Stewards of Gondor: Slashvese Arc
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From the Other River Bank: 9. Come Undone
And so I come now to the edge, to the nighttime of my soul:
Stretched upon the door of death, I would deny its dreams,
And turn my face up to the light that streams from depths unseen;
Ah, wakefulness is endless now within this sleeping lull,
Where blind eyes see the clearer and fear doth lose its thrill.
Let me touch now mortal sickness that my love shall learn its toll.
And on the edge of deep desire, shall I fall now? Yes, I will!
--Silvaríel of Arnor
Boromir did not like what he saw, and he scowled as he rubbed at his eyes, vainly wishing that perhaps the situation would improve in that brief interval. Alas, not even an Elf or a wizard could change the hard facts: even with the additions from Osgiliath, Cair Andros would need either a vastly increased food supply or a drastically increased number of horses in order to adequately defend the swift route into Gondor. Minas Tirith could provide it with neither in short order, and though Denethor's heir searched through the military records and pushed markers about on a map, the fundamental equation did not alter. There were simply too many posts in need, not enough men to cover them all, and not enough money to make a difference. Denethor had the dubious distinction of having levied the heaviest set of taxes since the Kin-Strife of Gondor, but given the escalating expenses of an undeclared yet fomenting war, Minas Tirith did well to balance its expenditures against its income and have enough left over to manage some foreign trade.
We are stretched too thin, and soon something must break. If we knew with certainty whence the enemy would come, we might be able to mount a credible defense and even win a battle, but the Dark Lord is not a fool, whatever else he may be! If Gondor had Rohan's open support and cooperation, Denethor could replace the bulk of Cair Andros' company with the horsemen and disperse those relieved from both Osgiliath and the isle to other places. But even were Rohan willing, it has orcs aplenty at its back, threatening to raze Edoras, and so can spare us little attention. We might be able to buy horses, I suppose, but even in times of peace, the Rohirrim do not barter their steeds cheaply. The Bardings are more reasonable in matters of cost, but their mounts are smaller, less able to endure hard use, not as intelligent, and fewer in number in the first place. I doubt they have horses enough to export, not in the quantities that we need in Anórien, Boromir mused.
With a snort of exasperation, Boromir tossed his pen down on the ledgers and pushed back from his desk, abandoning the effort for the nonce. Since mid-afternoon, he had devoted his time to the problem of trying to make Cair Andros even marginally more effective, but the costs were prohibitive for too small a return. A part of him—the part concerned solely with a warrior's honor—sneered at such motives and excuses, but he was Denethor's heir and could not ignore the economics of the situation, even though he knew he would sentence the bulk of the survivors of Osgiliath to a grim end when the Dark Lord at last moved. After what they had already suffered in defense of Gondor, it seemed cruel to abandon them to another doomed outpost, but there was no other choice. For all that it is acrawl with orcs and other enemies these days, they would be safer in Ithilien! he thought darkly. At least they would have Faramir to lead them. Not that he mistrusted Brindithal, the captain assigned to Cair Andros, but the man was not his brother. Of course, he would not want Faramir in Cair Andros, either, whatever its need, and he sighed again for the contrary, tangled logic of the heart.
And while he pondered the recommendations he must inevitably give Denethor in this matter, he wondered whether he could possibly manage to submit them through a proxy. At least then I might find use for my esquire. But the steward would send for him anyway, and so such a tactic merely delayed the hour of confrontation. I am truly thankful that Faramir warned me, but this feels too much like standing on the edge of a battle, waiting for the enemy to show himself! he thought, grimacing.
Why did Denethor wait? If he were concerned enough to ask Faramir, why, then, did he not demand an answer of Boromir in similarly short order? Does Father even begin to conceive what torture he inflicts? Boromir wondered. Given Faramir's agitation this morning, he found it hard to believe that the steward was unaware of the brothers' meeting, or that Denethor could fail to recognize his younger son's intentions in seeking out Boromir. And still, the steward said no word and sent no summons, which left his older son in a state of dread confusion. What does he truly know? Has he any knowledge of what Faramir is to me? Or is it no more than a father's perception of some trouble between his children? It might simply be that, for why else would Denethor let the matter lie? But if it were that simple, would he wait so long to call me before him?
