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The Vault of the Dead
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Brother, 'Tis Good to See You Again!

For disclaimer, rating, etc. see the Introduction.

Neiniel is an ancient version of Níniel and means “the tearful one”. I thought it would be matching for someone who works as the housekeeper of the Dead.

This is a bookverse fic, so the teary little scene from the movie where Boromir accepts Aragorn as his king is not valid here.


Part 06 – Brother, ‘Tis Good to See You Again!

“I can take you to the Vault,” a low male voice offered after Morwêndî had led Gandalf away.

Turning, Faramir and Legolas saw another black-clad Dark Elf, wearing his hair in a fashion that was surprisingly close to the warrior’s braids of the Wood-Elves. Although, considering that the Silvan folk had it from the northern Avari, it mayhap was not entirely surprising, after all, Legolas realized.

“I am Spanturo,” said the Dark Elf. “I was the one who challenged Olórin and the King of Gondor over the sapling of the Eldest Tree.”

“Your fashion sense seems to have developed since then, if they described you correctly,” said Legolas, eyeing the grim elegance of his looks with curiosity.

The other Elf shrugged. “I am home now. No need for disguise.”

Which was certainly true; and yet, like with everything concerning the Dark Elves, even that simple statement seemed to have a slightly… ominous overtone. That, or Faramir’s mind was about to refuse to take in any more strangeness.

“So,” he said to the Elf, painfully aware of his own clumsy attempt to change the topic, “do you talk to the Dead, too?”

“Sometimes,” admitted the Dark Elf. “Not very often, too. They value their peace, and we respect that. But if some truly grave matter comes up, we do not hesitate to seek out their advice.”

“Why is it, then, that you are the one to take us to them?” Faramir was still not fully convinced that this was not some kind of trap.

“’Tis not I who will take you to them, ‘tis my bondmate, Neiniel,” replied the Dark Elf. “She is the caretaker of the Vault, and thus the only one to enter it without being called first. Besides, only you will be taken to the Death; the elfling here has a different invitation.”

“I would thank you if you ceased to call me an elfling,” said Legolas in mild annoyance. “I might be younger than you, but I am by no means a child anymore.”

“You are a child, compared with me,” said Spanturo with a tolerant grin. “I am older than your grandsire was, elfling; although the one who has asked to see you is even older than I am.”

“And that would be…?” Legolas trailed off. But Spanturo, in true Dark Elf fashion, gave no straight answer.

“Come with me and see,” was all he said, and Wood-Elf and Man followed him reluctantly.

He crossed the courtyard with them and stood before the Vault. Its entrance was high above their head, at the upper end of a steep little staircase of twenty-eight steps.

“You must climb the stairs, Man of Gondor, and Neiniel will guide you further,” he said to Faramir, “while you, elfling, will come with me,” he gestured to the arched entrance of the cave next to the staircase’s lower end.

Legolas pulled a face. “Under the earth again?”

Spanturo nodded. “Does that make you uncomfortable?”

“Not as a rule, it does not,” replied Legolas. “After all, we live inside a rocky hill back home. I just… I just had too many caves to cross lately. It gets tiresome after a while.”

“You shall not regret visiting this one,” promised Spanturo.

The Prince of Mirkwood sighed. “Very well, then. Lead the way.”

And Spanturo did just that, leaving Faramir to his own devices. The Steward of Gondor shook his head ruefully, beginning to doubt that a visit like this was truly such a good idea.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
He climbed the twenty-eight steps and took a moment to catch his breath again before passing under the arched entrance, to admire the somewhat faded wall paintings above and around it. As far as he could tell in the fading twilight, they showed a long gone place, near some flowing and falling waters, under a starlit sky. Tall, dark trees were standing near the waters, and among the trees, pale shapes were lying on the grass, some asleep, some already awake.

“Koiviê-néni,” said a soft female voice. “The Waters of Awakening. The place of our birth that is now lost to us, forever.”

He looked up into the grey eyes of a silver-haired Elf-woman wearing an unadorned soft grey gown. To be honest, the sight was something of a shock after all those black-clad, black-haired, black-eyed Dark Elves.

“I am from the tribe of the Teleri,” she said, as if she had read his mind; perchance she had seen the same reaction before. “I chose to come with Morwê’s people when we left Koiviê-néni after the first sundering.”

“For Spanturo?” he asked knowingly. She nodded and smiled.

“I never regretted my choice for a moment. Please, enter the Vault now. The Dead are waiting.”

