White is the Colour of Death
1. White is the Colour of Death
He had been in a wood made white by snow when he saw the Stewards’ standard lowered.
Boromir shivered as he watched the slow drift down of the white standard. As it stopped halfway to the great tower he sank down into the snow, hugging his arms around the cold that bit through him. He tried to concentrate on the powdery ice that scuffed around his boots and clung to the thick wool of his pants, tried to feel only the hard wood of the bow clenched in his fist, but the world ran into wavery lines that blurred before his eyes. Crouched in the snow Boromir felt as brittle as the frozen branches that had snapped when he pushed past them earlier down by the lake. Pressing the palms of his hands into his eyes until white lights burned he tried to let the cold seep through him until he could feel only the numbness of the chill; but, though snow was falling lightly upon him, it was not that which made his breathing stutter and shake.
Finally, the cold gnawing at him with sharp-edged teeth forced Boromir to move. Uncurling from his huddled position, he pushed his hands into the snow then held the cold dampness against his face before getting stiffly to his feet. Ahead of him, the white flag of the Stewards’ still hung in soft folds from the middle of the flagpole although the greyness of the sky behind it was beginning to blur its edges.
He watched that drooping flag all the way home, watched it as he stumbled over roots and wheel-worn ruts, watched it as he scrubbed at tears with icy mittens, watched until it was slid down the final ells against a star-scattered sky, watched it still when only the bare flagpole stood against the night sky. Boromir still saw it; still saw its slow slide down to that final defeat even as he slipped in a side door of the White Tower. He peeled off his damp outer clothing and dropped them in a pile on the floor as he listened to the silence. If white was the colour of death then this cold-feeling silence was the sound of it.
Quietly, Boromir walked down the corridors and up the stairs leading to the rooms belonging to the steward’s children. He stopped when he reached the corridor outside the Great Hall; from edge of the doorway, he peeked in. Candles burnt brightly around a white-draped table and banks of white flowers lined the room. Subdued servants moved quietly around the room, setting out chairs, placing tall candles in wall sconces; two lowered the banner of the Stewards’ that hung ever at the end of the room. Boromir stayed back in the shadows beyond the doorway and watched them, almost too tired for grief. His mind knew who would lie in this unshadowed room, whom this prepared bier was for - just as he had known for days of the meaning of the measuring, sewing and organising the castle buzzed with - but the words to frame this truth still hid beyond the edges of thought..
As the preparations came closer to the doorway where he watched, Boromir slowly backed away and continued down the corridor. He hesitated at the bottom of the shallow flight of stones steps that led to his and Faramir’s rooms. His trousers, boots and hair were damp with melted snow; he had missed the midday meal; and, much as Lorrel was going to scold, he wanted nothing more than to be warm, dry, and fussed over – but still he hesitated, one foot on the first step. Almost reluctantly, Boromir stepped back and turned aside to where a small passageway ran off the main corridor.
Boromir walked down it slowly, one hand trailing over the stone wall. He had walked along here often in the weeks since they had moved his mother down from the Steward’s suite of rooms to this quieter place. Sometimes, when taken on a formal visit during his mother’s ‘good’ times, he had walked here with Lorrel, hands thrust in his pockets to stop her taking one and reducing him to Faramir’s dependence. Other times he had sneaked along alone to watch the frail figure sleep or toss restlessly. Once or twice, he had even dragged a protesting Faramir with him. He had watched his mother fade, watched whatever was taking her swallow more and more of her, watched her seem to drift unfighting into the shadows, watched her grow thin and her skin whiten; whiten to the colour of death. Now, breath held, he walked the corridor once more because he wanted to see the end of the story.
It was cool down here and shadows flickered and wavered between the few candles that had been lit. Boromir shivered again and wished for a moment that he could be like Faramir who had simply firmed his lips and said No when asked to kiss his mother. “NO”, he had said, “That isn’t my mother. That isn’t her.” Five years older, Boromir had blinked back tears and wanted to hit him. He knew all too well that, if it wasn’t the person who had been his mother, it was all that was left. Boromir squared his shoulders – he was not a baby like Faramir – and edged closer to the door. The smell of death had gone and the room was empty. No chattering women clustered by the fire and no herbs burnt to hide death’s slow corruption. Cool air blew through an open window and in the centre of the room the great bed was stripped, with just a clean sheet thrown over it.
“Mamma,” whispered Boromir, the childish name coming first to him. Tears burnt his eyes and choked him. The clean white sheet blurred in his mind and ran into the great white banner sliding down the pole to announce death. White is the colour of death…. Boromir choked back a sob and ran from the room, ran for Lorrel.
It wasn’t Lorrel who awaited him in the playroom, but Denethor. Boromir stopped his headlong flight with a jerk, caught by surprise at the sight of his father in the chair by the fire. Tears ran unheeded down Boromir’s face as he stared at Denethor, looking awkward in Lorrel’s mending chair. Faramir was asleep across his lap, his head bent uncomfortably against his father’s arm, both of them dressed in the simple white outfits the seamstresses had sewed weeks earlier. His father seemed so out of place here that Boromir saw him as though he was a stranger: tall, lean, a face that gave few clues – Boromir shivered a little, wondering how much trouble he was in - dark hair and dark eyes, smudged darker with tiredness and something Boromir was too young to read.
“Wipe your face, Boromir,” Denethor said, voice soft and cool like the snow outside.
