10. Chapter 10: Brother
My chamber overlooked the city. Glancing out of the window I could see Minas Tirith falling gently towards the plain, the failing light painting the white stone a faded violet. Torches flickered at the gates and windows, a challenge to the darkness slowly rising.
The supper in the mess had not been cheerful. The food was simple, almost poor, and the Men spoke in guarded tones. The captain had not yet returned from speaking with his father, and in the air hung a sense of anguish, a strained waiting for something terrible to come to pass. The words exchanged were few, and uttered in a leaden voice. We had risen and gone to bed without wishing each other goodnight.
The hours slipped by insensibly, the night advanced without clamour. Carefully I opened my door, and in the silence of the evening I crossed the courtyard. I had overheard the soldier in charge of the barracks telling one of his aids where the room for the captain had been prepared, and now noiselessly, my shape a dark thing in the dark evening without stars, I waited for him to come back.
The shadow grew deeper, the flames of the torches brighter, ruby and blood in the black. When he arrived I did not speak, but I went by his side, letting my fingers intertwine with his gloved hand. He clasped them, but did not look at me, opening the door. Only when it closed behind us he turned, his eyes wide in the dark, his breath uneven. We sat on the edge of the bed, and for a long time he did not speak. Without asking I lingered by his side, caressing his face with light fingers, a long time spent in the dark, counted by the subdued rhythm of his heart. When they eventually came, his words were sudden, almost harsh.
"Elrond of Rivendell sent messages. A great danger looms ahead, a Council has been called in his hidden valley."
Never had Faramir been one for shirking danger. I had come to know him closely, I had seen in him a desire for his valour to be acknowledged. He would have offered himself willingly for such a quest.
"The Steward did not desire you to go."
He rose. The restlessness in his movements was my answer.
"Few uses have I ever had in his eyes, and yet in this moment, when the White Tower needs her strongest captain most, he sends my brother rather than me. He whose loss this city could never bear…"
I rose myself and went to him, taking his face in my hands.
"Every life lost is unbearable to some, few are to many. And yet the Rangers would cry were you lost on the perilous road to the Imladris." I caressed him lightly now, trying to find words for what could not be said. "I would cry."
He kissed me, gentle and desperate at the same time, his hands trailing across my back, wildfire through the cloth of my tunic. Elves feel desire, and in us it is more durable than in Men, and slower to fade. Strong are the bonds of our spirit over our flesh, and we can control it well; but the urgency that streaked his human need for me was like a fever, an infection through my veins I found it hard to resist. Struggling to regain control I detached my mouth from his, our breathing matched in its faltering music.
"Forgive me," he whispered, "I should have been more careful."
"Do not trouble yourself. Not now. It takes two wills, two equal passions to take such a road. I am not blameless."
Taking his hand I led him back to the bed, and there we sat. He let his head rest against my shoulder.
"Sometimes I ask myself whether this be a dream. When I first saw you I thought I had stumbled into legend by mistake. And yet you are real, and you chose to stay. When rage assails me for such matters as that of honour bestowed or not I feel unworthy of such a gift."
Guilt stung my heart, and my voice was thick as I uttered my answer.
"Do not speak so. I am no one of importance, an archer and a maiden in the ranks of my people, that is the most numerous and the most obscure among the Eldar. Scarce has been our renown in legends, and in truth we never cared for it. Our fight has been perpetual, but devoid of glory, fought in stealth and secrecy without the thrill of the battlefield and the charge that inspire poets. And I have broken faith and word; my heart is not without stain." I took his face in my hands once again, stroking his nose with mine. "Desire of renown, and to see pride in the eyes of a lord, especially when that lord is also a father, is no such thing as to prove a man unworthy. Your brother is a great captain of Men, and yet his talent lies not in such errands. I daresay he wished to refuse your father, and send you in his stead."
Faramir straightened, his words almost a sigh.
"You speak the truth. Boromir's only desire is to ever remain to fight for the Tower of Guard. He always cared nothing for councils and words, and perhaps he was right. Long we discussed the matter, but our father would not yield. He shall leave tomorrow, as we make our way back."
Leaving the dead life of stone so soon was a prize unsought for. I concealed my joy, and sought once again to soothe Faramir's grief.
"I have seen your father, and he is a great lord of Men. Kingly is his bearing and his speech, and yet I can see that as all of this city he is himself consumed in his strife against the Shadow. Ill-judgment may come even upon the wisest in times of great evil, and great tiredness, and great haste."
But Faramir shook his head, and his voice was full of sadness when he answered: "The lord my father does not change through the years, but remains ever faithful to his judgment and resolve of the past. His opinion of me was fixed long ago."