She stepped aside to allow him into a small room. ‘Twas nearly empty, save from a tiny apse opposite the entrance and the low stone benches on both sides. In the apse, there was another wall painting, clearly depicting the Lady Nienna. Though there were neither lamps nor candles in the stone chamber, a pale gleam from far above cast some vague light at the interior.

Faramir looked up and saw that the chamber had no ceiling – perchance it continued without a barrier in the strange, cone-shaped tower that he had seen from the courtyard.

“What is up there?” he asked.

“You mean who?” corrected Neiniel. “That is where the Dead have taken residence. The light that you see are, in truth, the Unhoused themselves.”

“Ghosts?” asked Faramir, feeling a little uncomfortable. After the appearance of the Dead Men of Dunharrow in the Battle on the Pelennor Fields, ghosts had become something less of a myth – and that did not make him particularly happy.

“Spirits,” she answered, “though mayhap you mortal Men would call them ghosts. There is no great difference.”

“And what shall I do here?” Faramir glanced up with a frown. So far, the Dead had held back, but he knew that would change, soon. After all, they had asked for him to come.

“You sit down here and wait,” answered Neiniel. “The Dead will come to you.”

“I would not call that encouraging,” he murmured, but did as he was told; then, seeing that she was about to leave, he called after her. “Are you leaving me here alone?”

“Of course,” she said. “My presence was not requested – only yours.”

She left, leaving Faramir alone in the darkened room. Faramir tried to take a deep breath to calm himself down but failed – he felt as if his chest had tightened painfully, cutting off his air. He could only make short, shallow pants while he watched anxiously the pale lights move around high above his head.

After a while – he could not tell how long it had taken, for time seemed to stand still in this strange place – a swirl of that light separated from the rest and began to spiral downward, spinning slowly around itself as it descended, gaining solidity with each passing moment. ‘Twas a slow process, yet Faramir now stared at it with awe, for the foggy image had taken on the shape of a Man. A tall, heavily-built, dark-haired Man in a simple, black leather jerkin, under which he seemed to wear a long-sleeved mail shirt and dark britches with high boots. His body was still half-transparent, Faramir could see the small apse through its contours, but his features were already fully formed and easy to recognize.

“Boromir…” whispered the shaken Steward.

His brother flashed at him one of those wide, white grins. “’Tis good to see you again, Brother.”

“But… but you are…” Faramir could not finish the sentence. The mere thought still pained him too much.

“Dead?” asked Boromir, solidifying a little more. “Yea, I fear I am. Has Aragorn told you what happened?”

Faramir shook his head. “Nay; Frodo has… and later Pippin and Legolas. I… I did not wish to speak with the King about it… about you.”

Boromir nodded his understanding. “So, now you know.”

“I had known ere they told me,” replied Faramir. “I saw you in that Elven boat, near Cair Andros.”

“Truly?” said Boromir in surprise. He had now lost the transparency of his body completely and shook himself like a hound after having been caught in rain. “Was it true sight or a mere dream?”

Faramir shrugged. “To be honest, I have been asked myself just that ever since. I hoped you would be able to tell me.”

“I fear I cannot,” said Boromir. “When I came by… well, kind of… that boat was already at the Cape of Andrast, on its way to the Great Sea. Let me tell you – ‘twas a strange thing to glare down at my own dead body.”

“’Twas you who asked that I be brought here, then?” asked Faramir.

Boromir nodded. “This is the only place where you can see me… where I cold speak my farewell properly – or so I hope.”

“You hope?” frowned Faramir.

Boromir shrugged. “’Tis not easy; not even here, though there is something deeply strange about this place, some kind of magic that makes thing possible that there could not be done elsewhere. Still… try not to be too disappointed, should it not work.”

What should not…” Faramir never got the chance to finish the question, for his brother stepped closer and embraced him tightly.

Shockingly enough, he felt… solid. Just like in life. And warm, with that familiar scent of leather and oil, the sort with which he had used to tend to his weapons. After a moment of uncertainty, Faramir’s arms, too, came up, clinging to his brother almost desperately. They held each other for what seemed forever; then they let go and stepped back to see at each other.

“Better than what I have hoped for,” declared Boromir with a wide smile. “I was a bit uncertain… sure, I have tried again and again, and being here helps, but it was by no means certain that I would be able to do it, in the end.”

“To hug me?” asked Faramir, smiling faintly.

“To become solid enough to do so,” explained Boromir. “It needs some experience. Of course, the other… residents here all can do it at a whim, but they had hundreds, some of them thousands of years to learn the trick. I have only been dead for four months.”

“You are remarkably light-hearted about it,” said Faramir.

