Stewards of Gondor: Genverse Arc
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Father and Sons: 15. Thus Conscience Doth Make Cowards of Us All
Papers whispered coyly against each other, and Boromir made himself stand quietly, without sighing or shifting his weight too obviously, while Denethor read. Hands clasped behind his back, feeling the air of the study close and stifling despite the open window, he waited, and while his hands were out of sight, Boromir massaged his right hand and wrist. One would imagine that after twenty-four years of campaigns and thirty years spent mastering the blade, writer's cramp would be beneath my dignity, something to scoff at rather than curse! But muscles accustomed to the violence of battle might not be as suited to hours of fine, precise, yet swift movements, and he splayed his fingers, feeling the tingling ease just a bit. As if writer's cramp were not irritation enough, Denethor had complained of his penmanship the first day, forcing him to rewrite the entire document.
I will never again take for granted Father's secretaries, he thought fervently. The idea of being a copyist and note-keeper for the steward was not one that roused envy in Boromir's heart; indeed, after the past two days, it not only inspired no jealousy, it inspired dread and no little respect. Give me Poros and a Haradrim horde over a pen and paper! For although Faramir was wont to say that the pen could cut as deeply as the sword, Boromir suspected his brother referred to poets or satirical playwrights, not transcribers. Having been stripped of a speaking role in the council, he had been 'gifted' with the responsibility of secretary, and that had sufficed to keep him busy enough that he could not afford a stray thought for hours on end, until a recess was called or the day was done. It also sufficed to insure that he got ink-stains up his sleeves and recalled the deadly dull hours of short-hand that his tutors had forced both him and Faramir to learn. At the time, he had complained of the useless skill, but now he blessed those same maligned tutors for their insistence.
Unfortunately, short-hand did not spare him this interview. The Steward of Gondor had made a point of reading over his laboriously copied notes in front of him that first night, and had found them wanting in clarity. And when Boromir had returned a few hours later with a cleaner copy, he had again been made to wait while his father reread every single line. Tonight, he had reluctantly followed Denethor to his study, there to endure the humiliation a third time, and he foresaw this ritual continuing for days on end, for as long as the council's deliberations lasted. That was enough to stir a heartfelt groan in a tried warrior, but he wisely made no sound or move that could be interpreted as impatience or frustration, let alone dread. For Denethor would not take kindly to such displays, and Boromir had no desire to test his father's aptitude for creative punishment once more. To sit in the council chambers, and feel the uneasy glances of the councilors as they tried to decipher precisely how deeply in the shadow of Denethor's displeasure he lay, was embarrassment enough. There was no need to risk further humiliation, although Boromir did wonder whether Denethor had always intended to have these 'interviews,' or whether he had somehow merited another slap in the face. And so he waited, speculating on his father's probable intentions while his temper grew fouler by the minute and his resentment waxed the greater, growing more difficult to suppress.
Think of Faramir! he reminded himself for the fourth time since he had crossed the threshold of the study. Remember why he is now upon Anduin's banks raising the dead! Give Denethor no reason to use him against you again! That unpleasant thought helped to cool Boromir's wrath somewhat, for he had come swiftly to the realization that however wroth the steward was with Faramir, Faramir's punitive duties at Osgiliath were a greater torment to him, Boromir, than all the records-keeping that a tense council session could produce. More, Denethor surely knew that quite well, and if Boromir allowed his frustration to govern him too obviously, it seemed too likely that Faramir would suffer some new indignity.
Even now, thought of what his younger brother dealt with made him feel quite uneasy, and that did not take into consideration his worry for how this must affect one of Faramir's sensitivity. It is not that I believe in ghost stories, Boromir reflected, unsuccessfully trying to quell his anxiety. But this feels indecent to me, and no argument can rid me of that feeling! Let them lie, for is not Anduin a fitting bier for those who fought above those waters? What honor, being plucked from a river to be thrown into a ditch? Not that he supposed he need truly fear that the dead would be dishonored: Faramir would see that the bodies at least were handled as respectfully as possible. Nor would he simply bid men shovel dirt over them, for his brother was not one to neglect what rites might be available to ease men's hearts and hallow the ground that bore now a vast treasury of bone. Nevertheless, and despite his faith in Faramir's sense of propriety, unease continued to gnaw at him whenever he let himself think of his brother's task.
