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In Extremis
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
In Extremis

Boromir watched as Faramir turned away once more. His brother raised a hand to brush aside the veiling curtain of leaves, and as he did so, as he stepped into the full sun of a summer day, his shoulders squared, and he gestured that their father's man should make haste to comport him to the lord steward.

That's the way, Faramir. In and out of shadow, we are different men—has it not always been so for us, little brother? A certain vicious satisfaction stirred in Boromir's breast as he watched Faramir cross that lawn. It was a feeling he knew well—of the battlefields it was born, child of costly defeats, when there could be nothing more than a joy in the ashes that men had made, fulfilling their oaths to deny their enemy the sweetest prize: that of honor abandoned to fear.

It seemed, upon reflection, that he had been living with that feeling since Osgiliath, and he wondered whether their father watched Faramir's steady progress. Doubtless he did, and the moment Faramir set foot within the house, Boromir in his turn ducked out from beneath the willow trees, and gazed then up at the window at which he had lately stood. It was shut now, and the curtains drawn.

With a soft sigh, Boromir turned away, and let his feet take him whither they would. He could not return to that house-that only was he certain of, and that he equally could not bring himself to appear yet before his uncle. When he had come first from his father's office, he had thought to find comfort in ale for a time, but the prospect no longer appealed. Nothing appealed, he found, as he wandered the silent streets of the seventh circle. Boromir shivered slightly, though the day was hot.

I told Andra I had forgotten how to feel, he thought, and felt his fists clench beneath his cloak, nails biting into hands gone suddenly and strangely numb, as if with cold. He had wanted to remember so badly, feeling lost in a world that lacked all substance, all resistance, all warmth. Andrahar's caresses, his whispered words, and the solid, hot weight of living flesh had been the first things to stir him so, to make him feel something other than the chill of fear and worry.

For there is nothing otherwise, he thought, and then amended, shamedly, nothing, unless it be wrath enough to strike my brother. It all runs to wrath these days... Perhaps that was why he was not surprised to find himself standing at last before the House of the Stewards on Rath Dínen. Usually, he went to that sad place only once in a year, at Yuletide, and he did not linger longer than was needed to pay his respects. Boromir was not a morbid man, and found no pleasure in the company of the dead, be they entombed in stone or in brittle, musty pages. But he went then within the house, and passing by his ancestors, came to the latest tomb. There, he stood and ran his hands along the edge of the crypt, not daring to touch the stone effigy. His mother's likeness stared back at him unblinking. He loved you, and he hit you, and today I proved myself again my father's son, he thought.

Long he stood there, thinking he knew not what, until at last, the pinpricks of discomfort stirred him. Lifting his hands, he saw the faint traces of blood upon the stone, and when he turned his palms upwards, he was mildly surprised to note the eight red crescents that his nails had dug into his flesh.

I never felt it, he thought, with a distant surprise. Did he ever feel it, I wonder? Or was it like this, and he never felt the pressure, never felt anything, never knew what he did until she cried out? If she cried out. Faramir's horrified, too-knowing expression flashed before his eyes, and Boromir clenched his fist again, but this time in response to the memory of Faramir's grip, and he bowed his head before the remembered pity in his brother's eyes. I thought you too young to know, Faramir. But you were ever too old for your years-it comes of a head for books, I suppose. You always knew too much. Yet I can spare you this knowledge, I hope. I hope...


Awhile longer he stood there, idly rubbing his hands together, and then turned and slowly made his way out.


The halls were chill in the Steward's house, although in every hearth, a fire burned. Even the hearths of those who needed them not anymore, for if spirits were untroubled by the weather, the servants who moved quietly about Boromir's rooms were very much alive. Faramir excused himself quietly, stepping deftly about the coffers and liveried servants, squeezing by a pair of them who were carrying a large trunk out of his brother's room. Pressed to his breast was naught but a handful of letters; he had delivered already the list of names paired with goods that Boromir had left-his will, or as much of it as Faramir had been willing to allow servants to see. The mournful young lad who served as his brother's esquire at home had taken it and promised to see that all such requests were fulfilled, and Faramir had been glad to turn that task over to him.

