Politics of Arda
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Long Road Home, The: 15. Revelations
Faramir sympathized with the man quivering on his knees before King Elessar. The messenger had no reason to be afraid; yet to be brought before a powerful king in such a splendid palace would be overwhelming for most everyone, let alone a simple traveler from Bree.
Aragorn gestured for the fellow to get up. The man climbed back to his feet and darted quick glances at the doorwardens, the servants bustling about, and the pages awaiting errands. He did not dare look up at the king or the steward.
"What news from the North do you bring?" Aragorn asked. His lord kept his tone light in an attempt to put the traveler more at ease. Yet, Faramir knew the king was anxious for news from his hobbit friends.
"Letters, sire. From the Shire-folk. And -- and a message from Master Gamgee. He said to tell you that the Shire is fine, and for you not to worry."
Aragorn grinned. "That does sound like Sam, indeed. Is everyone well?"
"Aye, Lord. They were when I departed Bree with the mail. Although that was many weeks ago. I assume they have since returned to their homes."
"Where are the letters?"
"I gave them to the Lord Steward, Your Majesty." The man's eyes flicked briefly toward Faramir.
Aragorn cast his steward a look as if to find confirmation. Faramir held up the handful of envelopes. One was even addressed to King Strider and he suspected it came from Pippin. Aragorn accepted the letters and pondered them a moment. Unbidden, Faramir's hand drifted to the inner pocket of his tunic where another sealed letter waited for his perusal. He was eager for the audience to end so he could find some privacy and read it.
"Good." The king nodded and turned his attention back to the visitor. "I thank you for carrying these. What else can you tell me? How fare the good people of Bree? I have visited oft, in the past."
The visitor blinked, not suspecting such an admission from the ruler of the vast lands that comprised the Reunited Kingdom.
"How is Master Butterbur, for example?"
"Alas, Lord King. About Barliman I have sad tidings. An orc band beset him last winter, and he was killed."
"Orcs?" The king straightened and his voice took on a sharper tone. "Is there no end to the mischief of Sauron's fell creatures?" He turned to Faramir. "How many soldiers have we dispatched to Arnor?"
"Two companies, my lord, to aid the northern Rangers."
"Perhaps we should send more. I will not abide any of the people of Middle-earth to continue living beneath the terror of orcs."
"'Tis not as bad with the orcs as a few years back," the Breelander ventured shyly. "Only during the winter, they sometimes come far from the Misty Mountains, all the way to the South Downs and Bree." The messenger stood straighter. "Your Majesty need not worry. The soldiers are doing their best. And sometimes the people call on the aid of Master Aranmegil. He destroyed the orcs who killed Barliman Butterbur, although he came too late to save him."
"Aranmegil? The King's Sword?" A pensive expression formed on Aragorn's face and his eyes seemed to gaze in the distance. "Rumors of such a swordsman have reached me before... So he went north." He seemed to be speaking to himself. Faramir tensed; his full attention was focused on his liege while the letter burned in his pocket. At last, Aragorn addressed the messenger again. "Is that what he calls himself, Aranmegil?"
"Nay, Lord. He calls himself Erandír. But the people give him other names. Sometimes they call him Longsweard or Agân-'nUruk." The messenger looked worried. "He is no trouble, Lord. He keeps to himself mostly, traveling the northern lands with his dog and a youngster, and lending his sword where help is needed." He lowered his voice. "They say he slew twenty orcs by himself once."
Aragorn gave a soft snort. "I have seen many great warriors, yet I know few who could accomplish such a feat. Tell me. Have you seen this mighty soldier yourself?"
"Yes, sire. He gave me a letter for the Lord..." The Breelander's voice died down when Faramir caught his eye but it was too late already.
"Lord who?" Aragorn asked. "If there is someone at my court corresponding with this mysterious stranger, I would know who." His voice was commanding and not even the doughtiest soldier dared stand up to him when he spoke so. A man from Bree was no match for the king's might.