Unable to contain his own nervous energy, Boromir rose and began to pace, while his thoughts went in circles like a falcon in search of prey. Unfortunately, the prey was armed with weapons more powerful than a falcon's talons, and Boromir did not know how deeply Denethor might cut. And as patience had never come easily to him, the delay gnawed at his nerves 'til he was nearly frantic. Indeed, he was surprised by how long he had been able to concentrate this afternoon, given the unsteady state of his soul. Easily, Boromir, do not let your father drive you! The first lesson of the battlefield is that one must never allow the enemy to dictate the encounter.
Which means what in this case? That I should return to the problems of Cair Andros? Or that I should continue the equally futile speculation as to Father's probable knowledge and motives? Gritting his teeth in frustration, Boromir made himself stand still, attempting to still his mind with the cessation of his physical movements. Faramir was the one who studied philosophy, but Boromir did not need books to know that the troubles of his mind were reflected in his posture and gestures, and that the reverse to some extent also held true. I need to do something, he thought. Something useful, but what can I achieve here? Nothing! The Black Gate watch looks better all the time!
Blowing out a large sigh, Boromir returned to his work, to the tedium of dotting i's and crossing t's on a report that stated nothing either new or good, and he tried to ignore the tension in his back and shoulders. With an effort of will, he looked again over the list of Osgiliath's survivors, feeling a terrible pang of guilt for what he was about to do to them once again. Mayhap I had the right idea earlier, he thought suddenly, turning his eyes to Ithilien once more. Some, at least, have the skills that Faramir needs east of Anduin… yes. There may be some chance yet that a few may be spared a hopeless position on the Isle! Spurred on by the idea, he threw himself into the task with more energy than he had managed the entire day. Faramir had not asked for them, but he needed men, and would welcome anyone with enough forest-craft and initiative to help fill the duty rosters. And at least this is one gift that he can accept from me!
Meanwhile, Faramir left one of the barracks and tugged at his collar against a warm wind that whistled through the evening. After his conversation with Boromir, Faramir kept himself busy for the rest of the afternoon, afraid that if he let his mind wander too far, he would fall back into brooding over father and brother. Addressing Ithilien's needs at least made him feel useful, and by the end of the day, he had managed to recruit a number of forest-wise men with sufficient arms training to make good scouts and useful additions to the company. Obtaining a release for them from their current duties ought not to pose a large problem, since word had gone down days ago that Ithilien stood at the head of the list for replacement of its losses. Still, he imagined he would be accused of poaching for a time, but as it was his company at stake, he would willingly endure the reproachful mutterings of company commanders.
Unfortunately, once the sun set and he had finished with his work, that left him entirely too much time to think. At least I have achieved an economy of worry, for now it is not Denethor or Boromir separately that I fear, but the two of them together! he thought with wry, almost morbid humor as he walked the streets of Minas Tirith, moving up from the lower circles where he had gone to speak with the men he had tapped.
Lamps were being lit all over the city, and he paused to watch the proliferation of lights. Like fallen stars they gleamed, racing up and down the streets, recalling the war-beacons that lay along the approach to Rohan: one after the other after the other. Like time… like life… one moment follows the next and one never knows where it all leads, Faramir thought, resuming his walk.
Men and women flowed about him as they finished their daily business and went now to their homes. And if they gave him a somewhat wider berth for the sword at his side and the finer cut of his clothes that proclaimed him a nobleman, in the lamp-lit obscurity he was essentially anonymous. Just another of those who dwelt on the heights, a half-seen face without a name, and he found it a relief not to have to respond to the formal courtesies usually extended him. And given what faced him in the Seventh Circle, Faramir indulged in a brief fantasy of leaving title and rank behind. To have a father who is not Denethor, and a brother whose love I could safely return…! It was a lovely fantasy, but one that he quickly discarded, feeling rather irritated with himself for having entertained it, however briefly. It would not help him tonight, nor ease his doubts and fears; indeed, it could only make them seem worse.