Resignation filled his words, as if he were speaking of a fact long-acknowledged, against which all strife was futile, a whim of the moment more than a reasonable thing. Against such sorrow as came from his past I was powerless. We lay down in each other's arms, and he caressed my hair; I did not leave but when his heart had slowed down in the numbing mists of sleep, and all tension had left his tired muscles. And yet I perceived that there was unhappiness even in his dreams, and that the cloak of his melancholy lay ever thicker on him.
I rose noiselessly, and slipped away.
The courtyard was still, the lightest breeze alone moved the fiery plume of the torches in a slow dance. I glanced overhead, but the stars remained hidden behind a black mantle of clouds. As I reached my door my sharpened senses perceived an alien presence, and opening it carefully I asked of the darkness inside who was there.
"Fear not, Elvish maiden. It is only me."
"Well found, Boromir, son of Denethor. Late is the hour when you come seeking me."
"It was not so late when I arrived, but you were not here. Are you coming back from Faramir's?" Before I could answer, or decline to do so, he laughed. "No, that is indeed not my right to ask. And even if it were, I would not. Too long has my brother been alone, while loneliness does not become him."
"I have taken the only seat, I am afraid. Here, sit, for I wish to speak with you of many things. I am not a man who seeks counsel often, but tonight I am doing it."
"When two are speaking it is befitting that two should also sit. I shall take the bed. Now tell me, captain of Gondor, is it about your quest that you come to me?"
There was a brief silence. When he resumed talking, his words were brisk.
"I see you already know. I guess then my brother also told you that this was an errand that should have fallen upon him."
"He did. But for you he had no reproach."
"No. There was never strife between us, and I have always done what I could to make him safe."
"I believe it."
He knew mine were not vain words, and he paused a moment, as if considering them.
"Somehow, you speak the truth. And in the end the tales often say that the Elves are gifted with fine insight."
"But not foreboding; not all of us, at least. If you came to seek my advice because you thought I could see into the future, than you came in vain. A great Shadow comes, and a war is near, but this your heart knows as well as mine."
He rose and paced back and forth, nervously.
"That was my secret hope, I will not deny it. And yet something else I also wanted to ask of you: the road to Imladris."
Although in the dark, I shook my head. It grieved me not to be able to bring him help, but I could not do otherwise.
"The only thing I can tell you is that you will find it West of the Misty Mountains, close to the river Bruinen. More I do not know. It is the High Elves that built it, and their magic that guards it. I could find it if I went looking for it, for to our kin it is a haven always open; but directions I cannot give you. There are stories I've heard, here and in the North, but nothing more than this."
"Then such is my destiny! To go chasing a shadow, answering to summons whose authority I cannot accept, without even knowing where to direct my steps! And all this why my city hangs on the deadliest of peril! All of this for the sake – "
Here he brusquely stopped speaking, as if he had said too much. I guessed that he was hiding something from me, and that that something lay heavy on his conscience, and preyed on his mind. But asking would have been vain. His silence had a quality of stubbornness I had often recognized in myself.
"Fear not, captain. Because Lord Elrond calls you, you shall find what you look for. And your city shall not remain unguarded."
"I know. And yet I fear that my father may not recognize where safety and salvation lie."
The silence that followed his words was deep, but full of an ancient sorrow. When I broke it I trod lightly, knowing I was looking into a painful place.
"And yet the Steward loves his sons, both of them. That he cannot show it is as much a sign of the corruption of these times as of the flaws of his spirit."
"You speak well, Elvish maiden. And yet you know not of what you speak. Before today I had never seen one of your kind, and now wonder fills me, but also mistrust. You look too deep into things that do not concern you."
I did not heed his words, but rather the feeling behind them, the unspoken question that he now asked.
"These things have concerned me from the moment I have chosen to remain. The future is dark, and frail, as if carved into sand, and I have learnt that no promises can be built on it; but I promise to you now that for what it is in my power to do I shall watch over your brother. I will not leave his side."
A silence, and then a murmur. "It comforts me beyond words. I love my city and I love my father, but more than both I love my brother. Now I leave, and a darkness is in my mind, and I know not whether I shall return. But I accept your word, Elvish maiden, although I may not understand you fully."
"Fear not," I repeated, "For I can see you have strength in you, a strength different from that of army and sword. I wish you may see it before the end."
I went close to him, and touched lightly his shoulder. Now he rose, and without adding a word, he left. I remained alone in the empty room, the darkness around me a silky drape.
The next morning at dawn Faramir led us out of the city. Outside the gate he took his leave of Boromir. They did not embrace again, but exchanged a few words while we others stood aside. Then our captain joined us, and without looking back he urged his horse South. As the Rangers started on a gallop I turned, and saw the eldest son of Denethor motionless on the road leading West, his green eyes fixed on me, in them a mute demand. I nodded, on my face a decision I hoped he would see. Then I spurred my horse forward, and Boromir began his long journey.
Denethor had not come out of his citadel to watch us leave.
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