Stewards of Gondor: Slashvese Arc
Playlist Navigation Bar
From the Other River Bank: 4. Ambiguity
I love you . Words whispered into his mouth, brushing against his lips dark hair and grey eyes that seemed so very familiar, and yet inscrutable yearning so powerful he could scarcely breathe. Faramir? Sand beneath his feet Why am I in Harad? Where are we?
Here, Faramir replied and crouched suddenly near him, holding something up in his hand. We are here.
Where? He reached for the object in his brother's cupped hand, and received a book.
The world blooms but once in each man's heart, Faramir said helpfully. We are the seeds.
But nothing grows here! he objected, watching as Faramir scooped a handful of sand from the ground and let the yellow grains flow away through his fingers.
This is the kingdom of Denethor, and soon it will be yours, Brother, Faramir replied. Tend it well, and be certain that you recall the words.
What words? he demanded, opening the book. But the pages were blank; they fell out of their binding, and ere they touched the ground they crumbled to ash.
I love you! Faramir whispered, stretching out a hand to touch him .
Boromir gasped and woke, rigid with anticipation, expecting at any moment to feel the brush of his brother's fingers. Sweat drenched him, and he hissed as he buried his face in his pillow, attempting to concentrate, to step back from the throbbing sensuality of the last few moments of that dream, and to ignore his body's eager response to it. Finally, cursing softly, he threw the sheets off and clambered off to the washroom, where he bent over the basin and poured the entire pitcher of water over his head, letting the water run down him, while he strove to make his mind as blank as the pages of the dream-book. The tactic might have been more effective had the water been cooler, but the heat was merciless, having grown only worse in the past two days. Nevertheless, after another few minutes, he felt the tension unwind within him, and he sighed softly as he reused the water to take a more thorough bath. What did that mean in any case? he wondered, reviewing in his mind as much of the dream sequence as he could recall. Books with empty pages and Faramir spouting cryptic nonsense. 'We are the seeds'? Shaking his head, he wrung the water out of his hair and went to find some clean clothes.
And as he dressed, he considered that final segment, for there was that 'I love you' still to deal with, will he or nil he. "I love you," Faramir had told him two nights ago, and he could not seem to forget it. It was so very maddening in its superficial resemblance to the declaration he so desperately longed to hear, seeming to mock his anguished desire. Why does it seem as though all of Arda conspires against me in the matter of my brother? he demanded of the unfeeling sky, as he belted his trousers and pulled on one of his older shirts. As he did so, he glanced over at the writing desk, which bore now a number of thick, leather-bound volumes, and he sighed softly. Doubtless some of the confusion of his dreams stemmed from late nights spent reading the convoluted prose of long-dead loremasters. Such learned pursuits were hardly his passion, particularly after a long, sweltering day, but neither were they his idea. But I could never refuse Faramir anything, and especially in this matter I worry about him. His brother had very nearly missed a step on the long and steep way down from the tower two nights ago, so suddenly and sharply had that accursed dream-vision assailed him. And while Faramir still insisted that he was well enough, the very next day he had asked Boromir to help him in his hunt for the key to the rhyme's riddling words. And loath though he was to be drawn into such research, Boromir had agreed, for the paradoxical reasons that his brother had asked him and that such activities gave him a perfect excuse to avoid the other in the evenings.
For after he and Faramir had descended from the rampart on the eastern tower's heights, Boromir had resolved that he would no longer seek out his younger brother. Every encounter does naught but make it more difficult to hide what I feel, and I dare not risk discovery. More than that, it hurt too much to be constantly reminded that his brother could never love him as he wished to be loved. Besides, he had other tasks that needed careful and undivided attention: Denethor claimed much of his time, especially in the mornings, which were devoted to the enigma of Rohan. For no sooner had the steward sent out a messenger bearing the dark tidings of the Riders, than another had thundered through the gates of Minas Tirith. A messenger out of Rohan, the man had been grim-faced as he had delivered his message: a new menace had been spotted that took the guise of riders in black, and what did Gondor know of them? Such questions and tidings might not be cause for surprise coming from Edoras, but the man had borne Éomer's livery, not Théoden's, and that breach of protocol called for careful handling. Rohan's king might be aged and obdurate in his despairing opposition to war, but let him learn of his nephew's overtures to Gondor, even if not made in Rohan's name, and the wrath of the court would fall upon Éomer like an avalanche. "Indisputably, the boy has an instinct for trouble," Denethor had said behind closed doors, when he and Boromir were alone. "He might make a fine politician if only he would learn subtlety!"
