Steward's Sons, The
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In His Brother's Shadow: 1. Meetings
The early afternoon sunlight was slanting in through the south-facing window, illuminating each grain of dust drifting through the air. Faramir stifled a yawn. “I’ve finished, Master Golasgil,” he said politely to his teacher, who was dozing at the end of the great oaken table.
“Oh, er, yes,” Golasgil replied, coming awake with a start and reaching for the sheaf of parchment Faramir was pushing towards him. “Well, then, go along to arms practice and I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
“No, not tomorrow,” protested the boy. “Boromir is coming back from leading the raids against the Orcs across the Anduin River sometime today, and you said that I could have tomorrow off to see my brother before he leaves again.”
“Of course, of course. Well, then, the day after. Be sure that you find time to read through the annals dealing with the reign of Telumehtar Umbardacil before then, and we’ll discuss his strategies in Umbar against the Corsairs.” Golasgil nodded towards the shelf that held the books and scrolls for Faramir’s studies.
“Yes, Master Golasgil,” Faramir said obediently, pushing his chair under the table and leaving the room quickly, before he could be given any more homework to do.
Outside in the stone corridor, he paused to think. Boromir would most likely not return for hours yet, so he might as well go on to arms practice. At least he was getting better at swordplay, slowly. Swordmaster Hallas no longer shook his head and winced every time he looked at Faramir, although words of praise were still few and far between.
I am getting better, Faramir reminded himself. I am, I will be as good as my brother someday.
Secretly, though, he doubted it. He was honest enough with himself to know that his greatest strength lay in his mind, not his sword arm. But at the age of fourteen, he also knew that he would not reach his full growth for years yet, and that by training he could become good enough to serve Gondor without dishonor, if perhaps without the distinction that Boromir had already achieved at nineteen.
And at least, Master Golasgil thinks well of my understanding of military strategy and political maneuverings, and that should help me when I must take command, Faramir comforted himself.
He turned around and trotted down the stone steps. Passing through the great bronze doors of the Steward’s House, he headed towards the armories, where Hallas was invariably to be found in the afternoons, supervising the maintenance of the stores of weapons and armor kept there.
“Early for once, young Faramir?” Hallas greeted him. “Now, then, let’s have you run twice around the yard to warm up a bit before you practice those thrusts we were working on yesterday. And mind you bind up your wrist first, it’ll help keep you from letting it bend whenever you make contact.”
As Faramir dashed obediently off, Hallas commented to the soldier helping him check helms for rust, “He’ll do well, the lad will, once he stops thinking about every move and just lets it go naturally.”
“But not like his brother?”
“No,” Hallas chuckled, “he’ll never outstrip Boromir on the practice field. But that’ll do. We only need one to lead Gondor.”
Back in his own room at sunset, Faramir splashed water over his face and chest to wash off the worst of the sweat and grime that covered him from his workout. His practice had run late and he had no time for a proper bath before dinner.
“How are the lessons going, little brother?” came a deep voice from the doorway.
“Boromir!” shouted Faramir. He turned and ran to hug his idol. “Well, I’ll never be a great swordsman like you, but Hallas told me today that my stance was passable, and you know from him that’s quite high praise.”
“I do indeed,” returned Boromir. “I can still hear him counting me through the forms and yelling any time I was out of position. But it’s worth it, you know,” he added seriously. “Gondor lives ever in danger, and it is up to us to keep her safe. So you must do your utmost on the practice field, for the lives of our people depend on our skill at arms.”
“Yes, I know,” said Faramir soberly. He had heard this since before he could remember, both from Boromir and from their father Denethor.
“But Boromir,” he said, brightening, “guess what? I have the whole day off tomorrow from lessons, while you’re here. We can spend it together.”
Boromir smiled down at him. “Well, some of it at least.”
“Why only some?”
“Come now, Faramir, of course I will have other duties to see to. I must arrange for new supplies to be sent to the forts at ruined Osgiliath, for my men there, for instance. But I can at least spend the morning with you, I think. Shall we go to the Hallows tomorrow?”