And I could never surrender the responsibility, or the craving for it, he admitted. I am perhaps more ambitious than many believe. In that at least, I am my father's son! Is that why we rub each other raw whenever we face each other? That was certainly a part of it, Faramir mused, thoughtfully tangling a finger in a clinging forelock. But there had been more behind his father's outburst earlier that day than strained and abraded ambition, though he could not seem to chase down the precise terms for the emotion that had flashed in Denethor's eyes.
And how shall Boromir fare with him? Have they spoken yet, I wonder? Faramir was not certain how Denethor's affection for his brother would affect his interrogation of his older son. He knew very well that their father was capable of punishing Boromir, and sometimes quite painfully. That night upon the tower, Boromir had reminded him of that, and as much as Faramir had suffered emotionally in his early years, Boromir had usually been the one to suffer more severely the physical punishments their father had doled out to his sometimes unruly sons. There was that time when Boromir could not lie on his back for three days, Faramir remembered. And after the window incident…!
For years, both boys had feared their father's opprobrium, knowing well that he would not spare the rod if he caught them. Such things seemed less serious now, for Faramir had been hurt far worse in sword practice, not to mention the injuries that came of too many years in the field. And we knew that he did not intend to hurt us for the sake of causing pain, but because we had overstepped the boundaries. It had been love, of a particular and difficult kind, that had driven those painful but necessary punitive encounters, and even as a very young child, Faramir had recognized that. Perhaps that was why he had never dreaded the lash so much as his father's tongue, and upon reflection, it was only when the lash had disappeared that his relationship with Denethor had truly begun to sour. For then I had naught but his contempt and cold lectures. It was enough to make him wary of the prospect of fatherhood, but having suffered through Denethor's hard ways, Faramir was convinced he could not possibly do worse.
Of course, it appears that Boromir will likely be a father before I am, he thought with a grimace. He had no idea how his brother would manage in a marriage, but Faramir did not look forward to watching him flounder. And at the moment, though he wished that he could change his heart, he could not stomach the thought of his brother's need for him. It was hard enough for him to look to the immediate future, to the argument between Boromir and Denethor that he knew must come—and soon!—and know how badly his brother would need his support. And how could I withhold it, when Boromir has caught me so often when I stumbled? How could I fail to stand by him, either now or in twenty years?
The younger man sighed inwardly, firmly quelling the flutter of nervousness in the pit of his stomach that roused at the thought of his brother's touch. As he had told Boromir frankly that afternoon, he simply was not ready to resume anything approaching their former affectionate relationship, but he had the feeling that as with many endeavors, preparation would be cut short. Need brooked no wavering, no hesitation or delay, and as he had been forced into command early by his own desperation, he would doubtless be forced back into the crucible of fraternal obligation earlier than he would prefer. I wanted responsibility. Well, he thought with grim amusement, I have it now in this matter, so I ought not to complain of it!
In the mean time, he could at least be grateful for the fact that the dream-verse had not assailed him even once today. Were it not for his own anxiety over Denethor's delayed choice, he would perhaps not even have thought of it. But thanks to Father's evasions, I return to it constantly. Imladris, home of Elrond Half-Elven, whom many account among the wisest of the Age. Of the other sages, legend had little to say, but that Galadriel of Lórien was one, and the Shipwright Cirdan another; but whether those shadowy figures out of the days of Eldarin dominion remained upon Middle-earth's shores, no tale told. Of the wizards Curúnir and Mithrandir, the former seemed to have grown disinterested in the troubles of the time, which Faramir accounted an alarming state of affairs, and as for Mithrandir…. He does as he will, and though I doubt not that he lives still, his movements are a mystery to we who dwell here. Would that he were in Minas Tirith, for perhaps he would be able to shed light upon that wretched rhyme! Faramir thought.
Alas, if Mithrandir were to appear, he also had no doubt that Denethor, ever mistrustful, would do all in his power to keep his younger son away from the wizard. 'Meddling trouble-maker', Denethor had labeled him more than once, and cuffed his son for hanging upon the wanderer's words. But Faramir had always been drawn to the aura of kindly nobility and the old man's obvious wisdom. And there is something else about him, something that I cannot name but which draws men to him… or ought to, at any rate. It was no more than a feeling, and one that lay just beyond the verbal, but the sight or thought of Mithrandir stirred it to life each time, so that Faramir knew—beyond certainty, beyond his ability to express—that the Grey Pilgrim would never fail them at need. And after so many years of doubt about my father, that is a welcome feeling, he thought as he approached the final gates.