"The L-Lord Steward, Sire."
Aragorn raised a questioning eyebrow at Faramir and the steward tried not to wince beneath the scrutiny, unsure what, if any, words to speak.
The king remained silent a moment, mulling things over. "I thank you for your news," he said at last to the messenger. "And for carrying these letters." He waved one of the pages forward. "Take this man to the chamberlain and tell him I wish him well rewarded for his services."
"Thank you, Lord King." The man bowed and hurried to follow the page from the chamber, relieved to depart the presence of the powerful lords and the tension that had crept into the room at his slip of the tongue.
Aragorn leaned back in his seat, stacked his fingers beneath his chin and spent several minutes deep in thought. Faramir tried to think of an excuse, a matter of state that needed his urgent attention so he could leave. He dreaded the questions that were, without doubt, coming. Honor would not permit him to lie; yet it was honor, also, which had forced him to silence all this time.
At last Aragorn looked up and gestured at the servants, the guards, and the squires. "Leave us. I wish to speak to my steward in private."
The servants obeyed and a minute later Faramir found himself alone with the king.
"Secret correspondence, Faramir?" Aragorn asked lightly. "With a man who claims to act as my sword, no less! Yet, I do not recall sending such a man. Should I believe that you conspire against me?"
"Nay! Never, my lord." Unsure whether his liege was jesting, Faramir was horrified he might consider such a thing. "You have nothing to fear from this man. He is a friend to Gondor."
"I would be the judge of that," Aragorn said. His tone was still mild but held an undercurrent that Faramir did not much like. "Many stories have I heard about this man. I thought him the substance of rumors, of myth, tales created by bards for whom the war's grim reality was not heroic enough. But here I find he is real after all. So, will you tell me who he is?"
Faramir shifted his stance in discomfiture; he could not help it. Not even many years of attending council meetings and watching political maneuvering had prepared him for a day like this. With the passing of the years, the promise to his brother had grown an ever heavier burden. Never had he fully agreed with Boromir's reasoning, believing his brother was mistaken -- and watching King Elessar's benign reign only confirmed this impression. Yet, he had kept the secret for so long; his tongue tied itself in knots when he tried to speak. In the end, though, Faramir could only give one answer: the truth.
"He is my brother."
For long minutes, neither spoke. Only the crackle of the fire in the hearth broke the silence. "Boromir?" said King Elessar at last. "Are you talking about Boromir?"
"Aye, sire." Faramir did not dare look at his king. The weight of the lie had been lifted from him at last; yet, what consequences might revealing the secret have?
When the silence lengthened, he risked a quick glance at Aragorn's face. The news had visibly stunned him; the king looked pale and his eyes, unfocused, glittered strangely. Faramir could not determine if his revelation pleased or angered his lord.
"Sire?" he said at last.
Aragorn blinked, and his gaze settled slowly upon his steward. His eyes smoldered with emotion. "How long have you known this?"
Faramir cleared his throat. "Since I pulled his boat from the Anduin."
"Are you telling me," Aragorn said, his voice low and calm -- and Faramir found this more disconcerting than any overt passion would have been -- "that you have known all these years that Boromir survived his injuries, and yet you allowed everyone to believe he had perished?"
"It was Boromir's desire, not mine, to hold the truth from you." Faramir's answer was but a whisper. He kept staring at the flagstones on the floor, unable to tear his gaze away. He felt like a thirteen-year-old called to task for mischief rather than like the Steward of Gondor. His eyes found the missing chip, the same flaw in the stones he had always sought during his father's lectures on his shortcomings.
"Why, pray tell, did you decide to adhere to such a cruel request? Do you trust me so little, my steward?"
"No. That is not it at all." His head whipped up and he stared at Aragorn in dismay. When had the room grown so cold? "I had no joy in keeping the secret. I would have mentioned it, if I could. But Boromir swore me to silence.I gave him my word. I promised him I would not speak. Not unless someone asked me about his fate."