Faramir nodded ruefully. He wished that for once he and his brother could have a whole day together, but accepted what had to be. And he much preferred to have Boromir’s company down Rath Dínen, the Silent Street that led to the Hallows and the House of Stewards, where the Ruling Stewards of Gondor and their wives lay in their stone beds. Since his mother Finduilas had died in 2988, when he was just five, he remembered her only vaguely, but went regularly to visit her tomb as a proper obligation. Denethor approved of such filial respect, and sometimes Faramir felt that this was one of the few ways that he could gain his father’s approbation.
“Yes, I haven’t been there in several weeks,” he said aloud. “I suppose you haven’t gone at least since your next-to-last return to Minas Tirith, as the last time you were barely here overnight.” He went over to his chest and pulled out a fresh tunic, slipping it over his head.
“No, not since then. Afterwards, perhaps, we can walk along the walls of the Citadel to the Embrasure; you know that I like to go up there as well. One sees such a view of the city, her white walls shining in the clear morning sun, her white banners blowing proudly in the breeze,” said Boromir. “So let us go early tomorrow. But now, we had best go and meet our
father to dine; I think he has a guest joining us.”
Denethor often had guests, but it was unusual for Boromir to remark on them.
“Who would that be?” asked Faramir curiously.
“I’m not certain,” was the reply. “The name I heard was Mithrandir, but who that may be I do not know. Come, let us go to table. We are expected in the private chamber tonight.”
Faramir followed his brother out of the door. Somehow the name Mithrandir resonated in his mind, as if he had heard it before, or perhaps as if the bearer of it would mean something to him in the future. He was not certain which, but he was certain that this meal would be better than most he shared with his father. Boromir would be there to tell the tales of his successes against the Orcs, so Denethor was likely to be in a good temper.
Denethor was in no very favorable mood when his sons reached him in the dining chamber, despite Faramir’s hope.
“You are late,” he frowned at his younger son. “I have told you before that I consider tardiness a grave discourtesy, especially when, as you see, we have an honorable visitor.”
Faramir murmured an apology, careful not to let his distress show. As always, when Boromir and I both make the same error, Father addresses his reproof to me alone. And if I object to the unfairness, he will simply become angry. The boy shuddered at the thought of his father in one of his cold rages.
Not what I want a visitor of whatever rank to witness. I wonder who he is? Father rarely has guests present for a family meal, usually we eat in the Great Hall if he must discuss some matter with a visitor.
The stranger was seated in one of the padded chairs before the fire. He did not immediately rise, but looked up at the two young men. “I thank you for the compliment, Denethor,” he said. “Introduce me to your sons, if you would.”
Denethor smiled proudly, if coolly, and gestured to Boromir. “My son Boromir,” he stated, “my heir and the future Steward of Gondor. He chances to be in the city tonight to report on the dealings with the Orcs across the Anduin. They still infest Mordor, as you no doubt know, but thus far we have mostly kept them there. Though the raids into Ithilien and even at times across the river have increased of late. Boromir, this is the lord Mithrandir. He is a member of the White Council and comes to search in the ancient records of the Stewards and the Kings, seeking the lore and wisdom of our ancestors.”
As Boromir bowed politely, Mithrandir rose and bowed in his turn. “And the other lad?” he asked, turning to Faramir.
“My younger son, Faramir,” said Denethor. “Still a stripling, in the schoolroom and the practice yard. He shows some promise in the former, at least, but only time will tell if he will live up to his brother’s standard.”
Faramir bowed respectfully. As he straightened, he caught Mithrandir’s eye. The white-bearded man was looking at him intently, as if he wished to speak, but shook his head slightly and glanced back at Denethor.
“Well, well, I look forward to hearing what your sons have to say. It has been some time since I heard a youthful perspective on the world.” Mithrandir gestured to the table, already laid. “Shall we then eat?”
The windows of the chamber faced to the west, and as he turned to them for the traditional moment of silence before dining, Faramir saw from the corner of his eye that Mithrandir did not follow this custom. He wondered from what land their guest came, and whether he thought turning towards lost Númenor and living Aman before meat an odd or quaint ritual. The fellow stands and waits patiently enough.
They all then seated themselves, Denethor at the head of the table near the window, the light of the setting sun falling on his right side. Boromir, as always, sat to his right and Faramir on his left. Mithrandir went to the foot, near the fire, and remarked that perhaps age entitled him to the warmest seat.