For one in good health and accustomed to exercise, it was an hour's swift walk from the lowest level to the highest circle of the city, and Faramir, not eager to return to the turmoil of the seventh circuit, had tarried somewhat along the way. Nevertheless, he made good time out of habit, and returned the salute of the guards who admitted him without question. Faramir, ever observant, had noted the change in the atmosphere as one ascended to the heights: tension had grown steadily the higher he climbed, and that was not surprising. For if Denethor kept secrets from his own council, there was much that did not reach the lower levels of the city. In the common neighborhoods, where the bulk of Minas Tirith's citizens dwelt, Rohan's increasing isolation was but a rumor of trouble; the threat of Mordor overshadowed considerations of political fracture and strained resources; and the losses at Osgiliath and Cair Andros had yet to be made known in full.
What had fascinated Faramir as he had passed through the levels of the city was the fact that the rhyme of his dreams had somehow leaked out to the population at large, for he had heard much discussion of Isildur's Bane and Halflings, and he wondered who had let loose that bit of information. Perhaps Denethor himself, he thought, for given that the verse gave cause for some hope, the steward might well have decided to use it as a bulwark against the dark tidings of heavy losses that might otherwise have damaged the city's will to continue the fight. But here in the heart of Minas Tirith, such tidings were as a drop of water in the desert: almost a mockery of hope, though one that could not be refused. And so we wait, and hope that Denethor shall soon release us from this interminable guessing game! Faramir thought.
As he glanced up at the Tower of Ecthelion, he noted again that odd greenish light that flickered in the window of the highest room, and he frowned. What is that? he wondered, eyes narrowing. A torch I would call it, but that it seems too powerful… and green! Over the long centuries, Minas Tirith had acquired its ghost stories and legendary hauntings. There were those who held that the spirit of the long-dead Mardil Voronwë kept watch of late in that isolated chamber, awaiting either the end of the city or perhaps the return of the kings of old. Faramir doubted that such tales were anything more than another sign of the fear and desperate will to hope under which all now lived, but he was not prepared to dismiss such ideas categorically. I have dreamt too often, and read of too many strange accounts to think that Arda is only what we see before us. Still… there is something about that light that stirs doubt in me. I know not why, though. Tearing his eyes from the unnatural radiance, Faramir drew a steadying breath and continued on his way to the tower where his father held sway. There is yet one company that I have not considered raiding, he thought, and felt anxiety tingle at the base of his spine. Boromir's!
Boromir jumped at the knock on his door, and cursed softly over his own startlement. Rising from the table, he gave himself to the count of five to settle his nerves and assume a more dignified mask. In that brief pause, the knock was repeated, a little more loudly, and this time, Boromir called back, "Enter!" The knob twisted, the door swung open wide enough to show Faramir standing there like an apparition, and Boromir blinked. This was certainly unexpected, for he had thought his brother would continue to avoid him unless pushed by necessity to speak with him. Which was why, when he found his voice, he asked, "Faramir… is something the matter?"
"No, nothing," the other replied, and though the younger man's tone seemed quite calm, Boromir could see the strain in his brother's eyes: the effort and determination to mask his uneasiness, to come and deal with Boromir in spite of his misgivings. "I would speak to you, though, about Osgiliath's survivors. If you have a moment," he added after a minute but telling pause. Does he wish me to be busy? Or does that question bespeak his own anxiety? Likely, his brother had spent so much time working up the nerve to come here that he had only just thought to wonder whether Boromir might have other tasks to oversee.
"Come in then, for I, too, have given thought to their fate today," Boromir replied, matching his brother's neutrality. Faramir obeyed, quietly, almost reluctantly, closing the door behind him, before he approached the table. And Boromir, reading his brother's uncertainty, clasped his hands behind his back again to reassure him. "Sit, if you will."
"I would prefer to stand for the moment," Faramir replied, and the other nodded, trying not to feel hurt.
"As you wish, of course," Boromir turned his attention away from his brother and quickly rifled through the stack of papers that lay atop the table, searching for the one he wanted. "Do I guess rightly that you come in the hopes of filling the empty places in Ithilien's guard?"
