A Price Too High to Pay, Part One
Many thanks to my sister SarahB and Cressida for their feedback on this story!
A PRICE TOO HIGH TO PAY (Part One)
Boromir lifted his head, uttered a long, exhausted sigh, and for the first time in his life, hated the thought of battle.
It was quiet now in the large healer's tent where he sat. He had no idea how long it had been since the flow of wounded from the most recent fight had stopped, when the healers had finished their urgent work on those who could be saved and comforted as best they could those whose mortal lives were close to ending. When he had arrived several hours earlier, the sun had been setting, the battle freshly ended, and the air had been full of shouted orders and the cries of the injured.
His green eyes traveled slowly around the dimly lit tent. Only a few lamps flickered in the darkness; all the fallen men were now either asleep or wrapped in a far deeper slumber which would find no waking there. It seemed to Boromir, however, that the taint of blood and pain still hung in the air, haunting even the peaceful scene before him. This was not the first time he had been in a healer's tent; after five years in the Gondorian army, he had had his share of wounds. Tonight, however, it all seemed much more oppressive and sinister to him, the shadow of death far closer than he had ever noticed before.
He blinked wearily and rubbed his eyes, every movement reminding him of the stiffness of his muscles and making him feel far older than his twenty-two years. How long had he been sitting here, still clad in his blood-spattered battle armor, without the appetite for food or drink? Slowly he drew one hand through his damp blonde hair, trying to think, but nothing coherent came. Did it matter how much time had passed, really? He knew his men had won the day, that the forces of Mordor had been held back by the sons of Gondor once again. They could spare him, and if the need rose, his commander knew where to find him. Yet even if the need arose, he doubted he would be able to leave.
A heavy mantle of sadness settled over his heart, and he glanced at the cot next to him which had commanded his entire attention from the moment he had entered the tent.
Upon the cot lay another man, some years his junior, covered with a thin sheet whose folds failed to hide the severity of his injuries. His face bore some resemblance to Boromir's, although it was longer, and the long curling hair carried a more reddish hue. Bandages swathed his chest, showing through the loose linen shirt he wore, dark bruises circled his neck, and his youthful face was marred with several deep scratches. His skin was very pale, and glistened with an unhealthy sheen in the faltering light of the lamps, enhancing the crimson ugliness of his wounds. Like the other patients, he was asleep, but his apparently peaceful rest seemed to bring little comfort to Boromir as he stared at the supine figure's drawn features. His eyes could not help glancing from the injured man to the pile of blood-streaked armor which lay discarded behind the cot, or the bucket of scarlet-stained bandages that sat nearby.
Boromir stared with an expression of perfect agony at this young man, his eyes bearing an increasing aspect of sorrow, anger and fear. A battalion of charging Orcs had never raised in him such fear as he felt in this quiet tent, looking down at this still form. Battle had never disquieted him, the willingness to sacrifice all for Gondor never awakening the slightest hesitation in his heart.
Until this day, when the heat of battle had nearly claimed his beloved younger brother Faramir.
He bowed his head, overcome with grief as the terrible images conjured up by the healer's words once more rolled through his mind. He had first heard them when he arrived, breathless and terrified that he'd be too late and find Faramir dead. The healer had told him what had happened, and somehow the story had made it through the thick web of shock that had woven itself around Boromir's mind. There it had stuck, immovable, sounding over and over in his ears, a crimson tale of how the war had almost cost him his brother.
Powerless to halt the vision, Boromir once more saw the event unfold in his mind, as it had repeatedly all night long, as if he had been there. A battle raging, Gondor's sacred earth black and red with the blood of Orcs and men, undulating waves of soldiers shifting back and forth across the contested field. In the midst of it was Faramir, a soldier for only six months now but already well-respected by his commander and the other men, plying his sword in the name of their people and their father, Denethor, the ruling Steward of Gondor.
Then, as the healer told it, he could see one of the other soldiers falling, beset by Orcs. Faramir, abandoning thoughts of his own safety, flying to his side, throwing the vile creatures away, plunging his blade again and again into the beasts to drive them back. Their first prey forgotten, the Orcs began turning on the Steward's youngest son, stabbing him viciously, grabbing him by the throat, determined to choke the life from him...
Boromir shuddered and dropped his head into his hands, covering his eyes, wishing he could blot out the thought of Faramir in the merciless grip of the Orcs. How could he bear the idea of his precious brother, gentle, peaceful Faramir, dangling by the neck, covered in his own blood, still fighting even as he struggled for breath? His stomach roiled, even though he knew that Faramir had been saved by his men's intervention, that the Orcs who had attacked him were slain, that his brother, though badly wounded, had survived the assault. Despite this knowledge, the very idea made him ill, and he knew that it always would.
