A Price Too High to Pay, Part Two
It was always somewhat daunting to present reports to his father, Denethor, the ruling Steward of Gondor. From his earliest memories, Boromir had regarded his father as a stern, aloof figure; there had been times of warmth, but those mostly lay in the far past, before the death of Denethor's gentle wife, the Lady Finduilas. Boromir had been ten then, and Faramir just five, but both boys had perceived a definite change in their father's demeanor in the years following their mother's passing. For Boromir, the warmth of the past chilled into high expectations; for Faramir, all warmth vanished entirely.
The young soldier turned the morning's events over in his mind as he passed into the open courtyard of the palace and began wending his way towards the gardens. The Steward's courtroom lay at the pinnacle of the seven-tiered city; above Boromir's head soared the gleaming white Tower of Ecthelion jutting into a bright blue sky. Ordinarily, he was breathtaken by its magnificence, but this day he scarcely favored it with a glance. It was its caretaker, his father, who absorbed all of Boromir's attention.
'He seemed so tired', Boromir mused as he moved down a flight of sharply carved stone stairs. He had hoped the report would cheer Denethor; it was mostly good news, the Orcs had been beaten back on their every attempt to take the river, and Gondorian casualties had been lighter than the previous several months. Yet he'd noticed little relief in his father's gray eyes at the news, and the Steward's manner had seemed preoccupied and troubled. And had it been his imagination, or was there more gray hair among his father's long black locks than before?
Boromir reached the bottom of the long stairway; an open courtyard now stretched before him, decorated with a few trees and banners flapping in the warm breeze. He strode towards another long corridor lined with open arches on the other side, frowning to himself. 'Something's wrong', his intuition whispered to him, but Boromir did not want to think that of his father, who had always been so strong and wise. 'He's just weary,' he told himself as he entered the sunlight and shadow of the hallway and moved quickly down its length. 'It's this cursed war. We'll all be happier once Mordor is defeated.'
The corridor traveled along one side of a square building, three stories high with identical corridors on all three levels, facing into a large open courtyard in the center. As he traversed the hall, Boromir began looking into the courtyard below, which now lay awash in the morning sun. It was there, he had been told, that he could find Faramir.
He'd wanted to see his brother the moment he rode through Minas Tirith's magnificent ancient gates, but both he and Faramir knew that it was proper and expected to give his report to the Steward first. So he had sent word along to Faramir, hoping that perhaps their father might give him some news of Faramir's condition to stem his curiosity until he could see his brother. Denethor's somber mood, however, had dashed those hopes, and Boromir had learned not to broach the subject of his brother whenever their father seemed ill at ease. The most positive aspect of his short meeting with the Steward turned out to be the fact that it freed him to see Faramir all the sooner.
He trotted down the stone steps leading to the courtyard, a subdued eagerness filling his heart. The last time he had seen Faramir, the young man had been pale, unmoving, weak. Although Boromir knew his brother had fully recovered, knew he was far out of danger, he still longed to see Faramir standing before him, fit and alive, for himself. Until then, it would still not seem true.
He tried to ignore the painful thought which followed that joy, the knowledge that Faramir's recovery only hastened his little brother's return to the battlefield and possible death. He would not think about that now.
The courtyard was now only one level below him. Boromir paused halfway down the stairs leading to the wide stone floor, one gloved hand on the carved rail. From his vantage point, he could see the entire sunlit expanse, the four columned walls lifting around him into the sky. At the center of the courtyard stood a modest circular fountain, sparkling water splashing down its single centerpiece and into its walled stone base. Beside the fountain, sword in hand, was Faramir, a small figure moving silently in the midst of the tall and ancient stone.
Boromir had not been noticed yet, and so he stood quietly and watched his brother, unwilling just yet to intrude on Faramir's meditation. The younger man stood bathed in the sunshine, his red-gold hair seemingly aflame from its brilliance. His back was to Boromir, and as he lifted his sword in a series of fluid and studied combat movements, it became clear that Faramir was striving to regain the strength in his sword arm. He had removed his shirt in the heat of the morning, and Boromir winced to see the scars now defacing his brother's smooth skin; the wounds had long healed, but the claws of war had made their eternal mark.
Faramir, still deep in concentration, executed a pattern of lunges and parries against an unseen opponent, to Boromir's silent admiration. In sweeping motions Faramir raised the sword above his head, drew it slowly downward in a plunging arc, then followed through, his entire body driving forward in a single smooth gesture as he slid the point into his imaginary foe. The swordplay was dancelike, far more elegant than Boromir's mode of fighting. Faramir repeated the moves, then swung the sword about in a series of graceful twists. At length his exertions caused him to spin to face the stairway where Boromir stood, and in an instant Faramir lifted his face upon the realization that he was being watched. Joy quickly spread over Faramir's features, the blue eyes widening with surprise.
Boromir grinned back, feeling suddenly very happy. "An impressive battle, little brother," he said in greeting. "Did you win?"
The younger man burst out in delighted laughter, setting his sword down on the edge of the low fountain wall and running swiftly to the staircase. They met at the bottom, setting further words aside in favor of a tight, heartfelt embrace.
The elder brother's heart soared in thankfulness as they stood together; how strong Faramir seemed now, how very far from death! There was no frailty in the arms that almost crushed him in their hold, no paleness in the rose-hued skin glowing beneath the warm sunlight. Faramir was all right, and for one dizzying moment, Boromir believed he would always be all right, his charmed, invincible little brother whom no war could ever touch. His love would make it so.
