A sequel to Isabeau's story Noble Jewel. Also connecting up with our story arc Best-Loved Son, co-written with Dwimordene. Happy extremely belated birthday, Isabeau!
Minas Tirith, March 3020
My love, forgive this very hasty end to my letter. I had hoped to give you more news from Ithilien, but the pages before this one (several, I see now) will have to suffice. A matter has arisen which will take me away from the City for a few weeks.
A letter came at the start of the week from my uncle in Dol Amroth, and it contained strange news. To put the matter plainly – his armsmaster, Andrahar, whom you met here in the City, believes he has found a young boy who may be my brother’s son. My uncle, having seen the boy (who is, I understand, twelve years of age), writes that he too believes that this is Boromir’s son.
I told you at Edoras how it stood between my brother and Andrahar. My heart tells me that in his loss, Andrahar has found this boy, that there is some likeness to my brother there, and that he seeks to ease his sorrow in this way. I cannot find it in me to blame him.
My uncle’s certainty is less easy to explain. He writes that the boy shows a resemblance to my brother; that is not proof in itself – but he writes also that the boy has dreamt of the Wave, of which we have spoken in the past. But this, to my mind, is also not proof. I fear my uncle does not wish to dash Andrahar’s hopes too cruelly, but the matter is now complicated in that he has chosen to tell the boy his parentage. I might wish he had consulted me first, but the deed is now done.
It is for this matter that I make the journey to Dol Amroth, in the hope of settling the matter once and for all. If the lad does turn out to be my brother’s son, then I have duties towards him as his nearest kin – not least because I am, as yet, without an heir. Although I am loath to leave both the City and Ithilien at this time, the King has urged me to see this matter resolved, and certainly before our wedding.
I leave for Dol Amroth once the new year has come, and will be there at most a fortnight. Beloved, I would ask you, please, to write to me, so that a letter reaches me here in the City on my return. If the boy indeed turns out to be my brother’s son, it may well be that he will have to come to Minas Tirith. I would hear your thoughts on this.
Éowyn, I count the days until you are beside me. Despite the peace, despite my joy in there being a King and Queen in Gondor once again, your absence from me has been a sore trial. Forgive my haste in closing this letter, but let me say it plainly – I miss you, I love you, I am –
Belfalas, April 3020
The night was cloudless and the Sea calm. Fair Ithil hung high and full in the western sky, trailing a silver path out across the water. All along the line of the bay the lanterns were glowing; at the far side, a beacon marked the point of the headland, guiding the traveller home. The wind rose, and the Sea whispered a welcome.
The town too was lit in the night, all the way up the hill, with the castle in splendour at the crown. Reaching the top, a horseman passed through the last gates and clattered across the cobbles of the courtyard. As he drew to a halt, another man hastened from the hall to greet him. Barely had the horseman dismounted when he was drawn into an embrace – and then he was held a little distant, whilst the other studied his face. He waited patiently, smiling back, indulging the inspection.
“Faramir,” Imrahil said, at last, and warmly. “It is good to have you here again.”
“And I am glad to be back,” Faramir said, grasping his uncle’s arm.
“Come inside, son! All the family is waiting to see you—”
Faramir frowned and halted. “All the family? Has Chiron returned?”
There was the merest breath of a pause, and then: “No,” Imrahil said.
“Has there been any word—?”
“Not yet – But come now, Faramir!” Imrahil patted his nephew’s arm and smiled. “We shall not speak of that this evening! Let us welcome you home first!”
They made their way inside; each of them, perhaps, a little lost in thought. After only a few steps, Faramir halted. “Uncle – will the boy be here tonight?”
“Not tonight,” Imrahil said, drawing him further in. “It’s late. And the children wished to have you to themselves. You can meet him in the morning.”
Dinner was a cheerful affair, as the family welcomed Faramir back amongst them, but some absences could not help but be felt. Imrahil, looking at the family he had gathered there, found that his thoughts strayed often to his second son; Faramir, too, was a little preoccupied, thinking no doubt of the boy that was not present. After dinner, Imrahil took a bottle of brandy and drew his nephew into a private parlour.
“You’re troubled, son,” he said, as he filled their glasses. “About meeting Brand, I should think?”
“In part,” Faramir admitted. “But I am uneasy in my mind as to whether this boy is indeed my brother’s.”
“I understand,” Imrahil soothed. “My own first thought was that Andra had seen a boy with some resemblance to your brother, and had convinced himself that he was Boromir’s son—”
“Yes,” Faramir murmured, “that had crossed my mind also.”
“But once I saw Brand myself—”
“Yet many of Númenorean descent pass through Pelargir,” Faramir pointed out. “And also through its brothels.”
