Stewards of Gondor: Genverse Arc
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Father and Sons: 16. Epilogue: For Lazarus Remains...
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."*
Ithilien. There is in the air... in the very earth... something that seems to breathe that name into the hearts of those who know best the tarnished jewel of Gondor's crown. Faramir was nearly dizzy with that call, for after long months of absence he felt it as the cry of home-coming. Were I blindfold and deaf... were I drowning... still, I could not mistake this place for any other! So he thought, such was the feeling of relief and of belonging. From Minas Tirith to Poros to Osgiliath, Anórien to Lebennin and even Belfalas, he had seen, it seemed, every corner of Gondor since his brother had gone north. There were stretches of time when he remembered little more than riding from one village to the next, and he had once counted twenty of them that he had passed in the course of five days, going from Lossarnach to his uncle's seat at Dol Amroth. It had been an unsettling eight months, marked by constant fear and an overwhelming number of duties, and he had been plagued by a feeling of uprootedness. But despite that, the worst memories came of the weeks when he stood still, when he stayed in Minas Tirith and lived with the ghost of Boromir ever between himself and his father. Particularly once it had been made devastatingly clear that that was not simply a figure of speech, the shadow of death had lain heavy over the fair ways of Gondor's chief city, and Faramir had longed for escape. When Denethor had ordered him to cross Anduin and harry the Haradrim, he had gone with a swiftness that was almost insulting. It was the first time in his life that he had been glad to ride to Ithilien with the knowledge that battle awaited him, and he felt it a strange and painful thing, that he should gain such a profound insight into his brother only now, when it was too late.
But even Ithilien was changed by the loss of Gondor's Captain-General, and it had been a very somber Mablung who had greeted him upon his return. "Captain," his lieutenant had said, searching his face with eyes that too clearly betrayed his concern.
"Mablung," Faramir had replied, clasping arms with him, and squeezing tightly to halt the next words ere they could even take shape. "Time is short. Send word that the men are to ready themselves, and bring Anborn and Damrod to me."
"Aye, sir." And Mablung had wisely let drop the subject, sensing that the pain was still far too close for Faramir to want to speak of his loss. Of their loss, the steward's second, and now only, son reminded himself firmly. Our loss. Gondor's loss. We all of us could claim my brother. It ought to hurt less because of that! Surely if I cannot claim him solely for myself, and must share his memory with a nation, even, my grief should be diminished, confined to the portion that is mine! But it was not so, for where others grieved openly, Faramir could not. He dared not, for if a captain must hold his fears tightly within, the heir to the stewardship of Gondor must never be seen weeping like a lost babe in public. But it did not help that men looked at him with pity in their eyes, as if he were an amputee. Even if I am one! Which is perhaps why I can scarce bear the reminder. But I must. I must, for I cannot fail my people. Not in this, when we are all bereft and in need of someone... anyone... to step to fore in Boromir's stead. And since Boromir had been remembered best for his leadership in time of war, and his courage in the face of battle, Faramir found himself assuming the role of warlord and Captain-General in deadly earnest. He hated it, but he did it and received the adoration of the people for whom he suffered, and fought with what he hoped was grace, but which felt more like grave pity that hovered too close to resentment.
And that was another reason he was grateful to be back in Ithilien. If the Rangers, too, looked at him now with grieving eyes, he knew their faces, their habits and mannerisms... their off-color jokes, their pranks and indiscretions, their loves and their losses. They were people—friends—not strangers, come to look upon Gondor's latest sacrificial lamb and to thank him ere they sent him out again to the slaughter fields in their places. They were his men, and if he was to be the next offering to Mordor's malice, they would march beside him and fall with him, part and parcel of a prince's bid for immortal remembrance in the minds of Gondor's masses. He was easy with them, and felt himself able to breathe at last. For, as Boromir would doubtless put it, there is little room for rank among the condemned. They might look to him with hope and fierce pride, but just as they were his because given him, he was theirs because he bled with them. He felt owned here, in a way that he did not when he walked the streets of Minas Tirith, or clattered into Lossarnach on his father's errands. And I need that. Without Boromir, there is no other who can claim me thus, except the Rangers.
A low call, as of a lark, drifted to his ears, and he pursed his lips and answered with a rising note: All is clear: advance! And as he slipped quietly through the dense stands of trees and clinging underbrush, in his mind, he tracked the unseen progress of his men as they moved stealthily into position, checking for spies and look-outs as they came. They ought to have more than enough time, in truth, for the sun had not yet cleared the heights of the Ephel Dúath, and the filthy reek that clung to the eastern horizon would give them another half an hour, perhaps, of darkness. The Haradrim would come, and when they dared the road upon the steep embankment, they would find Ithilien's Rangers waiting for them. It took but little time for the men to reach their positions, and Faramir signed to Damrod to go and make a discreet round, to be certain that all were under cover. He watched as the archer collected another Ranger for a help and companion, waiting until they disappeared into the brush. Then he leaned back against the great tree beneath which he stood and waited, while visions of ruin flitted uneasily through his mind.
