?”
“Come in, my son. Faramir understands and agrees with me. You will take the Quest. I will tell the Council. When do you think it best to leave?”
“Tomorrow. At first light. The need is very great, Father. I think it best I not wait any further. Besides, once I am gone, Faramir might receive respite from the dreams. What say you, my brother?”
Faramir stood and pulled Boromir to him. “I say I will be with you at first light and send you off with a warrior’s fare well.”
“Thank you, Faramir. Thank you.” He choked on the last words. “I am sorry.”
“Nay! I fully agree with father. You are the one who can fulfill this Quest, find the sword and bring it back to Minas Tirith. Find the answers to the riddle the dream presents.”
“I will, Faramir. I promise.”
They let each other go, sorrowfully. Denethor pushed the bedclothes back and stood up. “Now, if one or the other of you would help me with the mail. It is a little heavy.”
Once he was dressed, the three men moved to the family’s dining room. They ate quickly and quietly, all lost in thought. When they finished, they walked down the stairs, Denethor in front and Boromir and Faramir behind him. They walked into the Great Hall together, Denethor in the middle, Boromir on his right and Faramir on his left. The Lords of the Council stood and greeted them. Húrin stood next to the Chair.
“We have discussed many things this day, but none more important than the dream that my sons have had. I have decided to send Boromir to the North to find this Elven stronghold and bring back answers to the dream.”
“How can you do this based only on a dream?”
“What will Gondor do with its Captain-General off on some misbegotten quest?”
“We will not send our sons to Minas Tirith while your son goes off on some lark.”
The last statement of all those thrown at them by the Council incensed Faramir beyond his ability to hold his tongue. “Boromir goes off on a dangerous Quest to find help for Gondor. He will be going alone. He will be going to places we do not even have maps for. He will be risking his life for Gondor. It is not a lark.” Faramir’s fury quelled them all. Not often did the youngest son of Denethor speak at a Council meeting. They sat in amaze and a few in some slight fear.
“Faramir speaks truly.” Denethor spoke so quietly, some did not hear. “You insult my son by your words. I have told you before, you may insult me, but you will never insult my sons. The Council is dismissed.” He turned and walked out of the Hall, Boromir and Faramir striding quickly to follow him.
“You were splendid,” Faramir said.
“Because I spoke the truth? I have warned them before, Faramir. I will not countenance this lack of respect. Now, let us to my chambers. The archivist has found one more map that I think we should view.”
They spent the next hour pouring over a map as old as the Citadel itself. At last, Denethor sat back in frustration. “Naught! It is as if none of our people ever rode beyond Calenardhon. At least the maps to the Fords of Isen are complete; after that, my son, you are on your own. Somewhere to the North lies Imladris. I have no further information.”
“I could travel up the Anduin towards Beorn’s people...”
Boromir sat back in surprise at the vehemence of Denethor’s response and the fear in Faramir’s voice as they both shouted at him. He held his hands up. “Peace. I will travel through Rohan, if that is your wish.”
Faramir sat back, eyes misting; Denethor stood, moved around the desk, and held his eldest by the shoulders. “You will travel West to Edoras, then to the Gap of Rohan and North, until you find Imladris. You will return the same way. You will stay away from the Anduin.”
Boromir nodded, his face still open in shock and surprise. Denethor realized they had almost let loose the secret reason for sending Boromir on this Quest. “Stop at Meduseld. Be wary though, I have seen… I have heard disquieting things about Théoden’s counselor. After your audience with Théoden, send me a missive as to your thoughts. I fear for the alliance between Gondor and Rohan; I must know Théoden’s heart.”
“Mayhap there are still settlements near the old port of Tharbad. I will find others who will help me on this Quest, never fear, Father.”
“I know you will. I would have you ask a boon of Théoden. I believe he will give it, if for naught but memory of the friendship we once shared. Ask for a horse; a horse that is fit for a long journey.”
“But, Father, my horse…”
“Your horse is fit for battle, a true warrior’s horse. But you do not go to battle, Boromir. You go on a long journey and must have a suitable horse, one that is accustomed to traveling the grasslands of Calenardhon. Further west, the forests of Enedhwaith are gone; you will be traveling upon land west of the Isen that has been devastated for more than an age. There are no roads to speak of.”
“I will do as you ask. I am sure Théoden will find a suitable mount. Now, if you will excuse me, I must finish packing.”