Sighing, Boromir lifted his head and looked once more at Faramir, a warm sensation of sorrow sweeping through him. The rest of the healer's words echoed in his ears; Faramir would be very weak for a while, but he would probably recover completely. Tonight was most important for him, but once it had passed and he regained enough strength, Faramir would be sent back to the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith for rest. In a few months he would be fit to return to service.
The warrior frowned, anger pushing through the sadness. The healer had couched his promises carefully, but Boromir knew enough to hear what was not said. Tonight would be the test; Faramir would live, if he survived to the morning. And that meant that there was still a chance...
His throat tightened, and he shook his head, as pointless as the gesture was to anyone who might have seen him. No, he thought firmly to himself, he would not even consider that. The thought would not even be allowed to cross his mind. He would not lose Faramir. The healer might not have been certain, but Boromir knew. Surely his brother would be spared, he was strong for one of only seventeen years, and Gondor needed such strength for the struggle ahead.
Then Boromir's eye fell once more on the blood-spattered armor, the crimson bandages, the too-pale face shining with sweat, and his heart fell, unable to sustain the hopeful delusion. He had seen too many men, stronger and with lesser injuries than those inflicted on his brother, laid low before their time. And Faramir had lost so much blood, every garment he had been wearing was drenched in it.
Boromir found himself staring at the saturated bandages, and thinking, 'Faramir's blood.'
He grew ill again, and swallowed, tearing his eyes away.
Other images came before his mind, disconnected and random. They were children again, playing by the great river, heedless of the future. Boromir was stabbing the air with a wooden sword, boasting to Faramir with an eleven-year-old's pride how many Orcs he'd kill one day. Faramir, sitting by the Anduin with a book in his lap, voiced his admiration and kept reading.
Years flew by; he could see himself eagerly training for war, delighting in each new battle lesson, anxious to learn to fight, to defend, to kill. And Faramir was there as well, sitting in the library surrounded by dusty books, diligently studying his music and history, holding long discussions with Boromir over the uses and misuses of war. The talks might get heated, but there was never an argument. He was just stating what he thought.
Then, another memory, Faramir standing tall in his new soldier's uniform, and Boromir teasing him, full of pride: "And here I always thought you hated war."
And his brother had said, "But I love Gondor, and Father, and you. For the sake of what I love, I can endure what I hate."
Boromir's hands clenched into fists as rage consumed him. It all seemed so pointless, so unfair. Faramir did hate war, would have much rather spent his life with those moldy old parchments. Yet here he was, mangled and bleeding, as if the gods of combat had sought him out for punishment, while Boromir, who had devoted his life to war, sat whole.
He grimaced and ducked his head, frustrated anger coursing through him. If the Valar had decided that one of them had to be wounded, he would much rather it had been himself. He could bear his own suffering; as one born with a warrior's soul and as the heir of the Stewardship, he had spent his whole life toughening himself for his future. Such pain would be nothing to the anguish of sitting untouched by his brother's side, waiting, unable to help while all sorts of horrifying fancies tortured his heart.
Next to Faramir's bed, a section of the tent lay open to allow the cool night breezes into the enclosure. Through the gap, Boromir could plainly see the black night sky peppered with brilliant stars. It was a beautiful sight, but it gave him no cheer. He saw only darkness, and hours, hours until morning came and Faramir was safe. It seemed so long to wait until then, a vast stretch of time in which the unthinkable might happen.
Boromir stared at the darkness, his blood going cold at the anxious thoughts assailing him. Death lay in that fathomless night, waiting, poised. He had already see it claim three men while he watched over Faramir. It lingered still, patiently, and Boromir knew that even the mightiest warrior born of Arda could not fend it off. He could nearly see its shadowy form, hovering just beyond the light of the tent, watching with greedy eyes...
He choked and stood suddenly, frightened at how wildly his thoughts had run. The waiting and worry was twisting his mind; he was a man of action, of doing, and it was driving him mad to have no enemy to fight, no tangible way to conquer the phantom stalking his brother. He sighed and drew a hand through his hair once more, panting as he tried to calm his pounding heart. He needed air.
Wiping his face, he eyed the tent opening just on the other side of Faramir's cot. He would be able to step outside, just for a moment, and still keep a watch for any signs of distress from his brother. The cool night breeze would clear his head, and a short walk would calm his restlessness and hopefully dispel the dark notions filling his imagination.
He dropped his eyes once more to Faramir's face, just to make sure. But his brother still appeared to be in a deep healing slumber, pale but apparently in no immediate danger. Satisfied that a moment's absence would be safe, Boromir briefly placed his hand on Faramir's forehead, then slipped silently out into the night.