"Boromir wanted me to think he was dead?" Aragorn sounded puzzled, and more than a little hurt. It was the first clear indication of his feelings, but it did not make Faramir feel any better.
"My brother was ashamed, my lord. It weighed heavily on him that he had broken his vows. I suppose he no longer felt he deserved your friendship. He could not bear the thought of facing you again." While he spoke, a new insight into his brother's mind dawned on Faramir, Boromir's reasons suddenly clear; Boromir had never had to deal with personal failure, real or perceived and when at last he found himself not up to the task, he simply was not equipped to handle it.
Aragorn swore violently, startling Faramir from his introspection and alarming him with its vehemence. King Elessar was a man of restrained temper who hardly ever raised his voice.Not even the many minor nobles of the kingdom, begging for his favor in their petty schemes, could draw him out. To see him so upset was frightening.
Aragorn had started pacing. "Is there no end to that man's foolish pride? I told him on Amon Hen, while his blood stained my fingers, that he had not lost honor in my eyes. And yet he believes I would denounce him? And you!" He turned to the steward, as if suddenly remembering Faramir's presence. The king's gray eyes blazed with fury and Faramir took an unbidden step backwards.
"You allowed your love for your brother to cloud your judgement. Your duty should have been to trust me, your king and friend, to do right by your brother, not to keep this foolish vow of silence."
Faramir wanted to cry out in denial. He wanted to explain how Boromir insisted, how he refused care until Faramir made his promise. But the words failed to come.
Suddenly the king's anger faded, and Aragorn the man was left. His shoulders slumped with sadness and when he spoke again, Faramir had to strain to hear him. "'Twere my hands that let the boat slip prematurely. For years, I have believed I was to blame for Boromir's death. Many a night have I spent fretting over my guilt."
"Lord, I--" Faramir began, not fully understanding the king's words but sensing the enormousness of his mistake. Aragorn silenced him with a curt gesture.
"Leave me," he ordered. "Go home, spend some time with your wife and son. Do not mention to anyone what secret you revealed me, I will send for you when I have need of you. And tell the captain of the guard to send messages to Legolas and Gimli. I wish to see them at their earliest convenience."
Time passed at a crawl. For long days, the steward awaited the summons of his king. None came, and he grew more and more harried. He found no joy in either his beautiful wife or the antics of his son, Elboron, who was just learning how to use his stubby legs for crawling and had turned into a menace on four limbs.
"He will send for you," Éowyn assured him on the morning of the fifth day. Faramir sat in the window, staring out across the garden of their house in Emyn Arnen. Far in the distance, across the glittering Anduin, the tower of Minas Tirith gleamed in the light of the rising sun. His eyes burned from lack of sleep.
"Aragorn is not a vengeful man. Give him time."
"How much time does he need?" Faramir murmured. "He will have to denounce me as the Steward soon. Before the people of Gondor hear that he has banished me from his presence. The news of such a chasm between king and steward will create unrest; it might lead to strife and civil war."
"Aragorn knows you are no threat," Éowyn said. "The people would be wrong."
"Mayhap." Faramir turned away from the window. "Yet not everyone favors King Elessar as you do, my love. Some will wonder what terrible deed I have done, Steward from a house that ruled Gondor for many generations, and that ruled it well. They might use the opportunity as an excuse to question Aragorn's kingship. Or even his sanity. They will ask, 'what dreadful crime has the steward committed?'" He raised his eyes to meet Éowyn's. "I hurt him terribly, Éowyn. But I did not know. If I had known he blamed himself so, I would have told him the truth a long time ago, despite my vow to my brother."
Éowyn pulled him into her arms, and he rested his head against her breast, aware of the reassuring beat of her heart beneath his cheek.
