February 25-26, 3029 T.A. (F.A. 8)
She took the comb out, shook loose her hair and began to brush with slow and careful strokes. He set his book upon the bed and watched her as she worked, catching now and again a glimpse of her face in the mirror. She was a little pensive, a little sad.
Her ritual almost done, she set down the brush, laid her hands on the dresser before her, and whispered her farewell.
“Bealocwealm hafað fréone frecan forth onsended...”
Her voice faltered.
He rose from the bed and came to stand behind her. She had lowered her head. Gently, he lifted the golden veil of her hair, draping it over her shoulder. He traced his forefinger down the pale skin now revealed; down along the line of her face, her neck, her shoulder. Her eyes fell shut and her head came back to receive him, and he bent down and granted her the kiss, setting it softly in place upon her cheek.
She sighed, grief and gratitude in equal measure. He slipped his arms around her waist, set his head against hers – and she leaned her head in towards him.
“Look,” he murmured.
She blinked, and opened her eyes. And there they were together in the mirror – dark hair resting against golden, a little silver here and there, a little older. They stared at the picture before them. A few strands had fallen upon her face. He blew gently at them, but all it did was send a lock of his own hair tumbling down across his brow. He watched with pleasure the smile that crossed her face, the creases that came around her eyes. He felt against him the laughter welling up within her, began to laugh himself. He lifted his lady to her feet, held her close, and their kiss was swift and deep and easy. He drew back, held her face between his hands, stared at her again. Her lips were parted, her breathing quicker, her eyes shone bright as she looked back.
“I love you,” he told her resolutely, feeling each word.
“I know,” she replied, one eyebrow raised, and laughed with him once more as they drew each other over to the bed.
The morning was clammy, and it was still dark when, reluctantly, he left the warm circle of her arms, and hurried to wash and dress. Downstairs in his office, a fire was burning merrily in the hearth, and as he read and signed and sealed the papers already laid out upon his desk, he warmed his free hand around a mug of tea set out for him. The light from the window behind him grew steadily and, outside, he could hear the distant sounds of the City awakening to a new day.
It caught him off his guard. He halted in his work, set down the mug and pen, fell back into his chair. It felt, he thought, as if he had been cast adrift in a little boat, and was bobbing in the sea, with no land or shore in sight.
Looking for an anchor, he gazed at his surroundings. The walls ahead and to his right were lined with bookcases, the shelves either full or now stacked two deep. To his left, the fire was burning brightly, casting a warm glow around the room. Before him, on the desk, his papers were strewn out. The neat piles laid out for him always became disorderly as they passed before him, and then would be stacked tidily again, once the Steward had turned them from proposals into law.
Set to one side of the desk was a little wooden chest. Made for his grandfather’s father, it had, after his death, been left unused in a corner of the house, until Faramir had found a purpose for it, had acquired secrets enough to need somewhere to lock them away. It was well-made, solid – although a score ran across the front of it now, from when his son had spied it set up on the mantelpiece and embarked upon a quest to retrieve it... It had come crashing down upon the fender, marking both the box and the little boy’s shin. The cut had been slight, but Elboron had taken both his scolding and the cosseting stoically, since there had been the promise of a scar. The box had been moved closer to Faramir’s sight, and it had remained, as it always had done in his possession, locked shut.
Faramir drew it over to him now. Carved around the box were seven ridges; carved upon the lid was the Tree. He opened it up, and contemplated what lay within.
A single volume of his diaries. The first message written to him by his son, letters large and wobbling. Éowyn’s messages from Rohan when they had been betrothed. A ring of silver and sapphires he would one day give their little girl. And, underneath it all, where it had lain these ten years gone, an envelope, his own name scrawled upon it. Faramir drew it out, pulled out the sheets within, and began to read.
It was as if Boromir was standing by his shoulder. I am not a man for letters, he had gone on to write, but he was better than he had known. His voice rose up from the page as if he stood in the room and was reading the message out loud. Faramir pictured him bent over his desk, mind set wholly upon the task of writing it. His brother had needed neither rhetoric nor poetry to state the truth of his affections. He had loved frankly and without artifice.
I do love you, I have always loved you – this you know.
Faramir read on, began to laugh as he came to the once all too familiar complaints about his own taste in reading matter... How I miss you, he thought simply, eyes clouding as he read, his own native fluency with words unnecessary to respond to this. When he reached the end of that first message, he stopped and read it through once more, then set all the pages down.