"You do. I have asked men of every company stationed in the city this afternoon, and I doubt not that the officers gather even now to curse my name," he added with a certain wry humor. "I should have asked you first, but I did not think of it."
"Perhaps it is better you did not, for it gave me the time to consider the question myself. Here is my list, and if any of these suit your need, then take them with my blessing. 'Tis a less certain fate than restationing at Cair Andros!" Boromir said fervently. Faramir grimaced and accepted the list that his brother slid across the table to him.
"What had the steward to say to your analysis?"
"Naught. I have not seen him yet," Boromir admitted somewhat shame-facedly.
"I see." Faramir replied, his tone indicating that he did indeed. With a sigh, he quickly glanced over the names his brother had supplied and nodded as he folded the paper and tucked it into his belt. "Thank you. I shall take the recommendations and I doubt not that Father will approve." Their business essentially concluded, there came then an awkward pause as each man sought for something to say, either to end the meeting gracefully or find some harmless topic of conversation. Faramir lowered his gaze, feeling very much aware of his brother's eyes on him, of Boromir's effort not to look too closely. On the one hand, he was grateful for the consideration, but on the other, he felt unaccountably guilty for the lengths his brother went to on his behalf. As he scrambled for something to say to break the painful silence, his glance strayed across an open book on the table, and he cocked his head curiously as he reached out and snagged it, turning it so he could read it properly.
"'And so I come now to the edge, to the nighttime of my soul,'" he read aloud, and gave a soft grunt of surprise. "Silvaríel!" He glanced up at Boromir. "You surprise me, brother."
Boromir shrugged, feeling the heat rush to his cheeks. "It… seemed appropriate tonight. In truth I know not why I turned to it, except that your words stuck in my mind that evening."
"And has it helped, her poetry?"
"Perhaps," Boromir admitted with a faint smile. "It keeps my mind occupied, at least, and that is much to me today." He paused, considering what he might say next. A part of him wanted to take Faramir by the hand and reassure him of his good intentions, but he doubted that that would do more than stir the other's fears again. Yet he could not bear to let this silence endure. "Faramir, I—"
"Do not say it!" Faramir cut him off quickly. "I cannot hear it. Not now."
Boromir shut his mouth and looked away, drawing a deep breath. "As you like it, then."
"I am sorry, Boromir, I… I should go. Thank you for your help." Faramir sounded sincerely chagrined. And for all that he walked without haste, he seemed almost to flee out the door.
Boromir stared after him for a long moment, feeling the ghost of his presence hovering in the room. Then, with a sigh, he grabbed the book off the table and retreated to the bedroom to finish reading. It had struck him, as he had sat there trying to decipher Silvaríel's striking yet somewhat cryptic verses that he was in some sense waiting for someone to come, though he had had no reason to think that that someone would be Faramir. But now that Faramir had, he felt a certain relief, as if he had exhausted his purpose here and no longer needed to remain in the outer chamber. He crossed the floor quickly and had almost reached the inner door when another knock sounded, and he let out an exasperated oath. What now? In addition to Faramir, he had had a few other visitors, all of them councilors come seeking some further insight into the matter of that wretched dream. If I have to tell one more person that I know nothing more than I have told and been told…! he thought gloweringly, and rather than call out to whoever waited on the other side, he strode quickly across the room and yanked the door open. "What matter—?"
"What matter indeed," Denethor said, cutting into the silence that followed Boromir's abortive question. And from the dark glitter in his eyes, it was clear that he would tolerate no evasions.
An icy chill wafted in with the steward as Denethor crossed the threshold and pulled the door firmly shut behind him. Boromir stared at him, his expression mask-like, but to one who had mastered a palantír, it was but a feeble disguise for the dread that lurked beneath. Denethor could feel the tendrils of his son's fear reaching out to him, probing and withdrawing as if burned, and though he had come to expect such furtive evaluations—and indeed, found a certain satisfaction in rebuffing them—tonight he felt nothing. Nothing, unless it were the agonized disappointment that lay beneath his iron will. Clearly, his son had anticipated this meeting, and though he bid Denethor good evening as he set the book aside, there was an edge to his voice that was telling: Boromir had awaited this hour with the enthusiasm of a man facing the gallows. Ah, but my son, you were condemned long ago, and your present dread is late in coming to you! Denethor thought, eyes flicking over the other's person, noting the tension of the other's frame that betrayed itself in the attempt to give a relaxed appearance. "What brings you, Father?" Boromir asked, managing a neutral tone.