Doubtless that was true. But privately, Boromir could not but admire Éomer's quick response, and the sheer nerve it took to dare even a sovereign's wrath at need. The Third Marshal did not lack for guts, but Denethor might be quite correct to think him an unstable political force, and one that could not be relied upon too closely, lest Gondor offend Rohan's royal house. Even if Éomer does what is needed, while the House of Éorl sits stagnating and waits for doom to fall! If it were Théodred who had sent the message, Minas Tirith might fear less to put its trust in such under-the-table dealings, but Éomer had lost too much in standing at home to warrant good faith. Cold logic, that, as politics demanded, but Boromir had felt his disgust simmer hotly beneath the mask of his neutrality before the messenger. He may lack the subtlety of an ink-swiller, he thought, but at least we know always where we stand with him, and that to me is much. Éomer recognizes the danger and would do something to oppose it at least, and that is a rare courage that deserves to be treated with greater honor than we can give! His father, he suspected, knew what he felt, for Denethor had watched him closely throughout the interview, but Boromir had said nothing, only listened as the steward had politely but adroitly avoided a firm answer.
What would happen next between Gondor and Rohan was now a matter of guesswork, but Boromir had listened to the table talk, the off-watch (and on-watch!) conversations, and knew that men were nervous, uncertain whether the old ties that had bound the two realms together would endure. They are hopeful of it, at least, Boromir thought. Since its creation, Rohan has been an ally: having been birthed out of Gondor's woes, there was much blood in common between us, even then. Still, that was long ago, and before the threat of Mordor, who could say whether ancient amity would remain true? "Have faith!" Faramir had advised him. "The Ithilien guard and that of Cair Andros often meet Rohan's sweep riders in the eastern reaches of Anórien, and sometimes we do cross into the Eastfold at need. Whatever word comes out of Edoras, the people at least are not blind. They have suffered Mordor's incursions, and they know well that war comes to all, heedless of the court's stated position. I think that when the pinch comes, if Théoden does not declare himself opposed to the Dark Lord, there will be a ground swell of rebellion in that land."
But for the moment, at least, rebellion--or the promise of it--was of little use, and Boromir woke each morning under a cloud of dread as he listened to his father's councilors argue among themselves. There were no fools who advised the steward, for Denethor would not tolerate such, but there were those who were more optimistic than many and others who were depressingly pessimistic. For his part, Boromir had decided already that Gondor's prospects were bleak, and though none could call Minas Tirith weak or overly vulnerable, it came down to the question of steel and men. And we have not enough of either to throw the enemy back for long. We have, perhaps, enough strength to hurt him, even badly, and thereby diminish Mordor's capacity to wage war for some years ere the Dark Lord rises again, but Gondor shall fall. Sooner or later, we will be overwhelmed, and Rohan with us. And then what? Who shall stand, if we are laid low? Boromir knew not the answer to that question, and no one else on the council could hazard a guess, but then again, what mattered such concerns? By the time they were ripe for consideration, it was doubtful that any who stood on this humid morning before the steward would be left alive. It was hard enough to sit in session and discuss the need to remove the greater part of the noncombatants of the city to the remote reaches of the realm, so that in the end, there would be still Gondorrim, though the kingdom lie in ashes. To look beyond their own children to those of the scattered folk of Eriador was beyond them, and Boromir, no more or less than any other, put thought of such rustics quickly from his mind. There was no time, none at all, to spare for them, and though he wished them well, they were not his concern. And all the while, as he listened to and argued with the councilors and the steward, in the back of his mind he thought now ever of those accursed words that had begun to haunt him no less than Faramir: There shall be shown a token / that doom is near at hand/ Isildur's Bane shall waken / and the Halfling forth shall stand !
