Stewards of Gondor: Genverse Arc
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Father and Sons: 14. Beneath the Surface
The sound of picks and shovels churning the earth, of grunts and the occasional curse, filled the hot summer air, the noises seeming to swim through the dank humidity that was Gondor under a summer sun. Sweat and the scent of decay assaulted Faramir's nose, and he fought not to grimace in disgust, or in horrified sorrow, for a captain may never display such weakness before his men, lest they lose heart.
How fortunate for me, then, that I have none left to lose! Between them, father and brother have conspired to rob me of it, Faramir thought bitterly, and knew such thoughts for lies. For his heart remained within him, aching with every pulsation. And yet the pain was not so bad as it had been only a few short hours ago, when he had first learned of Boromir's treachery. That his brother had had the gall then, to lie in addition, and to lie so well, had only added to his sense of confused, disbelieving grievance, and Faramir sighed softly at the memory. And though he reached now for the exquisite anguish that had come of Boromir's betrayal of him, even now it slipped through his grasp, refusing to cut quite as deeply as it had that morning. For I am accustomed to such pains, I suppose. Father trained me quite well in that respect, perhaps better than he intended, for I doubt not that he meant for me to collapse today when he so casually betrayed my brother's whisperings to me! That thought made his blood simmer, but given that the heat was bad enough to bring a hectic flush to his face, he doubted anyone would notice his anger, or his despair.
I thought we had an understanding at least, that we would never abandon each other to our father's tender mercies, Faramir thought as he watched men struggle through the shallows, calling up to their comrades on the shore. And yet in the end, it seemed that he had been deceived. Perhaps I ought to have known better. Boromir was always competitive, and I know well that he would do anything in the name of Gondor. Anything at all, I fear. This dream affects each of us according to our nature, I suppose.... The men half-swam, half-waded towards the bank, gripping the guide-ropes until all could stand safely. Then, with an effort, they heaved yet another bloated, limp, and broken body onto the shore for the burial detail. Valar help me, I do not want to be here should they find Galdon! Faramir thought, fervently praying that they would not. Or failing that, that he had been found already and buried so that he need never see the destruction wrought by time. Five days in the river... better to leave those who did not surface. There is no dishonor to be found in Anduin's bosom, after all. But Denethor had been adamant, and so Faramir had gone to deliver the steward's orders to the survivors and to oversee their efforts.
As he moved along the ranks of toiling men, he saw many an ashen face despite the heat and the labor. Especially among the younger men, for whom Osgiliath had been their first or second battle, this chore was unwelcome. Ever and anon, one of those younger men, and occasionally even a seasoned warrior, would leave his shovel and retreat a ways to sit with his head between his legs, panting, and then would a lieutenant or some other come to his comfort. For despite the harsh realities of war, most men never saw a burial after so long a wait. Without the immediacy of battle, of aches and pains, shock and weariness to distract them as they went about the task of disposing of bodies, they had too much time to look and to think about what they did now. And so the surgeons made the rounds, faces quite as grim as after a hard-fought battle, and Faramir did not need to imagine what nightmares the traumatized survivors of the battle for Osgiliath would endure in the weeks and months to come. For I shall have them myself! Already, he had seen several faces that he recognized fished out of the river, and that had been quite enough for him. Yet he dared not blink or look away. For the sake of his dignity, and more, for the sake of his men, he could not refuse to look, nor to offer a hand when someone staggered away, unable to stand the sights and smell any longer. And as the hours wore on, and there seemed no end in sight, his wrath flared the hotter. It was one thing for Denethor to punish him for his inexcusable behavior, but had the steward even stopped a moment to consider how others would suffer to teach his little-loved second son a lesson in obedience? And all this for a dream! Valar, but I wish I had never had it....
Alas, perhaps he had stared too long at the bright glitter of the sun upon Anduin's surface, 'til his eyes were dazzled and all else seemed dark. Or perhaps fate conspired with his father to torture him further, for no sooner had he thought that than it came again. White light... white tower... white rays in a darkened sky... 'Seek for the Sword....' Faramir was profoundly grateful that he had not been caught in the middle of a stride, else he was certain he would have tripped. As it was, he stood dead still, staring sightlessly at Anduin, and his arms, folded across his chest, clenched tighter as if to clutch that dream close and not let it escape to trouble others. White light in the darkness.... "Captain?" A voice broke through the vision, and as it dissipated, Faramir blinked and turned rather sharply upon the intruder. There at his shoulder stood Tarodin, gazing worriedly at his lord and commander. "Captain, are you well?"