It was an odd thing, he thought, but it seemed to him as he stood there, waiting on the edge of another battle from which he might not return, that his life had always been lived by halves. For long, he had ordered his life about the division that Ithilien had made in it: there had been Before Ithilien, and After Ithilien. Before Ithilien, he had been a child still, no matter that the law made him an adult at fifteen. Ithilien had slain the child and put a man in his place, one who despised that murder but who had learned to accept that it was necessary. And I thought I was happy enough... and I suppose I was, mostly. Now, though, my life no longer balances about Ithilien. There is only before and after his death, and I cannot foresee that that should ever change. He sighed inwardly, gazing up at the gnarled, knotty tree that spread its canopy over him. Here in the darkness, beneath its eaves, he let himself move from thoughts of his beloved brother to his father. If Faramir had been devastated by Boromir's death, at least he had had the chance to speak to him ere he had left for Imladris, and to part on good terms. And I saw him again, and knew that he was at peace, he thought, seeing once more the boat, and his brother's still form within it. But Denethor had not seen, and though Faramir had never asked, he thought that his father and Boromir had not parted well. They had had still some business between them, or so it seemed to him.
Not that Denethor would admit any such thing, of course, and Faramir's hesitant attempts to speak to him on the subject of his brother's death had earned naught but harsh rejection. Likely, that I was the messenger who brought the ill-news did not help my case either! So he thought, yet it was not enough to make him forget his hurt and his anger. Verily, the feeling of sick, helpless rage had not left him, and but that he knew that his father suffered, he might well have loosed it on the steward. Suffering breeds compassion, his mother had said once. It was one of the very few memories that he had of anything that she had ever told him, and he smiled beneath his mask as the day drew nearer. Mother was wiser than she knew, perhaps, for I think it must be true at least of some. And she ought to know, who suffered so much from her illness. I wonder, if she were still alive, would it be different between Father and me? I wonder if Denethor asks himself that when sleep is elusive?
Faramir could not answer such questions, and he knew it, but still the idea appealed to him. It was necessary, somehow: necessary that he be able to think of his father as loving another creature, and feeling regret as to the absence of his beloved. Of course, Denethor had loved Boromir, but he had also hurt his elder son, possibly quite deeply, and he had not seemed at the time to notice it. But now, when his brother was gone, it was all too evident to Faramir's eyes that the steward had simply hidden that guilty recognition of his fault. Father has always hidden too much. Perhaps that is why he is so cold: he sees secrets everywhere, secrets unworthy of men, perhaps, and so he refuses to touch them in any way. Perhaps that is why he loved Boromir so, for he kept few, and none of them bad. Not, at least, until I came between him and Father. Does Denethor realize that that is what happened? he wondered. It is so difficult to know what passes through Father’s mind. If he does understand, though, he must be terrified! I would have died if Boromir had turned away from me that night, when I was fifteen and everything began to shift. Father must feel something similar, surely. Faramir had never before thought to consider whether he might not pity his father, but now that he looked more closely, he saw clearly for the first time: Denethor was pitiable! Always before, he had looked upon his father and felt confusion, ambivalence, disappointment, fear or anger, and he had felt these things as bearing down upon him, weighing heavily because of the dignity and authority with which his father, as steward, was invested. Now though…now that he saw it, he wondered that he had not noticed before how very alone and miserable his father must be.
Is it enough, I wonder, to make me bear his scorn now, when I feel the weight of my brother's legacy so heavy? From the spasms of anger and fear that still racked him whenever he faced his father, he tended to doubt it. What he bore now, he did because he had no choice, and indeed, he resented Denethor, that his father would not, even now, let him grieve. The steward had shut him out when he had brought the awful news home, and subsequent attempts to speak to him of Boromir's death had been painfully repulsed. As if my grief is unworthy, because I was only his brother, and not his father! As if I loved him less! Valar, what a poor excuse for family we are! Were it not for Imrahil, I know not to whom I would turn! Imrahil, when he had learned of the disaster, had done his best to provide Faramir some release, and Faramir was privately rather ashamed of the flood of words he had written his uncle in an outpouring of frustrated grief. Granted, his father had never been a man of warm and lively affection, but his present coldness seemed of the tomb, and even now Faramir suppressed a shiver at the thought. It was as if something had died in him, and perhaps that was not far from the truth. Nevertheless, he ought not to burden his uncle, who had troubles enough with Pelargir raiding his coasts and threatening his harbors. And Imrahil, too, must grieve.
And I ought not to court such thoughts when battle looms! Faramir berated himself. For the sun had broken through the murk, and he could feel the tension rise with it. Soon enough, he would be needed, and-—
A sharp call sounded, and Faramir stiffened as, all through the ranks, heads whipped about at the jay's cries. Damrod? Alert to what...? But as he moved forward to gaze towards the sounds, he saw it: a thin wisp of smoke in the morning air. "Intruders? Here?" Mablung's incredulous murmur at his shoulder made him smile slightly. His lieutenant sounded scandalized! Of course there are intruders, that is how our luck has been of late: one task needs full attention, and so of course something happens to distract us. Gondor falters, and then a boat appears upon Anduin....
