Stewards of Gondor: Genverse Arc
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Father and Sons: 6. After Osgiliath
On a warm summers eve, as the air begins to cool at last, the earth seems to exhale, as if in relief, and casts up a warm, humid scent that acquires a delicious flavor as it rises through the grass and the river-reeds. That scent trickled through the veils of oblivion, and Faramir breathed it in deeply of a sudden, and felt the air burn sweetly down his throat before he coughed painfully. The spasm was slow to pass, and he felt hands on his shoulders, restraining him as he gasped for air as memories sprang up and crowded so thick behind his eyes he could scarcely comprehend them. I was drowning! The Enemy the bridge ! In bits and pieces, the battle came back to him, and as the coughing fit subsided at last, he opened his eyes to a star-backed outline.
"Easily, brother, just breathe quietly awhile," a well-loved voice coaxed in the darkness.
"B-Boromir? You you live!" Faramir stammered, amazed and relieved.
"Aye, thanks to you," his brother replied, and kept a hand on his back, supporting him firmly as Faramir sat up. He felt battered and bruised, and his muscles ached, but miraculously, he had taken no serious hurt. He did shiver, though, for his clothes were quite damp still. "Had you not thrown me aside, the horsemen would have ridden me down as they crossed," Boromir continued. "I lost you for a time when the bridge fell, but fortune must smile upon you, son of Denethor, for I came upon you again lying half out of the river not half a mile from where I ended."
"I thought I would drown," Faramir replied slowly, shaking his head in awe at the fact of his survival. He recalled dimly clawing his way out of Anduin, and then throwing up a small lakes worth of water before collapsing, unconscious, upon the river bank. "I knew not even whether I had gone east or west." He glanced at the two sets of mail lying discarded in a sodden heap. "The mail was too heavy "
"I think not many of those who stood with us can have survived. There were none between you and I, and I followed the river downstream to you," Boromir said darkly, and glanced back north towards the reddish glow that lit the night sky. "Osgiliath is burning upon the east shore and the bridge is destroyed. For all the good that it did!" His voice was bitter, and Faramir peered closely at him in the darkness, alarmed. It had been longten years at leastsince he and his brother had served closely together, and Faramir had now nineteen years of bloody experience in Ithilien. Neither he nor Boromir had passed through those years unscathed or unchanged, and both knew it. Faithful to their promises, the brothers had written each other as often as they could, sending their own messages alongside the dispatches that Ithilien runners regularly brought from Henneth Annûn to Osgiliath, and vice versa. Of late their correspondence had become more sporadic, for in the last four years, Boromir had spent increasingly more time in Minas Tirith, and Faramir knew how hard that was for him.
It was not simply that Boromir, being a man of action, preferred to remain among his men rather than command from afar in safety; there had crept into his occasional letters a note of cynicism, of disillusionment that Faramir found cause for worry. It was in Boromirs nature to be idealistic to the point of fault, and he had never been one to bear continuous frustration well, but for him to lose heart? For him to doubt the good that he and his people had accomplished, even at so high a cost? That had never seemed a possibility before. And yet perhaps I ought not to be surprised, Faramir thought with no small chagrin. Perhaps I underestimate him. After all, once I would have said that nothing could shake his faith in our father, but then he opened his eyes. Faramir knew that his brother had begun to argue harder with Denethor, both for his own needs and in other matters. Indeed, ever since that night nineteen years ago, an edge of strain had entered very quietly into Boromirs relationship with their father. It was a strangely passive thing given that Boromir usually feigned no pretense, and it waxed and waned with proximity, but it was there and constant: a subtle disharmony that put Boromir off not only from his father but from the title steward.
So Faramir read it, at least, from letters and from their increasingly rare encounters. That splinter of doubt, so foreign to his brothers constitution, made itself known most tellingly through the exacerbation of childhood desires for glory. It had become increasingly more important to Boromir to have renown for its own sake, as something separate from that which he would gain from the stewardship. Ever he pushed and prodded, seeking danger ever more recklessly in the hope, perhaps, of finding in the luster of battle-glory and the willing adulation of Gondors people something cleansomething untouched by the shadow of resentment that bred quietly between father and son. But given the origin of such a desire, Faramir knew only too well that it was a vain hope. He only wished he knew how to speak to his brother on this matter, but the proper occasion seemed elusive. Or else, Faramir thought sadly, my wisdom, however little it might be, fails in this instance. I have made my own peace with father, however one-sided, but I cannot see my way to helping Boromir achieve a similar truce.
"Your men gave their lives to prevent the Dark Lords army from crossing the bridge. And they succeeded in large measure. You do them a disservice to doubt it," Faramir said softly, seeking to turn his brothers mind from such recrimination, mistrusting his brothers mood. There came a noise, as of skeptical resignation, but Boromir did not speak for a long while, staring off into the distance.
When he did, he said quietly, "You speak rightly, of course."