“Not all of them carrying handkerchiefs sewn by Nimrien—” Imrahil raised his hand when he saw Faramir begin to shake his head, “—and not all of whom could pass on through their blood the dream of the Wave. Faramir, I am sure that this is your brother’s son.”
“And yet these are not whole proofs. And I am afraid, too, that you may have let your heart overrule your judgement in this.”
“Oh yes?” Imrahil raised an eyebrow and sipped at his brandy. “In what way?”
“By being unwilling to dash Andrahar’s hopes – but there is more than Andra riding on this. What if when I meet this boy tomorrow I cannot in good faith acknowledge him as Boromir’s son? Where will he stand then?”
“Faramir, you are creating difficulties for yourself where there are none. I am sure; Andra himself is sure enough to have made Brand his heir! Surely all these things must convince you?”
“His heir?” Faramir frowned and bit at his lip. He stared down into his glass for a while, and then drained it. “You wrote in your letter that the boy’s mother has a ‘brood’ of children.”
“Yes, indeed; four more, if I recall correctly.”
“Four?” Faramir pursed his lips. “My line expands by the second. Tell me – does Andra mean to adopt any more of them?”
“Faramir!” Imrahil looked at his nephew in surprise, and Faramir looked back unrepentantly. Dissent was rife in the ranks at the moment, Imrahil thought. They sat for a while in silence, and then Imrahil reached across to fill his nephew’s glass. “Give me some credit – I would not have told him if I had not been certain.”
Faramir stared down into the glass for a while, and then he sighed. “I’m sure you did what you thought was best,” he said. “But... perhaps you might have waited to hear my thoughts first. And Éowyn’s, too; this concerns her now, and I have only had time to write to her, not even to hear her wishes—”
“Éowyn of all people would not begrudge a fatherless child being given a safe home. And Brand has a home here, with us – neither of you will be burdened at the start of your marriage.” Imrahil smiled. “It is natural to be troubled on account of your new bride. But Éowyn will understand.”
“Perhaps. But you’ve taken a great deal on trust, uncle. I wish we might have moved more slowly on this matter.”
“Wait until tomorrow,” Imrahil coaxed. “Wait until you see him!”
It seemed to ease his nephew’s mind. But then, Imrahil thought, Faramir always came round in the end – given time, and guidance.
In the morning, news came to the Prince of Dol Amroth that the Foam-flyer had put into Pelargir, but only for a short while, and it had now departed. At the door to his library, Imrahil read the dispatch one more time and then, with a sigh, tucked the paper into his belt. No word had been sent to Belfalas from the ship’s captain.
With a heavy heart, Imrahil opened the door and went inside. Fresh, clean air and bright morning sunlight greeted him. Other men – other lords – might choose to keep their books in dark and dusty vaults, but Imrahil and his forefathers had seen no need to suffer for their scholarship. The library was spacious, comfortable; a place where men might come to read, but come to talk also. It had the benefit, too, of being safe ground for the meeting that was about to take place for both of the parties concerned. Imrahil had met his armsmaster’s ward here on several occasions now, and it had always been his first port of call when seeking out his nephew.
And in a chair by the window, a man was sitting and waiting, reading. He was very still, very upright, a dark silhouette against the morning sun. Imrahil shivered, and caught his breath. At the sound, the man turned his head, saw him, and smiled. He closed his book and rose to greet his uncle. Tall, and dressed in black; the Steward indeed, Imrahil thought, with sudden impatience.
“Faramir,” he said, barely keeping the irritation from his voice, “could you not have tried to look a little less severe?”
Faramir looked down at himself. He fingered the white edging on his sleeve and frowned. “Severe? I didn’t intend—”
“Too late to worry now,” Imrahil said. “But if you could remember the boy’s youth and that he is not yet entirely familiar with the ways of the court, I would be grateful—” The door to the library opened. “This will be Andrahar now, with Brand.”
Andra had had the boy clean up particularly well, he thought approvingly; Brand would be making a good first impression. Imrahil gave him a smile of encouragement, but the boy was staring past him. The sunlight falling on the boy’s hair lent a brownish tinge to the black that Imrahil had not noticed before; a legacy from his mother, most likely, he thought.
“Faramir,” Imrahil said, still smiling down at the boy, “this is Brandmir. Or Brand,” he added. He watched Brand closely. Perhaps he looked a little pale, Imrahil thought. And he seemed to be going paler. Uneasily, Imrahil turned to take a look at his nephew.
Faramir was staring down at the boy. His face had gone completely white. He appeared, to Imrahil’s eye, to be in shock. For a moment, Imrahil was at a loss what to do. His nephew had always been expert in concealing his innermost thoughts. Imrahil had taken the trouble to learn how to read him but he had never, he thought, seen him so unguarded before.
“Son?” he said, softly, and not to Brand. It seemed to bring his nephew back to himself. Faramir blinked, raised his hand to cover his mouth, and then turned away and walked back to the window.