The mountain air was refreshing, after the stench of Orc and the fear of the unknown assailants. Denethor had named them Black Riders and so they would be known. But none of that would be thought of this afternoon. The brothers Mir were saying their farewells in the only place that ever really mattered to them – the small copse above the City where they had always shared their grief, their joys, their loves.
As they lay in the sweet-smelling grass, Faramir began to weep, quietly, but not quietly enough for Boromir not to hear. “You hold some secret in your heart that causes you pain?”
Faramir nodded, not even bothering to wipe the tears away.
“I will not ask, since you deem it unfit to tell. However, I would ask you to have some hope, little brother.” His sad smile was missed as Faramir turned his back to him. “This grief is beyond endurance?”
Faramir nodded again.
“Is there naught I can say to bring you comfort?”
Faramir turned back and leaned full upon his back. He bit his lip and shook his head.
Boromir’s own head bowed. After a small grimace, he looked up. “The sky is beautiful here, Faramir. It takes my breath away sometimes. Do you not ever wish to fly? I do. I sometimes see the peregrine and think how wondrous it must be to spread one’s wings and let the wind take one off. No duty to hold oneself to the earth.” He paused, knowing Faramir understood duty, but then continued, “The view here is never enough for me. I want to see it all, unhampered by mountains and such.” He pulled on an unlucky eyebrow. “I think Nana felt the same way. Have you…” He chuckled. “Of course you have read her poetry.” He looked over at his brother, eyes lit in joy. “You did not think I read her tome?” Cuffing Faramir on the side of his chin, he laughed aloud, “I am not as dull-witted as you might think. I do, occasionally, read.”
Faramir’s smile finally broke and Boromir sighed in appreciation.
“That is better. Put these thoughts of grief from you for the nonce, Faramir. If truth be told, I need a moment of joy, of peace. My heart misspeaks this Quest, but I must be about it. If I dwell too long in thought, I will quake in my boots. Do not tell Father,” he smiled wryly.
Faramir struggled to sit up; now understanding Boromir’s need, he pulled himself from the malaise that weighed him down. “I would be an eagle, I think, if given the choice. Peregrine dwell too close to the mountains. Eagles fly over the mountains, but also the plains, and far over the sea. They can soar for hours. I think I would need more than a few moments flight. Their eyes see far. That is another thing I would like. To see as far as…” His chin shook and a sob escaped his lips. “I would see to the ends of the earth.”
“You would follow me, high in the sky, as I trudged through the miles that lay before me?” A gentle laugh.
“I would watch you and laugh as you wandered, lost, amongst the plains of Rohan.”
“Rohan is not my concern, little brother. The road, though not good, is still well marked. It is once I leave Rohan and enter the lands beyond… Father says the Great West Road meets the North-South Road and is called by some the Greenway, it is so o’er run with weeds and grasses.” He cuffed Faramir’s chin again. “Besides, I would have you stop this constant haranguing of my ability to read signs and follow paths.”
“You know as well as I that you have some small difficulty with direction. I think, if Mindolluin were not at your side, you would not know which way was east and which west.”
Boromir tried to look stern and failed utterly. “You have spoken with Beregond?” His raised eyebrow at Faramir’s nod looked quite comical. “He is an untrustworthy aide!”
“Be that as it may, remember – moss grows on the north of trees…”
The youngest brother had not a moment to finish his sentence ere Boromir was on top of him, flailing at him in mock rage. The brothers tussled for many long moments until Faramir’s kick landed a little too harshly upon Boromir’s stomach. “I’m sorry,” Faramir quickly held his brother close. “I did not mean it to land.”
Boromir sat still for a moment, collecting his breath, relishing the feel of his brother’s arms. So warm and comforting. He had spoken rightly: Faramir and Denethor were hiding something, and it did make him quake. For these two to be afraid for him… What had they seen, his kin that were so foresighted? “It is my fault; I did not duck.” He finally gasped.
Faramir let him go and lay back upon the grass, nursing a bruised thigh. “You landed a few kicks yourself,” he laughed.
“Something to remember me by.” Boromir’s laughter rang through the mountain.
Faramir sobered and lay back down to hide his face. “I would come with you. Would you change your mind and take me?”
“I cannot. Gondor does ill enough with my absence. And Father will have need of you.”