He scrubbed his tears away and sniffed, while his father watched him consideringly.
Boromir nodded, steadied by the calmness in his father’s voice. “I saw the... the flag go down.”
Denethor raised an eyebrow at the news that his son had not been in the Tower, before glancing down at the child in his lap and, with careful hand, straightening a fold of tunic.
“Your brother wanted you. Lorrel is looking for you now.”
He stopped. Boromir nodded then moved a little closer.
“The next few days are going to be difficult ones for us all, Boromir. We have lost our wife and mother, but Gondor has suffered a heavy loss too. Our mourning is not our own. No-one is going say that Finduilas’s passing was in any way Shadowed… no-one…”
Denethor stopped and looked at his son. “You are too young to understand, are you not?” he questioned softly.
There was a long pause as Boromir watched clouds and shadows pass across his father’s face; he waited in silence, not knowing what he should say. Finally, Denethor shook himself from his reverie and reached out to touch his eldest son’s hair.
“Never mind. Your cousins will be here tomorrow, you will like that, will you not?”
Boromir nodded softly, unsure if that was what he should do.
“Never mind,” Denethor repeated. “Go and get changed, Boromir – your mourning is on your bed – then come back and keep this one company while I seek for Lorrel.”
Boromir turned and started towards the door to his room, but Denethor’s voice stopped him.
“Remember what I said, though, Boromir – our mourning is not our own. You are the sons of the steward, just as Finduilas was the wife of the steward. Both of you will be with me tomorrow in the Great Hall when the people of Gondor come to pay their respects. You will attend your mother’s interment in the Hallows with your uncle and me in three days time. There will be no shadow over your mother’s death. Go now, go and dress.”
Boromir stood in the Great Hall the next day, between Faramir and his father. White flowers scented the room; white candles burned around Finduilas; white silk draped her bier and clothed her body; at the end of the Hall the proud white banner of the Stewards brushed just above the floor; and beside him Faramir picked with angry fingers at a loose thread in the hem of his new white robes. White… the colour of Gondorian mourning; white that denies the Shadow that hovers over Gondor; white that claims purity for the one who starts the unknown journey; white that is the colour of death. It seemed to Boromir, then and through the days that followed, that the empty white expanse of the steward’s flag now surrounded him. The arrival of his uncle and cousins, even, could not break this featureless world.
By day, when not wanted for the ceremonial duties Denethor insisted on, Boromir sat at the playroom window and watched the snow covered world - a world of empty whiteness marred here and there by worn tracks. At night, he watched endlessly the lowering of the flag in dream-wracked sleep or crept through darkened halls to his mother’s sick room. He longed for something to break these blank days: even lessons. He longed for coloured clothing and meals back in the playroom, for the tower’s noise and bustle to return; he longed to escape the whiteness and the loss it must forever remind him of. On the morning after the day that Boromir had walked in slow procession with his uncle and his father to the Hallows with his mother’s body Faramir threw his mourning clothes in the fire, and bit Lorrel as she tried to dress him in another set. Boromir knew Faramir deserved the slap it earned him but he would fain have done the same. He pulled Faramir up on the window seat beside him afterwards and put an arm around him.
“I hate white,” Faramir said eventually, as they looked out over the snow-covered garden.
“I know,” whispered Boromir, knowing too that it wasn’t really the snow he referred to. “But spring will come, Faramir – remember? All the flowers come out and the grass is green and you can hear the birds – remember?”
Faramir nodded, watching him with rising interest.
“And Mama will come back and play with us.”
It was said with all of Faramir’s customary determination and Boromir closed his eyes, feeling cold and sick.
“No, Faramir, not here – not ever. She’s dead; remember we saw her? That’s why we have to wear white – white for death.”
He opened his eyes and looked at his little brother, pleadingly.
Faramir turned away a little, back to the window. “I hate white.”
This time Boromir just nodded and tightened his hold on him.
The Halflings were taken, Boromir could see them being bound. He was falling: could feel it in the fire that lanced through him; could see it in the stars that sparked in his vision; knew it in the Shadow that crept over his heart. The Horn of Gondor lay broken, his shield was lost and only one arm could lift a sword now. He swung his sword as another curved scimitar came slashing towards him and shouted,
With a hiss, the Orc fell back. Shaking his hair from his eyes, Boromir took another breath. Aragorn would come, he knew, but it would be too late. Already, the Orcs laden with the Halflings were leaving while these last remained to toy with him; he wasn’t worth dying for, doomed prey that he was, but the sport was too enjoyable to leave. As he pushed back another parry, a snarled command in the Orc’s foul tongue made his tormentors step aside. A group of larger goblin-soldiers took their places. Boromir had time to see only two things – the arrows nocked and aimed at his heart and the white hands on their shields.
White is the colour of death…
*Yes, I know unfighting isn’t a word – but I have chosen to use it as best expressing what I wanted to say.
*White as the Gondorian colour of mourning isn’t canon – but nor does it break canon. There is no canon on this point. My inspiration came, at least partly, from the Asian community I used to work in where white was the colour of death and mourning.
*Happy birthday, Tay! It even comes complete with single spaces between sentences!
*Thanks as always to all those who have offered feedback – it is much appreciated. Particular thanks to Winterhawk, MJ, Naomi, Arquen, Nightsky and Elena Tiriel, who kindly provided grammatical advice on a problematic sentence.
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.