Andrahar was the first to collect his wits. “Brand,” he commanded, putting his arm across the boy’s shoulders and turning him around, “wait for me outside.” He watched as the boy hurried away, waited until the door clicked shut behind them, and turned to look at Imrahil. The Prince of Dol Amroth was standing, arms folded, looking thoughtfully at his nephew’s back. He glanced over at Andrahar, and raised his eyebrows.
At last, Faramir turned to face them. He seemed to have mastered himself. “Forgive me,” he said. “It was... I had not expected—” He stopped short, and lifted his hand to press his fingers against his mouth.
Imrahil answered in a neutral tone of voice. “I said in my letter to you that they were alike.”
“You said, as I recall,” Faramir replied, with some difficulty, “that there was a resemblance—”
“And as I recall,” Imrahil said, with a mildness that did not deceive, “I said there was a marked resemblance.”
As Andrahar watched it seemed to him that something in Faramir ignited, flared up, and then was smothered, very quickly. “What you did not say,” Faramir answered, “was that he is the very image of my brother at that age!”
If Brand is like his father, Andrahar thought, it is nothing to how like to your own you are at this moment. And if I do not leave this room now, he thought, eyes narrowing as he studied Faramir’s face, I shall do or say something that cannot be taken back.
“If this is now a quarrel over words,” Andrahar said, turning away, “I’ll take my leave of you. It isn’t here,” he added, looking back bitterly at Faramir, “that I’m needed.”
The door closed after him. After a moment or two, Imrahil said, “You do make matters difficult for yourself, Faramir.”
“And – on occasion – matters are made difficult for me—”
“Not so difficult as they must have been for Brand – the boy must be scared stiff! You must have been prepared – I told you last night, again and again, that he was your brother’s son!”
“I thought,” Faramir said, thickly, his hand up to his brow, “that is was possible that there had been some mistake—”
“You don’t, surely, think that now—”
“Of course not!”
“I would not have told the lad he was Boromir’s if I had not believed it—”
“And there, perhaps,” Faramir said, rather coldly, “lies the heart of the matter. For I would have thought that such a decision was not yours to take alone. You asked me in your letter what I wanted to do. And yet, now I am here, my journey proves all but needless—”
“For what purpose am I here, uncle? Brand has already been told his parentage; Andrahar has adopted him! He’s settled amongst you all... what decisions are there left to make?”
“Faramir, this is your brother’s son! What can be needless about making a journey to meet him? Or – if we must reduce it to the barest of formalities – he is, at the moment, your heir. You might decide that Minas Tirith will be the best place for him—”
“In what way? Why would he wish to leave here and come to Minas Tirith?”
“I cannot answer that,” Imrahil said, pointedly. “You might do better asking Brand himself.”
He was glad to see that this restored his nephew to his senses. Faramir pushed a hand through his hair, and made an effort to calm himself. “Forgive me,” he said, at last. “It was a shock.”
“I understand. But is not me that you should be speaking to.”
“Yes, you’re right... I must speak to Brand again. But alone, this time, please – just the two of us. And first,” he added, heading for the door, “I want to change.”
A little under half-an-hour passed before Brand found himself entering the library once again. This time, the Prince... the Steward... his uncle, he reminded himself, was sitting in a chair by the window waiting for him. He looked up as Brand walked towards him. He was now wearing a dark green tunic, edged around the sleeves in black and silver; he was younger than Brand had thought on his first glimpse of him, but it made seem him no less formidable. This man, Brand thought, must talk with the King himself every day...
As Brand drew nearer, the grave man watching his approach smiled, but still looked very serious. Brand came to a halt just before him, and stared down at the carpet. Then, remembering something that Prince Imrahil had told him about his father, Brand lifted his chin and looked his uncle directly in the eye. He remembered too that Prince Imrahil, after all, had seemed very grim the first time he had seen him, and that had turned out not to be the case at all. Perhaps it would be the same with his uncle.
“Brand,” the Steward said. He had a quiet voice, but Brand had spent some time now with princes and captains and swan-knights, and he knew real authority when he heard it; not the kind that men like Jacyn had to rely upon.
The Steward opened his palm, and gestured at the chair opposite his own. “Please, sit.” Brand went over to it, perched himself on the edge, and waited to be spoken to.
“Thank you for coming to see me again,” the Steward said. “I’m sorry about our meeting earlier. I’m afraid that seeing you was something of a shock.”
A good shock? A bad shock? Brand kept his chin held up, but it was more than he could do to ask.
After a moment or two, the Steward spoke again. “As I think the prince... my uncle has explained to you – you are my brother’s son. And, as matters stand at the moment, that makes you my heir, Brand.”