"He knows that," she whispered into his hair. "If not today, he will remember it soon, when he has had the chance to think about it. Faramir, my husband, do not forget you are a good man. They placed an unfair choice upon you, your brother and your king. Whether you spoke or not, you would have failed the trust one of them put in you. The king will come to realize this, I know it in my heart."
Whether Éowyn was right, or whether Aragorn also feared the rise of gossip and the emergence of civil unrest, Faramir did not know, but just before midday a rider came from the city, bearing the order Faramir awaited so eagerly.
"The King wishes to see you right away, Lord Steward."
It must be a good sign that it was a court messenger bearing the summons, and not a company of soldiers with orders to throw him into the deepest dungeon of the citadel. Still, Faramir could not keep his heart from trying to jump in his throat when he knocked on the door to the king's study and awaited entry.
"Enter!" The wood of the thick doors muffled Aragorn's voice and it gave no indication of his liege's mood.
Taking a deep breath, Faramir opened the door and walked in. The room felt empty with none of the usual courtiers milling about. Only three people were present: the king, and two members of the former Fellowship.
"King Elessar, I am at your service," Faramir said, bowing deeply, more formal in his greeting than he had been in years.
Not until Aragorn acknowledged his presence did he greet the other two in the chamber. "Prince Legolas, Lord Gimli."
Legolas nodded at him, looking unperturbed in the way of the elves, but Gimli gave him a dark look full of recrimination.
Faramir made himself meet the dwarf's gaze. It took a conscious effort to hold on to his wife's wise words, but Éowyn had made a valid point. No matter what action he would have taken -- be it to remain silent or to speak out -- he would have betrayed a trust placed upon him by one very dear to his heart.
"Tell us everything," Aragorn ordered. "From the moment you discovered Boromir's boat upon the Anduin."
It took Faramir the better part of the afternoon to relate Boromir's tale up until his departure on the day of the king's crowning. He left nothing out. He told them of Boromir's illness, his feelings of guilt. He mentioned how his brother fought in the garb of a footsoldier during the siege of Minas Tirith, eliciting a grunted comment from Gimli. And he told them of the letters, infrequent and always long in coming.
By the time he was finished, his throat was parched and he wished for a goblet of water. Silence fell upon the chamber. Faramir risked a glance at the faces of his audience. Their expressions were the same: a myriad of conflicting emotions.
Legolas spoke first. "I do not know what to feel," the elf admitted softly. "Should I feel angry that this was kept from us, or be relieved that our fellow warrior is still alive?"
"That bull-headed fool," Gimli said, "I have never met a creature more obstinate!" This brought a chuckle from Legolas but Gimli did not even notice.
Aragorn looked at his friends, then at his steward. Faramir held his breath. The king's expression did not give anything away. When he finally did react, however, it was in the least expected way: Aragorn began to laugh.
"Gimli, my old friend, you are right. Boromir has ever been stubborn. He could put the stubbornness of dwarves to shame."
Gimli harrumphed and a smile appeared on Legolas's face.
"But he is also a man of great valor," the king continued. His mirth vanished and his expression grew more serious. "One I ever held in high regard."
"My lord?" Faramir could no longer keep still. "What did happen after my brother was overcome? He never told me how he came to be on the Anduin in a boat of elven design."
Aragorn blinked, pulled back to the present. "We dressed his wounds," he said softly, "and carried him to the boat. Gimli was to travel with Boromir, to care for him when needed."
"Except I was too clumsy," Gimli added with a grumble.
"And I allowed the boat to slip from my hands before Gimli had the chance to climb in," Aragorn finished.
For a long moment nobody spoke, each apparently occupied with his own thoughts.
"Have you decided what shall be my fate for failing you?" Faramir broke the silence at last.
"Your fate?" The king directed his gray gaze to his steward. "What would you suggest to be a just penalty?"
"'Tis not my place to say. I put my future in your hands, my liege, as I have ever done." Faramir sank to one knee, getting as close to begging for understanding and forgiveness as his self-respect allowed.
