Steward and the King, The
22. The Time of Gifts
The afternoon of the battle, the eagles came to Minas Tirith to bring news of Elessar’s victory. The city rejoiced, except for Denethor. As ever, he sat on his stone seat.
Pippin, at his side, heard the ringing bells. “I’ll go see,” he said after a time. Denethor made no response, and Pippin decided that was leave enough to go. He ran out, then soon back again.
“Eagles,” he said breathlessly. “They said Sauron is no more. Strider -- ” He was stopped by a glare. “Sauron has fallen -- ” The anger was too much. Pippin could hardly speak. “Your sons, sir, I’m sorry. They didn’t say.” The hall was silent, except for what muted sounds entered in from the celebrations outside.
Then there was a sound of singing, many voices, coming nearer. The singers may or may not have been at the outer door, ready to enter and make homage to the throne. With a strangled sound, Denethor stood, breaking his white staff against his knee. There was a knife on his belt, but he left it there. All his rage fell upon his heart, and so it was torn. He crumpled to the floor, grasping at his chest. Pippin called for help and then ran back to him, and Denethor did not push him away. As he fell into his swoon he seemed to smile at Pippin’s tears.
Boromir rode fast back to the city, accompanied by a single armsman. That night he dreamed, and in his dreams came memory.
The room was made bright from the sunlight of last year’s midsummer. Denethor’s chamber seemed too small to contain the three within, such was the strength of their argument. Boromir had spoken to Hurin and he to others, and the captain of Cair Andros had asked in council of the meaning of Faramir’s dream.
“Why did you name it Prophecy?” Denethor demanded to Boromir. “Your brother did not presume to claim so much.”
“‘Summons’ or ‘Prophecy’ it is from the Powers,” Faramir said, “and it must be heeded.” Denethor turned away.
Boromir stepped between him and the closed door. “I say what is,” Boromir returned his father’s stare. As he had done many times before, he stood firm against Denethor’s displeasure and continued, “You shall not order us away and pretend nothing happened. Such a sending is no ‘fancy,’ it would be error to toss this message aside as unimportant.”
“There is too much to be done to waste time on idle riddles, but now rumor will run riot. I ordered you both to silence.”
Boromir was unrepentant. Faramir again defended himself, and Boromir knew he was grateful for his support. “I dreamed again last night, as I have every night since the attack. When a word is spoken, I have no choice whether or not to hear.”
“When battle is nigh, it is your duty not to let your attention be drawn aside.”
“It is war that threatens,” Boromir said, “and we are unprepared.”
“Gondor will do as she must,” Denethor answered his tone with scorn.
“We cannot win against the Nameless One, Father,” said Faramir. “Defeat has never been ‘if’ but ‘when’.” And Denethor, whose face was hardened by the years lived under that burden, glared that he would say this truth aloud. “We cannot win,” Faramir continued. “Not without help. This prophecy gives us hope of survival.”
“Fantasies,” he scoffed. “You are a fool to put hope in such notions. You are needed here.”
“And what good could Earendil have done had he returned to this shore and had not come unto Valinor to make his plea? Should Elendil have not watched for the signs, as his father told him, that he could survive the wreck of Numenor?”
“No,” Denethor said angrily. “You will speak no more of this.”
“Yes,” Boromir said at the same time. He stepped close to his father and held his eyes with his own. “Send him. This summons is real and it promises help. We need help. You may be content that Gondor will die with you, but I am not. He goes.”
After a time, Denethor turned away. “Go then,” he said, “as soon as you may. When you return in your hands there will be nothing, and your heart will have only regret.”
And then the room filled with the red-gold light of dawn and the floor turned to sand and he saw his shadow cast long across waves of a vast sea that was before him. And it was no place in his memory, nor could he have found any such land in Gondor where he could stand and see the endless sea with land to left and right curving back behind him that he saw only the sea before. Was this how the western sea was seen from lost Numenor?
Out of the west and up from his heart called a voice of power,
In Imladris it dwells.
There shall be counsels taken
Stronger than Morgul-spells.