The meal was simple, befitting a family meal served to the Steward and his sons, unexpected guest or no. Denethor always insisted that in private they not maintain the pomp that would have been appropriate to the line of the Kings; in public, of course, it was another matter. The dignity of the throne had to be maintained, even if there was no living heir to fill it; “of Anárion’s line,” as Denethor invariably added.
Mithrandir passed the dish of mutton and gravy to Boromir. “What news then from the borders, if I may ask?”
Boromir looked at his father, who nodded permission to him to speak openly. “Sir, as my father said before, the raids of the Orcs have increased these last few years. Since the Enemy has reoccupied his ancient stronghold and rebuilt Barad-dûr, his arm has grown long. We still hold green Ithilien, but none of our people lives there now; it is a disputed land, much subject to fighting. Only broken Osgiliath is safely held, and I fear,” he turned to Denethor, “I fear, my lord, that such will not be the case for long.”
“Indeed,” replied the Steward, “if we are unable to reinforce the garrison there. I have sent to Prince Imrahil to see if Dol Amroth can spare any companies to our aid. The prince, you may know,” he added, turning to Mithrandir, “is the brother of my late wife, and though still young, a valiant warrior and a great leader. (1) If he can help us, he will.”
“But, Father,” Faramir said tentatively, “can my uncle spare any men? Might it not be better to call on the men from Anfalas? Was there not a pestilence in Dol Amroth recently?”
Denethor scowled at his younger son. “To be sure there was, yet Imrahil will understand the urgency of your brother’s need. Dol Amroth is in no immediate danger from Mordor as we in the east of Gondor must be. He will send troops,” he said grimly. “His loyalty is unquestioned, especially to a sister’s son.”
Faramir winced inwardly. All this studying he did, learning the history of Gondor both recent and long past, all supposedly to fit him as an advisor to his brother, and yet whenever he proffered such advice it was dismissed. Perhaps it is my age, he thought, and when I am older my ideas will have more respect.
Meanwhile Boromir was speaking again. “I am sure my brother’s thought is a good one, and if Imrahil’s men prove not enough, then we may call on the men of Anfalas as well. But let us hope that is not necessary.”
Mithrandir glanced from younger son, to elder son, to father. He saw the likeness in appearance between Denethor and Boromir; he saw, too, the likeness in mind between Denethor and Faramir, though in feature Faramir might more closely resemble his mother Finduilas. Although he had the grey eyes and dark hair common in Gondor, there was a certain set to his face that was not quite usual, perhaps deriving from the Elvish strain in the rulers of Dol Amroth that Finduilas had brought into the line of the Stewards now as well. Musing, Mithrandir thought that it might be that very resemblance that disposed Denethor against his younger son. Denethor had loved his wife greatly, and might have resented her early death and blamed Faramir as the cause. Since she lived several years after his birth, though, that was not likely to have been the reason for it.
“No, indeed,” he replied to Boromir. “We shall hope that the Enemy turns his eye again to the east and south, even if only to seek fresh allies, and gives Gondor time to gather her strength. But it is only a hope, and not to be relied on.”
The talk then turned to the details of the endemic warfare on Gondor’s eastern border: how many men were needed, and where; how many horses; how many supplies and of what sorts; and not least, how all of this was to be paid for. Faramir listened intently as his father and brother discussed the ways and means of resupplying the camps near Minas Morgul. Somehow the war all seemed so much more real, here, than when he read about it in the old accounts during his lessons with Master Golasgil.
To this conversation he could add little, and he noted that neither did Mithrandir speak much. Though Denethor treated the visitor courteously, even respectfully, Faramir sensed a certain tension in his father’s attitude toward Mithrandir, a tension he could not understand.
Servants came in quietly and removed the remains of the meal, replacing the emptied platters with a bowl of fruit and a slab of ripe yellow cheese. When they had departed, and as Denethor and Boromir’s discussion passed on to recollections of Boromir’s first command, Faramir turned to the old man at his left and asked politely, “Lord Mithrandir, how long will you honor us with your presence?”
