The night had ended like many before it, as Faramir half-walked, half-dragged his brother home, manoeuvred him with military precision onto his bed, and then left him to sleep off the evening’s indulgence. Faramir was glad for his own bed. His shoulder ached. He had drunk more than he had intended. The dreams were more vivid, more urgent, disturbing his sleep more than any he had had before. And he felt... His head was foggy from beer and fatigue, and it took him a moment or two to fumble towards the right word, but he reached it at last. He felt displaced; had done so since... since the battle. If I could only rest, he thought, as his head sunk back onto the pillow, and he stared up into the darkness.
He did make himself fall asleep in time, reciting to himself Adûnaic verbs, from the schoolroom. But round about dawn, the voice sang out to him once more, piercing the night, distant and yet clear in its summons. He woke more anxious than ever to answer it, and wearied by its persistence when the words were already so firmly lodged in his mind. Verse, he thought sourly, cursing his memory for it, it would have to be in verse. He rubbed his eyes. Father cannot delay the decision much longer, surely. The call echoed in his head once again, and he felt a sudden surge of resentment at the wait, which seemed almost designed to frustrate him. I cannot let the decision be delayed much longer...
He lay there unrested and uneasy, and knowing he would not get back to sleep again. It was early enough that he could hear movement downstairs, and so he remained in bed, staring at the cracks in the ceiling above and listening to the creaks of the house around him. Whatever had to be said to his father about the dream could wait until he was less tired, more prepared for the encounter. It could wait until later in the day.
When the house seemed still once more, he surfaced. As he had hoped, there was no-one about. His brother, he suspected, would remain in bed for a long while yet. He ate breakfast slowly and absently, staring through the big bay window at the day outside. It was a clear, bright morning in the middle of summer. He took his mug of tea over to the window and stood looking out into the garden. It was in full bloom. He stared out unblinking for a few moments and then, without warning, thoughts of the recent battle flooded his mind. He felt again the horror of the strange shadow, and he had to swallow hard to keep his breakfast down. He remembered the moment when the river had closed over his head – he recalled thinking how he should have known that he would die by water – before he had surfaced and struck out for the shore... Faramir sighed and placed his forehead against the window-pane. The glass was cold, and when he had steadied himself again, he drank what remained of his tea, washing the rankness away and settling his stomach. Then he left the house and went out into the morning.
He spent most of it in one of his interminable battles with his old enemy the quartermaster, a man who found himself today with the unenviable task of explaining to the Captain of the Ithilien Rangers (who seemed to him to be unusually humourless this morning) that if his company had not merited increased supplies before the battle for the bridge, it was unlikely to merit them now, when it was less than half the size it had been. Faramir left him ill-tempered and unsatisfied, and went in search of his brother. But Boromir was nowhere to be found. He lingered over the midday meal, hoping Boromir would appear, but there was neither sight nor sound of him. Surely he could not still be sleeping off the night before?
Eventually, Faramir retreated to the library. The words of the dream were following him still, and not all of it was yet plain to him. Imladris – at least they had made sense of that. But what of the Halfling? What of Isildur’s Bane? He knew that he had read or learned something once, but could not now recall what or where. He grabbed books from the shelves instinctively, hoping to find something that would stir the memories. He piled the volumes up on a table near the window, and settled down in a well-stuffed chair to read, with the afternoon sunlight pouring onto the pages.
Which was where, an hour or so later, Boromir found him – stretched out asleep with a book on his chest, his thumb stuck inside to keep his place. Boromir shook him, and he opened one eye.
“I’ve been looking for you,” Faramir told him.
Boromir raised an eyebrow at him. “Clearly.”
Faramir sat up, and put the book down on the table beside him. He rubbed at the back of his neck, yawned, and flexed his shoulder.
“Are you rested?” Boromir said. His voice was very low. Faramir, attuned to all its nuances, looked up at him quickly and frowned.
“Enough...” he said, a little warily. “Why?”
Boromir ignored the question, offered him his hand, and pulled him up out of the chair. Then he jerked his head towards the garden. “Come outside – I have to tell you something.”
The library had a set of doors that opened onto a little terrace. They went out together through these, and towards a low stone wall that overlooked the lawn. The kitchen cat was curled up there, sunning herself. She looked up as they approached, tail twitching. Faramir stopped beside her and started to stroke the soft fur behind her ears. She rubbed her head against the palm of his hand and purred in approval. Faramir looked up at his brother.
“What has happened, Boromir?” he said; and then a faint feeling of dread began to creep over him as he saw his brother’s face twist suddenly, as if in pain. He stroked the cat more urgently. She mewed a complaint.
“Not here,” Boromir said, his voice rough. “We are still too close to the house.” He pointed down the garden. “Let’s go down there.”
Faramir nodded, and followed his brother down the stone steps onto the lawn. The cat stretched out, front legs then back, then settled down again, watching for a while, with green unblinking eyes, their progress across the grass.