"You ought to be tarred and feathered and chased through the streets of Minas Tirith for this foolishness," Gimli said. "Permitting me to believe it was my doing that led to your brother's death. I have been feeling guilty for naught!"
"Gimli!" Legolas looked shocked. "You aretalking about the Steward of Gondor. And none was at fault for what happened at the foot of the Rauros."
Gimli snorted, apparently not quite convinced. He continued to glare at Faramir.
Aragorn chortled. "Tarred and feathered, eh? It would be hard to conduct a council meeting after presenting such a spectacle. None would take such a steward seriously."
Were they jesting about his sentence? Aragorn caught Faramir's expression and the smile faded.
"I have no desire for a new steward," he said. "You have ever served me well. At least when your allegiances are not rent in two opposite directions."
Hope flared in Faramir's heart. Did his liege comprehend? He sighed with relief when he caught the gentle understanding in Aragorn's gray eyes.
A twinkle of humor appeared next. "I have a most suitable doom for you," Aragorn continued. "The pressures of my kingship oft weigh heavily on me. Long have I desired to return to the wilds, if only for a little while. And my queen tells me I enjoy the food that graces the tables a little too much. I fear she is right. So, Steward Faramir, I have decided to leave the care of the kingdom in your hands for a time, while I go off to find your wayward brother and bring him home. Leaving it to you to judge the squabbles among the nobles, or to negotiate trade agreements with the ambassador from Harad is a penalty befitting the transgression, would you not say?"
The king's household was in chaos, the servants thrown into confusion. The chamberlain gave instructions to pack trunks with clothes and tents only to have his orders countermanded as soon as Aragorn got wind of them.
"It is not befitting for a king to travel in squalor," the chamberlain complained to Faramir. "Please, my lord, he must take my advice in these matters. King Elessar will need valets, and cooks, and pages to run errands. A full complement of servants, nothing less will do."
"Your advice is duly noted, Chamberlain Malbeth," Faramir said. "Yet it is the king's wish to travel light and unobtrusively. I do not think that anything you or I could say will change his mind."
Muttering to himself, the chamberlain left Faramir's office.
The captain of the tower guard was also displeased with the arrangements. "At least take a guard detail along, sire," he said on the night before Aragorn's departure. "For your protection."
Aragorn chuckled. "The world is a much safer place these days than it used to be, captain."
"But, my lord--"
"No. I shall travel with Gimli and Legolas for company, and none else. No harm shall come to me."
"I must concur with the captain," Faramir said once they were alone. "It would ease my mind if you took some soldiers with you. Or a company of the Ithilien Rangers. They can be inconspicuous if they want."
"I have survived in the wilds alone for more years than you and the captain combined," Aragorn said. "And how well would you rate my chances of finding your brother if I traveled with a company of guards? Rumors of my imminent arrival would race ahead and they could chase Boromir into hiding again."
"Or they might not. He might reveal himself. His letters... I think he would want to come home."
"Mayhap. But I am not taking any chances. He disappeared on me once, I will not let him do so again."
Faramir held up his hands in surrender. Nothing he said would sway the king from his chosen path.
"That is settled, then," Aragorn said. "Let us go over the state's business one last time. I have drawn up orders granting you full authority to act on my behalf. Do not hesitate to use it."
"Aye, my lord." Faramir ran down the list of current matters in his mind. Was there anything he needed to discuss before the king left?
"I would know your mind on Cranthir of Tol Falas before you leave. His father's sickness proceeds, and I received a second and more reliable report today that Cranthir is seeking the support of the fisher-folk of Ethir for his designs to resettle South Gondor. I do not doubt he will raise the matter again if his father passes before you return."
"My decree stands," Aragorn said. "The status quo in South Gondor must be maintained until we can work out an agreement with regard to the Haradric settlements. For now, I wish you to concentrate on further improving trade with Harad. If we can come to a mutually beneficial commerce relation, other affairs will be far easier to deal with. Cranthir will have to learn patience."