As if you do not know well my motives, Denethor thought, and wondered whether he approved of the other's refusal to be pushed into a confession. On the one hand, it bespoke a certain measure of self-control not to allow panic to drive him, and one who aspired to the rule of Gondor must never admit to weakness; but on the other, Denethor felt his contempt snarl loudly at the other's maneuverings. For it is over, and he knows it! The steward gave a mental head shake. That is of no concern, he reminded himself. Let him writhe how he likes, he shall not escape in the end. And ere I am done, he shall see and say what he is, and learn the meaning of shame! It was a hard lesson to learn, as Denethor knew well from his own experience, but it could not be postponed any longer.
The steward had always kept a close watch on his children, the better to correct their mistakes and teach them the meaning of vigilance; and though he had not set out to use it thus, the palantír had greatly aided him in his observations. Thus, he was aware of Faramir's periodic dealings with Éomer, and of the long hours that he spent with his brother whenever the opportunity arose.
For indeed, it had been Faramir who had at first warranted Denethor's suspicion and surveillance—Faramir, whose love of literature and music had early earned him twitters from other children who preferred to play at war; Faramir, whose affectionate demeanor as a child and a young man had made others despair of his ever rising to competent command; Faramir, who adored his brother with all the fervor of one smitten. What had begun as a useful means of gaining information about the far-flung reaches of Gondor and Mordor, even, had gradually become as well a means of cataloging Faramir's faults and building a very detailed map of the other's personality and decisions. Except that in one important respect, that map was flawed. Much to his shame, Denethor had not realized his error until that very week, until Faramir's inexplicably angry and fearful response to his brother and subsequent avoidance of him. That had forced the steward to reevaluate his conclusions, to look back through the lens of illicit insight, combined with his own formidable intuition and deductive powers, and the result had come as a shock even to him: faced with a sudden wealth of minor but telling details, the situation had reversed itself, and he had turned his eyes to Boromir with suspicion and horrified disappointment.
And guilt—that, too, and if Denethor reproached himself bitterly for his own fault, the anger and resentment born of that guilt spilled out onto his sons. The confrontation with Faramir had on the one hand blunted the edge of those seething emotions, but his absolute refusal to discuss what specifically had passed between himself and his brother had only added to Denethor's fury. Boromir being guilty in any case, it was now his turn to face his father's complicated wrath. For the steward had invested much time in the crafting of this confrontation, and the various permutations were worked out in exquisite detail. And if Boromir wishes for the moment to pretend that he knows not whereof I speak, then so be it! "What brings me is a matter of some importance to us both," Denethor replied coolly, watching his son carefully. Boromir gave no visible sign, but it seemed that he flinched nonetheless, and the steward pressed onward, demanding sharply, "Where is your brother?"
"I suppose that he has gone to his room," Boromir replied somewhat evasively.
"Then it was he that I saw leaving but a few moments ago?" Denethor asked, though he knew the answer quite well.
"And what was his business with you this night?"
"We discussed transferring some of Osgiliath's men to Ithilien," Boromir replied, then added helpfully, "I doubt not that you shall see his requests delivered tomorrow."
"You advised him in this?"
"Nay, I but gave him a list of prospects, Father."
"And did you speak further afterwards?" Denethor pressed, sensing the other begin to squirm inwardly.
"Not truly," Boromir seemed to hedge, and his father narrowed his eyes as he paced forward, bending his course to circle his son. Denethor's heir stood still, unwilling to try to turn to follow his progress, but clearly he was uncomfortable. As well he ought to be!
"Did he stay long?"
"There was little to discuss," Boromir frowned anxiously as Denethor planted himself before the younger man.
"Do you love him?"