Brand dropped his eyes. The Steward had a ring on the smallest finger of his left hand. He was twisting it around with the fingers of his right hand and, when Brand looked up again, he seemed to be waiting for an answer.
“Yes,” Brand said, “the Prince explained that.”
“And – as you are my brother’s son – that means that I am responsible for you.”
What about Captain Andrahar? Brand thought anxiously. I want him to be responsible for me!
“It also means,” the Steward went on, “that, if you want it, you have a home with me, in Minas Tirith.”
Something like terror gripped him. “Do I have to go there?” he blurted out.
The Steward blinked. “No,” he said quietly, “of course not. But it might be for the best. Since you are... at the moment – as I think I have already said – my heir.” Brand did not reply, and the Steward continued, “Which, in its turn, carries with it certain responsibilities.”
For his own part, Faramir, listening to himself become stiffer with every word, was not sure whether to laugh or weep. He had treated with ambassadors, lords, princes, kings, his own father – and yet it seemed that one young lad could tie his tongue in knots. Particularly when that lad was staring at him with something that felt very much like accusation.
“Were I to die tomorrow,” he heard himself say, “you would become Steward of Gondor. Do you understand what that means, Brand?”
There was a slight pause, during which Faramir reflected that perhaps he had not made it sound the most attractive of propositions.
“No, sir,” the boy eventually replied, in a quiet voice.
Which was at least something they might have in common. What ever did we talk about, my father and I, when I was this boy’s age? Faramir wondered. The answer was chess, or books, or nothing. Faramir had no idea if Brand played chess, but he did know that the boy could barely read. “Well, that is something, perhaps, that you ought to consider, before deciding once and for all whether or not your duty lies in the White City.”
Even as he said this, Faramir found himself wondering what it would be like to have this child with him in the city. A piece of memory surfaced – of the house after Boromir had gone into the army; of the chill and the silences, the confusion of his father’s moods and the craft of steering through them... It was not, he thought, a time that he was eager to revisit. After a moment or two, he realized that he had fallen completely silent, and that Brand was looking over at him, warily. With a sinking heart, Faramir said, “Was there anything you wished to ask me, Brand?”
Brand shifted in his seat. “The Prince said... the prince told me... isn’t it true that you’re getting married soon, sir?”
“Yes; yes, I am.”
“So... you will soon have children?”
“I hope that that will be the case, yes.”
“And then they will be your heirs?”
“Which means... I don’t really need to leave here... do I?”
“No,” Faramir said, leaning back into his chair. “Not if you don’t want to.”
Silence fell again between them. After a moment or two, Brand said, very politely, “May I go now, sir? I should be at my lessons – Captain Andrahar doesn’t like it when I miss them.”
Faramir gave what he hoped was a smile. “Yes, Brand, of course. Please convey my apologies to your tutor for keeping you.”
Brand fairly ran out of the room. Faramir remained sitting in the chair, looking out of the window, running the edge of the ring on his finger against his cheek. After a moment or two, his uncle poked his head around the door.
“Well?” said Imrahil.
“Not particularly,” Faramir replied.
Later, Imrahil dispatched his third son to smooth Faramir’s ruffled feathers and, over a game of chess and a bottle or two of wine, Amrothos endeavoured to draw his cousin out. It was not an easy task. Faramir was closed, and the wine served only to make him morose.
“We have all grown very fond of Brand,” Amrothos said.
“He is hard-working, courteous, reliable—”
“Yes, he struck me as all of these things. And the reports I receive confirm it.”
“Andrahar has been changed by him, Faramir.”
There was a short pause as Faramir bent over the board, seemingly to contemplate his rook. His face became hidden, his thoughts impenetrable. “I can imagine,” he said, at last, and then reached out to make a move. Amrothos stayed his hand. Faramir looked up at him, sharply.
“Cousin,” Amrothos said, gently. “He has truly brought Andra great happiness.”
At that, Faramir sighed deeply and slumped back into his chair. He rested his chin upon his hand and stared past his cousin, into the distance. Amrothos watched and waited. At length, Faramir stirred. “I would not deny Andra any happiness,” he said softly. “You know I would not. And Brand is in the best of hands here, amongst you all, rather than rattling about the City by himself. And, it is true, too,” he went on, “that it will be better, when Éowyn comes, for us to have that time for ourselves, alone...” He stopped.
“But—?” Amrothos prompted.
Faramir gestured with his hand, hopelessly. He looked as if he was going to say something, and then he shook his head. “It does not matter,” he said, leaning back towards the game. “Things are settled, and for the best.”
“Faramir,” Amrothos said, quietly, “we have spent much of our lives apart, and you have led a kind of life from which I have been sheltered. But you have never thought less of me, or begrudged me, or been anything other than kind to me – and you have never held me at a distance.”