Which is less often than I ought! his conscience was quick to accuse him. He could excuse himself that failing during the day, for the councilors talked in ceaseless circles and it was his duty to record it all. But at night.... When he lay awake due to the frustration roiling in his stomach and tried to resign himself to sleep, then did his thoughts turn not east but north: north to a place he had never seen, nor even heard tell of before in his life, which yet might hold the key to Gondor's salvation. Possibly! Imladris: the name haunted him, danced ever on the tip of his tongue and behind his eyelids when he closed them. Yet he dared not utter it, bound to silence by the steward's will. Someone must go, and yet we wait. How long dare we wait to decide this matter? Which brought him back to Faramir once again, and the accusatory stares and bitter words they had last exchanged in this office. He has not written in return yet either. Does that mean that he still blames me? That he does not believe me? Boromir fretted, wishing that he had the freedom to go to Anduin and confront Faramir face-to-face. His brother might be more adept at dealing with the written word, but Boromir could not trust that his brother's skill in interpretation would compensate for his own clumsy written efforts to redeem himself.
At that moment, Denethor squared the papers, aligning them with each other through a quick tap of the edges against his desk, and then he set them aside. "Satisfactory. Now, regarding Lord Anthir's proposal to negotiate a loan of cavalry from the Rohirrim to help cover Anórien, what think you?"
"'Tis sound enough in theory, and I would welcome the Rohirrim in any endeavor. But will our coffers support the cost?" Boromir replied, breathing a mental sigh of relief that his notes had passed muster today. The one trial over, the next began, but this, at least, was a test he could accept without qualms. For if he had been silenced in public, in private, Denethor seemed genuinely concerned that he should have a sound grasp of all such matters as were raised in the council. And at least taking notes forces me to remember everything! His father might interrogate him to within an inch of his life in such sessions, but in a way, such intimate and intense debates over policy were more beneficial than the council itself. Freed of the need to listen to every objection, he could concentrate on those that seemed most relevant, while Denethor did the same. And however inexplicable Denethor's moods with regard to his second son, Boromir could not deny that within his element, his father had no equal.
Perhaps it was simply that such private discussions of policy demanded so much of his attention, or perhaps... perhaps it was Denethor's particular glamour, but Boromir could feel anger draining away, and with it, all thought of the argument that lay still between them. In his heart, he knew well that the truce would not last for long, but for the moment, he was content to lose himself in such matters as befitted his station. And even the steward seemed to lose some of his remove, and to grow more animated than many would have believed possible of him. For whatever else might be said of Denethor and his sons, of their differences and dislikes, an abiding love of Gondor at least had bred true in them all, and it bound them together where lesser men would have fallen entirely away from each other.
It was late when father and son came at last to a halt in their discussion, the two of them having thoroughly worked through and examined the most prominent points of debate. Boromir at last leaned back in the seat he had taken and fell silent, thinking. For his own part, Denethor steepled his fingers before his face and stared back, but without bothering to probe the other's meditative silence. Such efforts were generally unnecessary with Boromir, who had never been as adept as Faramir at concealing his thoughts. But of late... . We all know what has happened of late! Denethor thought, shoving aside such concerns. Not that he would not reflect upon such unpleasantness, but he refused to do so in front of Boromir. And as the moments slipped by, marked by the quiet tick of a clock in the corner, the quality of their silence began to change.
