A Gift and a Promise
The room was dark with the soft moth-winged blackness of a summer night. And though it was quiet, so quiet, I knew he was there.
Only silence answered. I shut the door, and taper in hand, made my way to the far corner of the room, where I knew a hard narrow cot huddled against the cold stone wall. Flickering, the brown light crept over a high shelf burdened with books, then a desk under a tall shuttered window. Slowly, the light found him, glimmering over a fair head bent into long slender hands, a sword by his side, glittering with newness. And the light saw too, in a shapeless mass of shadow behind the sullen greens and browns of a ranger’s garb.
“Do you put the taper away, Boromir.”
Without a word, I set it on a kist, and came to his side. For a long while, we did not speak, for there was no need for words, and I did not touch him, for I knew he could not bear to be touched then. And in the dark, I heard the long, shuddering breaths he drew, breaths that shook his shadowed hands. Suddenly, I hated him, the man who was our father.
“What did he say to you?’ I asked quietly. “You must tell me.”
“A great many things that do not bear repeating.”
He shifted a little, as though it hurt to move. Slowly, I drew his hands away from his face, my own fingers trembling, for I was suddenly afraid of what I might find behind them. They came away warm and sticky; even in the dark I knew the sharp smell of blood. I exclaimed then, softly and vehemently. In an instant, I had the taper in my hand, and the spreading light leapt over a great broken bruise on his cheek, a deep cut under one eye still welling with blood. He flinched away from it, and I saw then that there was blood everywhere, on his hands and mine, blood dulling his fair hair.
“What has he done to you?” I cried. Rage, beyond any I had ever known. I was half-way to the door when I felt his hand on mine.
“No! There is no need. Do not bring his fury upon yourself on my account. It is only a cut, nothing more. It will heal in time.”
In the brown shadows, his eye was bright, the one that was not closed and darkened by blood and bruises. His fingers tightened, like a vise. “Brother, please - do not go to him. Not even you can turn him from his will.”
In a moment, I knew I should find him in the doorway, barring my path. For the space of seven heartbeats, I stood staring down at him, seeing in his shadowed face the dogged look of a man girding himself for battle. “Very well then,” I conceded reluctantly. “But you certainly cannot go on sitting about in the dark like this. Let me send for hot water and some linen.”
“No, wait… I would not have any man see me thus. At least, not until the morrow - when I must leave for Ithilien.”
“Then I will go myself and fetch them. Stay here and wait for me.”
I returned, not to warm stifling dark, but to moonlight and cool night air. He had thrown open the window, and there he stood under its high arch, pale and still as a statue. “It is beautiful, is it not, by night? Perhaps I will be happy there after all.” He was smiling, an odd little smile I had not seen before. With a clatter, I set down on the kist the things I had brought, a basin of steaming water, fresh linen and fierce barley spirit.
“It is,” I said, making my way to his side. The hills rose, dark against a grey shifting sky, and far above, hung the horned moon, the colour of mother of pearl. “But as to happiness, that must be a thing of your own making.”
“There are times when it is not.”
“Perhaps,” I answered. “But for you, it is.” He said nothing, only his downcast eyes told me, stubborn child that he was, that I had said a thing not to his liking. “It matters not for now,” I said gently, “Come, and let me bathe your wounds. You look terrible.”
He laughed then, and stepped swiftly over to the cot where he sat quite unmoving as I washed away the blood from his face and hands until he was clean again, flinching only once, at the first bite of the barley spirit.
“Much better,” I said, examining my handiwork. “The bruises will go in time, but you will have a scar, just here, to mar your beauty.” Gingerly, his long fingers found the distended flesh of his cheek, and the right eye swollen half-shut. Wincing, he looked up, his one good eye glinting in the dimness. “Thank you. No doubt, that is a great consolation.”
I could not help laughing, and when laughter had died away, I turned to him, grave once more. “Never has he laid a hand on you till this day. Tell me, little brother, what did you do to anger him so?”
Fiercely, he met my eyes. “I told him the truth. That I do not want to be a warrior, that I do not wish to go to Ithilien. That it was in my heart to stay here and study the lore and music of our fathers, and perhaps one day, be as learned and wise as Mithrandir. And I told him that nothing would bring me greater joy than to lay down my sword, never to take it up again!”
