1. Beyond the Measure of Dreams
The Third Age
Autumn came to Gondor. In the regions where the seasonal frost brushed over the land, much of the foliage was set ablaze in fiery arrays of red and gold. Mild days were complimented by chilly nights and, as it had been during the summer, the air was clean and invigorating, for no longer did a foul, black haze, or a deadly, poisonous fume ride the drafts from Mordor. No longer did the free people of Middle Earth live in constant fear of the shadow and threat that was Sauron's evil. For those who had survived the war against that darkness, peace was, at last, no longer a fleeting dream. For one man in particular, it went beyond the measure of dreams alone. But for another, it was a journey not fully completed.
Midmorning on a clear day in late October, cirrus clouds passed over Emyn Arnen, spreading like the tails of mares galloping in the wind. On the crest of a high hill, Faramir, Steward six months now to King Elessar, rode out of the shadows from a copse of trees. He brought his horse to an easy halt and dismounted. Since the previous morning, he and his brother had been tracking an elusive stag. For a time they even joked that perhaps the animal was the mysterious White Stag, a creature they had heard stories of when they were children. Legend told that it possessed magical powers --- especially for those who had lost their way. But, with Faramir's keen knowledge as a Ranger, he and Boromir were hardly ignorant of their bearings in these hills and woods.
Presently, Faramir's bay mare nudged her black, velvety nose against his shoulder. She nickered softly as he scratched at a particularly favourite area between her eyes, then tousled her forelock before leading her forward.
A few paces ahead, his brother climbed from his own mount and as Faramir watched, Boromir crouched in the soft grass, the braided leather reigns of his dun gelding held loosely in his hands as he gazed out at the panoramic view of the lands they called home. Faramir knew all too well that Boromir had not thought to see Gondor again, for surely, it was nothing short of a miracle that he had survived the wounds he had suffered at Amon Hen. Not for the first time, Faramir recalled his utter disbelief --- in fact, the utter disbelief of the entire city --- at seeing his beloved brother again…
It had been the morning of Lithe Day, the first of July, nearly a year to the day since he had departed for Rivendell at his father's behest, when Boromir returned to Minas Tirith. Riding from Lórien with the party of the Elven princess, Arwen Undómiel, no one in The White City recognized him until, in the courtyard of the Citadel, he let the hood of his lightweight cloak fall to his shoulders. At that moment, Faramir's shock was beyond overwhelming. 'Valar!' he prayed in silent desperation, 'do not let me be dreaming.'
Grabbing Boromir by the shoulders and dragging him to the ground, Faramir beseeched his brother, "Tell me that I am not gone mad!" Tears tracked down his face, and his voice shuddered with barely controlled emotion. "Long have I been haunted by a cold night in February," he cried out, " I…I saw a boat of Elvish design. It bore your body on the southward current of the Anduin. Since then, not a day has passed that I do not wonder if I had been asleep or awake. Tell me that you are no spectre from a foul nightmare. Tell me, Boromir, that this is not some cruel mischief played upon us by the gods. Tell me, in truth, I beg of you, that you do appear before me now, alive!"
Boromir's tears spilled too as he embraced Faramir tightly, swearing to him that he was not mad, and that the brother before him was no spirit. Then, in the same manner that he had soothed Faramir's fears when they were boys, Boromir stood and raised Faramir up with him. With all the self-assuredness he commanded, he smiled. "I am here, little brother." He laughed, through his own tears of joy, and declared, "If the Valar have played a joke, then is it not one we can live with?"