"Aye, I am fine, thank you," Faramir replied as smoothly as he could. Tarodin raised a heavy brow at him, seeming to consider this remark.
"You are certain, my lord? I would say that you had seen a ghost... except that today, that jest falls flat," the other man sighed, his glance straying distressedly over the burial furrows.
"I am certain. I was merely preoccupied. My thoughts stray further than I ought to permit today, I fear," Faramir said, and earned another close stare from his surviving lieutenant.
"As you say, my lord. Is there any word what is to become of us, captain?" Tarodin asked, changing tacts quickly.
"Such recommendations as I have, have been delivered to the steward for consideration, and in that matter Lord Boromir has also much to say. But I doubt we shall have word until after the council is closed. It should begin tomorrow morning."
"Ah. 'Tis only that men are anxious, my lord, and I would have something to tell them," the lieutenant replied.
"I know. I shall tell them tonight how that matter stands. It may help relieve some worries to have a time frame." Privately, though, Faramir doubted it. Tonight, men would be more preoccupied with the dreadful task given them, for which he could be guiltily grateful in a way. The present is grim enough that they may not look to the future, or ask those questions that their captain cannot answer. For how shall I find replacements for Tarodin, who must shortly become commander for the southern Ithilien companies? What of officers? Do I dare strip the north and send Mablung or Anborn—or both!—with him for a help? I could, if I knew that I would be held in northern Ithilien, but I know not father's mind! For a time, at least, I am condemned to remain here. And with him, the others were doomed to remain and wait, all of them tossed together into the same broad cell that was ruined Osgiliath. Cries from the shore announced the discovery of another corpse, and Faramir chewed the inside of his lip gently, staring past the bright band of Anduin at the dark heights of the Ephel Dúath. For if Denethor had sent him here as punishment for his crimes, it was in truth the Dark Lord who deserved the lion's share of the blame for this. Denethor did not kill these men, after all, not truly. Nor I, nor Boromir, though it was by our orders that so many were lost. 'Tis Mordor that shall be the ruin of us all! The heat and humidity hung heavy in the afternoon air, causing the dark mountains to shimmer and tremble. And then they began to fall....
Valar, not again! Faramir clenched his jaw against the outcry that stuck in his throat, and for a moment, all the waking world faded to him as the mountains tumbled beneath Anduin, which rose like a wave, covering the earth, and the roar of it blocked out the sound of the shovels and picks, the cries and complaints of the men. He thought he controlled his reaction somewhat better than he had the first time, and yet Tarodin still gave him an exceedingly odd look as the vision faded and he let out a soft sigh. Of course, most of his lieutenants had, over the course of long years, seen him dream at least once, and many knew the signs that betrayed him. Nevertheless, despite that familiarity, he could not meet the other's eyes quite yet, for fear that Tarodin might read in them too much. I need not the dream of Númenor to remind me of our fate should we fail! he thought, but it was to Denethor that his thoughts turned once again. To Denethor, who could dictate Gondor's fate with but a word, to Faramir's dismay. Years it had been, and yet the conviction had remained ever with him, since that winter's day upon the tower of the Sixth Circle: Minas Tirith was not safe in his father's hands. Have we just run out of time? Is it already too late even to begin to hope, rhyme or no? he wondered fearfully. But the mysterious conjunction of the two dreaded dreams remained opaque, resistant to the probings of the intellect and he had not the privacy to spare a greater effort.
And what if it is too late? he asked himself suddenly. That changes not my responsibility here. Denethor wished me to learn my lesson, and I owe the men—all of them, be they mine or Boromir's—what apology I can make for having brought this upon them! Conscious of Tarodin's measuring—and somewhat perplexed—gaze, Faramir sighed and unbuckled the clasp of his cloak, folding the garment and tossing it into the shade beneath a mostly tumbled wall. His overtunic followed in quick succession, and he unbuckled the heavy sword-belt to lean the blade up against the remains of the wall. "My lord?" Tarodin questioned, watching these proceedings.