Faramir set his finger upon one of his pawns, and rocked it around, slowly. “This boy is a gift, Rothos,” he said, at last, his voice thick. He glanced up quickly, and Amrothos saw that his eyes were bright. “My brother’s son...!” He looked back down at the chess piece beneath his fingertip. “And it is as if I have been robbed of him, without my ever having had the chance to say whether I wished for him or not.”
Amrothos too turned back to the game, folding his hands before him and thinking carefully before he spoke. “Your brother’s son he may be, and your heir – but that does not make him a possession upon which you can lay claim.”
The Steward did not reply. Amrothos watched him closely over the board. Faramir seemed to be struggling with some thought, or some emotion; at last he mastered it, and his face seemed to settle. “I know,” he said. “I know.” He released the pawn, and moved one of his captains to lay brief siege to one of his cousin’s rooks. Amrothos took it with his queen; Faramir claimed the queen in turn.
“Yes,” Faramir said after the exchange, nodding, “this way is for the best.” And, since he knew that a report of the conversation would make its way back to his uncle, he did not tell his cousin what was troubling him the most – that when he had turned his back upon Brand, it had been because he had seen, in the boy’s eyes, the first awakening of fear.
Faramir made a few tentative approaches to Brand over the next few days: he had some properties left to him by his grandfather in the town – would Brand like to see them? He had to ride down the coast to inspect his mother’s lands – would Brand care to join him on the trip? The boy thanked him for the invitations, but politely refused each time, on the grounds of being unwilling to take time away from his studies and his training-at-arms. Which spoke well for his dedication, as did the reports from his tutors, when Faramir sought them out and spoke with them. At least, Faramir thought dryly, should he fall off his horse on his journey home, the Stewardship would come to someone who would soon be able to read.
Each day, with diminishing ingenuity, he made another offer; each day it was politely and respectfully declined. Given those disastrous first meetings, Faramir thought, it was not that he was getting anything he did not deserve, nor could he rightly complain. Each day too, however, when they spoke, Faramir would notice something else about Brand; a cadence in his voice, perhaps; or a gesture, or the particular way a lock of hair would fall upon his brow. He collected these pieces together carefully, setting them side by side, fragments of a missing whole.
There was plenty else about the castle to keep him busy. Elphir and Mariel were delighted to see him become better acquainted with their son. Amrothos pressed him no more, and his company was both easy and challenging in exactly the right way. And while he had said to his uncle that his journey had been needless, he had always been happy in Belfalas. Being here was what he had promised himself again and again, when winter had come to Ithilien, and the dark and the damp had seemed to be creeping further and further into his heart. His being here, at rest, was proof of the peace that had been hoped for, beyond hope – save in one respect. His brother was not here with him.
On the sixth day of his visit, Faramir rose early, and stole out of the castle through the kitchens, grabbing some breakfast on the way out. The cook, who remembered him well (a polite but ravenous fourteen-year-old), shook her head, laughed, and waved him on. He took a way down through the town that avoided the early morning bustle and, passing through the city gates, struck a path towards the bay.
He walked with the sea to his left and the city at his back. The bay curved south and east; some way ahead, he knew, the ground would begin to rise and, if he walked long enough and hard enough, he would come to a point where he would have a clear view out across the water. He went on, thinking only of the route he planned to take. After a little while, he stopped and turned to look back at Dol Amroth, shimmering in the morning haze that was coming in from the Sea. Yes, he had been happy here, once, but twenty years ago or more, and now he felt a sudden pang of homesickness – for the mountains and the White City; for the covering green of Ithilien and all that land’s hidden ways, that he knew – none better – that were his...
For despite the pleasure of his family’s company, and the peaceful surroundings, he was coming more and more to regret having been persuaded to make this journey. He was, truly, not needed here, and his duties in the City and in Ithilien were left unattended. He should, he thought now, have waited to meet the boy until Éowyn had made her wishes known or, better, once she was beside him. She would have led him straight to the heart of the matter rather than let him wander in this way. In this respect, it struck him, she was very much like his brother...
His grief came into focus sharply, like splinters of glass within his heart. The night he learned of his brother’s death, he had dreamt of him, here, by the Sea; and that dream had been so powerful, so strong, that in the weeks that followed it had often seemed more real to him than the nightmare into which the world had descended. But it was not real – Boromir was gone, lost, and dreams were not the consolation of a body. Boromir had left nothing behind – except a son. And all Faramir had done was to make Brand fear him.
How, he wondered, would Boromir have received Brand upon that first meeting? With joy, no doubt. Most certainly with acceptance. Perhaps, as their father had said, it would have better if their places had been exchanged; better for the boy to have had his father, for Andrahar to have had his love, for Denethor to have had the son that would have been enough – enough to keep him living...