Those words seemed to whisper against Faramir's ears as the breeze rose a little stronger over the hilltop. He could not help but share his brother's infectious smile and laughter that day and in the ensuing months since their reunion. Nevertheless, he could also see how much Boromir had changed during his time away. While he was still the same practical commander, the same taskmaster to duty he had always been, he was more introspective than ever before. Faramir was especially surprised to discover that Boromir had taken new interest in certain histories and lore, for which he had only displayed a passing curiosity before --- except, of course, when indulging a little brother's avid fascination. Clearly, Boromir was glad to be home, of that Faramir had no doubt. He was honoured to take up his post as Gondor's Captain-General once more and as such, was proud to serve on Aragorn's council. He was also, now that Denethor was gone, head of the House of Húrin, a status that gave him further rank. And yet, despite his outward contentment, a heavy sorrow lingered within him, a regret and a horror that Faramir knew was linked to the events at Amon Hen. It made Faramir sad beyond words that, despite Frodo's sincere forgiveness, Boromir's heart was burdened with a guilt and shame that haunted him still. Would he ever allow himself to be free of it? Would he, Faramir often wondered, ever truly come home?
The sound of trumpets, carried on the wind from miles away, drew Faramir's thoughts in yet another direction. Who would ever have expected that he, and not Boromir, would be Steward of Gondor? Who would ever have expected that he, a second son, would be wed to a princess, especially one whose beauty matched her courage and kindness? A year ago, Faramir would not have dared to dream that his life would take such a course.
The echoing of the horns faded into the wind. Faramir's mare gave him another nudge, as if to say he should let such heavy thoughts fade away too. Smiling, he ran his palm under her jaw and gave her a pat, then dropped the reigns to let her graze beside the gelding. Not one to interrupt his brother's thoughts, Faramir sat beside him and gazed at the view.
In the distance was Minas Tirith, and on a day such as this, the sons of Denethor II could even see the Pelennor Fields. After the coronation of King Elessar, many of the farmers and herdsman who had taken refuge in the White City during the war, had returned and brought that fertile land back to life. Dotting the gentle, rolling plain, so long deserted until a few months ago, were cottages and livestock sheds. Some were newly built, while others rose from the ruins of those all but destroyed in the war. Stone fences set off rich grazing pastures from cultivated fields. Yet one area stood barren: the scorched patch of earth where the Witch King's foul beast had been slain and its carcass later set ablaze. Nearby another portion of ground lay untouched. Covered in deep green grass and dappled with white symbelmynë that grew throughout the seasons, it marked the burial site of the courageous and loyal steed of Rohan's fallen king, Théoden.
Faramir and Boromir could also see the sparkling, silver-blue waters of Anduin the Great curving below them. The river stretched and turned as it meandered southward. Along its shores, at The Harlond, a few ships were moored to the docks. From one, goods and livestock were being unloaded. But it was another vessel that drew the attention of the brothers. Faramir shared Boromir's smile, for they instantly recognized the gilded banner displaying a ship and a silver swan. It swayed and snapped in the breeze high atop the main mast. Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, uncle to Denethor's sons, had arrived with his family. It had been their entrance into the city that the trumpets had heralded. Although Imrahil had been no stranger to Minas Tirith these many months past, this was the first such visit his family would be making there since Aragorn had been crowned King. They would remain in residence, in a private house on the sixth circle of the city, until after the turn of the year; the celebration of Yestarë would be the first Boromir and Faramir would spend with their uncle and cousins in a long time.
"It will be good to see them again," Faramir quietly remarked. This was a peaceful day, one like neither brother had enjoyed since before Faramir's assignment as Captain of the Rangers in Ithilien years before; even then, such happy moments were clouded by the knowledge that either of them could fall in battle, or even more horrible, be taken prisoner by Orcs --- a fate, by far, worse than death.
Boromir bowed his head briefly. Without doubt, he was glad at heart for the peace that had been so long in coming to Gondor, yet, his pleasure was tempered by remembrance of the many --- his father included--- who had not lived to see it. "It is good, indeed, to be alive," he said respectfully. "Let us pray that peace will be long-lasting."