He was rewarded with a sharp glance from below the jutting white eyebrows. “That all depends,” came the reply. “I am not sure looking for a particular piece of information, rather to gain a greater sense of Gondor’s history, so I do not know how long it will take me to learn what I need.”
“May I help you?” asked Faramir, his heart beating more quickly at his own presumption. “Master Golasgil who teaches me has granted me tomorrow off, and I have looked through many of the old scrolls in my studies. Not that I know them so well as the archivist, but perhaps I might be of some use?”
“Hm, well, yes, you might be at that. And if we can arrange with your tutor about it, I would not object to having your assistance for the whole of my stay. You might learn a few things from me, after all, and he should properly be consulted.”
“What’s this?” interrupted Denethor. “Are you drawing my son into your plans, now, my lord Mithrandir?”
“Not at all, not at all. The lad merely volunteered his assistance in helping me find what I need among your dusty records. I would not take time from his studies without his tutor’s permission, nor from his arms practice either,” returned Mithrandir peaceably.
“His tutor’s permission, and mine. I must consider whether this would be a proper use of his time. Even my younger son may not idle about. And as for arms practice, Hallas says you’re improving,” Denethor turned a briefly approving look on Faramir, which melted away as he added, “but you still have much to learn. Perhaps you should watch your brother drill before he leaves. I’m sure he will be doing so, he has some new mail being made and will want to try it out. Is that not so, Boromir?”
“It is. I would be happy to have my brother watch, and even try a few blows with him, if he wishes,” Boromir grinned at his little brother.
“Oh please! That would be wonderful,” said Faramir. He loved to spar with his brother, though he knew he was badly overmatched. But Boromir seemed to enjoy teaching Faramir swordplay, and was a good instructor, patient and thorough in this as in all matters to do with fighting and war.
“But before that, we will visit the Hallows, of course,” added Boromir. “Shall we go an hour after dawn?”
Before Faramir could answer affirmatively, Denethor interjected, nodding to Boromir, “That would suit well, since I will be wanting you in the late morning to confer with some of the other lords and captains about your new ideas for fortifying Osgiliath.”
Faramir’s face fell, though he strove to conceal it. He had hoped for at least the whole morning with his brother, at the Hallows or elsewhere. But he knew Denethor could not be gainsaid on such a point.
“Certainly, Father,” he heard Boromir respond. “We shall return by mid-morning, I expect.”
As they rose from table, Mithrandir beckoned to Faramir. “As your brother will be unable to bear you company for all of tomorrow, perhaps you would like to begin assisting me? Denethor, if the lad has the day off in any case, surely you will not object?”
Denethor assented, though reluctance was clear in his demeanor.
Mithrandir continued, “Good. You can introduce me to your tutor, Faramir, and we can discuss what you might do.” With a glint in his eye he added, “I doubt your presence will yet be missed at council, though that may change.”
“Certainly I would be glad to help you, sir. Will you be in the muniments room? Do you know where that is?”
“Yes, come find me there when you and your brother return from your errand of respect. I know where it is, unless it has been moved these last fifty years,” said Mithrandir.
Faramir wondered a little at that statement, for Mithrandir looked a hale sixty or seventy at most. When, and why, could he have been looking through Gondor’s archives before? But he said, “I think not. Until tomorrow, then,” and bowed courteously. He turned to Boromir. “Are you ready to retire too?”
“Yes, I’ll walk with you to my rooms. Goodnight, Father. Goodnight, Lord Mithrandir.”
“Rest you both well,” returned Mithrandir, and Denethor said, “Goodnight, Faramir. It is good to have you home, Boromir.”
“Goodnight,” said Faramir, and quickly left the room.
As he and Boromir walked back along the stone hallway to their own chambers, he dared to voice his distress at losing Boromir’s time the next day.
“You’re here so little, I wished to speak with you longer. There are things...” he fumbled, not sure what he wanted to say.
A smile spread over Boromir’s face and he reached over to tousle Faramir’s hair affectionately. “Ah, I think I know what you mean. Do not worry, my brother, we will have time to talk. I expect I will here two or three days, not just one. Cirion, my second in command, is well enough on his own for the time being, and although I cannot wait for fresh troops from Dol Amroth, or Anfalas, whichever it may be, before I return, the talk about it is likely to require more than a single morning. I will need another day then to make my supply arrangements before I can depart.”