Ten years had passed. It was time. He picked the papers up again, flicked through them with his thumb. Old factions, old policies, old promises, old debts. They had no place in this new Age. He folded the sheets over swiftly, stood up, and went over to the fire.
I am not a man for letters...
Faramir stared down at the pages in his hand, at his own name written in his brother’s hand – and he knew it could not be done. So little of his brother remained to him. So few words written across the years, when Faramir himself had written reams. No body to bury – and nowhere to bury it. So little, that consigning this to the flames, he saw now, was impossible. He went back to his desk and stood for a moment uncertain what to do, bitter that his brother’s last words to him were sullied in this way. And then, laying the papers flat upon the desk, Faramir tore what mattered free – half of the first page, the very end of the last – and set them back safely in the chest. He gathered up the rest and returned to the fire.
Thaeryl’s testimony went in first. He had never read it. It had been a tool, and a tainted one at that. Would I have used it, he wondered, as he watched it curl and turn to ash, or left it too by the wayside?In his heart, Faramir knew he could not answer that; and as he threw the rest onto the flames, his grief was mixed with sudden gratitude, that this was one test he had never been set.
He looked up, at the chimney breast. Two portraits hung there, one of his mother and one of his father, painted years and leagues apart, when each of them had come of age. Faramir liked this vision of them when they were both still young – Finduilas of Amroth, before she came to the City, with wise and gentle eyes and a kind smile; Denethor of Gondor, before even he became the Steward’s Heir, proud and tall and valiant. Faramir liked to see them together in this way, liked to believe that this was how they might have been. Gazing at them now, tears welled in his eyes, and pity in his heart.
I felt it too; the Shadow put its hand upon me, he told them. I felt its weight and strength and I despaired. And then his voice called me back, and her hand clasped mine, and the darkness became sunlit.
He looked down at the pages now all but lost in the flames, and then back up at their as yet unwithered faces.
You loved, the Shadow touched you – and you were ruined.
The fire spat and crackled. The pages and their history were now gone.
But you did not ruin me.
He remained standing before the hearth – which was where, only a little later, his son found him. He felt a tug upon his sleeve, heard the quiet, high voice naming him Father. When he looked down, he saw the boy catch sight of the tears staining his father’s face, saw his face become puzzled.
“Are you crying?” Elboron said, uncertainly.
Faramir wiped his face with his hand. “I have been,” he said.
Faramir knelt down, until they were face to face. Elboron’s hair was tangled and his clothes untidy, as if he had come straight from bed and somehow escaped the fussing hands of nurse or mother. Faramir smoothed his hair for him, undid and refastened a button that had gone askew.
“I was remembering someone... someone who went away from me ten years ago today,” he said. “A warrior, a hero, a great and a good man. His name was Boromir. He was my brother.”
“Is he the one you named me for?” Elboron asked.
“In part,” his father answered softly. “In part.”
“Where is he now?” Elboron said, and Faramir felt his throat catch at his son’s innocent incomprehension.
When I was his age, my mother had already gone. The first grief, and not the last.
“He died, Elboron,” Faramir said at last. “But he is still here with me, in my memories. And he waits for us. We will see him one day, beyond the circles of this world – where there is more than memory.”
Elboron had listened to all this chewing at his lip, and now was regarding his father carefully. Looking at his son’s sturdy face, Faramir felt a sudden burst of joy. He smiled unreservedly, and the boy grinned back.
“Can I tell you a story about him, Elboron? From when I was a little younger than you, and he was a little older?”
The boy nodded happily. “Please!”
“Let’s go outside,” Faramir said, and lifted Elboron up; made him laugh by groaning at his weight, pleased him by saying how he was growing tall and strong. He grabbed his cloak and wrapped it round them both. The boy’s arms were encircling him. Together, they went out of the house, into a morning lit by a white and watery sun. Crossing the Court, listening to the boy’s chatter, his brother’s voice came to him; his brother’s words – guiding him, charging him – the words that he had held back from the fire:
Live. Be well.
As they passed the Tree, the wind blew in sharp and sudden from the North, lifting the dark hair of both the man and the child – and then the horns rang out, sounding the hour.
I shall, brother. I am.
“O Boromir! The Tower of Guard shall ever northwards gaze
To Rauros, golden Rauros-falls, until the end of days.”
A/N: For Isabeau of Greenlea, Dwimordene, Sailing to Byzantium, and Alawa. Thank you each and all.