The darkness blinded him at first, although the lamps inside the tent had been very dim. After blinking for a few moments, his vision soon cleared, and he could clearly see the land around him. Not far away, black against the night sky, was the edge of the forest, its leaves rustling gently in the breeze. Around the tent, the open plains of the battlefield stretched away, its torn ground only faintly visible in the pale starlight. In the stillness he could hear the mighty waters of the Anduin rushing past not far away. Overhead, the stars gleamed, countless points of light valiantly shimmering in the midst of endless darkness. Calmed by the gentle, cool wind, Boromir turned his eyes to the heavens and felt his heart settle within his breast. It had always made him feel very peaceful to watch the stars, for some reason, and he felt as if he had never needed peace more than on this night.
For several minutes, Boromir simply stood, allowing the cool wind to fan his weary face and soothe his nerves. He was thankful for the anonymity and solitude the darkness afforded him, so that the other men would not see how anxious he was. He would show a cool, collected wit to the men who followed his orders, and his wits were far from collected at the moment.
After resting for a while, he drew a deep breath and began pacing a short distance, ever watchful of his brother sleeping on the other side of the tent opening. He knew he was not handling this as well as he imagined he would, when this day inevitably arrived. Wounds were a normal part of life for a soldier. From the day he learned that he and Faramir would one day take up arms in defense of Gondor as the sons of the Steward, he had known what that duty would include. Training had instilled in him, as he was sure it had instilled in Faramir, a realistic expectation of the harsher aspects of a warrior's life. And if the training had not done it, surely the veterans' tales told around the campfire would have filled in the gaps.
But still ... A frown creased Boromir's face as he glanced once more into the tent as he thought more about it. It was true, he had been prepared for the pain and bloodletting of battle, and he clearly remembered that his own first wound was not really as bad as he had expected it to be. He had born the anguish well, and could still hear his father's praise at his fortitude ringing in his ears. Since that time, he had taken several arrows and stab wounds, had even almost died once, but he had never begrudged one drop of spilled blood. In a way, he had thrived on it, for it had fed his instinctive desire to fight those who had injured himself and his land.
Therefore, he pondered as he slowly walked through the darkness, his hair and shoulders aglow with starlight, the fact that Faramir had fallen prey to the common soldier's fate should not have shocked him so. And yet, he had been shocked down to his core, when the news came, even more so than when he himself had been wounded. The fear he had felt for himself was nothing compared to the agony he had suffered over Faramir's fate. It all seemed quite unreal.
Perhaps that was it, mused Boromir as he turned and walked back the short way he had just passed. His heart had never really believed that Faramir would be injured, even on that day he had helped his brother don his first suit of armor. Despite his own experience, despite everything he knew about the danger of their situation, he had not allowed himself to think that his beloved brother would be struck down. It was too horrible a thought to consider, so he had simply ignored it. Perhaps he had hoped the war would somehow end before Faramir had a chance to be hurt; perhaps he felt that his own strong love would charm Faramir so that arrows and swords would turn from his flesh. It had been a foolish hope, he saw that now, but he knew that had he been aware of the anguish this night had caused him, he would have barred his brother's way and never let him trod the soldier's path.
But now the illusion had vanished, the reality was here, and everything had changed.
His eyes bent to the East, and to a small patch of sky in the distance in which the stars lay hidden behind a vast cloud of black. Now and then the darkness was tinted with red, and a faint sound like the roll of summer thunder touched his ears. Boromir's gaze narrowed as he stared at the realm of the Dark Lord Sauron, deep in the land of Mordor, the sworn enemy of Gondor and of all the free peoples of Middle-earth. Boromir had sworn to defend Gondor to his last drop of blood, to wage battle against the forces of evil until they were driven away forever. His whole being was devoted to the cause, and he had ever considered it a sacred endeavor, worthy of the dearest sacrifice.
Tonight, however, the struggle had taken on a new aspect, for Boromir was now forced to consider the dear sacrifice he may one day be called upon to bear for Gondor: the life of his brother Faramir.
Boromir shivered at the thought. He loved Gondor with all the might of his soul, but he feelings grew confused when he imagined-as he had to, now-that the cost of her emerging victorious might include his beloved brother. He might survive to see the day that Mordor's forces were driven away for good - he hoped to play a large role in that event - but of what avail would that day be if Faramir was not there to share the triumph?
He looked once more through the opening at his brother's drawn features, still so white in the dim lamp's glow. A dreary future unfolded in his mind's eye, of Gondor rejoicing in its freedom while he knelt at a solitary tomb in the Silent Street, unable to share in the celebration. He saw his brother's music and books put away, rotting into dust, the instruments he loved silent forever. He saw himself, continuing alone, without the gentle voice and quiet wisdom to guide him, the loving friendship to ease the loneliness of his position. Every day he would turn to speak to the one person who perfectly knew his heart, and he would not be there.