Both men knew well that Aragorn's brilliant negotiations with the Harad and the Easterlings had opened an avenue for trade and goodwill between Gondor and her former enemies. Relations, though fragile, were fairly amicable and optimistic, yet none were so naïve as to forget that, should any friction arise along the borders, such a fledgling peace would crumble like stale bread to the misfortune of all.
"Pray too," Faramir added in quiet introspection, "that such Evil as Sauron created will never be forged again."
An unsettling shiver crawled up Boromir's spine. He cast a poignant expression toward his brother and then quickly turned his head away, as if in doing so he could drive away the memory of the Ring. For weeks during his journey from Rivendell it had preyed on him sadistically, whispered false promises in his mind, enticed him with his most precious dreams of a homeland that was green and alive and, above all, free. At first, he resisted its temptations, knowing they were false, but like a fiend, it fed greedily on his love and loyalty for his people and country. But no matter how hard he fought, the Ring chiselled away at him, bit by bit, until finally the last of Boromir's strained defences succumbed entirely. And in that ghastly moment, in its vile, hungry need to use him as a means to return to its maker, the Ring had caused Boromir to do the unthinkable: attack an innocent and a friend.
Before he could stop it, the memory of that horrific and devastating day at Amon Hen rose like bitter bile in Boromir's throat. Icy fingers wrenched his breath away and clamped upon his heart. The wounds he'd suffered from Orc arrows, though healed for months now, flared anew with terrible aching. Overcome with sickness in body and in soul, Boromir reeled. One hand braced on the ground, the other covered his eyes as the nightmarish memory overtook him. "Frodo! I'm sorry!" Another cold shiver rattled him and he collapsed to curl on one side. He could not vanquish the haunting memory of his shameless desire, twisted with hatred and greed as he had grabbed for Frodo that horrible day. He would have killed the Hobbit to gain possession of the Ring, so completely spellbound was he by the abominable thing's overwhelming power.
" Boromir!" Faramir shook him by the shoulders and called desperately for the second time. His intense bond to his brother bestowed Faramir a unique, yet painful, knowledge of the unbearable memory that held the man hostage. He noticed his brother's pallor and liked it not at all. Fearful that the memory would not release Boromir, he shook him again, then breathed in relief when the man's eyes finally focused on him. "I am sorry," Faramir whispered. "I should not have spoken of the Ring, nor of the Dark Lord. Forgive me, brother."
In a quavering voice, Boromir assured him that no apology was necessary; that he knew he had not meant to bring the memory down upon him. "My reflections are my own fault." Full of shame, he turned away. "I am not the man I was when our father sent me to Rivendell."
"'Tis true," Faramir told him, "You are not the same. And yet, despite everything, I know for certain that the brother I rejoiced with on that victorious day in Osgiliath has not disappeared. If anything, he is more insightful than ever he was before then."
A dry, derisive laugh escaped Boromir. Wearily, he shook his head. "Your vision betrays you. You see me only with the adoration of a little brother."
As he had so often done since Boromir's return, Faramir prayed to the Valar, asking that they aid Boromir to completely overcome his demons. To undo his brother's actions at Amon Hen, Faramir would gladly have given his very soul to the gods if they would but take it. "The shame you place on yourself," he nearly wept, "is unwarranted."
"Is it?" Boromir remarked harshly. His thoughts travelled back to that day in Osgiliath. He saw again the anxious look on Denethor's face, heard the desperation in the man's voice: "You must go to Rivendell. Bring me back this mighty gift!" He looked now at Faramir. "Father said I was strong." One hand covered his eyes as his body shook on a sobbing breath. "Had I the strength he believed me to possess, he would surely be alive now, and know the peace that has come to Gondor as we do."
"No man could have resisted the power of the Ring!"
Boromir risked a glance at Faramir. "You did," he observed without accusation. "Would that my failings were merely the subject of a foul dream," he rasped. He got no reply from the younger man, but felt his sympathy all the same and damned himself for actually welcoming it. In his shame, his gaze fell once more to the ground. "If only it was a dream."