Faramir almost choked. “I think not. We are too at odds, these days, to be of much use to one another.”
Boromir turned to him, pulled him from his reposing position, and held his arms tightly. “Then you must change that! I speak truly, Faramir. It is Gondor’s weal we speak of now. You and he must converse easily and with respect for each other. You cannot lose the love he has for you, but you grow close to losing his respect.”
Faramir glared at his brother, then relented. “I have oft been grateful for your mediation. I will do my best. I do listen and obey, when I can. There are times, like the new order he has given of trespassers, that I disagree vehemently.”
“You understand, do you not, why he has issued such an order? Gondor is in the last throes of this battle. We must do everything we can to protect her. Thus, keeping strangers from our borders is of the utmost importance.”
“Keeping them from our borders is one thing: murdering them, once they are found, is another.” Faramir fairly shook with rage.
“You will obey him, whether you agree or not. Spread the word. Let all who come close to our borders be told of the new order. That should spare lives. Post signs. The Orc cannot read them, but those who can will be warned and will keep away.” Boromir shook his head. “I understand your reluctance. But anyone who enters Gondor’s borders nowadays does so with an evil purpose in their hearts. Do not be swayed by soft voices and gentle words, little brother. You felt the Black Riders evil; they will sway others who seem fair to their ways. I would not have you go out, innocent to these things.”
Faramir snorted. “Let us speak no further on this issue. I will continue to speak with Father in its regard in hopes of having it rescinded, but I will obey. And I will post signs.” He snorted again, “But I fear the Orcs will pull them down as soon as I post them.”
“Then repost them. It is a little enough task to save a life. Now, what did you bring to eat?”
“Me? I thought you brought the basket!” He smiled at Boromir’s look of chagrin, stood and walked to a nearby tree and pulled forth a pack hiding behind it. “Only the best as a last…” He swallowed hard and bit his lip. “It is a fine repast. Let us eat.”
“Beregond,” Boromir spoke quietly, “what am I to do with you?”
His aide smiled. “I could go with you.”
“Nay. As I have told the Steward, stealth and surprise are my greatest allies in this. I go alone.” He paused, lay down the shirt he was folding, and walked to his aide’s side. “I could make you a captain again.”
“You know my feelings on that score, Boromir. I would serve in the Citadel, if I might. Not one of the guards of the Fountain; perhaps with the Third Company?”
“It shall be done, but this is against my wishes. Your loyalty has been a gift for me, Beregond.” He walked back to his kit and began to fold the neglected shirt. He dropped the shirt again, put his hand to his forehead, scratched it, and looked up at his aide. “Damrod and Mablung will be at Faramir’s side at Henneth-Annûn, yet I would have him have a friend when he returns to the City for Council meetings and such. I ask a great favor of you, Beregond. Will you befriend him? Protect him whilst he is in Minas Tirith? Especially with my father?”
“With my life, Boromir.”
Beregond’s Captain-General sat at his desk and wrote new orders, then handed them to his aide. “Give these to Húrin, after I am gone. Now,” he stood once again, “is my horse ready?”
“Good. Let us finish this and leave. Faramir awaits me at the stables.”
“Did you see Lord Denethor this morning?”
“I broke my fast with him.” Boromir’s eyes grew moist. “He rues this decision. I fear there is something he is not telling me.”
Beregond folded and packed the shirt, then closed the kit. He began dressing Boromir in his over tunic, then draped the Horn of Gondor over his captain’s shoulder, and strapped the scabbard to Boromir’s belt, at last, handing over the sword.
Boromir looked upon it with fondness. “You had it sharpened.”
“The smithy spent the whole afternoon on it yesterday. It could cut Mindolluin marble, if you were so inclined.”
Boromir laughed. “I will miss you,” he said fervently. “Take care of my brother.”
“My word is my oath, Captain-General.” Beregond hesitated a moment, “Boromir, you will ever be in my thoughts.”
Boromir grasped the warrior’s shoulder and tightened his grip, then let go, swung his kit over his shoulder, and walked from the room.
As he passed through the Courtyard, soldiers greeted him. Some even stepped forward to offer well wishes for success. The news had flown through the Citadel, once Denethor had announced it to the Council. ‘So much for secrecy,’ he thought wryly. ‘I wonder if the Enemy himself knows of my plans.’ He tried to quell the shiver that threatened to overtake him, but managed only to keep it from laying him flat upon the marble stones of the Courtyard.