“About being dead?” Boromir clarified. Faramir nodded. “Well, I cannot truly change the fact, can I? ‘Twas best to get used to it.”

“And you have been here all the time?” asked Faramir.

Boromir nodded. “I could not truly wander around with the Nazgûl abroad… with me being a ghost and thus within their realm.”

“A wise decision,” Faramir shuddered in remembered terror. “I wish I had the chance to avoid them and their realm, too.”

“I know,” said Boromir. “We all were aware of what was going on outside this little valley. I deeply regret that you had to face them on your own.”

“’Twas not your fault,” answered Faramir.

“Mayhap not,” murmured Boromir thoughtfully, “although I am not so certain about that anymore. My… fellow residents here tell me that you were meant to seek out Imladris. I should have stayed behind and defend Gondor as it has been my calling from birth on.”

“You meant well,” said Faramir. “And there is no doubt that you have always been the hardier one from us. Mayhap I could never have reached Imladris in the first place.”

Boromir shook his head. “I think not, Brother. A Ranger would have been better suited for a journey through the wilderness; and a scholar would have been better suited to deal with all the strange things I had to face. If you had been in my place, you would not have succumbed to the Ring. And had I stayed at home, mayhap Father would be still alive.”

“Who says I would have withstood the lure of the Ring any better?” asked Faramir. “I was exposed to it for less than two days. You have travelled in its company through dark places for months, chased by the Nazgûl and other evil things. Nay, Brother, what I have heard about it, had Frodo not left the others at Sarn Gebir, every single one of them would have broken, sooner or later. Do not sell yourself too cheaply. Given enough time, even our new King would have cracked.”

“Aragorn?” said Boromir doubtfully. “I do not think so. If any-one, he knew it better. He was well taught about the Ring and its power.”

“As I see it, no-one could withstand the Ring in the long run,” said Faramir slowly. “It broke the will of Isildur, a long time ago, and he was the strongest of our kind. Elrond Halfelven refused to take it, in fear what it could have done to him, and he is used to deal with Rings of Power. You were perchance more vulnerable than the others, for you were concerned about the fate of Gondor. But not even Mithrandir dared to touch it, they say; for the mightier someone was, the more they were tempted by it.”

Boromir gave him a sad little smile. “I thank you for your trust, Brother, but I believe not that we will ever know the truth. ‘Tis no use to ponder over ‘what if’s… even if the Dark Elves are right and I should left you go to Imladris.”

“Had you welcomed Aragorn as the King Returned, were you the one to lead Gondor’s armies and Father still alive upon his arrival?” asked Faramir quietly.

Boromir thought about it for a moment, his clear grey eyes darkening in sorrow.

“I would not have stepped down without a fight,” he finally said. “Not ere he had proven his worthiness in battle, that is. And even then, I would have asked for his claim to be tested by the Council, in the light of Pelendur’s Law. For his claim is no more justified than Arvedui’s has been… in truth, even less so.”

“Are you saying that I have made a mistake when I accepted the King’s claim?” asked Faramir.

Boromir shook his head. “Nay, Brother, I understand why you did what you did. With Father dead and you at death’s door, without a strong leader, our people could not have held out ‘til the Ringbearer fulfilled his obligation. Gondor needed a banner that our soldiers could follow into that last, desperate battle before the Black Gate. You could not go with them, and Uncle Imrahil, beloved though he might be, had no sufficient authority. You did the only think that could be done to save Gondor.”

“But you are still not happy with the outcome,” said Faramir.

“Nay,” admitted Boromir. “Unlike you, I never wished for the return of the King; I would still prefer the time-proved leadership of our House to that of a stranger whose heart is in the North and who has not been prepared all his life to rule the realm. What has happened cannot be changed, though, and whether I like it or not, this is the only way for Gondor to prevail now.”

“Why are you still here, then?” asked Faramir. “I have never heard of Men tarrying behind after their death… save from the Dead Men of Dunharrow, that is, but they are a different matter.”

Boromir shrugged. “The lady Elf – the Herald of the Dead who has brought me here – said that my time to die has not yet come. That I have to wait ‘til the time is right… and this is a place where I can wait undisturbed.”

“Wait for what?” asked Faramir.

“Not for what – for whom,” said Boromir. “One thing the journey to Imladris has brought me: I have met my soul-mate there and bonded myself for ever. And as long as Elladan is alive, I cannot leave this world, either. Part of me is trapped in the Shielding Stone… in that white jewel embedded in the silver collar that Elladan wears. ‘Tis our soul-bond that keeps me on this plane.”

“Then you will have to wait for a long time,” said Faramir. “He is an Elf; unless slain in battle, he will not die.”