"I–he is my brother, Father!" At that, the steward pinned his first-born under a piercing gaze, watching as Boromir strove first to return it, then to endure it, and finally simply to hold himself still beneath the lancing regard. Cleverly done, Boromir, and I had not thought you had it in you to lie so well! Denethor thought, with a certain grudging admiration for the other's determination to play this out to the final throw. A part of the steward had rather expected Boromir to cave more quickly than this, for his elder son had a less complicated view of the truth than did Faramir. But I ought to have known better, for what he lacks in sophistication, he compensates for with a warrior's obstinacy. From the desperate, yet determined, gleam in his son's eyes, Denethor realized that this oblique approach would let him he wear away at Boromir's defenses all night, but without piercing them. And so we abandon the more subtle pressures for more obvious ones. Denethor felt something twist within him at the prospect, for he knew full well what that might require of him if he were truly to force his son to a recognition of the fatal flaw in his makeup. But every sin deserves its shame—this is mine, and his as well!
"Do you tell me then that you love him or that you do not?" he queried.
"I… of course I love him… how could I not, since we have grown up together?"
"And he knows this?"
"Ah," Denethor responded mildly, cocking his head at his son, and then demanded rather more sharply, "Did you take him to bed with you?"
"I–What?!" Boromir exclaimed, retreating a pace from the steward.
"Have you loved him, Boromir?" Denethor advanced a step, and Boromir retreated again, shaking his head as if dazed. "Do you dream of him? Or have you done more than that?" Another step, and another retreat, pace for pace in a parody of a dance. "Answer me!"
"Father…." Boromir gazed at him with mute horror, unable to speak, shocked by how very bluntly his father confronted him.
"Your silence has always been your best defense, Boromir," Denethor spoke now scathingly, sneeringly almost, and one who knew him well might have recognized the despair that underlay such accusations. But Boromir had no eyes for such subtleties, not at the moment, as Denethor continued to advance on him with such menace and threat that he could do naught but give ground before him. The wall pressed hard against his back, and Denethor stood too far within his space, eyeing him with a sort of resigned contempt. "But once pierced, it does but mark you as guilty!"
"I have done nothing!"
"'Nothing' did not drive Faramir from you, Boromir!" Denethor shot back, dismissing that claim.
"This is our affair–"
"That is precisely what I fear!" Denethor snapped, and Boromir flinched openly, unable to withstand that cutting tone of voice. "You share everything between the two of you, and always have, after all."
"Not everything," Boromir protested.
"But you do desire him. Do not attempt to deny it, Boromir, I see it in your eyes! You lust after him, like a bitch hound in heat! Did you think I would not notice?" Denethor demanded, sparing Boromir not at all. "You are my son and the heir to the stewardship, and what affects you affects Gondor above all else! I will not see that office sullied with this filth!" And on that last word, Denethor's left hand shot out and down, quick as a fox and twice as desperate. Boromir gasped, almost choking as his father pressed thumb and fingers hard against his crotch, digging in just above his testicles. Any other man would have found himself flung across the room out of sheer, combative reflex if nothing else, but despite the completely unexpected pain, Boromir simply cringed back. Such was the power that Denethor projected in that instant that even reflex could not challenge him. And when Boromir started to collapse under the pressure, the steward simply used his other arm to press him back, pinning him to the wall. "Did you think me blind?" Denethor demanded, and in the face of the other's shocked disbelief and hurt, his voice lost some of its icy tone as the agony seeped through at last. "You love your brother too well, Boromir! I ask now only how far it has gone: did you take him to your bed? Well?"
"I never did aught to him!" Boromir protested desperately, reaching down to clutch ineffectually at his father's wrist. "Or with him! I swear it!"
"And what worth, your word, when you have sought to deceive for so long?" Denethor asked in a low voice. "You cannot excuse this incestuous… this profane… desire of yours!"
"N-no excuse… I know I s-should not, but I cannot… ai… cannot help this!" His son shook his head despairingly. "You cannot understand…!" Boromir's voice rose on that last word, hitting an octave he had not managed in years as Denethor thrust, pressing harder still. Agony lanced through Boromir, and he blanched sheet white as a moan caught in his throat and the world began to grey about the edges. "Father!"