For his part, he cared only for the letters left behind. "I've seen to everything, Faramir," his brother had said, on the eve of his departure for Imladris. "You know where I keep my letters, should the need arise." And for once, there had been no assurance from him that all would be well, that Faramir would never need to retrieve those letters. Instead, his brother had pulled him close and said only, "I shall try, Faramir. And I shall make all haste that I can." And then, even more softly, "Be certain that the one to Andrahar stays out of Father's hands."

And it has, Faramir thought, as he gained his own room. Dismissing his esquire, he locked the door behind the lad, then went to his desk and spread the letters upon it. One for him, one for Denethor, and one for Andrahar, all of them seeming hurriedly written to judge by the slight smearing of the addressees' names, as if Boromir had not left enough time for the ink to dry. Setting Andrahar's and Denethor's letters aside, Faramir took his own in hand, staring at it a moment.

Then with a sudden movement, he broke the seal, and frantic fingers ripped the envelope away, nearly tore the paper in their haste to unfold it. There were two pages, he discovered, one atop the other. So much? Faramir thought, surprised, even as he felt his chest tighten. But drawing a deep breath, he read on:

25 April 3015

Little brother,

It was never my intention that you should read this. You will forgive me therefore if the style is not appropriately grave-after all, you shall never read this.

What should I say to you in any case? We have said everything, and you know I am not a man for letters. I do love you, have always loved you-this you know. I could leave Gondor in no better hands, and it greatly eases my mind to think that I am well-succeeded. Thank you for that-there were days when I admit I wondered whether poetry would serve you so well as books of strategy, but happily, they seem to have done you no harm. Only do not give your orders in verse, please-'tis very romantic, yet I mistrust the old tales that couch a man's words ever so.

Take care, and try not to heed Father too much. Tell Uncle for me that the box goes back to him, as ever.

Love,

Boromir


Faramir blinked, swallowed hard, for that first message took up but half the page. There remained still much below it, and something like dread knotted his belly as he continued:

3 July 3018

Faramir,

I find, brother, that I have nothing to change in what I have written, only something to add. Once you said that you would not have this weapon of mine, that could bow our father to my wishes. And I said then that I would keep it from you. I am sorry to have failed in that oath, my brother.

What I set out here I would not have you use, save at need, which I shall describe. I would say read no further thereafter, nor open the second letter, until or unless reason arises, but I know you too well. You have seen the worst of me and understood, so perhaps that oath was broken ere ever I made it. I leave it to you to decide.

It was still in the chamber as Faramir read. Flame crackled gently in the hearth, and the wind without was hushed. It must be my breath that sounds so loud, Faramir thought dizzily, when he at last set that final letter down. His hands were shaking, and he felt sick, gut-punched, and the blood was pounding in his head. I need to lie down. Rising, he managed a tolerably steady walk to the couch that was set before the hearth, and there he laid him down, shutting his eyes against the throb of a headache so severe he had never felt the like of it before. All the old ghosts in the house seemed to be whispering to him, and he wanted no part of the tale they told, but it was already too late for that as he clutched at his temples. I have been part of it. But even I would never have guessed...

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.

Live, and be well one day, brother.

Boromir.

Live and be well.
With a soft groan, Faramir turned his face from even the fire's light and tried to sleep.

The moon rose outside his chamber, swept across the night sky, pale and comfortless. In the grey light before dawn, it set, and the sentries stayed their courses in that calm. The eastern sky grew pale; a red light touched the tips of the Ephel Dúath. Somewhere in the city, the cocks crowed, and Faramir blinked his eyes open. He had not slept, and the ache in both head and chest remained with him.

Nevertheless, he rose with the sun and saw to his toilet. Returning to the desk, he considered the unopened letters-the one for Denethor and the one for Andrahar. They must be dealt with that day, as soon as possible, and in the case of Andrahar's, as quietly as possible. Fingers callused from sword and pen strayed then over the other two, and he hesitated when he touched that second. Thaeryl's testimony he had left unopened, though it kept no secrets from him now. After a moment, he took it up, still sealed, and went with it into his bed chamber. On the stand by his bed, there was a locked coffer, and Faramir pulled the key from the purse at his belt. A twist of his wrist, and the lid opened. He set that letter carefully within and then closed the coffer once more, hearing the snick of the lock catching.

He stood there silently for awhile, and then shook his head. I can live, brother. That much I can promise you today.

The rest would come later.

[Index]

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