"The sooner this is over, the better for all. And I have watched long enough," Faramir replied, shooting a quelling glare at his lieutenant when the man began to protest. Tugging one-handed at the laces that held his shirt closed, he loosened the collar and breathed an unobtrusive sigh of relief when a wisp of a breeze hit his chest. "Come, Tarodin, we have work to do!"
Boromir sat slouched, his head in his hands and both elbows leaned upon his desk as he hurried through the last of the reports. A few more lines only... ! I hate this! Though actively concerned with Gondor's well-being, the time it took to scan, process, and link together the information contained in the deadly dull language of formal reports was time that he rather resented losing, no matter how necessary it might be. Even writing the wretched things was less torturous, since at least he controlled what went on the page, and he knew already what needed to be said. With a sigh, he flipped the parchment up and began the last paragraph, though he felt his eyes beginning to close of their own accord as his attention wandered to other subjects.... A knock on his door jerked him upright, and he hissed in irritation. One more paragraph... the door can wait! he decided, and began reading again with fresh energy. Ere he had managed even ten more words, the knock was repeated, this time louder, but he ignored it once more, tearing through another few lines with almost reckless haste. Only let me be done with this! It is not as if I shall be able to say aught tomorrow! A third knock, and when he still refused to acknowledge it, a voice sounded from without, "Boromir, I do not wish to hold this discussion with oak between us, but so help me, I will if you do not answer!"
"Uncle?" Frowning, Boromir shoved the chair back and rose, striding quickly across the room to pull the bolt and throw open the door. There stood the Prince of Dol Amroth, his expression rather wry, though his eyes were serious as he sketched his nephew a slight bow.
"I swore an oath to do all that duty to Gondor demands of me, even to sacrifice my dignity to play the madman at need. Nevertheless, I do thank you for sparing me the looks I would get when it became known that I had been seen talking to walls," Imrahil said, eliciting a chuckle from Boromir.
"We as a family do have appearances to maintain," Boromir acknowledged, but somehow, that comment failed to amuse either of them. "What brings you, Uncle?" he asked, quickly waving Imrahil within to cover the awkward pause.
"Did you not receive my message?" the prince asked as Boromir shut the door behind them, turning a frown on his nephew.
"Message?" Boromir frowned. "What mess... oh." Imrahil snorted at that, and Boromir sighed. "I fear I threw Cethril out ere he finished delivering it. I am sorry, Uncle, I had no heart for company this morning."
"I understand, lad, you need not ask my pardon. In truth, the delay may have been for the best, for it allowed me to attend to some chores of my own. I see that you are nearly finished with the interminable reports," the prince gestured to the stack shoved to one side of Boromir's desk.
"Very nearly. What business brings you, Uncle, or shall I guess it?" Denethor's elder son asked, unwilling to wait upon the intricate unfolding of Imrahil's mind and conversation today.
"I doubt not that you know the main matter already," his uncle replied, settling himself on the edge of the desk as he appraised Boromir carefully. At length, he said with deliberate causalness, "I have just had a most... revealing... discussion with the lord steward your father." Instantly, Boromir felt his muscles clench as Imrahil's sea-grey eyes pinned him again.
"Ah? Indeed?" he replied, striving with such minimal answers to give as little away as he could. For though he doubted not his uncle's good intentions, the idea that Imrahil knew of the disastrous and shameful confrontations between Denethor and his sons made him feel vaguely ill.
"Indeed. Most interesting it was," Imrahil replied, a grim note entering his tone. 'Interesting,' after all, scarcely described the meeting he had had with his brother-in-law....
Denethor was not best pleased with him, Imrahil knew, and felt the other's displeasure as one might a blast of icy wind in the face. "I see no reason to discuss private affairs with you, Prince of Dol Amroth," the steward said neutrally.
"A man's authority in his house is well-nigh inviolable," Imrahil had replied. "But when his private affairs affect the governance of Gondor, then my duty is clear: to discover the root of this trouble and remove it. I thought that you would prefer to discuss such matters with a kinsman rather than before the council proper." And he had smiled thinly as Denethor realized that he was in deadly earnest. If the steward would not speak to him now, then Imrahil would lay the ugly affair before the entire council for discussion. And short of accusing Imrahil of treason or murder, Denethor could not silence him. That made the steward's decision very nearly a foregone conclusion, yet it had still been a tense moment. For the steward knew his council, its strengths and weaknesses, and the locations of any political bodies in Gondor were marked on the map of his long memory. Had Imrahil been any more open in his threat, the provocation might well have convinced Denethor to use that information to impose silence on him anyway. Fortunately, though, it seemed that the steward's sense of duty to Gondor outweighed his personal sense of outrage.