Denethor watched from the window as the two brothers met in the Sixth Circle below the Tower window. The morning’s breaking of their fast had been stiff and stilted. Faramir and Húrin came too, but Húrin left as soon as he was done with his meal. Faramir stayed but for a short time; Denethor knew his youngest felt his father’s need to speak with Boromir unaccompanied. Once they were alone, they spoke quietly of the maps and the route Boromir would take, a bit about Rohan and what might be expected; Denethor gave written notes for Théoden and Théodred, then, at Boromir’s urging, spoke of Faramir and his place as interim Captain-General. In fact, now that Denethor recalled it, Boromir spoke almost exclusively of Faramir. He chuckled. ‘He thinks I will denigrate the boy unto estrangement.’ Finally having reassured Boromir, the time to leave had come. He embraced his eldest, his heir, for only a moment, thoughts of Finduilas’ leave taking filling his very being. He held himself in check as long as he could, not letting Boromir feel the shivers that threatened to engulf him. Once Boromir left him, he walked slowly to the Tower room, ignored the calling of the stone, and walked to the window.
After a few moments and recognizing the pain his two sons were enduring, he turned in sorrow to the stone. Rohan spread before him: endless plains still as the dead, summer winds failing them; lands brown and scorched by the drought that was plaguing the horsemen’s reign. It would not be a good harvest for the Men of the Mark. Hunger would cause deaths this winter, deaths Rohan could ill afford. ‘Though,’ and the thought made him shiver in horror that he even gave it a thought, ‘the children and infirm will die first. Rohan will still have its warriors. But the roads are clear, though it is strange there are no patrols on them. Yet, I see no Orc activity.’
Grief bubbled up inside him. ‘Children and infirm.’ The Houses were overcrowded since the Battle and the orphanages were filled beyond capacity. He would have to meet with Húrin this forenoon and make further arrangements. There were at least four large, unoccupied mansions on the Fifth Circle that would be suitable for orphanages. But where to get those to care for the children? Then, there was the matter of the memorial. The count of dead finally had ended at four hundred and ninety-two. And most of them would be sorely missed. He shook himself in anger. ‘Think not of them as warriors; think of them as husbands and fathers and know the sorrow of their passing is more grievous to those they leave behind.’ He bowed his head in wonder. ‘Nay. Their passing is more grievous for it leaves Gondor even less prepared than before. And if Gondor falls, then what good is it for them to have husbands and fathers? They will soon all face the Enemy’s wrath. It seems all my machinations at defense are lost.’ A sob cut through him. ‘Everything I do is for naught.’ His hands slipped from the globe as his knees failed him. “Would that what I do for Boromir is not for naught,” he cried aloud.
Faramir walked forward as he came out of the Seventh Gate onto the Sixth Level. “Your horse is ready. There are a few choice gifts in her bags. Treat her well and tell the Rohirrim to send her back to us. It will be one sign that you have at least reached one stage of your journey. Though I give it not much hope, Boromir. You have gotten yourself lost on the Fourth Level.”
The laughter that burst from Boromir’s mouth caused many a guard to look at him in wonder. “You are an impertinent brat, did you know that?”
“I did. As you said, I learned everything I know from you.”
Another outburst of laughter greeted this witticism. “If I could, I would take you with me,” Boromir said with a great smile, “for I am sure I will need some laughter in the coming months.”
Faramir drew in a sharp breath. “I would come, if you would allow it.” His throat tightened and Boromir felt the sorrow flow from his brother.
“Is there aught you wish to speak to me about?”
Faramir shook his head, “Nay.” Boromir began to mount; Faramir’s hand stayed him. “I would ask you to watch your back. You have told me the same so many times that I wonder if you remember it yourself. Boromir.” Tears welled in his eyes, “Come back to me.”
“What have you seen, Faramir?”
“I have seen nothing,” he gave a short laugh, “except for waves and cloudy skies and heard only words of Halflings and banes.” He grimaced in mock surprise. “I see you take the Horn of Gondor and yet, how am I to be Captain-General if you take the guarantee of it, the very symbol of the title?” He kept his tone light.
“You would give it back to me when I return?”