"Aye, brother. But it is not." The words, spoken barely above a whisper, held no animosity, no scorn. They held only compassion and insight.
And just as his brother had done for him when they were children, Faramir now held Boromir close and warded off his fear --- if only for a time. Wistful tears welled unbidden in Faramir's sea-grey eyes and he let them fall.
Like an ebbing tide, the sickness and pain that had come over Boromir passed. Eventually, they were able to resume the hunt for the elusive stag.
The afternoon sun grew warm and for a long time the two brothers tracked the animal they had searched so hard to find. Faramir marvelled that Boromir's skills at tracking differed so much from those he remembered years ago. He walked the forest floor more as a Ranger, or even, he surmised, an Elf, making no sound and stirring no leaf. But, knowing the full details of Boromir's survival, as others did not, Faramir was not surprised.
Several times they had come very close to their quarry, only to have it disappear, wraithlike, into the shadows. Tired and nearly exhausted, Faramir was about to suggest they quit the hunt, for they had long ago left their horses miles behind. A growing suspicion caused him to believe that the stag was leading them, drawing them deeper into the forest for a secret purpose of which only it was aware. Having been a Ranger, he should have recognized every group of boulders, every bend in the brooks, every gully and wash and tree, and yet, he realized that they had come to an area with which he was wholly unfamiliar. The sudden knowledge that he and his brother were lost troubled him greatly, but saying as much to Boromir proved to no avail; the man was driven and seemed not even to hear him. As if summoned, Boromir followed the elusive animal over rocky outcroppings, through heavy brush, down precarious ravines and across frigid streams as the stag remained only just out of sight.
Finally, near a wide curve along a shaded brook, Boromir suddenly halted. He filled his lungs with a long, deep breath as he nocked an arrow and drew his bow. Not twenty yards away, the stag stood still as a statue, its red coat blending with the foliage. Anxious and hardly breathing, Faramir watched and waited for his brother to take the shot. Then suddenly, the beams of sunlight that filtered through the fiery canopy of the trees grew so bright that they nearly blinded both men before a shadow passed overhead. With it, the forest became unnaturally still and quiet. A white mist swirled up from the water and when the two men could finally see into it, they saw not the animal they had tracked, but the White Stag. Its beauty was like nothing else they had ever seen. Larger than a normal stag, its majestic rack of antlers sported over a dozen points, all of which shone like Mithril in the light of a full moon. With the bowstring drawn even with his right ear, Boromir held his breath as he took aim. Silently, he cursed the tremulous shaking in his left arm, set his jaw firmly against the growing, ragged pain of scar tissue that pulled against his left shoulder, upper chest and side. He was about to let the arrow fly when the animal unexpectedly turned its head and looked directly at him; its eyes were the clearest blue he had seen since…
So strong was the integrity and innocence in the creature that Boromir saw its very form change.
He did not fight the stab of memory that clutched him. At this moment, this strange and mesmerizing creature looked at him with complete understanding and total forgiveness. The moment seemed timeless. Transfixed, Boromir stood, poised to kill. Or proffer mercy. As the realization struck that either choice was not meant for this remarkable being, but for him, he nearly sobbed.
Then the creature spoke in his mind. It spoke with a Hobbit's voice. "See me, Son of Gondor. Look close and choose your journey's end."
Boromir let his breath out raggedly, and tears glazed his vision. All his attention was fixed on the surreal blue eyes staring at him. The image of Frodo blurred, replaced by a vision of what would have happened had he in fact taken the Ring…
Frodo lay on the ground before him. It was unfortunate. But then, what was the life of one Hobbit compared to all the lives in Gondor who depended on the Steward's heir to save them from Sauron's tyranny and evil? Lives were sometimes forfeit, and Boromir had seen many sacrifices made during his years as a soldier. "I'm sorry Frodo," he said as he bent over the lifeless body and tenderly stroked the matted hair from those wide, staring blue eyes. A shiver took him and the Ring's voice spoke in his mind. It was time to go. Time to leave the company of the Fellowship. Alone, with no one to hinder him, he could make his way along the river, find another boat and be in Gondor in only a matter of days. But he must hurry. For if Sauron's minions did not find him first, Aragorn would waste no time tracking him…especially once Frodo's fate had been discovered. In desperation he set his mind to going home.