And so had come the terse question, "What would you know?"
"What has happened among the three of you since Osgiliath? I know well that you quarreled, and Faramir departed in a foul mood this morning to do 'recovery work,' I believe he called it. I would have this explained to me."
"You eavesdropped," Denethor said flatly after a moment.
"Nay, my lord, I heard what anyone would have heard who sought my quarters this morning," Imrahil countered. "That I could hear you at all was telling enough, for I have never known you to raise your voice thus, brother. Nor have I heard Faramir so upset, nor Boromir as indignant and despairing. What has happened of late, Denethor?"
"You might have spared me the inquiry and asked Boromir yourself, if you wish to know that," Denethor responded. "But since you are here, your nephews have taken to rifling through the belongings of others and trespassing into rooms forbidden them. They meddle in affairs that are not theirs to decide, and in doing so display an appalling lack of concern over their oaths as officers of this realm. Now, if that is enough...?"
"And was it as an officer of the realm, Denethor, that you played them against each other?" Imrahil demanded. "Or as a father?"
"How I deal with my sons is hardly of concern to you, prince of the realm!"
"If it damages Boromir and Faramir such that they cannot serve Gondor as they ought to, then it is my affair. And as their uncle, you may not tell me that I cannot be concerned with their treatment! You solicited, or seemed to solicit, Boromir's testimony against Faramir, and Boromir appears to believe himself quite wronged by this. He may even be correct, given the manner in which Faramir stormed out of your study. I see not how such animosity between your two ranking captains aids Gondor, and you have done naught to ease it! And so I ask again: was it as an officer of the realm or as their father that you have done this to them?"
"Together the two of them plot their mischief and play games with matters above their heads," Denethor replied, coldly folding his hands behind his back. "Let them now taste the reverse! And now that you have had your answer, I suggest you leave, brother!"
"...to him, Uncle?" Imrahil drew a deeper breath and focused once more upon the present, and upon Boromir, who watched him now rather warily. "You spoke to Father about... this?"
"Insofar as my knowledge of 'this' is limited, yes. And although I have not the tale in full, I believe I know enough to guess what must have happened, which I trust you will confirm for me," Imrahil added, raising a brow and holding Boromir under his gaze until his nephew nodded reluctantly. "Good. But first I have a question for you, and I would have your plainest answer," the prince paused a moment, searching Boromir's face once more ere he asked sharply, "Did you in fact tell Denethor of Faramir's transgression?"
"No!" Which immediate and vehement response did much to reassure Imrahil. Boromir stared back at him, grey eyes lit like clouds in a lightning storm, as he continued on in a tone of forced restraint, "I know not how he discovered Faramir's intrusion, but it was not my doing." And still, the fury in the other's voice was such that Imrahil held up his hands in a gesture of appeasement.
"Peace, Boromir," he murmured. "The charge never struck me true, but I owe it to all concerned to be certain of your innocence."
"And are you certain of it?"
"I am. You were never one to lie," Imrahil replied simply. Boromir still gazed at him as if with distrust for a few moments, but then he sighed and the rigid set of his shoulders relaxed somewhat, if not completely. "Tell me, though, what precisely it is that Faramir did, for I still know nothing of that matter, nor of your own fault. What happened last night after you left me?"
"It was not all done after our discussion," Boromir admitted, and went on to give a terse account of what had occurred while Imrahil listened in silence.
And when he had finished, the prince said, "All of this disturbs me on a number of levels, and I fear at the moment that the thread that would ravel the knot eludes me. Something troubles us all," Imrahil pushed himself off the desk to wander over to a little case of books, atop which lay an ornately carved wooden coffer. Laying his hands upon the lid, the prince's long, agile fingers began to trace the patterns while he stared at the wall in a meditative fashion. "Last night, I told you I had not dreamt any prophetic dreams, but my dreams have come more frequently, and I miss the clarity of them, for I no longer recognize the faces that haunt them. Aearos reports that he and a number of the other members of my guard have had trouble sleeping, and rouse at odd hours with feelings of unease. You, who abhor the vaults of the library, are driven to search even the steward's private collection, where no man may go without his permission, while your brother trespasses in his father's private haven, which no man dares who values his life. And Denethor...."