"Come Mablung. It seems we have hunting to do!" With that, Faramir reached and picked up his bow, while Mablung, with a snap of his gloved fingers, solicited a spear from a nearby Ranger, who surrendered his weapon readily.
"Shall we go, captain?"
"Anborn, you have the watch."
Let us see what the fair morn hides indeed! His father would not be pleased with him, he knew, for his orders were to slay those who trespassed. But though I feel the emptiness where once I kept my heart, Father, still I am not heartless! And I am tired of death. Green shades beneath the trees, they slipped away, hunters in Ithilien and unaware that their quarry bore the fate of Arda on a slender chain: the fate of Arda, and Isildur's Bane. Boromir's Bane. It was a hard-fought battle with the Haradrim, but in the end, it was not the most memorable event of the day. When in the late night, most men slept the sleep of the dead after a great battle, Faramir brooded on the hobbits' revelation. Frodo's exhausted face mirrored the exhaustion of his battered soul and he sighed as he stood and watched the moonlight play off of the water. And he cupped his hands to catch some of it and splash it on his face, to keep him watchful and to hide his tears. You took the chance, sir... showed your quality. The very highest! Samwise's voice sounded again and again in his mind, and ever the answer remained the same: There was naught in this to praise. I had no lure or desire to do other than I have done.* Faramir drew a deep breath, trying to calm the shivers that wanted to rack him. Not like Boromir! Pride might desire to be tested, but love would refuse. If I were to fall... I could not risk that, for what honor would that do my brother's memory?
That last night in Osgiliath, when his brother had come to stay with him, to tell him the news, and bid him farewell, they had talked long, 'til it had felt as though the stain of strife and rivalry on their long friendship had been cleansed. And when the sun had risen, and Boromir had made ready to depart, he had paused and cast a rather troubled look at Faramir. "I know that you would go, Faramir, but the way is long and beset with who knows what perils? Do not grudge me that I take the quest and am glad that you will remain behind! Skeptic that I am, it will need more faith than perhaps I have to do this, and so you have the easier part, or so my heart says." Had there been some way to reassure his brother's doubts, Faramir would have done it in that moment. Alas that I could not speak! He had simply nodded and said his farewells, and watched his brother ride out of Gondor, and out of his life. No fanfare, nothing to announce a last time. Am I truly that naïve that I believe all such partings are somehow marked? For would that not mean that Boromir's death was sealed even then? That he had no choice, that it was his place to die beneath Tol Brandir, and mine to remain behind? He hoped that he was not so painfully innocent, yet he still felt somewhat betrayed that foresight had failed him in that instant.
All stands now in disarray, and I would think the world had grown mad: Boromir has visions when he lacks faith; Mithrandir, seeming deathless, falls to ruin in Moria; steadfast Rohan wavers; and two hobbits, scarcely more than children to my eyes and yet not so, dare the land that Men will not name! And I... I become my brother in the hearts of my people. I never wanted that! But that was his lot, to lose his faith, perhaps, even as Boromir had, it seemed, found his in the end. Wiping the water from his face with his sleeve, he turned at the sound of footsteps, nodding to Anborn as the best bowman of the company yawningly took up his post. "Captain," Anborn murmured. "'Tis a beautiful night!"
"Hmmm... yes, it is." He felt Anborn's eyes upon him and knew that the other was concerned. All of the men were, though they said nothing. But he knew that he was watched, and not only out of pity. His men stood guard over him, rarely leaving him alone whether by day or by night. The company-wide vigil was too carefully coordinated to be an accident, and his chief suspects in the plot were his own lieutenants, who tended magically to appear during the dead shifts, either to sleep or stand at his side. He was fortunate tonight that it was Anborn who was his minder, for he was an easier man than was Mablung. Perhaps because he had endured such watches before, having lost a great part of his family, and he knew the signs. So, having satisfied himself that Faramir would not throw himself over the edge to his death tonight or break down in a shaking fit, the archer shifted his attention to the night and left his captain alone with his thoughts. I could tell them that they need not worry so. I doubt they would believe me, but it is true. For Boromir is gone, and were I to follow him in death, who then would remember him as I do? Who then would see past his glory and remember that he could be gentle? That his honor was Gondor's, and that he gave it freely? Who would remember the one who redeemed himself from despair in the end? Such is the charity of these days, that I spare myself to honor you! To honor you, and all your difficult ways, and not the idol that others make of you!
Anborn glanced sideways at his captain, alerted by what seemed a soft sob. But when he caught a glimpse of Faramir's face in the moonlight, there was a slight, but genuine smile on his lips, and the heir of Denethor sighed as he glanced up at the moon. Well, that I have not seen in too long, Anborn thought, heartened by the sight of that smile. That does make it a fair night indeed! And so feeling much encouraged on his lord captain's behalf, he settled into the watch with an easier heart, and waited for the long darkness to end.
* Thanks to Alawa, without whose classical education I would never have found that citation, nor realized that it wasn't a poem!
*TTT, p. 368
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