A flicker in Boromir's grey eyes told of the resurgence of concerns and grievances held in abeyance for the better part of the day, and certainly during these interludes of relative peace. And with those concerns came a certain confusion that expressed itself in the slightest narrowing of his son's eyes, the barest cant of his head as Boromir stared at him, and Denethor knew quite well the questions that passed through the other's mind. Fortunately or unfortunately, he could not answer them and so sought only to deflect them, his face and eyes assuming a closed expression of perfect neutrality. Boromir's mouth tightened slightly as he recognized the mask, and then his son glanced about uneasily ere he spoke, "So. We bargain with the Rohirrim and since Poros is more or less useless with Pelargir occupied, we pull that garrison back to help cover Ithilien and Lebennin. I can write the commander there, Darthalas, if you will."
"Do so. If you would, also draft a letter for Théodred about the possibility of cooperation in Anórien. It will help our case if he argues for the proposal, or can arrange that matter separately with Éomer, since at least the king's son is discreet," Denethor replied.
"As you wish." And here Boromir paused, seeming to search his father's face ere he asked, "Is there aught else you would have me do, my lord, ere I retire? Aught else you would speak of?"
And much though a part of Denethor longed to say 'yes,' the division in his mind favored a dismissal. So he simply shook his head and replied, "Nay, I think we have no further pressing business tonight." Boromir's jaw clenched and a look of angry disappointment flashed clearly in his eyes before he could control himself.
But then he shook his head and passed a hand over his eyes as if with weariness, as he responded, "Very well then. Good night." With that, he rose, bowed quickly, and then turned and quietly left the room.
"Good night," Denethor muttered once the door was shut, closing his eyes as he leaned his forehead against his fingertips, feeling his pulse throb, reverberating painfully through his aching temples. When Faramir called him 'my lord,' it was usually meant as a ploy to keep a certain distance between himself and the steward. 'Father,' on the other hand, was reserved for those particular occasions when his younger son was angry enough that he felt it was of no use to hide behind the barrier of rank. With Boromir, the reverse was usually true, depending upon context. It was, however, unusual for either of them to forego altogether a form of address upon departures. Faramir in particular was quite careful in this respect, but Boromir, too, was not wont to be abrupt. And so tonight he bids me a good evening and says nothing else! I suppose that would measure half-way between anger and affection, the steward thought wryly, but did not long sustain that sarcastic humor. Valar but I am weary! Ever since Imrahil arrived....
The admission came hard, even to himself, but however unwilling, he no longer cared to waste the effort needed to keep such thoughts under close wraps. And since he was courting unwelcome confessions, he admitted also that Imrahil was but the straw too many for a laden horse. It has been long since I knew the meaning of a night's sleep! Of rest.... Exhaustion had dogged his steps for years, mayhap ever since Finduilas' untimely death, or even before that. A wince managed to work its way past his mask as he remembered the occasion of his father's passing, and the awful night he and his wife had passed. Senseless, both of us, and yet not so much so that we could avoid hurting each other! There were nights when he still woke to the memory of her tears that evening and his own self-revulsion. He had been tired beyond belief then, as well, and if his stamina had grown since that disgraceful episode, it meant only that when, at last, weariness caught up with him, it struck the harder.
And I cannot afford to let it knock me senseless again! Not now! The multitude of competing demands for his attention might trouble him less did they not all require such exquisite and prolonged concentration to deal with. Alas that as time passed, it grew harder to spare that sort of attention, for the flood of questions and worrisome problems threatened him with a sort of death by dissolution. It was truly a relief in many ways to have Boromir to himself in the evening and let his heir wrestle with some of them. Even the council was something of a relief, and although it pained him to be grateful to Imrahil, it would be foolish to ignore the man's contributions.
Unfortunately, second opinions and the occasionally brilliant solution only freed him to worry about the main matter the more. For although it was obvious to anyone with a modicum of intelligence that Gondor would be unable to repel the Dark Lord's armies this time, it needed significantly more information to realize that Gondor would not even be a threat to Mordor. Denethor had such information, though he was careful not to share it with even Boromir. There was no point, after all, in disheartening others prematurely. Better to let the shock come at the end, when there shall be no time to think on it. For however desperately they scraped and clawed to find men and weapons to throw in the path of the horde, it would be like trying to halt a flood by catching the water in a milk pail. A bitter end for all of them, and well-nigh intolerable to one who had fought the long and losing battle much of his life, in one way or another. Indeed, sitting there with his head in his hands, brooding on the coming ruin, he could feel the ache of injuries incurred long ago, as if his very being protested the idea that all the suffering was ultimately in vain. Against the trickery of his own mind and body, the touch of steel against his skin helped reinforce a refusal made long ago: never to surrender to the weakness of the flesh when he needed all his faculties to hold Gondor together until the very last moment.