The midnight hour had been called long since when Faramir finally departed the king's house to return to his town residence. It was dark and quiet, with most of the staff gone to bed. His manservant was waiting for him with a single candle.
"The lady Éowyn has arrived from Emyn Arnen today," he said. "She said she would wait up for you in your private chambers. I had some warm wine and fruit cakes sent up earlier."
"Thank you." Faramir smiled. It had been a week since he last saw his wife. The preparations for Aragorn's journey had taken much time, too much to make the trip to Emyn Arnen, and mere thoughts of her nearness revitalized his spirit.
"Would you be needing anything else, my lord? I can wake up Cook, if you are hungry."
"No, that is not necessary. It is late. Go to bed, I can manage."
"Good night, then, my lord."
The bedchamber was cold, the fire in the hearth allowed to burn low, its glow casting oddly shaped shadows. Éowyn lay on the bed, asleep. Her hair was loose and spread across the pillow. Faramir took a moment to admire her gentle beauty before he tiptoed over to draw the covers closer about her.
As soon as he touched her, Éowyn opened her eyes. "Faramir?"
"Shh," he said. "Go back to sleep. 'Tis late. We can talk in the morning."
But she pushed back the covers and reached for her robe. The mulled wine had been placed near the hearth in an earthen jug and she touched it with the back of her hand. "It's still warm." She poured a goblet and handed it to Faramir.
"Aragorn has kept you busy?" she asked.
"Aye. He is leaving tomorrow. I doubt I will find much time to come home to Emyn Arnen while he is gone."
"I know. That is why I returned to the city. Should I send for Elboron too?"
It would be nice to have his family near, so he could spend what little free time he had with them. "Aye."
He held the goblet between his hands, enjoying the warmth that seeped through the pewter. "I wonder where Boromir is now," he said softly. "What he is doing."
Éowyn offered a chuckle. "Sleeping, I have no doubt."
He answered her laugh with one of his own. "No doubt."
Wrapped up in his cloak beneath a starry sky, most likely, his dog close to his side for warmth. Curious how their roles seemed to have reversed. Boromir was leading a ranger's life, while he had taken up the stewardship, something he always believed would be Boromir's one day.
"Do you think Aragorn will find him?" Éowyn nestled herself against him, seeking his body heat.
"If anyone can, it will be him." He absently ran his fingers through her long hair. What would it be like to have Boromir home? To hear his boisterous laughter echo in the halls again? To share their worries, large and small? So much had changed since his brother left.
"What will happen if he does?"
Faramir could barely hear the question, muffled as her voice was against his neck. Her breath was warm on his skin.
"Aragorn wants to bring him home. Beyond that, I have no idea. There will be consequences. Political, and personal. Boromir is my father's eldest son, his rightful heir. I have no right but to the second born's share."
Éowyn pulled back and looked up. Her eyes were wide. "We could lose Emyn Arnen? Our home?"
Faramir turned away from her and took a long swallow of the cooling wine. "Mayhap. We would still have the lands I did not yet return to those families holding it in fief before Ithilien was deserted. And I would own some property in Anórien. That might not be a bad place to make a home."
"Faramir, you worked so hard to restore Emyn Arnen. 'Twould not be right for Boromir to take that from you. Not after all this time. Not after you have kept his secret for so long."
"My love, he would have every right." Faramir was startled to hear the bitterness in his voice. He had poured his heart into bringing the estate back to its former glory and Éowyn had toiled many long hours to build the herb garden. They had earned the right to Emyn Arnen.
"The law of inheritance is clear, there is not much I could do about it."
Not much, other than ask Aragorn to declare Boromir forfeited his rights when he disappeared. Would his brother truly cast him out of Emyn Arnen? What would it be like to have Boromir home?
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