Faramir made no answerwhat more, indeed, could he say?and they lapsed silent again. From all about them came the night sounds of Gondor: frogs in the reeds, and the hum of crickets, and of course the rush of water down Anduins great channel. Listening, Faramir felt suddenly an overwhelming desire to sleep, worn out after the evenings long and bloody struggle followed by a swim in the river in full mail suit. Images of the battle flashed through his mind in a disjointed fashion: the charge of the Haradrim, and the coming of the great shadow and its deadly terror; the slow retreat, hastened in places where that darkness struck; step by step until the few remaining defenders were upon the bridge proper and still giving ground. If he closed his eyes, or looked too long into the empty spaces of the night, he could see all over again the shadows come rushing towards them, trampling even their own ranks in a last bid to gain the bridge before the western defenders could destroy it. He had thrown himself at Boromir, intent on pushing him out of the way before it was too late. They had hit the side of the bridge hard, and both had lain stunned. Indeed, he had only just scrambled to his feet when the bridge had heaved beneath him. Máhal fired the supports, he recalled, we were thrown into the river, and there were stones the size of a man falling all about us. I saw Galdon struck by one, and he went under and did not come up again. Rest him well! Anduin ran red about me. It was enough to make a man sick, but Faramir had seen too much bloodshed and stomachs got used to everything with time, he supposed.
Presently, Boromir sighed and stood, rising into a bone-popping stretch. Then he held out a hand and Faramir, grasping it, was pulled to his feet. A moment they stood there, hands clasped, and neither seemed willing to speak. Finally, though, Boromir said, "I doubt not that we could both sleep for days, but I think we ought to make our way back to Osgiliath tonight. After the confusion of that battle, the men will need to know you and I are alive." Faramir nodded, recognizing the wisdom of that plan.
"Let us go, then," he said simply. The brothers passed through the land: grey shadows beneath the sky, survivors granted another lease on life, though they knew not for how long.
The news, upon their weary return to the west bank of Osgiliath, was both good and bad. Good, in that the bulk of Mordors forces had been denied passage over Anduin, and the wreck of the bridge meant they need not fear another attempt for some time. The men were overjoyed that their captains had survived, but it was a grave welcome they gave nonetheless, for many had been lost in the battle of the bridge. The eastern garrisons had been devastated: of those who had been retained upon the opposite shore, there were but four survivors, including the brothers. As for the rest, they had died to a man in the final onslaught. Faramir, relieving Tarodin of the Ithilien command, missed Galdon especiallymissed his quiet but stalwart presence, and his dark eyes that softened whenever he welcomed his captain back from some perilous venture. He tried not to think of all those who lay in a watery grave among the fallen stones of Osgiliath, busying himself instead with imposing order upon the chaos of his command. But he could not ignore that his people, having been primarily stationed east of Anduinfor that territory they knew besthad taken much higher losses per unit than had Osgiliaths garrison, which was evenly split between the banks. And how will father take that, when he compares my report with Boromirs? He wondered. I do not need him to tell me what I have lost!
He should not have to think of such things, but he did, and then he laughed softly at himself for his earlier thoughts. So I have made my peace with father? Indeed! And here stand I, worrying about what he will think of me. I ought not to look askance at Boromir when I cannot control myself! That helped him to regain his balance, and he wondered if it was merely exhaustion that brought those latent feelings to the fore. It matters not! Faramir sighed and of a sudden decided to walk a bit, to clear his mind before going to bed. For though his eyes were ready to close of their own accord, he could not seem to rest though he knew not why. Something nagged at him, just below the surface, and he was perhaps too tired even to glean it and so be free of it. So instead he wandered through the camp, picking his way carefully through the sleeping ranks. Of their own volition, it seemed, his feet guided him to his brother's tents, and he hesitated. There was light within, but he heard nothing to indicate that Boromir was about. After a moment's hesitation, he ducked inside, letting the flap fall shut behind him. There was a small, partly shuttered lamp upon a low table, but the tent was empty. Well, Faramir thought, sitting down on the edge of the cot pitched in a corner, I will wait for him. In truth, I know not even why I came, for what have we to speak of other than everything? And much of that we try to ignore, for it concerns our father. But I think I will wait nonetheless. Sitting there, gazing about at his brother's scattered belongings, he thought of how very long it had been since they had been able to talk, face to face, without fear of interruption. Not that he intended to do that tonight, for both of them craved rest. But perhaps a few words, just the assurance that they would soon have that conversation, and then he would be gone. Yes, I think that will do me good, for I would speak to him ere we leave for Minas Tirith ere we speak to father. Surely he will return soon.
Boromir returned at last from a walk round the perimeter of the camp. It had been an impulsive round, for there was no need in fact for him to check upon the defenses tonight. Yet it was a part of his routine, and he had felt unable to sleep until he had finished that last chore. Now, though, his tasks were done for the remainder of the night, and he felt a weariness such as he had seldom felt in his life as he made his way to his tents. Let me sleep deep and dream not! He thought tiredly, lifting the flap and then stepping within. And then he paused, a look of astonished puzzlement crossing his face. Before him, curled up on his cot, lay Faramir, and from his brother's slow breathing, he guessed he had been asleep some time now. Faramir was still fully clothed, wrapped in one of his older cloaks, and he pillowed his dark head upon one arm. Boromir shook his head finally, and laughed softly so as not to disturb him. Well, it has been long indeed since he has done that! Quietly stripping off his cloak, Boromir wadded it up and tossed it into a corner. He pulled his boots off, debated ridding himself of his shirt and decided against it. He crept to his brother's side and considered the problem for a few moments. I could wake him, send him off to his bed but if he is that tired, I should be sorry to rouse him! It is not as if I there is any danger of someone discovering him here, since I wake before the guard changes. With a soft sigh, he eased his younger brother carefully to one side and lay down next to him. It was a warm night, so he forsook the blanket, feeling the heat of Faramir's body at his back to be warmth enough.
Thus nestled together, the brothers slept, and waited upon dreams.
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