But will we reach that moment, or do we falter already? If he could ask that question, then he, at least, was faltering, which thought was agony to bear. But as he dared not ignore it and risk a fatal mistake that would hasten the fall of Gondor, he considered it closely. Clearly, something had to give way—he must find some way of easing the strain on himself, and at the moment, the largest distractions stemmed from the most ironic of sources: family. For the moment, Faramir's absence helped, but it inflamed other difficulties to the point that he wondered whether it had been worth it to send him away. He could do little to be rid of Imrahil—cursed meddler!—and he suspected that the Prince of Dol Amroth would find excuses to extend his stay at Minas Tirith for as long as possible, the better to watch Denethor. For as long as his brother-in-law remained, he would have no peace, and Imrahil would have too much time to whisper into Boromir's ears.
At least Boromir is somewhat less susceptible to such! But his elder son's immunity to murmured words and sidelong glances might be approaching its limits, for he had been too quiet since the day of Imrahil's arrival. More, his resentment over that unhappy episode with Faramir continued to build rather than abate. Only in their discussions of Gondor did Boromir forget his brother's position long enough to feel comfortable in his father's presence. I should never have conducted those interviews with them both in the same room. I should have berated each separately, but time was short, and I thought it would be easier... simpler... to have done with them both at once. Certainly it had let him break their alliance effectively, which gave him one less concern to carry. At the time, it had never occurred to him to worry about the possible consequences of such a falling out: in the steward's experience, affection was not a prerequisite to the proper doing of one's duties, after all.
Nevertheless, he ought to have recognized the danger, for he had thereby failed to control other factors that ought to have been clear to him in advance. For I do not deal with others like myself! He had not allowed for the fact that Boromir, concrete soul that he was, would be more inclined to anger if he witnessed Faramir's sentencing than he would have been had he merely been told of it. And Boromir and Faramir both carried their mother's legacy in their hearts: they were more emotional beings than was Denethor, more prone to look first to feeling rather than to logic, and that made it dangerous to disturb such bonds as they had forged between them. Elementary errors of judgment are the first signs of danger, Ecthelion had been wont to say, and Denethor sighed for the truth of those words. And of course, his father had tended to add: Stupid mistakes, on the other hand, are simply inexcusable. "And now I reap the benefits of such inexcusable errors!" Denethor murmured softly, mind racing as he sought a way to correct for them.
The obvious solution—to return Faramir to Minas Tirith and allow nature to take its course and heal the rift between the two brothers—was unpalatable. To bring him back without ridding himself of one of the other terms in the tangled equation that described the relationships among Boromir, Faramir, Imrahil, and himself would not ease the strain on Denethor. Faramir alone was exasperating enough to be infuriating, and he refused to deal with his younger son when the other two men remained. Not now. I cannot deal with him now! As for Imrahil, short of ordering him to leave, the steward could do little to mitigate the effects of the man's presence in Minas Tirith. Assuming he found an excuse to order Imrahil away, he must still wait until the end of the council, which meant another few days at the least of his unwanted company.
Moreover, although he trusted the prince to recall his duty to Gondor, it did no one good to antagonize him unduly when the realm would shortly need his services. And what of Boromir? His son's affection for his uncle would bear careful handling, for if Boromir perceived Imrahil's departure as less than willing, he would grow the more resentful. Assume, then, that Imrahil shall stay as long as he likes. How then to deal with my son? On the one hand, Denethor knew very well that Boromir was angry with him. That in itself did not trouble the steward unduly, for it had happened before. Rather, it was more the manner in which that anger expressed itself that robbed Denethor of his sleep. He is too quiet. That is not like him! Since Faramir was sent away, he has not said a word, nor come to plead on his brother's behalf as is his wont.