Later that week, Faramir stood outside his father's study, waiting, and he found it ironic, though not unfitting, that he should take his brother's place and lie in wait for Boromir. For of late, Boromir had taken to spending more and more hours in the steward's presence, and their conversations--when they had them--were hurried and brief. Curt, almost, and there is in his voice and gestures an uncharacteristic agitation, Faramir mused. Almost, I would think he does not wish to speak to me, or even to see me. To be fair, his brother had many excuses, and he knew full well how hard Denethor could drive others to do his will and bidding, but he sensed an aura of deliberate avoidance in Boromir's recent schedule. Avoidance and something not unlike pain, the younger man continued his reflections, tugging at a longish strand of hair in a gesture habitual to him when he was attempting to chase down some elusive insight. I noticed it first three days ago, after we stayed late up on the tower ramparts. He was strangely silent all the way down to the level streets, and I sensed that something troubled him, though I know not what. It was enough to make him wonder whether he had said or done something to offend Boromir, but if he had, it was most unlike his brother to keep silent about the matter.
In the end, his speculations chased themselves in circles, returning ever to his ignorance of the cause of Boromir's behavior, and he sighed softly. If I am at fault, then I would make amends, but I cannot do so unless he will speak with me at least! Weary and dispirited, Faramir bowed his head and wondered darkly whether Denethor might not be at the base of this evasiveness. For certain it is that the lord steward my father does not wish me to know overmuch of what passes in council, for Boromir is not the only councilor of whom I see little, where in former times we spoke often. If it were true, and Boromir was hiding something from him on Denethor's orders, then it hurt that his brother could not simply tell him so and have done with it. Surely he does not think me so cruelly disrespectful that I would force him to choose between the command of our father and liege lord and a brother's sense of slight, Faramir thought, and could not help but feel somewhat insulted by the idea that his brother could misread him so. Or perhaps I helped him there, too. Perhaps I said more than I realized that night, when I complained of Denethor's obvious favor for him.
Truthfully, even he was surprised by the level of bitterness that Denethor's favoritism awoke in him, for he had thought that long years of absence would wear away his sense of grievance, or at least inure him against it. But though former visits home had been marked by a cold, if generally civilized, formality between himself and the steward, it needed but the stimulus of Boromir's presence to send the three of them plummeting back into patterns of interaction that hearkened back to the brothers' childhood. Denethor's younger son was, on the one hand, vastly disappointed by this, but also darkly amused by the fact that the steward, no less than he, was weak enough to let old prejudice color his behavior. At least I do not envy Boromir, not to the point of anger or spiteful jealousy, Faramir thought, and heaved another sigh, wondering just how late his brother planned to remain shut up in their father's chambers. Not that it matters, he thought. It is not as if I shall get any rest tonight, any more than I have any other night since Osgiliath. That dream, so laden with desperate urgency, refused to leave him, and though he thought he had adapted to its day-time visitations well enough, so that he did not falter in his tasks, by night it grew in strength, tearing him from his sleep. It has been almost a week since I slept more than an hour or two at a time. Faramir bit his lip, and for all that he believed sincerely that it was a sign, and in itself benign, that did not mean it could not kill him. If I have not solved this puzzle ere I return to Ithilien, it will take but little time for weariness to catch up to me, and then ! There were myriad ways that a mistake could kill a man in the wild, and Faramir had seen most of them. He was therefore not eager to be added to that list of unfortunates who had paid for their unwitting errors with their lives.
In the meantime, fatigue had other, less deadly, but to him no less worrisome consequences, for his exhaustion only exacerbated his sense of grievance toward his father, and made him both short-tempered and short-sighted. For one accustomed to swift comprehension of any problem put to him, it was frustrating to read and reread the same passage four or five times because he could scarcely keep his eyes open or his thoughts from wandering. And the weight of weariness threatened to mire him in that frustration and agonized desperation. Now do I need most Boromir's help and support, and so of course he is more distant than I have ever known him to be! What is this strange resistance to me that I sense in him? Whence comes it, and what can I do to change it? Such questions could only be answered by one man, and Faramir sat on the urge to pace, trying to conserve his energy. What under Varda's skies do they speak of in there?! Closing his eyes, he tried to shut out worry, anticipation, and all such lesser demons, struggling for equilibrium. I need him I need his help, and more than that his friendship his affection I need him to believe me when I say that I cannot do this alone!
At last, the sound of a door opening quietly drew him once more out of his thoughts, and he looked up to see Boromir emerge from the hall. His brother was in the process of tying his long hair back out of his face, and he seemed to be rather preoccupied, which might have given Faramir pause, but that he was desperate to resolve whatever lay between them and so be rid of the distraction. "Another late night?" he inquired, and Boromir turned sharply toward the sound of his voice.