For a long while, I held his gaze until at last, he looked away.
“Did you? It was most unwise of you to say so. You know how he hates to be thwarted.”
“And so do I!” he flung back, with the furious intensity of youth.
“But you are not the Lord of Minas Tirith. You are only his son, as I am, and must do as he bids you.”
“I have some advice for you, little brother, if you would have it. Do as he says - nay, sit still and listen to me, for I have not finished. Do as he says, learn what you can, for he is wise in his own way. Very wise he is in the lore of our people, and he sees further and deeper than we do. Love, duty, obedience, fealty - these are the things you owe to him, for he is your father and liege lord, as he is mine. And because we are his sons, we owe him more than other men do, for if we, his sons do not give him these with a whole heart, who will?”
He looked at me then, without anger, without hatred, without words. Only something in his eye told me that he understood at last the sacrifice that he must make. And in my heart, I grieved for him, for he took no joy as I did in the flight and fury of battle, nor in the beauty of an arrow thrumming from its bow.
“It is not given to all men to follow their dreams,” I said gently. “Perhaps he had dreams too, long ago; perhaps he laid them aside just as you will, never to take them up again, to steadfastly do what duty and honour bade?”
“Then why Ithilien? Why not the Tower Guard or the Osgiliath garrison?” he asked, tonelessly. “Sixteen summers I have lived here and now, I have only a night left, and that half gone.” He looked at me then with such longing that my breath caught in my throat, and for a long moment, I could not speak. Slowly, he opened his clenched hands, the slim hands of a poet or a harper, the left cruelly marked by sword hilt and bow-string. And I saw in that small gesture that was in part hopelessness, the beginning of something; perhaps, the making of a great gift.
“In Ithilien I must stay, till he bids me return.”
I felt a flush of anger rising in my cheek and choked down the words that sprang to my tongue unbidden. You are a man, so behave like one, I told myself.
So, I said at last, “Till he bids you return…Did he say so? I have not the answer but perhaps he will tell you, in time.”
“Perhaps,” he said broodingly. For a long moment he said nothing, only his slender fingers traced, in the half-dark, the glittering swan graven on the cross-piece of his sword. How could he bear to touch it, knowing that the hand of its giver was the very hand that struck him? Then he looked up, and I saw the sudden dread in his eye. “What shall I do if he does not send for me? Am I to live out the rest of my days in Ithilien among strangers? Oh Boromir, think what if it should be!”
“That is foolishness,” I said, gripping his shoulders hard, until I felt the bone beneath. “Listen, now. You are his son and he loves you. Let his fury fade a little, and I will speak to him, I shall clamour for your return. Meanwhile, let you do your best, and by and by, you shall be such a warrior that he can be proud of. I am sure of it. But it will not be an easy thing, little brother. The Company of Ithilien are unlike any other soldiers of our realm, for they are sturdier and fiercer than most, and their Captain is a hard man, set in his ways, but a fair one. You will learn much from him. Now, promise me that you will do as I say.”
And his voice came to me, quivering with fear and wretchedness, before it steadied again, “But where shall I find the strength? It is not my way.”
“You will find it,” I said, shaking him a little.
He said nothing, but gathered to himself the dark hooded cloak of juniper green, the brown leather harness, stiff with newness, that he must wear tomorrow and perhaps for the long days, months and years after. And I saw how his gaze strayed lovingly to the books of history, music and poetry in their cramped shelves and how long it lingered there, as though he was taking up his new life and bidding farewell to the old. It was a thing I could not bear to watch.
“You have my word,” he said softly into the flickering dark. And with a deep, shuddering sigh, “He shall have love, duty, obedience and fealty from me, as my liege lord and father. And all my hopes and dreams I lay aside until the time comes to take them up again. Let that be my gift to him, and to Gondor.”
“That was well done, little brother, ” I said, with tenderness. “Now let you go to sleep, for there is a long journey before you tomorrow.”
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With thanks to Avon for her comments and Raksha who wanted a gap-filler for the "Phrygian Flute." Well, now you have it!