They walked in silence as far as the garden wall, to a place where they had often played as children. Two willow trees overhung the spot, and their drooping boughs and shade gave an impression of privacy. Given the strictness of the ban that had been placed on them as children on being out of sight of the house, they had known at the time that coming here was pushing at the very limits of their father’s authority – that, of course, had been its attraction. But the place had never been declared out of bounds, and they had both long continued to entertain the notion that the movement of the leaves and branches and their shadows might just, now and again, hide them away.
We have not come here in years, Faramir thought, his alarm growing steadily. Why has he been drawn back here now?
Boromir stopped walking and positioned himself with his back to the house, and Faramir watched in dismay as his brother’s face was suddenly overcome with grief.
“He’s found out,” Boromir said from between clenched teeth.
Faramir’s first instinct was to run through his mind all of his most recent decisions and actions. And then he grasped what Boromir meant. He reached out for his brother’s arm.
“How?” he whispered. They were both of them aware that they were watched in the city – and elsewhere; had been aware of it for years, and were long practiced in the arts of evasion. “You said you were taking care—”
“I don’t know how!” Boromir burst out. “Neither of us were followed, that’s for sure. What does it matter anyway?” he concluded savagely. “He knows, it’s finished – that’s it.”
Faramir took hold of his brother’s hand and felt him clutch back. He glanced down the garden. No-one was about. No-one was watching. “Where is Andrahar now?” he said, softly, fearing what their father might have chosen to do in what he assumed would be his fury.
“With uncle, I imagine,” Boromir replied.
Faramir looked at him in surprise. “Not under guard?”
“Oh no!” Boromir’s face twisted, as if he could taste something foul. “This morning, Faramir, you missed a great moment in the history of our fine and noble house. Father was ready to have Andra arrested for sodomy and treason—”
“And then he blackmailed uncle...” he grimaced again. “He was going to insist upon Elphir coming to the city as a hostage.”
Faramir thought now that he could taste what his brother could.
“Father took a heavy fine from uncle and made me swear never to see Andra again, and swear to marry, as soon as could be arranged.”
“What about Elphir?”
Boromir hesitated. Faramir looked at him quickly, closely.
“He... he was persuaded to relent upon that matter.”
Faramir stared down at the grass, and shifted the pieces on the board around swiftly in his mind. “For a fine and those promises from you?” Something did not sit quite right there... But Boromir was nodding and, given his brother’s state of distress, Faramir reckoned that now was not the time to delve into this matter further. He pressed his brother’s hand. Boromir closed his eyes.
“There was something... wrong about him, Faramir,” he murmured.
Faramir felt his mouth go dry. “More than usual?” he said, attempting to force some levity into his voice, but when Boromir opened his eyes, they exchanged knowing, fearful looks.
“As if he could not be reasoned with,” Boromir said. “I cannot understand it!” He hit the palm of his free hand against the bark of the nearest willow. “If he had wanted or needed money from uncle, he need only have asked, not risked a rift like this!”
“That would not have sat well with his pride, Boromir.”
“But to force the matter in this way?” Boromir shook his head. “He implied, at one point, that this was some kind of plot on uncle’s part to set your heirs in place of mine as stewards.”
“That is insane! Surely he meant it only as a means to bargain with you and uncle?”
“I don’t know, Faramir. It seemed to me that he might well believe it...”
Faramir felt himself go cold. He looked back across the garden at the house. Then Boromir spoke again.
“There is something else I have to tell you.” He released his hold on Faramir’s hand, and shifted around until they were standing face to face. “I asked father to send me in search of Imladris, and he agreed.”
Faramir stared back at him. “But the dream is mine—”
“I had it too – last night.”
It was as if a part of him had been ripped away. Faramir raised his hand to his brow. The voice sounded again in his ears, making its demand of him – seek for the Sword, seek for the Sword... Faramir pressed his fingers against his temple and attempted to control himself.
“Let me see if I have understood this correctly,” he said, his voice cool. “You have conducted an illicit and – I feel obliged to point out – illegal affair for more than twelve years. Throughout this time I have encouraged you repeatedly to end it, and to marry. And yet our father, on learning all of this, has chosen, in his wisdom, to punish me, and reward you. Am I correct in this?”
“Reward me?” Boromir’s voice came out as no more than a whisper.
“Do not tell me that father does not intend this at least in part as punishment for me!”
Boromir hesitated for a moment, Faramir noted with a grim satisfaction. “Have you listened to a word I’ve said, Faramir?” he said at last. “He is forcing me to marry!”
“It was only a matter of time!” Faramir shot back. “Boromir, you are not so naïve! You are the heir to the stewardship, and one day you will be steward!” His voice sounded, Faramir thought to himself, somehow savage in his ears. “And if – despite all the warnings I have given you – you truly believed that you would be permitted to continue with this...” he struggled for a moment, “indulgence, then you are a greater fool than I ever imagined possible!”