They had reached Faramir’s room and he grinned in relief. “That is good to hear. I will see you at the first hour after dawn, then. Rest you well, Boromir,” and he hugged his brother goodnight.
“And you,” said Boromir, as he continued down the passage.
Faramir closed the door behind him and pulled off his tunic thoughtfully. Was it clean still, or had he spilled gravy on it as he so often seemed to do? Deciding that the tunic was clean enough to wear again, he folded it into the chest and then put the rest of his garments aside for laundering.
He slid into his bed and thought back on the day. It had been a good one – praise from Hallas, a promise of a day off from Master Golasgil, the chance of many days working with the mysterious Mithrandir, and most important, the return of Boromir, if only for a little while.
He mused on that point. He loved and admired his brother greatly, but from his study of history with Golasgil, he was aware that such was not often the case, and that many younger brothers disliked and resented the elder.
Who was that, just before the Downfall of Númenor? he asked himself sleepily. I remember it was Tar-Palantir’s brother, and his son Pharazôn usurped the throne, but what was the brother’s name? He must have taught his son his own hatred. Oh yes, it was Gimilkhâd, that’s right. Well, Boromir has no cause to fear me. He has his strengths and I have mine. No one could want to follow a scrawny, unprepossessing figure like me when there is a great warrior like Boromir around, but he’s much better at leading men into battle than at worrying about the lives of ordinary people. He knows that is his duty, and he loves the idea of the greatness of Gondor and the glory of Minas Tirith, but he does not always see individuals as important. Not those he does not know himself, at any rate. So I will be there to remind him and guide him to remember the lowly as well as the strong.
I wonder, his thoughts drifted, I wonder if Father fears that I will prove to be like Gimilkhâd? Perhaps because he had no brother himself, he never seems to realize the ties that bind me to Boromir. After Mother died, he was the only person who understood how I felt, the only one I could speak to of my grief. Uncle Imrahil was kind, but he visited only rarely. Boromir was always there to ask for comfort.
He turned over in bed. And tomorrow I’ll ask him about those other things, as well. Father is not quite the person to talk to on these matters.
With that, Faramir drifted off to sleep.
As the pale light of dawn began to sift through the shutters, Faramir sat up with a start, wondering why it was that he was supposed to wake early. Then he remembered that he was to visit the Hallows that morning, with Boromir. He tumbled out of his bed and splashed water on his face from the basin on the table, then quickly rummaged in his chest for suitable clothes. While he was pulling on his best blue leggings, a knock sounded on the door.
“Little brother? Are you ready?” Boromir stuck his head into the room. “We can get some bread and cheese from the kitchens to break fast before we walk down, if you will.”
Nodding in agreement, Faramir followed him down the stairs.
They paused in the kitchens and coaxed fresh bread and soft white cheese from the yawning cook’s helper. Boromir drank watered wine with his meal, but insisted that Faramir have simple grape juice instead. “You’re not old enough yet to want wine,” he said, only half-jokingly. “When you’ve campaigned a few seasons, then you can have it.”
Faramir took a handful of dried figs as well, tucking them into his pocket. He always seemed to get hungry by midmorning these days. Boromir noticed this too, and clapped him on the shoulder, saying, “Eat up, Faramir, and you’ll be as tall as I am soon.”
“Maybe as tall, but I don’t think I’ll ever have your build,” said Faramir a bit enviously.
“Nonsense, you just don’t remember what I looked like at twelve, you were too young to really pay attention. I was nearly as gangly as you are.”
“Yes, but I’m fourteen already,” protested Faramir.
“It’s all the same. You take after Mother’s side of the family, they are all slower to reach their full height. Don’t worry, you’ll get there,” laughed Boromir. “Especially if you eat as much every day as you did at supper last night!”
Faramir looked down at his shoes in embarrassment. “Let us go, then, if you’re ready.”
Back up the stairs, they stepped out blinking into the bright early morning sun. Boromir led the way through the tunnel to the sixth level of the city. Once past the stables they began to walk along the road towards Fen Hollen, the door through which one reached Rath Dínen, the Silent Street which would lead them to the tomb of Finduilas. The porter at the gate bowed to Boromir, and unlocked it to let them pass into the walled way.