Faramir began to walk again, quickly and purposefully, across the sands towards the Sea. The salt air stung his eyes. He came to a halt staring out until his eyes began to water and he could no longer discern the line between sky and sea.
And then, all around him, the world quickened. The water rushed up to meet him and fell away as rapidly as it had come. Faramir looked up at the heavens. The sun sped her way over his head and across the horizon, and the light began to drain from the sky. It was dark in the space of seconds, and it was cold. He shivered. Swiftly, the pale moon rose and rushed on its own course, until it was straight before him, high in the West. And then it seemed to him that a silvered path was opening up before him, leading out across the water. Almost, he thought, he could set foot upon it. Where might it take him?
Time slowed once more, and Faramir listened, to the slow, soft sigh of the Sea. A gull cried out, and he felt it so sharply that he had to close his eyes. He listened, and thought that he could hear a rustle on the water, as if something were passing before him. And when at last he dared open his eyes, it was to see, far out on the water and dark against the silver path, a little boat with a high prow, heading West—
The moon quaked, and passed behind a cloud. The way was lost. A bright shaft of sunlight seemed to pierce the darkness. Faramir blinked and, in that instant, the vision lifted, leaving him. Slowly, reluctantly, he turned away from the Sea, and looked down at the boy who was standing beside him.
They each considered the other – Faramir grave, Brand wary – and the want of the third – the lost, beloved brother, the lost, never-known father – was between them.
You are so very like him, Faramir thought, and I miss him so very much. He reached out his hand, and – since Brand did not pull away – he placed it against the boy’s face, stroking his cheek gently with his thumb. Then he put his arm around him and drew him into an embrace. At first, Brand did no more than allow it; after a moment or two, he relaxed, slipping an arm around his uncle and holding him in return.
At last they pulled apart, and they looked at each other afresh. Faramir was smiling; the grave but tender smile that changed his face, and was reserved chiefly for those he loved. It earned him his reward: his nephew smiled back.
“Will you walk with me, Brand?” Faramir asked. “If you would like to listen, I would like to tell you more about your father.”
To his joy, Brand turned out to be more than willing, and it seemed to Faramir that stories of his brother flowed easily. Perhaps it was that this was a place where they had been happy, away from their duties and the ever-present, ever-growing threat. Perhaps it was the vision he had just had, and the thought of his brother at peace. Perhaps it was Brand, as much of a gift as Faramir had seen that he would be.
Mid-morning, they were still talking, making their way along a path that Imrahil had shown to Faramir when he was a boy. It was Imrahil too, so it had turned out, who had sent Brand to speak to his uncle. All of a sudden, Brand came to a halt and clapped his hand over his mouth.
“Is there something the matter, Brand?”
“My morning lessons...” the boy replied.
“I was wondering,” his uncle remarked, “when you would remember.”
“My tutor will be angry,” Brand said. “And Captain Andrahar—”
“It’s my fault,” Faramir said firmly. “I kept you. I’ll come with you and explain. There’s no need for you to worry.” He glanced down at the boy, and then his lips began to twitch in what Brand had, in the past hour or two, come to recognize as a sign that his uncle’s sense of humour was at work. Brand smiled back up at him. “I do have a little authority,” his uncle said, “even here.” Brand began to laugh. “And I’m glad you have been with me this morning,” Faramir added.
As they drew closer to the city, his uncle stopped walking, and stood looking ahead. Brand looked out too, at the city on the water, white against the vivid sky. He felt a sudden rush of love for the place, and looked up to see if Faramir was feeling it too, but Faramir had raised his hand to shield his eyes from the glare of the sun, and his face was hidden.
“Is it like your city?” Brand asked.
“They’re both beautiful,” his uncle replied, “in their own ways. You won’t hear the gulls in my city, Brand,” he said. “Minas Tirith is part of the mountains, built into their stone. Seven levels, each with a great gate and, at the very top, in the Citadel itself, there is the Tower of Ecthelion – named for your own forefather – a great hall topped with a spire that shines like silver...” he gestured upwards with his free hand. “Before the tower lies a green lawn and a courtyard with a fountain, and by the fountain stands the White Tree...”
He reached up to his throat to touch the black clasp of his cloak, and Brand recognized at once the shape of the white lines upon it. “The tree that once stood there withered,” his uncle carried on, “but a new one was found with the coming of the King. It will be coming into blossom now...” Suddenly, he seemed to check himself, and stopped speaking. He spread his hand out flat across the clasp, in protection, and then he smiled to himself, as if at some private joke. After a moment or two, he looked at Brand again. “Your father used to claim that I would deliver my orders in verse, if I were able. But such it is with the White City.” His smile became easier, almost youthful. “Will you come there, one day, do you think?”
Brand looked ahead, at the city on the water, which he now thought of as his own. “One day,” he said. “I’d like to see it one day.” As he said it, he knew it was not to make the man beside him happy – although he knew it would – but because he did want to see it. It had begun to matter to him.