And so, for once, Denethor dared not take the direct path with Boromir: he dared not try to bring this grievance into the open, for he knew not what might explode in his face. He could not simply berate him for his brooding silences, nor for the air of accusation that hung round him. Not again. I cannot stomach another argument! Denethor gritted his teeth, disgusted with himself. Why should I fear to deal with him as I see fit? If his manner offends or distracts me from my proper tasks, it is his place to amend it. For he is my son and my captain, bound to obey me, and if I tell him to jump from the Citadel to the First C ircle, that would still be the case! But he could not face him, and deep within the closed recesses of his heart, Denethor knew why. It was quite simple, really—simple and implacable, and certain as sunrise on a summer's day. He could not face Boromir because he was afraid—deathly afraid, there, in the very marrow of his bones. He feared that if he took his elder son to task for moodiness that arose of the division between himself and his brother, that he would lose Boromir completely. Faramir might be considered a lost cause already, for he had never been close to his second son. Still, honesty nagged at him, compelling him to remember that there had been a time when it had hurt to watch Faramir walk out of those doors, and out of the city, as a new-minted lieutenant of Ithilien. It still did, in some elemental sense, though the steward never permitted himself to dwell on that fact.
It should have been obvious from the beginning that there would come a point when Boromir would choose his brother over his father when it came to affection. Although Denethor had attempted to reach Boromir, he knew very well that he was not an easy man to like or to love, particularly for children. He had made an honest effort with Boromir, but he knew that his elder son turned often to Faramir to make up the lack, though at least Boromir never questioned the causes of that lack of feeling. Whereas Faramir accused him with his every look, Boromir simply looked elsewhere for the affection his father could not give. And I like a fool stepped between them this time! 'Tis like separating a bear from her cub! Yet he had not seen the danger three days ago; what should have been obvious had been lost—lost, and buried in amid the thousand other details that clamored for the steward's attention; amid the news of the armies building at Durthang, and the levies on the move in Harad and in far Khand; amid the reports of the massing of the Corsairs at Pelargir, and the shadows that lay over the west. And last but not least, lost amid a brief and disturbing set of images, coming disjointedly through the glass of the palantír, of Mithrandir.
Denethor could not place the settings, though all had been different, nor could he determine how deeply into the past the stone had reached to bring him such images. But at least a few of them seemed quite recent. And in one or two of them, Mithrandir had not been alone. At his side had walked another—tall, dark-haired, always just at the edge of the vision. A Man, surely, and one who went clad not unlike a Ranger of Ithilien. But it was the face that commanded Denethor's attention, for this wanderer in green and brown who kept the company of wizards looked oddly... eerily... like—
Enough! Denethor shook himself, forcing a halt to that train of thought ere it truly began. The palantír, with its sometimes coy unpredictability, was almost more hindrance than help at times. Yet for better or worse, he relied upon it. Even knowing that much of his fatigue was due to the exhausting effort to control it, he needed the information that only the stone could provide him. He needed—craved—that knowledge, and so, again and again, he returned to wrestle with it, though the toll on his strength increased along with his burdens. The headaches were becoming more frequent, and ever they stabbed the sharper when he came to the palantír weary already. Indeed, he had not been free of the pain for some weeks now, yet he never failed to mount those steps to the upper chamber. In his mind's eye, he could see its green flickering and feel its call.... Hissing softly, Denethor opened his eyes, and he stared down at the piled documents on his desk: a wealth of information, an embarrassment of riches, all dedicated to the maintenance of Gondor. To the preservation of Anárion's realm for as long as it is granted me to protect it. Surely I need not go up tonight! For how does it help me solve my present problem?