He stopped, and found that he was shaking. Boromir, he had not failed to notice, had been whitening as he spoke. And then he saw that his brother’s arm was up, raised to strike him. Faramir, his instincts long since sharpened, had it stopped and held within the fraction of a second. Bitterly, furiously, he pushed hard against brother’s arm, straining more as he felt the push back – and then he saw the stream of emotions passing across his brother’s face; felt them cross his own face too: rage and hurt, turning into confusion, resolving at last into grief and loss.
We have quarrelled before, fought before, but never like this. Never with such violence...
And then, as understanding dawned, Faramir felt his anger drain from him. He loosened his grip, and the pressure of his brother’s arm lessened with it. Slowly, Faramir slid his hand upwards until it was grasping Boromir’s. Their fingers locked together, tight; their palms pressed against the other’s.
“I see,” Faramir breathed, nodding. “I see.” He felt sickened now – by his own behaviour, by the circumstances that had forced it – and he saw it all mirrored upon his brother’s face.
A wave of pity washed away what rancour that remained. Carefully, a little awkwardly, he drew his brother in towards him, into an embrace, and he felt him trembling a little within his arms. He tightened his hold and pressed his cheek against his brother’s hair. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m sorry that you lost him.”
“So am I, Faramir. So am I.”
They held on to each other for a little while, both of them exhausted, both of them in need. At length, Boromir sighed and drew back. They exchanged tentative smiles.
Faramir folded his arms about himself. “When,” he asked quietly, “do you intend to leave?”
“The sooner the better, I think.” Boromir shrugged and looked around the garden. “A week, perhaps? Ten days?”
“Well, at least that gives me a little more time for my researches.”
They stared at each other.
“Thank you,” Boromir said, at last. He wiped his hand across his face and stared out across the garden. Then he lifted his hand and pointed. Faramir looked to see one of their father’s servants crossing the lawn, heading towards them. “This will be your summons,” Boromir said. “What do you intend to do?”
“What I always do, I should imagine. Keep my mouth shut except when I’m apologizing, and hope that the storm passes quickly.”
“Be careful,” Boromir murmured, just before the servant reached them. He bowed to them in turn, and then addressed Faramir.
“My Lord Faramir, the Steward requests your presence at his office...” he glanced over at Boromir, “as soon as your brother releases you.”
“You may tell him that I shall be there directly,” Faramir said, with a touch of resignation to his voice, and the man bowed again and left. Faramir waited until he was some way across the garden, and then turned back to his brother, but without quite meeting his eye.
“Whatever it is that you have,” he said, very softly, “whatever it is that you used to force his hand – I don’t want it.” He risked looking up.
Boromir was staring at him, his lip curled. “I should hope not,” he replied, rather sharply, “since you would only obtain it in the event of my death.” Then he softened, slightly. “I’ll keep you from it, Faramir,” he said. “I promise.” He gave his younger brother a wry smile. “Will you come drinking with me later?”
“Where else,” Faramir asked, “would I be?”
Boromir shrugged, then raised an eyebrow. “You’d better run along to father,” he said.
Faramir put his hands behind his head for a moment, drew in a deep breath of clear summer air, and then straightened himself up. “Yes,” he muttered, “I suppose I ought.”
“And try not to make him angry,” Boromir added, dryly. “You do seem to have the knack of rubbing him up the wrong way.”
They gave each other conspiratorial smiles, and Faramir began to make for the house. Then he stopped and looked back over his shoulder at his brother, serious once more. “I would feel better,” he said, “if I knew how he had found out.”
He was wrong about that. It came to him late one day in the middle of January, as he lingered in the Court of the Fountain, choosing the evening chill over that of his father. Something above caught his eye, and when he looked up he saw a light flickering at the very top of the Tower. Some lines of verse, displaced for years, wandered back into his mind. He had, after all, a good memory for verse.
Tall ships and tall kings, three times three...
He had thought it was no more than a children’s rhyme, had been puzzled at the time why a lore master like Mithrandir would know it, and would want to teach him it.
What brought they from the foundered land, over the flowing sea?
Seven stars, seven stones...
The light in the Tower flared. And as he watched, it seemed to Faramir that the world was remaking itself about him; becoming translucent – like water, or glass.
One white tree.
He stood and stared at it, blackened and bent against the white stone of the Tower and beneath his cloak he went cold. Everything, he saw now, was stripped bare.
What has he seen? What does he believe that he has seen?
He looked back over his shoulder, eastwards, towards the darkness; then up again, at the light. Then he pressed on, into the Tower, and waited to be called to his father. And when, at last, they sat down opposite each other to eat supper and discuss strategy, Faramir watched him – as he had done for years – but through new eyes, and he did not say a word about it. There was no-one in the City left to tell.
A/N: Thank you to Isabeau of Greenlea and Sailing to Byzantium.
Altariel, 19th-21st December 2003
Altariel, 19th-21st December 2003