The moment of greeting passed, and the brothers parted, each smiling broadly and grasping the arms of the other, unwilling yet to completely break the link. As Boromir surveyed his grinning brother's face, he was struck suddenly by how much older Faramir appeared to him now, for reasons other than the slight beard now sprouting on his brother's chin. Boromir's own smile never faltered, but his heart tightened painfully. He knew the shadow that now sat upon Faramir's brow, the faint dark glimmer in the depths of those blue eyes. It was a mark borne by all who had seen the horrors of war, one that never dimmed with age. Boromir knew well that it graced his own countenance, and had for five years.
War had touched Faramir, he realized sadly, in the few moments it took for him to see it. In a way, his little brother had died after all.
Faramir laughed a bit and tightened his grasp on Boromir's arms, shaking Boromir from his reverie. "That's a strange look to greet me with after all this time!" he said in a light tone. "Was Father in a bad humor? Or was my swordplay truly that dismal?"
Unwilling to admit his dark thoughts on so glad an occasion, Boromir returned the laugh, throwing off his melancholy. "No, indeed," he replied, giving Faramir a light, brotherly slap on the arm. "I was only thinking of the sad fate of your next opponent. You shall stun him with your style, at least." He stood back a bit and gave Faramir an appraising look. "You're looking far better than your letters suggested! By the way Ioreth kept insisting you close your writings, I thought you'd still be bedridden, at least."
"Ah," Faramir chuckled as they dropped their arms, and descended into the courtyard, "you know how she's always worried about us. I spent most of my last week at the Houses devising ways of sneaking out in case she wouldn't release me soon. But I have fallen back together quite well, it seems."
Boromir was walking behind him as he spoke, and in the brightness of the sunlight that now bathed both of them, he could plainly see the scars of Faramir's numerous stab wounds along his sides and back. He felt himself go cold; there seemed to be many of them, far more than he'd guessed. What a fight it must have been...
Suddenly the horrific scenario flashed across his mind again, and Boromir saw his brother once more surrounded by Orcs, grabbed by the throat, the flashing blades of the creatures plunged again and again into his flesh. The sickening feeling consumed him as it had that long-ago night in the healer's tent, the crushing fear of death and loss and his own helplessness in the face of it. Boromir almost gasped at the sharpness of the agonizing vision, but caught himself, and taking a deep, silent breath, willed the terror away. Now was not the time.
His expression of horror was quickly replaced with a far more pleasant mask as Faramir turned to face him once more. They had reached the fountain, and the younger man was now holding his sword in one hand and scabbard in the other. Boromir blinked at the sight of the scars marring Faramir's chest and stomach, but otherwise made no sign of his concern.
"I'm pleased you managed to get away long enough for a visit," Faramir said as he slid the sword back into its home. "How do things stand on the border?"
Boromir shrugged. "It has been hot work of late, but our losses have not been many," he replied in a dull fashion. He sighed. "But if you please, may we not speak of the war? I have just spent the morning discussing it with Father, and while the news is not bleak, I would find almost any other topic far more appealing."
The younger man smiled, understanding in his handsome face. "Would you rather hear about the history of the Sindarin language? I found this fascinating book on it in the archives, well over eight hundred pages long. It should hold us for at least three hours."
A tight grin met his words. "I did say 'almost', you know," Boromir noted. He paused, peered at his brother's face, then reached out and ran one thumb briskly over the long ginger stubble covering Faramir's chin. "For another topic, you might explain this recent neglect of your razor. Do I actually see a *beard* on that tender chin of yours?"
Faramir laughed and stepped away, grabbing a towel from among his clothing that lay piled on the fountain wall. "The beginnings of one, anyway," he confessed as he dried the sweat from his arms and chest. "It began to grow when I was too weak to shave myself, and when my strength returned, I decided to trim it down and allow some of it to grow in. I figured my men might be more inclined to follow my orders if I looked more than twelve years old."
"Well, it will certainly terrify the Orcs," observed Boromir with a grin as Faramir began pulling on his shirt. "It's a good start. Not as grand as mine, of course, but I've got fives years on you, after all."
Faramir finished tying his shirt on and reached for his leather vest. "And you just may need it," he said with a smile as he tugged on the garment. "Can you stay for midday supper? You did promise me an ale, you know. Don't think I've forgotten!"
"Nor have I!" Boromir assured him. "I've been looking forward to it all day, and every dusty mile between here and Ithilien. How does the Silver Tankard sound? I had an excellent roast the last time I was there."
Faramir nodded as he buckled on his sword. "It should also be fairly quiet there, as they are not so close to the busy parts of the city," he mused. After a moment, he sighed and lifted his eyes to Boromir, a new solemnity coming to their depths. "I would like to speak to you, brother. Another chance may not come for some time, and so much has happened."
Boromir felt a similar seriousness settle over his own heart. "You know my thoughts, as always, little brother," he said in a pensive tone of agreement.
The younger man allowed his gaze to linger on Boromir's face a moment longer, each brother reading clearly what lay in the other's expression. Boromir felt both relieved and wary of the sober, troubled glint in Faramir's eyes. It was going to be a long, difficult discussion, but he welcomed the chance to speak the words he had waited three months to say, and ease the burden on his brother's soul in any way he could.
Within a few moments, Faramir had finished gathering up his affects, and the two young men quit the bright courtyard for the darker confines of the Silver Tankard.
End Part Two