“Of course,” Faramir smiled. He sobered once again. “Take it with you and wind it at every stage of your journey. I will hear it; you know I will. Boromir,” he pulled his brother to him and hugged him fiercely, “I love you. Come back to me.”
Boromir nodded, returned the embrace, and quickly kissed Faramir on the brow. “I will hang Damrod and Mablung if ill comes to you. Remind them of that.”
Faramir smiled through his tears. “Come back to me,” he mouthed as Boromir mounted and rode off. The youngest son of Denethor ran to the embrasure and watched his brother’s slow progress towards the Great Gate. The Horn’s call echoed through the City as Boromir passed out through the Gate and onto the Pelennor. Faramir bent his head and wept.
“He will return to us. We have cheated death, Faramir. I thank you for agreeing to this.”
He turned in surprise, “How could I not, Father! If this will save Boromir, what matters it if I had the dream first, or fifty times, or not at all. I have not had the vision you did. Are you sure?”
“Visions cannot be confirmed until the time of the event passes. I know not if it is genuine, but I dare not tempt fate by keeping him here.”
Faramir lunged forward and held his father.
After many moments, Denethor pulled him away. “It is time for you to return to Henneth-Annûn. As soon as the first missive arrives, I will send for you.”
I have been poisoned. If not for Éomer, I would now be dead and buried in some unmarked grave in the foothills of the White Mountains. As it is, I am barely recovered, but Éomer says we must leave tonight. He has kept me hidden for a little more than a fortnight now in a room in the back of a smithy, nursing me until I was well again. I am not quite well, but rumors fly that I am still in Edoras and we must be away. He is sending me with one of Théodred’s marshal’s, Grimbold, to a paddock on the west side of Edoras. There we will be able to procure me a horse and I can be on my way. Grimbold will ride with me to the Fords and Théodred’s camp. I will be most happy to be away from this place.
I should have known though, and chide myself thoroughly! I tried to be careful, once I saw her, but… I speak of the Rohirric healer who tried to murder me last year. She is now healer to the snake who advises Théoden. I was concerned, as soon as I saw the high status she now has. Éomer is most distraught after his promise to you, Father, that she would be punished. She has been exalted instead, but there is naught he can do.
Father, you asked me to assess Théoden’s state: it is bad, very bad. He looks as if death sits on his doorstep. His advisor is a worm of a man, you remember him! Wormtongue, Éomer calls him. I cannot blame poor Théoden for anything that has happened to me. He has lost his wits. I fear Gondor will receive no aid from Rohan, but Éomer has vowed that he and his men will answer your call. He said Théodred is of like mind.
I must be away now. Grimbold waits and even another moment may prove a fool’s thought. Éomer has promised to place this missive in the hands of a trustworthy rider. I will write again, once I reach Théodred’s forces.
Faramir – watch over Father for me.
Your devoted son and brother,
Mettarë came and went and still there was no word from Boromir. Faramir had returned to Minas Tirith, without being summoned, in hopes that somehow Boromir had returned. But there was no sign of the eldest son; the Mettarë feast was subdued and tense. At last, Faramir left for Henneth-Annûn and Denethor returned to his lonely vigil in the Tower room.
Húrin had stopped asking where his lord spent his nights. The Warden was appalled at the look of his Steward: gaunt, sallow-skinned, and nigh unto listless. If they did not hear from Boromir soon, the poor Warden wondered if Denethor would survive. How could the boy not send a missive? What was wrong with him? There would have been ample opportunity whilst he procured a horse in Edoras. Théoden would not be disinclined to send a rider to the Rohirric garrison at the Mering; then one of the riders of Gondor could have brought the missive here. He did not understand. Mayhap he should send a rider to Edoras himself. ‘Nay,’ he thought, ‘I will send a rider to the garrison at Halifirien. They will tell me when Boromir passed by. That will give me some idea of when he might have entered Edoras.’ He shivered. ‘He must have passed through Edoras, unless there was evil in that place. How would he have known to keep his distance? Perhaps Éomer? The boy patrols the Eastfold; mayhap he met Boromir and advised him to skirt Edoras? But that makes no sense. Gondor and Rohan are still allies. I will send a rider and ask for… I dare not ask for news from the Rohirrim at the Mering. If Théoden is no longer Gondor’s ally, then it would be ill to ask. If we have lost Rohan’s friendship, then darkness is truly upon us.’ He swore a particularly vile curse and sent for Hirgon.
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