“Good,” his uncle said, and his smile remained in place, easy and gentle. “Soon, I hope. There’s to be a wedding there, soon enough.” His face became even happier at that.
As they approached the gates, Brand found himself thinking about something that the Prince Imrahil had said to him, when he had shown him the paintings of his family. “Is it lonely there?” Brand asked suddenly. “In your city?”
His uncle looked down at him in surprise. “Whatever would make you ask that?”
“The prince told me that my father was your only brother. And that you have no other family left.”
“He said that, did he? Well – other than the prince himself, and my cousins here, he’s quite right. I have no family in Minas Tirith. I had only one brother, and my mother and father are both dead.”
“I’ve two brothers and two sisters in Pelargir. And my mother, she’s there too... Jacyn didn’t like me much, but now I have Captain Andrahar...” He trailed off, unsure of himself and what it was that he wanted to say.
“Andrahar is the best of men,” Faramir said gently. “You’re lucky to have him as your guardian.”
“What would he have thought of me, uncle? My father? Would he have thought well of me?”
Faramir halted in his tracks. He knelt before the boy, set both his hands upon Brand’s shoulders, and looked him in the eye. Brand looked back. “If your father had known that you lived,” he said firmly, “he would have welcomed you with open arms. How could he not have?”
Brand was still looking at him, uncertainly.
“I knew my brother, Brand, none better... few better. And I say that Boromir would have loved you, and without condition. I know I cannot stand in his place, Brand, nor in Andrahar’s – and nor do I desire to.” He lowered his hands to clasp Brand’s within his own. “But if ever you have need of me, I shall be there for you. I swear it.”
Over the years, as he had pondered what it was he lacked that made his father so displeased with him, Faramir had often wished for his brother’s easy temper, or his uncle’s charm and grace. In Éowyn, he saw a swiftness of passion so different from the deliberations of his own heart that it drew the breath from him. But, love, loyalty, patience – these were Faramir’s gifts, and when he chose to give them, they were returned, and in abundance. Save once.
Brand’s doubt had disappeared; yet he was looking at his uncle with a frown upon his face. “It doesn’t seem right,” he told him, “not to have any family.”
“Well,” Faramir replied, raising his thumb to smooth the boy’s forehead, “that’s not the case any longer, is it?”
The morning of his departure, Faramir went down into the practice yard, and soon found the man that he was looking for. He leaned back against the wall, folded his arms, and watched as Andrahar put one of his charges through his paces. After a moment or two, Andrahar saw him, and nodded to acknowledge his arrival.
Faramir waited patiently, a little ill at ease. In his youth, he had admired the Armsmaster greatly, and he had been painfully grateful for the lessons that had sent him back to Minas Tirith far more accomplished with the sword than when he had arrived. It had pleased his father very much. But years had passed since then, during which they had spent very little time together, and much more than the passage of time now lay between them. Again and again, Faramir had urged his brother to marry; he did not doubt that Andrahar knew this. And there were times when Faramir would find Andrahar looking at him, and something about the twist of his lips – or perhaps smouldering behind his eyes – brought to mind how he used to regard Denethor.
But why should any be surprised if I am my father’s son? Faramir thought, as he watched the swordplay. And why should it be held against me? I loved him, and he is lost. And none will speak of him to me – as if that book has been firmly closed and none are willing for it to be opened again. As if I would not grieve for that loss as much as for the other.
And yet even as he thought this, Faramir knew it was a half-truth. Aragorn tried, now and again, over trivialities – a small matter of procedure, perhaps, asking Faramir what his father would have done – and Faramir would answer the question but decline the opening, as carefully as one could refuse the King. If Denethor’s name went unspoken and his memory was held in abeyance, Faramir knew he was himself complicit. And what, in the end, could be said? It would need another language to tell the whole of it.
The bout was over soon enough. Faramir straightened up, bracing himself. Andrahar issued some brusque instruction, and then came to join him. They watched each other warily for a moment.
“I came to say goodbye,” Faramir said. “And to thank you...” he struggled to find a way to say it that did not seem too presumptuous, “to thank you for the care you are giving Brand.”
Andrahar’s eyebrows shot up. “What else would I do?”
“I am grateful, nonetheless.”
Andrahar narrowed his eyes, and then he nodded, once, abruptly. “Brand has expressed a wish to come to Minas Tirith for your wedding,” he said.
“Good,” Faramir said, and felt himself smile. “I’m glad.”
“It may be that once he has seen the place, he might wish to spend a longer time there.”
“And he will be most welcome. With your consent.”
“Perhaps when you and Éowyn have had some time together, by yourselves.”
“That will surely be for the best.”