Boromir gasped at the vision, and shuddered at how cold and empty it seemed. Such a sacrifice was too much to ask, even for Gondor; yet he knew such a thought was treason even as he formed it. A true soldier would embrace any cost for his mission, and Boromir had been born a warrior, the heir of the Steward and one day Steward himself, devoted to his final breath to the survival of Gondor. Yet how could he be glad for that survival, if it required the loss of the one dearest to him in the world? Was he strong enough to bear such a sacrifice, without growing to resent the land he loved for demanding it of him?
He trembled, and wrapped his arms about himself, determined to drive such dark thoughts away. It seemed madness to think such things; Faramir was strong, he would recover, and there was little reason to feel so certain that he would not share in Gondor's eventual victory. Yet the possibility still haunted the edges of his mind, and he knew he would have to fully reconcile himself to it before he could lead his men with a heart completely committed to the fight. They deserved no less.
With a mind still deeply troubled, he took one last look at the glittering, eternal stars, then stepped back into the healer's tent to wait and watch for the dawn.
Many sleepless hours passed, and when the pink light of sunrise finally crept into the healer's tent, Boromir decided it had been the longest night of his life. The morning had brought great relief, however, for Faramir had lived through the dangerous time; his skin seemed not quite so pale in the faint light, his breathing more deep and sound. He lay still sleeping, and Boromir was wondering if he would wake soon when he felt a tap on his shoulder. Blinking, he turned to see one of his men behind him, a younger soldier with a thin face and black hair, covered with dust from a long ride.
"Captain Boromir," he began in a whisper, but Boromir quickly held a hand up and rose, motioning the messenger away from the cot where Faramir slumbered. They stepped outside, where the first signs of life were stirring in the camp. Kettles were already set over fires to boil, and the smell of cooking food wafted through the misty air. Around them, the first gleams of red-gold morning sunlight were brushing the tops of the trees.
Boromir took a deep breath and faced the soldier with a nod. "Good day, Hegan," he said softly, with a faint smile. "I am pleased to see that you survived our encounter yesterday."
The other man smiled slightly. "Yes, sir, though not from any lack of effort on the part of the Orcs," he replied in an amiable but respectful tone. "How is Lord Faramir?"
His superior turned quickly to look back into the tent. "His condition is much better now that he has passed the night," Boromir said, doing his best to keep all remaining anxiety out of his voice as he looked back at Hegan. "He'll go back to Minas Tirith to heal, and then return to his duties."
Hegan smiled. "Captain Deren will be happy to hear that, sir," he said, relieved. "He sent me here to say that he needs you to return as soon as possible. He thinks the enemy may try to get around our left today."
Boromir nodded; he knew he had already been away too long. He placed a hand on Hegan's shoulder. "Tell him I'll be close behind you," he said firmly, "and ride carefully, they may already be sending out their forward guards. I will see you back at camp."
He patted his friend's shoulder in farewell. Hegan nodded, gave a salute, and hurried back to his horse, dodging the number of healers and assistants who were now moving about in preparation for the day's work. Boromir watched him go, deep in thought, then turned and ducked back into the tent.
Faramir was still asleep when Boromir arrived back at his brother's cot. After thinking for a moment, the warrior sat down, rifled through his pack which lay next to his stool, and withdrew a small board, a few writing utensils and a sheet of parchment. After setting the board across his lap and preparing his pen, he hastily wrote out as complete a note as time would allow.
Duty has called me back to the field, and I regret that I was not here to greet you when you awakened. They have told me how you were wounded. Gondor is fortunate to have one so brave as yourself to fight for her. I am very proud of you, little brother, and look forward to hearing your tale when we next meet. You have passed your first test remarkably well.
If good fortune is with me, I will soon be coming to Minas Tirith to report to Father. I will see you then, and we will visit the tavern and drink your health. I can say with authority that you will find the scars are very helpful when it comes to impressing the women.
Remember me until we meet again,
His hand was not nearly as artful as Faramir's, but it was legible. After waiting for the ink to dry, he folded the note and carefully slipped it under Faramir's pillow. As quietly as he could, he packed up his gear, his mind turning between the probably upcoming battle and his newfound thoughts over his dedication to Gondor's cause. But now was not the time for questions or hesitation; he had his duty, and Faramir had to rest and heal. Their paths would diverge for a time, but if the Valar were willing, they would meet again.
Boromir lifted his pack in one hand, then paused and briefly caressed his slumbering brother's forehead. How he wished there was time to wait for just a word, but this would not be granted to them. He bent and placed a light kiss on Faramir's brow, then stood, hefted his pack onto his shoulder, and stepped quickly from the tent, determined to focus his thoughts on the task before him.
End Part One