"Can I not?" Denethor ignored the plea, and his voice was silken smooth, laden with scorn and disappointment. "In the beginning I thought you safe enough; it was Faramir who gave your mother and I cause for concern. Alas that the taint bred true in you!" And as Boromir dragged incredulous eyes up to search his father's face despite the excruciating pain, Denethor shook his head slowly as he murmured softly, almost gently, "I know what you are, my son, and I know well what it is that you feel. But I never weakened! I did my duty to my house and realm… married your mother, had children by her… watched as realization turned to revulsion and thence to despair and sickness, ending finally in death! It will be the same, I doubt not, with you and Éowyn. But that is your duty to curse now. I do not know how you betrayed yourself to Faramir, and I do not wish to know! What hold you have on him I know not, but I fear the consequences."
The steward gazed intently at the shocked expression on Boromir's pale face, and he proffered a grim smile, which gesture felt as obscene as it likely looked. "So tell me not that I cannot understand, my son! Rest assured that I do!" With that, disgusted—sickened—by the awful tableau, Denethor released the other, easily breaking the wrist-lock to step away.
Boromir felt his legs give way beneath him as the steward retreated. And though he managed somehow to refrain from cradling injured parts, he drew his knees up defensively and bowed his head, willing the nausea to subside, trying to keep his hold on the world. He knew… he knew … because Father, too, is…. He could not manage to complete that thought, and felt himself shaking as if chilled. Over the faint ringing in his ears, he could hear his father's voice, grim and taut, continue on, and the words burned into his soul as if set there with a brand, "Blood always tells, they say, and it is true enough. I would have spared you this if I knew how, but I could not dissuade you in your affection for Faramir, though I tried! He is weak himself, but in a different way, and if you must love a man, at least let it be one other than he who is your brother! Well that Finduilas died without knowing your nature! I have made a practice of being sparing in my sorrow, but if there is one thing that I regret, it is that this taint did not die with me!"
Boromir flinched at the fury in his father's tone, but was still too shocked to muster a response. Revelations aside, he had never seen his father so deeply disturbed by anything, and a part of him cringed in shame for the fact that he had been the catalyst for this uncharacteristic display. Desperately seeking an anchor for his sanity amid the pain and disorientation, Boromir remained huddled on the floor, and it was long ere he registered Denethor's dark-swathed form kneeling before him, the better to watch him, apparently.
"What would you have me do?" Boromir whispered at last, unable to meet his father's eyes. "I cannot change this… Valar know I have tried! I tried for so long to deny it…!" At which point his voice broke, and he could not continue as the years of frustration and agonized acceptance seemed to fall squarely on his head all at once. Humiliation washed sickly about his innards, and he rather felt like weeping, except that that would only embarrass him further.
"You shall leave for Imladris in two days' time," Denethor informed his son flatly. "I have already ordered preparations begun. Be you ready come the dawn of the fourth." There came a long and painful moment's silence, in which Boromir struggled to find a verbal response. Once or twice, he tried to articulate even a minimal 'yes sir' but nothing came out. It was as if he had been struck dumb, and he could not seem to recall how to form words, how to make his mouth and tongue and throat force the sounds out and shape them intelligibly.
At length, he heard a soft sigh, and felt a hand land upon his shoulder. After how badly Denethor had hurt him, he recoiled, though the touch was in truth remarkably gentle. In fact, he could not remember the last time his father had touched him like that. Not since I was a child! some distant part of his mind replied. That might have been why he risked looking up, and as Denethor's storm-grey eyes captured his again, he was stunned by the tormented sympathy that shone there. Disappointment and a vast sea of anger for a world that had inflicted such a burden on both of them blazed there as well, but did not quite smother that glimmer of compassion. "I can do no more than send you away from the object of your desire, Boromir, and hope that distance shall do what I could not: sever the connection that binds the two of you," Denethor said softly. "Go! Redeem yourself if you can, and failing that, return to face Mordor with what pride you can muster."
With that, Denethor rose silently. For a long moment, he stood gazing down at his son, and then swiftly he turned and left him. Boromir bit his lip so hard against his anguish that he tasted blood. At least the sting distracted him somewhat from the pain in other places, but nothing could pierce the shadow that had fallen on his heart. Denethor too… and I called Faramir naïve! Redeem myself? How? Cursing softly, Boromir bowed his head and let the tears come.
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