Indeed, in a manner of speaking, without the palantír, he might not have so much to deal with. For had a second session before the Seeing Stone not revealed Faramir's clandestine search of his study, he might never have had a reason to wish to drive his sons so far from each other. And then, in his weariness, he had let his wrath get the better of him, and revealed more of his hidden knowledge than he ought to have done. Discretion seems to be sadly lacking in the Citadel of late! he thought wryly, thinking of Imrahil's visit to Boromir and the pair's morning rides—all viewed through the lens of the palantír and confirmed by more conventional means. And so he guessed that Faramir likely knew all of Imrahil's suspicions as to his father's possible motives, and probably he had by now forgiven Boromir for a betrayal he had never committed. Likely, his younger son would be impossible to handle for a time, which only made it the more necessary that Denethor find some means of controlling him.
How to put an end to this tension? How to serve Gondor best? Automatically, he reached for the paper on which was written the Rhyme of Imladris and stared down at the words, while visions of wizards and wanderers swam through his head, all framed in the green-cast light of the palantír. Faramir's eyes kindled to a chartreuse flame in his imagination as the lad walked along with Mithrandir, listening to old tales. Tales, perhaps, that told of things that ought not to be mentioned: Seeing Stones and the heirs of houses long dead; of heroes without graves and the rise of the Enemy from the ashes of defeat. And Boromir intruded as well, disappointment writ plain across his face, and Denethor sighed. Loath though he was to admit it, he could see but one way to balance out the competing demands of family and still serve his country—one way to vindicate Faramir, while ridding himself of Boromir's accusatory silence, and ending Imrahil's involvement, even if he could not physically be rid of the Prince of Dol Amroth until the end of the week at least. And perhaps then I may find some time to rest! Rising, he went to the door and opened it to the sight of Verethon kicking his heels against the wall, waiting for his master's call.
"M'lord steward?" The lanky young man glanced up, startled.
"I have some errands for you, and be certain that you are swift to complete them," Denethor replied.
"Aye my lord," Verethon replied.
Boromir wiped futilely at the ink that smeared his right forearm, succeeding only in spreading the stuff further as it mixed with sweat. Despite all efforts to keep a breeze flowing through the council chambers, the high hall remained hot, and many were they who had abandoned the formality of the session to rid themselves of as many layers as was respectful. Boromir had long ago shed his jerkin, sleeveless though it was, and had his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. From the opposite end of the table, Imrahil spared him a brief, sympathetic look. His uncle, too, had his overtunic draped over the back of his chair, and his collar was open at the throat. He had been fairly quiet today, unlike the past two days, and Boromir wondered whether the steward had aught to do with that, for Imrahil's gaze had remained firmly on Denethor much of the time. The prospect of another confrontation between his uncle and father was not one that pleased him, but he knew not whether there was anything he could do to prevent it. They need not my meddling as an excuse, after all, for Uncle had his grievances long before, Boromir sighed inwardly and wondered whether anyone else was as ready for this to end as he was. These will be illegible thanks to the smearing, he thought grimly. That meant he would be forced to recopy the notes in parts, to which task he did not look forward. In the mean time, he scribbled as quickly as he could and hoped he would be able to decipher his own handwriting.
At last, though, Denethor called a halt to the day's session, and all around the table, the Lords of Gondor breathed sighs of relief as they rose and collected clothing, filing out by pairs. All save Imrahil, who seemed to await the chance to catch Denethor alone. As Boromir tossed the latest page onto the table to let it dry a bit, his uncle glided forward and Denethor glanced up at him. Before the two of them could begin their silent sparring match in earnest, Boromir rose, imposing his bulk between them to deny them a clear field of vision. Flicking a glance at Imrahil out of the corner of his eye, he noted that his uncle seemed rather amused by this tactic. "What is it you wish, my lord of Dol Amroth?" Denethor asked, his voice betraying a certain dry humor.
"A word with Boromir, my lord. Since you needs must wait a moment for these to dry," Imrahil gestured to the latest few pages. "Perhaps you would excuse us for a short time. I shall return him promptly." Boromir shot his father a questioning stare, half-expecting the steward to deny the request, but to his surprise, Denethor simply nodded and waved the pair of them away. "My thanks. Come," Imrahil beckoned, slinging his tunic over his shoulder, and Boromir obeyed.