“Tell me something about Mother,” requested Faramir, as he usually did when the two of them made this journey. Her early death meant that his memories of her were few, if precious.
“She was beautiful, you know that from the portrait in Father’s room. But she seemed somehow sad much of the time. I did not understand why, then, but now I think that she missed her home in Dol Amroth greatly, and especially walking on the shore of the sea. I have heard that the Elves can experience what they call the ‘sea-longing,’ and perhaps Mother felt the same way. You know that long ago Imrazôr of Belfalas wedded the Elf-lady Mithrellas, and their son Galador was the first lord of Dol Amroth. So we carry a hint of the Elven-blood ourselves.”
“What do you remember best about her?” asked Faramir. “I remember her singing to me, and embracing me as she put me to bed, and telling me not to worry that I couldn’t keep up with you, that someday I would. She had such a scent to her perfume, somehow like the wind and the sea and the stars all together. At times I think I can smell it again, when I stand on the parapets in the cool of a late spring evening.”
“I, too,” said Boromir softly. “And in Ithilien, should you ever go there, you will notice a similar scent, but a greener one, more of the land than the sea.” He paused, then continued, “I remember her teaching me my letters when I was perhaps five, just before you were born. I was not as quick at my books as you are, you know, I always wanted to be outside running or wrestling or exploring the gardens and the city itself, but Mother was always very gentle and patient with me.”
Their conversation had brought them along Rath Dínen to the House of the Stewards, next to the House of the Kings and nearly as impressive. Faramir shivered slightly as they entered the cool dimness of the great chamber in which the carven marble figures of his forefathers lay, guarding the mortal remains beneath. The most ancient monuments were set nearest the front, and the brothers threaded their way through to where Finduilas rested.
“I think, Faramir, that Mother would have preferred to be laid to rest in the ground in the south of the land, where her parents were buried near the shore,” said Boromir quietly. “But Father preferred to hold to tradition and place her here.”
Faramir nodded slowly, but said, “Had he not done so, we would not now be able to pay our respects to her memory here. And surely it can matter little, since she is now beyond the bounds of Arda entirely.”
The two brothers remained for some time, sitting mostly in silent thought and the memory of beauty and kindness. At last Boromir rose.
“Come, Faramir, we had best depart now. I must go to meet with the council, and were you not to help lord Mithrandir?”
As they left the hall Faramir glanced back and sighed inwardly. For all his reluctance to visit alone, he still found this House a place of peace and comfort. But duty called, and a task he felt sure to enjoy, at that.
He looked over at Boromir, who seemed equally lost in thought, and to cheer him said, “Shall we race back? I’ve been doing rather well against the other boys, lately.”
Boromir came back to himself and chuckled. “And test Mother’s prediction for you, eh? Very well, but not until we are back in the city proper.”
After they returned through Fen Hollen, he said, “On your mark – set – go!”
They ran along the curving road and through the tunnel, surprisingly evenly matched. First one drew ahead, then the other. Putting on his last burst of speed, Faramir nearly caught Boromir at the door to the Steward’s House, but not quite.
“Whew, you have been improving,” Boromir panted. “Next time I imagine you’ll beat me, especially if you’re practicing with the others very often.”
Faramir grinned in delight. He had not really expected to do as well as this, and the praise warmed him.
“After that I had better tidy up before I see Father and the council. And so had you!” Boromir took the steps two at a time, Faramir following. He paused before the door of his room.
“We will meet this afternoon in the practice yard?” he asked.
“Surely,” Faramir assured him. “You promised to spar with me, remember?”
“Yes. I have a new move to teach you, if you’d like. Until this afternoon, then,” and Boromir went in through the doorway.
Faramir entered his own room to comb his hair and straighten his garments. He nibbled hastily on a fig as he hastened down the stairs towards the muniments room, where Mithrandir waited for him.
(1) Imrahil is not really young, in fact. His exact age is never known, but if he is the brother of Finduilas as I assume and is perhaps five years younger than she, he would be about 43 at the time of this story, which is about 25 years younger than Denethor.
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