The silver trumpets hailed the Captain-General of Gondor's armies home. High atop the towers, the banners snapped in the morning breeze. The cheering crowds surrounded him, threw flowers at his feet as he passed from one terrace of the city to the next, making his way to the Citadel. Boromir, the favourite son of Gondor, had come home! Hope was not lost. Seeing their expectant faces, he promised his people victory in the fight against Sauron. He promised them that peace would come to Gondor. And the people cheered even more, many driven to tears, so relieved and believing were they of his words. A few touched their tearstained faces to his sleeves and in those moments, Boromir recalled something he had said in Rivendell, "Gondor has no king. Gondor needs no king."
In the Great Hall, Boromir presented his father with the 'mighty gift' that he had been sent to obtain. He said nothing of how he had gotten it. But when he looked over his shoulder at Faramir, who stood forlorn and distraught in the shadows, Boromir felt certain that his brother knew. The Ring spoke to Boromir; it assured him that once Gondor was safe and the people free of the evil from Mordor, Faramir would understand. Faramir, it promised, would forgive Boromir's sins.
No sins were forgiven.
Gondor was never free.
The Ring kept no promises. It only betrayed.
Too late, Denethor was driven into complete madness by the dark power of the Ring. Boromir stood in front the crumbling remains of the Citadel. His beloved city utterly destroyed; the walls that had once shone like pearls in the sun's light were black with ruin. Save for the constant buzzing of flies, an eerie silence enveloped Minas Tirith. The sickening stench of death mixed with the smoke of lingering fires, choking the air. Dazed, Boromir gagged as he stumbled and slipped through the charred and fetid remains of people and Orcs alike. His stomach was still churning when, at last, he came to the wreckage of the Great Gates. Standing alone, his armour and sword dark with blood, his face and hair matted with sweat and filth, he raised his tearstained face to witness the fruition of his sins. There, before the gates, their bloodstained bodies impaled upon crude iron pikes, were his father and brother. Their eyes stared skyward, cold and empty. Boromir retched again; he baulked, staggered backward and fell amongst the steaming, foul carnage that lay all around him. He cried aloud, shattering the eerie silence, as his brother's eyes suddenly looked down upon him, a single tear tracking over a split cheekbone. The voice that spoke was as gentle as it had been in life and asked but one thing…
The vision stripped away from Boromir's mind. His heart hammered against his breast. He could not stop the trembling in his limbs, nor the shaking of his breath. He blinked hard from the tears stinging hot in his eyes, when suddenly the bright light that still surrounded the White Stag flashed brighter before it disappeared. All was unnaturally silent. No leaf rustled in the air. No insect or bird made noise. Even the water in the brook made no sound, though the current had not gone still. It was then that Boromir realized the haunting pain from the wounds that he had suffered at Amon Hen were gone. Gone too, was the shame and guilt that he harboured from his actions that day --- actions he now understood were meant to happen in order for the Ring to be destroyed.
Just yards in front of Boromir, the White Stag stood steady, watching him through large, liquid blue eyes. Slowly its lashes lowered and it looked away. Then, in one effortless leap, it landed on the opposite bank and bounded away, swallowed in the ethereal, dissipating mist.
Boromir's shot purposely went wild. The arrow zipped through the silent air, and a low hanging branch over the stream snapped. It spiralled, like a falling feather, into the water below.
And the forest came back to life.