Once out in the hall and away from listening ears, though, he demanded, "What was that about, Uncle? I do not need to become a piece in your chess match with Father!"
"My apologies, Boromir," Imrahil replied, "I meant it not thus. But I do need to speak with you, if only briefly. This arrived for you today in a message addressed to me." And his uncle reached inside his belt pouch to retrieve a folded piece of paper with Boromir's name written on it. Faramir's script—he recognized it immediately and felt his heart speed in response. Glancing up at Imrahil, he unfolded it and skimmed the lines. True to form, Faramir had filled the entire page, and Boromir felt his expression grow taut and mask-like as he read further. When at last he had finished, he gave a soft grunt and refolded it, stuffing it into his own belt pouch.
"What said he?" Imrahil asked. "Or ought I not to ask?"
"Much. He complains of his dreams again. It seems he has not had much peace since returning to Osgiliath," Boromir replied grimly, letting that statement stand as it would. Imrahil would understand well enough, of that he had no doubt. "And he, too, is now in doubt as to whence father's knowledge of his own transgression came." He sighed. "It needed only two days for him to make up his mind!"
"But he did in the end decide in your favor. That eases my heart somewhat."
"Mine as well, though I think he may need further convincing ere he is fully satisfied. I suppose that I cannot blame him, given the circumstances. He says he would speak with the two of us when he returns tomorrow evening."
"He can wait with me in my quarters, then, until you are finished with your business with the steward. That ought to keep him out of trouble."
Boromir snorted at that. "You and he placidly together in one room? Hardly, Uncle!"
Imrahil gave a soft laugh and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Go now! For myself, I believe I shall take what air I can find this evening."
"From the back of a horse, I doubt not!" his nephew retorted, feeling a quick stab of heart-felt envy.
"Aye, quite likely. I have much to think about tonight." With that parting comment, Imrahil left him, disappearing quickly down the corridor. Shaking his head over the prince's good spirits, he reluctantly returned to the council chambers. Denethor was carefully collecting the papers into neatly ordered stacks, a shadow-draped wraith in his long, formal, dark robes. Of all of them, the steward alone had refused to make any concessions to the heat, yet he seemed rather pale. With a frown, Boromir tried to decide whether his father had seemed to him ill of late, but nothing came to him. In truth, much of the time he had been too preoccupied with his own anger and frustration to notice. Was that, perhaps, why Imrahil watched him so closely today? he wondered. Could it be that my uncle worries over my father somewhat?
"Shall I recopy them?" he made himself ask, dreading the answer. Denethor was silent a few moments, paging through the sheets as if examining them.
Finally, though, "No."
"Father?" Boromir asked, his frown deepening as he sensed some weighty pronouncement hanging in the air.
"I shall have another see to that task, for you have other business to attend to."
"What business is that?"
"You leave tomorrow morning on a long journey," Denethor replied, and Boromir blinked. The steward raised unreadable grey eyes to meet Boromir's, and Gondor's Captain-General caught his breath as the implication sank in at last. "You will find such directions as my searching has revealed in your chambers, upon your desk. Verethon and Cethril have seen to all other necessary arrangements. Your route will take you through Rohan to the Gap, and thence north, I know not whither."
Boromir was silent for a long while, caught between relief and sudden dread. He has decided... he has decided, and what does that mean? That we truly are that desperate? Does he believe it all, then? Should I believe...? "Does Faramir know?" he blurted out, then cursed inwardly, for that was not the most diplomatic of questions.