They went back to watching each other. Andrahar was tense, taut, like a cat about to pounce; Faramir made no move either to anticipate him, or to move away.
“There are times, Faramir,” Andrahar said, at last, “when I think you wish I had never known your brother. Or, at the least, that I had refused him when he came to me.”
“It was a different time,” Faramir said. “A difficult time. Our house needed an heir—”
“Tell me,” Andrahar persisted, “do you wish your brother had never come to me?”
It was a question Faramir had asked himself many times, in the past year. For if he had not, might Boromir be living yet? For that had indeed been the reason that their father had chosen him to send North – and so he had been driven to madness, and had died. And yet, Boromir had loved this man – it had not, as Faramir had long thought, been either weakness or indulgence. It was as Boromir had written, that Andrahar was the other that he loved best – if differently. And how, then, could he begrudge it? Faramir recalled too well the sadness that had settled on his own heart, when Éowyn had been remote and unattainable, and all he could see of the future was a hopeless love. Would a long life lived like that have been worth it after all? Would he have truly wished that for his brother? Éowyn’s love had remade him; it had restored him to himself. Amidst all the sorrows and the losses and the long slow war that had near consumed them all, would he have denied Boromir a taste of that joy?
“For my brother’s sake,” Faramir said, “I am glad.”
“And for your own?”
It seemed to Faramir then that there was something bitter on his lips, as if he had drunk deep from a cup and come as ever he did to the dregs. Keep him safe in keeping yourself safe, Faramir – if ever you loved me, you will do this. So his brother had written, in his last letter, and had given him the means to keep his love safe. Such a legacy had been passed on then; such a tool Boromir had given him. One that had wounded without ever having to be used, one that Faramir most fervently wished had remained forever lost. A splinter of memory, sharp and unwelcome, was brought back to him: of his mother as he last remembered her; of himself – after she had gone – wandering from room to room, seeking her, until Boromir had come and found him and led him away.
Aye, he thought, with all my heart I wish it; with difficulty, he said, “That is not at issue here.” He saw Andrahar move, with impatience; and made to forestall further speech – lifting his hands, in peace, but firmly, to hold it in abeyance.
Not this, Andra. You have had my brother, and you have his son, and I have borne it with what grace I can find within me. All of it you can have, and gladly – but you shall not have the pieces of my heart.
“No more on this, Andra,” he said. “I have nothing more to say on it. And, besides, what matters most, surely, is Brand – his health and happiness.”
For a moment it seemed that the tiger might still spring, and then Andrahar drew back. Perhaps it was that he could recognize a truce when it was offered, or that he knew when a battle could only become needlessly bloody; perhaps it was for Boromir’s sake, or Imrahil’s, or for Finduilas herself – or perhaps it was simply that he remembered very well a young lad who had worked hard for the sake of a father whose love could not be gained without condition. Whatever the case, it was Brand that the two men spoke of, and became as easy as they could be – for the boy was loved by both of them, and maybe not so differently.
All the rest – that, Faramir thought, was his own, all that was left of the ones he had lost, and he would hold it to himself, to trouble his dreams and harrow his heart, tasting joy whenever it allowed. Swift moments, they seemed, at times, rushing past him ere ever he had the chance to capture them and learn how he might hold them: a vision of a boat, on a silvered path; a boy whose face restored a little of something lost; finding and loving Éowyn.
“Has it all turned out for the best?” Imrahil asked him later, anxiously, holding him by the shoulders, as they were saying their goodbyes.
“It has,” Faramir replied, which left his uncle content, and brought no more questions upon him. The cup was beginning to run dry; he found very little left in him to give.
Edoras, April 3020
I end this letter swiftly so that it will await you upon your return. May your journey south be a safe one; may you find there something of your brother to ease that sorrow which I know all too well, and most greatly wish to ease in you myself. Rest knowing too that any child of your brother’s is welcome in my heart and my home, as I myself was once made welcome at my uncle’s hearth.
My love, I wish this letter might arrive before your journey, so that you might go south believing that I know you will meet this child with all the courage and kindness with which you won my heart. And be not too sorrowful, my love, if your cares are not eased as once they were by the sight of your Sea. As I walk the halls of Meduseld, I find my thoughts turn south, to your city, and to the green land beyond the river. Ithilien awaits us. Westu hál, Faramir, most beloved of –
A/N: “Now you know the truth, Boromir had finished after the stark revelations, and it is not unfitting, or so it seems to me, that I entrust my beloved to the other whom I love best if differently. Keep him safe in keeping yourself safe, Faramir – if ever you loved me, you will do this.” From In Extremis by Dwimordene.
Thank you to Isabeau, Dwimordene, and Alawa for brain-storming and hand-holding beyond the call of duty, and without whose help and advice I couldn’t have finished this.
A very happy birthday, Isabeau – sorry it took so long.