“He was an Elf,” corrected Boromir. “Elrond’s children have been granted the same choice as their father; and just as the lady Arwen chose the fate of mortal Men for Aragorn, Elladan, too, chose to become mortal for me, so that we would not be separated in the afterlife.” He gave his brother a querying look. “You do not seem surprised.”

“I am not,” replied Faramir. “Elladan has told me… well, not the part about his becoming mortal, but the rest of it. He often visited me during my recovery, and we had long talks.”

“And what do you think about it… about us?” asked Boromir quietly.

Faramir shrugged. “It took me some time to get used to the thought,” he admitted, “but what does it matter now? He loved you… he still does. You were granted but a very short time together, and you would have no hope for more, even if you survived. You know that as well as I do.”

Boromir nodded. “That is the only thing I truly regret. He would have deserved more. Had he chosen another Elf, he would have had a long and fulfilled life that lasted ‘til the end of Arda. Yet he chose me… and doomed himself to have but a short mortal lifespan; and even that, he will spend alone.”

“He seems to think that what little you were granted was worth the price,” said Faramir. “Can you not reach him, though? Now that the Nazgûl are gone, can you not travel freely?”

“Mayhap I could,” answered Boromir, “but what good would it do to haunt my beloved White City as a ghost? Besides, ‘tis not my city anymore. It belongs to Aragorn now. Seeing it under the rule of a stranger would hurt me too much.”

“I can understand that,” said Faramir thoughtfully. “I never loved Minas Tirith as much as you did, but I, too, am glad that I shall be living in Emyn Arnen. Inevitable though the changes may be, and, I hope, for the better of Gondor, that makes our losses no less true. And even if Gondor has now a King again, they will feel the loss of you keenly, once all is settled and life returns to normal. For although we might have overthrown the Dark Lord, against all hope, there are still evil forces at our borders – or just hostile ones – and your strength and skills as the Captain-General will be sorely missed.”

“You will have to fill my place,” said Boromir.

“I will,” promised Faramir, “but we shall still miss you terribly.” He paused for a moment. “I assume I am not to return to this place, am I?”

“Nay,” replied Boromir. “They will not allow you again. You would never find the way a second time, in truth. Nor is it needful. We got the unhoped-for chance to see each other one last time, and to speak our farewells… that is more than other people get, and it should be enough. You must go on with your life, and I… I am at peace. We shall meet again, in the fullness of time, of that I am certain, wherever it is where mortal Men go when they die.”

“What about Elladan?” asked Faramir. “Do you want me to do aught for him? Is there aught that I can do for him?”

“You can take him in as family, whenever he comes to the South,” said Boromir. “For a while, he will remain in Imladris, I think. But once the valley begins to wither without the Ring of Elrond, Elrohir will sail, and then Elladan will be drawn to the South. He will need a brother… be that brother for him. And as my place in the Rath Dínen will remain empty, see to it that he can rest there, once his life comes to full circle. Will you do that for him… for me?”

“That, and whatever you want,” answered Faramir.

Boromir inclined his head. “Then I am content.”

“I see,” Faramir sighed. “Well, 'tis farewell then, I deem, at least for this life?”

“It is,” said Boromir, hugging him tightly again. “You should go now, Brother – and look not back. I cannot keep up this shape much longer, and I would prefer you to remember me the way you can see me now… not as a wisp of nothing. Go and walk in the Sun for many years to come yet.”

“I will,” Faramir hugged him back and then stepped away. “Be at peace, Brother. ‘Twas good to see you again, indeed.”

“I am at peace,” replied Boromir. “Go now. Go and have a long and happy life. You deserve it.”

And Faramir bowed to the spirit of his dead brother in deep respect and left, without looking back, as Boromir had asked him to do, his heart filled with a strange mix of joy and sorrow and, above all else, love. The courtyard was darkened when he left the Vault, yet painted silver by starlight, and it slowly filled with black-clad Dark Elves, the jewels on their clothes and in their hair glimmering and their pale faces shining in the near-darkness. They gathered in the courtyard and were standing on the winding stairways and narrow rock paths, waiting for a sign – Faramir could not guess what.

Suddenly, the clear, sweet sound of a silver bell could be heard from somewhere, filling the place with its echoes, And as an answer, the Dark Elves rose their voices in a song older than the Sun and the Moon: an old hymn, greeting the newborn stars of Barathî. ‘Twas a song of fierce joy and bone-deep sorrow, of power and plea at the same time, and Faramir listened to it, enchanted, forgetting everything else around him.



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