There shall be shown a token
That Doom is near at hand,
For Isildur’s Bane shall waken,
And the Halfling forth shall stand.”
and Boromir knew the meaning of each word while for Faramir it had been mystery. And pride swelled in Boromir’s heart to be confirmed by this gift from the West that he and Gondor had chosen true.
“It was for me to ask our King to return,” said Faramir. His smile was bright and no care or hurt could be seen on him. “Yours is the test of acceptance.”
“I have given him my oath.”
“That was ill done,” said Denethor. “When the dark times came these kings, if they are kings, stayed hidden. What claim can this pretender have after so many years?”
“I have my honor father, why must you forsake your own?” answered Boromir.
Denethor turned away from his sons and was gone. The brothers then stood together under a blue sky until the dream was ended with Boromir’s waking, and he rode less swiftly thereafter.
Denethor lay in his swoon two days before he finally slipped away. He had opened his eyes once near the end but did not answer when Pippin called his name. The body was taken away, and Pippin went to Theoden for comfort. Late the next day Boromir arrived. His approach was noted, and riders came out, telling him news of Denethor’s death. Faramir’s horn was wrapped in cloth and the ax was also hidden.
“I would speak first with the lady Eowyn. Alone.”
The swifter of the two riders went back before them.
Eowyn stood in the antechamber, tall and proud, also fearful. Just behind her stood a table lit, through a window, by the day’s bright sunlight but her face was in shadow.
Boromir stepped close and bowed his head. “I am sorry, lady.”
Her eyes closed a moment, there were tears. She remained silent, not moving.
But then Boromir stepped past her to put down the cloth he carried. He opened it to show the blood-stained horn and she was undone.
“Rescue came too late?” she choked, her grief raw and terrible.
“No, no.” Boromir took her arms to steady her. “They were far from help. This was taken for trophy, and so we recovered it.” She did not ask after the rest, but he continued. “Their bones ... mingled with the orcs, no doubt. The whole of Gorgonath, it seems, was unmade when the ring was destroyed. The tremors lasted long into the night. When it is cool enough to enter, I think we will find nothing but stone. I’m sorry.”
She sobbed long onto his chest and he likewise grieved.
After a time they joined Theoden in his chamber. Pippin was there and he looked at the ground as he said he was sorry.
Boromir knelt to embrace him, and said, “He was my father, but I could not stay by his side. It is a comfort to my heart that you stayed by and he let you, though he drove all others away.”
“You found proof of Faramir’s death?” Theoden asked.
In answer, Boromir opened up the cloth showing the horn. Theoden motioned him closer. Boromir approached, but his face was turned away from the horn and the King.
Theoden saw his grief and guilt and spoke softly. “You have ever been protector of all your people, Boromir. Even when your King comes, that will not change. Faramir also had that duty. He has been out of your protection for many years.”
“Since he first went to battle without me, my heart oft rebelled.”
“If Faramir was sitting with us and I told him, ‘I believe Lord Boromir thinks of you as a child,’ how do you think he would answer me?”
Boromir managed a small smile at that. “He would be amused. But he would understand.”
In the discussion following, Boromir mentioned his dream, but then wished he hadn’t, and afterwards kept it secret. Eowyn was silent when he escorted her back to her room, and he lingered. She stared out of her window; it faced east, towards Mordor. “When he came to you did he say aught of me? Did he wear any token of Rohan?”
“I’m sorry, Eowyn. Did you not -- ?”
“Seers are few in Rohan.” She lowered her eyes and whispered. “Your family Dreams. Mine does not.”
And would that our family did not dream, Boromir wished bitterly. Would it have been another to summon the King, and my brother might yet be alive. “No,” he answered her question. “As I said, he spoke of the King. I and our people had chosen rightly. His clothes were simple cut, but were none I’ve ever seen.” Seeing that she wept, he stepped closer, and put his hands on her arms as he looked out the window with her. “He has found peace,” he said. “He knows we are safe.”
“A small comfort,” she answered, “but what comfort I can find, I will take.”
== end chapter ==
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