"He does not know, but he shall learn of it soon enough. You are dismissed, Boromir. See to whatever needs your esquire might have forgotten. Go carefully, and mind you: sift every word they tell you in Imladris. Elves will say one thing and mean four others. Therefore be attentive, and be careful. And find the answer." Boromir could only nod, and Denethor laid his hands on his shoulders. His father kissed him quickly on the brow ere he swept out of the room. Boromir could not quite believe it, and he touched his brow, as if to assure himself that Denethor had, indeed, kissed him. I ride for Imladris after all! And what of Faramir? Osgiliath was a good two hours' ride, which was not a large detour in a journey that ought to last weeks at least. I could go there in the morning.... But then he paused in his thoughts, struck by the finality of Denethor's farewell. That means he shall not see me ere I leave, but I know that he rises early. Which meant that his father likely expected him to be gone this very evening.... Gone to Osgiliath. What of Imrahil? After a few moments' further consideration, he sighed. Unless he chanced across his uncle's course, it was unlikely he would see him ere he left. I cannot worry about him now. I shall leave him a message with one of his men, but 'tis Faramir with whom I must speak!
His decision made, Boromir squared his shoulders and hurried out of the council room. If he was swift, he could be gone within the hour.
Although it was quite late, Denethor had not quite managed to retire for the evening when a knock sounded on his door. Ah yes, he thought wryly, glancing out at the Evenstar that hung low in the sky beyond his window. By now, Boromir ought to be well on his way. At that moment, Verethon opened the door, took in the visitor's identity, and then murmured a polite greeting as he stood aside to admit the Prince of Dol Amroth, as per the steward's standing order. "Verethon, you may leave us for a time," Denethor informed his squire, who bowed and then gratefully scurried out, clearly relieved that he would not need to stay to listen. Tearing his gaze from the starry sky, Denethor impassively faced his brother-in-law, meeting the other's probing stare with one of his own. Imrahil's face was a still mask, but his grey eyes blazed silver. "Good evening, Imrahil. I trust you will be brief."
"I could wax eloquent all night, Denethor, but I have not the stomach for it!" the prince replied in a rare display of undisguised disgust. The steward said naught, simply waited for the questions that he knew must come. And Imrahil, being perceptive, did not disappoint him. "Do you truly believe that this will earn you Boromir's forgiveness?"
"I believe it is not your concern what I believe," Denethor replied.
"And what of Faramir? What excuse will you make him?"
"I need make no excuse to him. I should think, my lord prince," the steward continued after a momentary pause, "that you would be pleased for him. Faramir is worthy of more trust, you say. Very well! He has it now of necessity, for he shall need to take Boromir's place for a time. Is that not precisely what you feel he deserves?"
Imrahil gazed stonily at him, and though his anger was apparent, Denethor detected no real surprise in the other. And now for the final query, the last step in our dance.... "And what of Gondor?"
"Gondor stands condemned already. What fear should you or I have, that I send Boromir north and leave his post to Faramir? What difference shall it make?" A pause, while Imrahil fumed silently. "Have you nothing further to tell?"
"Is there aught else to say?" the prince countered, folding his arms across his chest as he cocked a brow at the steward. Presently, though, despite the rhetorical question, he continued, "I know not how it is, Steward of Gondor, that one so cold at heart could rise so high and yet remain firmly within his people's affections. But I will say this, ere I bid you good night: you are not infallible. I know not whence comes the source of your knowledge, but I know well that you have means you refuse to speak of. Dangerous means! They take their toll on you, and I doubt not that the worst is yet to come. And if it is within my power to prevent it, I will! Good night, my lord steward."
"Good night, Prince of Dol Amroth." Once Imrahil had left, Denethor sighed softly. So ends that matter, at least, for he can make no objection to the reasons I have given, nor can he know my sources. For long ago, he had seen to it that none ever would. Ere even his father had died, he had removed the only reference that might lead an inquisitive soul (like one Thorongil) to discover what lay in the high chamber of the Citadel. Seven Stars and Seven Stones, and one White Tree. No Stars have we now, and the Tree has withered, but the Stones exist still. Ironic, that one chase should lead to another after so wide a waste of time!
With that thought, the Steward of Gondor went to seek such rest as he might find. And if, beneath the ice of his soul, he wished, indeed, that forgiveness might be so easily bought, he kept it buried deeply enough that that forlorn wish could not trouble his dreams.
Tall ships and tall kings
Three times three,
What brought they from the foundered land
Over the flowing sea?
Seven stars and seven stones
And one white tree.
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