Pale and shaken, Boromir stared in the direction the White Stag had taken. So profound were the images that it had given him, he was unable to move until he felt a hand upon his shoulder. He gasped at the unexpected touch and nearly lost his balance as he shifted his weight to turn around.
Faramir, fearing that his brother was feeling the ghost pains of his wounds, caught him and braced his weight against his own, preventing him from falling to the ground. Easing him to sit, he crouched beside him. Uncountable questions scrambled through his mind. What had they witnessed? Had it been a dream? A hoax? A joke played on them by the gods?
Before Faramir could speak, his brother seemed to read his thoughts and laid a reassuring hand on his arm.
Boromir looked at him with a smile as gentle as a breeze over still water. "If this is a joke played on us by the Valar, then it is one we can live with."
The tone of Boromir's voice, coupled with the expression on his face was all Faramir needed to lay his fears for his brother to rest.
No more did they speak of what had occurred for it was enough that what had happened simply was.
They found the familiar landmarks that had never really disappeared and walked in silence until they returned to where their horses had been safely tethered. Faramir placed his saddle on his mare's back and tightened the cinch. "How do we explain coming back to Minas Tirith empty handed?" he asked.
Boromir shrugged nonchalantly. "You are the King's Steward. I am Gondor's Captain-General. We owe no explanation to anyone."
Faramir's mouth dropped open; Éowyn, especially, would be asking why they had returned from two days hunting with nothing to show for it --- particularly since they had boasted of bringing back venison.
"Very well," Boromir acquiesced. "We simply tell the truth."
Boromir read the question in Faramir's eyes. Indeed the actual truth would be hard to explain. "Aye. The truth. My aim was off. "
But Faramir was still in such awe of what had transpired, that he could only laugh. "No one will believe that! You have always been an excellent shot."
Offhandedly, Boromir rolled his left shoulder to ease the stiffness as he finished saddling his own horse. He flashed a brilliant smile. "I am an excellent shot. But I have never been a match against your skills. While no one would believe that you came back with no prize for our efforts these past two days," he explained, "they will believe it of me."
"Come now, Faramir," Boromir interrupted. "Set aside your humility and enjoy the fact that all Gondor hails you as its finest archer." That Faramir ignored the compliment did not surprise Boromir, for while he himself sometimes enjoyed boasting amiably about his skills with weapons, Faramir was always modest about his own. Anticipating the protest he knew his brother was about to offer, Boromir held up a staying hand. "It is not open for debate, and neither is the explanation we will give our friends and family tonight." Casually, he took the water skin from where it rested against his side, squeezed out a greedy mouthful, then swiped his mouth on his sleeve before passing the skin to Faramir. He flashed another smile. "As head of our house, my word is final. I say that my aim was bad and that is the end of the matter."
"Bad aim indeed," Faramir snorted as he climbed into his saddle. "However, as your mind is ever a rock too heavy to move, I will relent. If you say your aim was bad, then we let it stand."
Boromir slung his bow over one shoulder. He mounted his horse and nudged it into an easy trot. "I'll wager," he jested as Faramir caught up with him, "that your lady wife will not be happy. She did have her heart set on having a fine supper of venison served tonight."
"Aye." Faramir's answer was intentionally flat. He waited a moment and then let a grin stretch across his features. "However, Éowyn, loving me as she does, will only be out of sorts with me for a short time. You, on the other hand, being such a 'bad shot', will suffer her complete ire and uncompromising ridicule for the entire evening."
Boromir abruptly reined in his gelding. His smile faded completely. "I cannot wait until breakfast."
Faramir began to laugh and Boromir could not help but join in. As they rode, they heard, once again, the sound of trumpets drifting on the gentle breeze from the West. The two brothers exchanged smiles and turned their horses in the direction of the sounds, both anxious to see the banners and the walls of their beloved city.
Boromir rode close beside Faramir. Unclouded by fear and doubt, free of guilt and shame, he knew now, with absolute certainty, that he was exactly where he longed to be. He was finally home.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.