"Quite," his brother replied, and to one who knew him well, there was no mistaking the subtle cues of voice and body language. Boromir was nervous, anticipating some unpleasant conversation, clearly, and Faramir carefully drew a deep breath to settle his own nerves. He had never truly faced Boromir as an opponent, not though they had sparred often together, either physically or verbally, and it was a wrench to see his brother through the eyes of an antagonist. "How long have you waited here?"
"An hour perhaps," Faramir replied, coming forward to stand directly before the other, and he sensed Boromir tense. "Why do you do that?"
"Do what?" Boromir demanded, rather more defensively than he had intended.
"Please!" Faramir sighed, letting a note of pleading enter his voice, "Do not seek to turn me aside with so poor a gambit! I ask little enough, just the answer to one question!"
"And what question is that?"
"Have I done aught to offend you of late?" he demanded, and pinned his brother under a penetrating stare that would permit no evasion. Boromir was silent for awhile--for so long, in fact, that Faramir began to worry indeed, for he had rather counted upon a response, one way or the other. But patience won the day, and at last, his brother sighed softly.
"No, you have not," he replied heavily.
"Then why do you avoid my company so diligently? Or is my temper so very short as to make me unbearable even to you?" Faramir asked, striving for an element of biting humor with that last remark, but Boromir did not seem to catch on to it.
"Of course not," he said instead, and glanced down and to one side in troubled reflection as he considered his words. "I simply there has been much on my mind, and I feel a need to be alone, that is all."
Is it truly, Brother? Faramir wondered, eyes narrowing. Weary though he was, he did not miss the hesitation in his brother's voice, nor its implications. "I think that that is not all, Boromir," he said as gently as he could manage while remaining still firm. "If I trouble you in some way, tell me and I shall take care not to do so in the future, but a clumsy lie does little to quiet my doubts in this matter, whatever it be!" And Boromir, desperately seeking an escape, found himself simply staring at his brother, feeling caught in a snare of his own crafting. What shall I say? What can I say? Nothing less than the truth will suffice to appease him now, but I dare not speak it! "Boromir ." Faramir murmured softly, sounding desperate himself, and the older man closed his eyes in pain for a moment.
Finally, he drew a breath and, gazing straight into his brother's eyes and praying that what he said now would suffice without driving Faramir from him, replied, "There are things that I cannot share, not even with you, Faramir. Believe me when I say that I wish it were otherwise, for secrecy hurts, but I cannot tell you all!" There followed another profound silence, as Faramir searched his face intently, and for a moment, Boromir was certain that the ploy had failed, and that his brother, having been slighted now for several days, would ask further. But then:
"Then why did you not simply say so, Boromir?" Faramir asked, and the tension seemed to go out of him in a rush. "I would never ask you to tell me something that you were not free to tell. You know that, do you not?"
"I should," Boromir replied, feeling almost giddy with relief that he had been spared. "I am sorry, Faramir, I never intended to slight you."
"And I should have asked sooner, but I, too, have had much on my mind." Faramir replied, letting drop the matter, though something nagged at him. Some doubt or a sense that for all the honesty of that answer, there was another meaning to it that he had missed. But for the moment, he was too weary to pursue the matter with his usual vigor, doubting, even, that he read the other aright. Later, he decided, I shall give it what attention I can manage, but not now. I cannot manage an argument with him now! Instead, he asked, "When I first went to Ithilien, I did so in part because I felt I would depend too much upon you. Do you recall that?"
"How could I forget it?" Boromir asked, shaking his head, drawing his brother alongside him as he resumed walking.
"It has been nineteen years, but I still depend upon you," Faramir admitted, and proffered a somewhat melancholy half-smile. "I fear you shall never be rid of me!"
Boromir managed to laugh at that, though the bittersweet ache in his heart was hard to ignore or disguise. Never could I wish to be wholly rid of him, for the fault lies in me. What marvelous irony, that you say ever all that I could wish to hear, brother, and yet mean none of it as I would wish you to mean it! Had he noted the look in his brother's eyes, he might have recognized those words for what they were: an oblique warning, and a promise, but he kept his eyes on the hall before him, unwilling to tempt fate. It was a small thing, a slight misstep in the elaborate dance that kept him ever beyond his brother's suspicion, but fate has a way of seizing upon such errors. But his relief at having escaped was such that the seed of his brother's doubt did not take root in his heart. And if it did not itself bear fruit, it was yet fertile ground for the growth of other things .
Playlist Navigation Bar