"What of Father?" Boromir asked, eyes narrowing as he sought a better look at his uncle's face. For he knew well that Imrahil was perceptive, and often seemed to know more than he did simply because he had a talent for deduction. As does Faramir... and Father. And none of them are above pretending to knowledge that in fact they have not in order to win a confession from others who believe them more knowledgeable than they are, Boromir thought, wincing inwardly in pain and frustration. When Imrahil merely turned his head and stared mildly at him, the heir of the Steward of Gondor grimaced and shook his head. "Do not do this, Uncle! All of my family have a gift for misdirection, for teasing out revelations from others who think that they know already the answer. But I have not the patience to pick at words tonight! If you know aught and think I should know it as well, tell me!"
"Forgive me," Imrahil said again, smiling slightly, though the expression was marred somewhat by the shadow in his eyes. "I meant to say that I think your father, too, suffers from the same ailment, for though I do not like him, nor even love him, he has grown too closed in recent years. Too harsh, too demanding and secretive, as if he trusts no one any more. Not even his well-loved son."
"Father has been... difficult, it is true," Boromir replied, uncomfortably aware that Imrahil's words gave voice to his own troubled, half thought-out musings.
"And you have watched him more closely than I, who have been banished to Dol Amroth for lo! these many years," Imrahil continued. "It is perhaps fortunate that it was you and not Faramir who watched him change, for I doubt not that your brother would have suffered more for his too-discerning gaze. But you are not immune to this either, Boromir. In truth," Imrahil said softly, "when I saw you both yesterday, I found much in the two of you that alarmed me." And at Boromir's surprised and somewhat suspicious look, the prince raised a fine brow and said, "Oh yes. You are both your father's sons, though Denethor may not choose to see that often in Faramir's case. And even in yours, for the two of you are more often seen as opposite each other. Yet it is not wholly so, and I cannot say that I am pleased by the comparison." At that, those shrewd eyes caught Boromir's once more and he felt their pressure. But whereas Denethor's penetrating gaze could hurt, and Faramir's left one feeling somewhat self-conscious, Imrahil's was quick and clean as the flick of a dagger—ere Boromir could muster a defense, his uncle had withdrawn again, leaving him to wonder what it was that Imrahil had taken from that exchange.
"What mean you to say by this?" he asked at length.
"That you should be careful, Boromir, for although we have each of us that grain of darkness within, exposure to the shadow that lingers over this city may grow it in our despite if we are not attentive to such things." Which words were particularly troublesome in light of his less than chivalrous intentions regarding Faramir's confidence last night, and Boromir grunted softly, glancing down at the floor. Imrahil was silent for a few moments ere he began again, "Enough of that, though. I would not add to your troubles, Boromir, but I would be remiss if I spoke not frankly with you in this matter. Minas Tirith is troubled, and we tend to overlook smaller signs within ourselves in our search for answers among the rumors and tales that circulate the city."
"True enough," Boromir admitted, but then added, with a quick, brooding smile, "but few are the problems solved by seeking symptoms within, unless one is a madman. I wonder sometimes whether we are not all gone mad in this murk! Men watch the light in the tower and await the ghost of Mardil Voronwë, or say that father wrestles the Nameless Enemy. Others complain that the cats of Berúthiel are returned, for some know more than they ought to... Father included. What is a man to make of such tales? For myself, I would know how the Steward of Gondor learned of Faramir's guilt, for I would swear there were no others to hear him confess but myself! And we spoke not loudly, for we did not argue."
"I hesitate to suggest your esquire...."
"Nay, Father told him to wait outside, and Cethril never entered the room 'til after Faramir had left. I tell you, Uncle, we were quite alone, and I went to bed not long after my brother left."
"And Faramir told no one else?"
"No one. Why should he speak of this to another?" Boromir watched as Imrahil frowned thoughtfully, his mind clearly groping for an answer to the mystery. "'Tis not the first time that the lord of the city has surprised us with his knowledge, but usually he is more subtle about it. Usually, there is some plausible excuse for it, however doubtful, for I cannot remember a time when any had cause to question the source of his knowledge. Not to his face, at least," he added ruefully.
"Well, your father is foresighted, that we learned early," Imrahil murmured. "But usually, foresight attaches to greater events, or to persons close to one... loved ones...." And Faramir is not loved! The implication hung in the air, and Boromir bit his tongue against a protest. "I suppose Faramir was seen leaving or entering your father's rooms," he said at last, though it was clear that he did not believe his own explanation. For he knew well that Faramir was not one to let himself be observed at unawares, not after all his years in Ithilien. "Unless the steward merely pretended to foreknowledge, the better to drive you apart, I can think of no other explanation."
"It seems a reasonable one," Boromir admitted, but then hesitated. "And yet... it does not ring true to me. My father may not be the most open of men, yet he rarely needs to lie thus, for he knows well how to evade giving an answer."
"True enough. Yet it remains our best explanation," Imrahil grimaced and finally stepped back from the box, trailing his fingers over the lid, as if reluctant to relinquish its feel. "But let us not think on it further, for there are many other matters that need our attention, not least of which is the council. Forlong came latest, but all the councilors of the realm are within the city now. I have heard," Imrahil said, shooting him a considering glance, "that you shall listen but not speak throughout."
"Unless Denethor becomes convinced of my merits once more," Boromir replied, attempting to keep his voice even, to crush the note of resentment that threatened to twist his tone. Alas, it was nearly impossible to fool any of the men of his family, and even Lothiríel was not one to be easily deceived; Imrahil heard the anger that lay beneath that careful neutrality.
"And what would it need to win his confidence once more?"
Boromir gave a frustrated shrug and then folded his arms across his chest. "I know not, for he told me nothing specific! I am simply to obey his commands, nothing more."
"Will you do that, then?"
"What choice have I? For am I not a loyal son of my father?" Boromir asked, forcing himself to speak almost calmly. Remember that, Boromir: you are loyal... that above all, for what else is there?
"Be careful, then, and watch your words should you speak with Denethor later. In fact," Imrahil paused, frowning suddenly, "were I you, Boromir, I would be quite careful to do nothing that Denethor would not approve of. Be certain that you act alone as you would in a public place."
"Leaving aside recent events, why would I do otherwise?"
"I do not say that you would, only that even private meetings with friends or family ought to be conducted carefully. One never knows what might be overseen...."
"And the walls have ears, yes, I have heard that often," Boromir finished, and Imrahil nodded. "I like this not, and I wish we had not spoken for my mind is now restless, but I thank you nonetheless, Uncle."
"I am your mother's brother, and you may always call upon me, should you desire someone to listen," Imrahil replied, clasping arms with his nephew as farewell. But ere he released him, he added, "I shall send a letter to Osgiliath with one of my men, to be certain it arrives unopened. If you wish, I can play messenger for us both." And if your letter arrives with mine, it stands less chance of rejection–so Imrahil's faint smile conveyed, and Boromir had to admit it was a good idea.
"When shall you send your runner?"
"Tomorrow morning, when I go out for my ride before the council begins. Join me, if you will, or else have the letter in my possession before then."
"I shall join you, for I doubt not it shall be the only pleasant part of the whole day," Boromir sighed. "Until tomorrow, Uncle. Good night!"
"Good night, Boromir!" Imrahil replied, and left quietly. With a soft sigh, Boromir returned to his desk, and with a minimum of searching found a clean sheet of paper and sat down to write his letter. I wonder how many they found today...? He heard his breath hiss through his teeth at the thought of the wreckage beneath Anduin's glistening surface. He doubted, though, that Faramir would welcome his pity over such an awful assignment, and so he focused instead upon convincing his brother that he had had naught to do with what had passed in their father's office that morning. Unfortunately, he had no real evidence to offer, only his word, and so in the end, it was a rather short letter that made its way into Imrahil's hands and out to the river bank the next morn:
If the words themselves cannot convince you, then I know not what would. Nevertheless, believe that I would never betray—and have never betrayed—your interests to our father. Believe me, Brother, for else I shall miss you indeed. Be well!
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