Walls

TITLE: Walls
AUTHOR: SueB
EMAIL: DelanySis1@aol.com
RATING: G; angst.
DISCLAIMER: Characters and situations are property of the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien and New Line Cinema. I am making no profit from their use.
WARNINGS: SPOILERS for 'The Return of the King'!!!
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The final version of this story will be permanently archived at www.sen-o-gwend.us.

SUMMARY: Movie-verse, 'Lord of the Rings'. On the night of Aragorn's coronation, Faramir and the new King discuss the passing of Boromir.

As this story takes place during 'The Return of the King', a movie which hasn't been released yet, I'm doing a lot of guesswork and borrowing from the bookverse in order to cobble this story together! Some elements may ulitmately differ from the actual film.

Big thanks to my beta readers Sarah, Joan, Sue, and Carla for all of their help and suggestions!

Enjoy!

Sue


WALLS


In the purple-blue warmth of a calm spring evening, the Gondorian city of Minas Tirith was wreathed in celebration.

Windows throughout all of its seven levels were aglow, creating a cascading curtain of light which mirrored the spectacular blanket of diamond-like stars sparkling in the heavens above. Beautiful garlands of flowers were draped along the white walls which encircled each tier; even the portion which housed the city's honored dead was solemnly decorated. For the first time in many years, the streets rang with laughter, song and jubilation, from the meanest tavern to the majestic Royal Court.

Those curious as to the reason for such joy would need only turn their eyes to the turrets of Minas Tirith, adorned now with scores of multicolored flags fluttering in the gentle breeze. The largest and highest among the new banners was a black standard emblazoned with a silver winged crown, an emblem which flew from every high point in the city, announcing the coronation that day of Aragorn Elessar, the returned King of Gondor.

As the people of Minas Tirith met to express their happiness, mourn fallen comrades, and exchange exciting tales of the heroes who had made possible the defeat of Mordor and its evil Dark Lord Sauron, many directed their gaze to the palace and wondered at the celebrations occurring within its walls. Its windows were gleaming in a way not seen in living memory; every window in every room, it seemed, was aglow, as if to reflect the new light of the King who had that day been crowned there. Gondor, and all of Middle-earth, would need much healing in the years to come, and Aragorn had, through his brave deeds and gentle words, proven more than able to shoulder that task.

Above the glittering streets and noisy revelry soared the White Tower of Ecthelion, reaching as it had for ages far into the deepening night sky. Its white walls appeared to shimmer in the reflected lamplight, casting a faint glow into the darkness. Its lofty head stood far above the celebrating throng; at the very top, one could scarcely hear the sounds from the streets beneath, although the beauty of the flowers and candlelight was still very much apparent.

In that quiet, far from the celebration but still touched by the glow of its light, a lone figure slowly walked the top floor of the Tower, deep in thought as he surveyed the joyous scene below.

The young man sighed wearily to himself as he leaned on the chest-high wall, allowing his arms to dangle loosely over the side as he studied the landscape before him. His handsome face wore a solemn expression, his blue eyes hooded with thought as he watched his fellow men rejoice. The warm spring breeze slightly tousled his long reddish-blonde curls and wrapped itself around the fine silks and velvets that clothed his slender frame. For a long time he stood motionless, observing, as still as one of the ancient statues that adorned the courtyard below, a hint of sadness shadowing his gaze.

It had been a long day, Faramir thought to himself as he studied his people enjoying the downfall of Mordor. So much had happened; he yet could scarcely take it all in. Even if he had not been wounded recently, he still would have wearied of the crowds and noise, and sought refuge in silence for a time. It was not yet midnight; even though the new King and his Queen had retired, the banquet downstairs would be going on for a few more hours yet. 'Merry and Pippin will certainly be pleased,' he thought, and smiled a bit. There was time to take a breath of cool air and collect his thoughts.

He allowed his eyes to wander down across the several levels, still burning with what seemed like thousands of lamps, torches and candles; it appeared as if every source of illumination in Minas Tirith had been ignited, to mark the joy of the occasion. Faramir smiled again, unwilling to begrudge the people their amusement; they had certainly earned it, having suffered terribly from the horrors of siege and the war. For far too long, they had lived beneath the growing threat of Mordor, watched the eastern sky roil black and red above the hellish fires of Mt. Doom on the near horizon. He could only marvel at their strength; they had survived famine, plague and battle, and were now tempered by their suffering. Gondor would arise now all the stronger for its hardships.

His eyes lifted further, to the stretch of the Pelennor fields which lay far out below him, reaching to the foothills of the mountains which began their rocky ascent at its borders. Its grass-covered plain stirred and rippled in the bright moonlight, the gouged and bloodied land now healing beneath the tender touch of spring. The distant hills were glistening with starlight, their peaks shining silver in the darkness. Soothed by the sight, Faramir glanced along the horizon into Mordor, where once the thunderous evil of the Dark Lord had blotted all light from the sky, night and day. Now, stars gleamed along the entire sky, their beams falling upon Mordor and Gondor alike. Faramir felt a tinge of reassurance brush his heart; Mordor would heal as well, now that light had once more been allowed into its borders.

They would all have to look to that light for restoration, Faramir thought as he dropped his gaze to his hands. The War of the Ring had ended, but so much had been lost, so many wounds inflicted which even the hands of the healing King could not mend. There were many empty chairs at the celebrations below, many voices raised more in lamentation than in joy. Many who should have been present to see the fall of Mordor, but were not...

He choked at the hot wall of grief rising in his breast, and bowed his head as he closed his eyes. After a few moments, and a few tremulous breaths, he opened them once more and leaned his head back, gazing at the stars.

Brother, if only you were here...

A warm sorrow gripped the young man's heart. How Boromir would have rejoiced at the sight of Minas Tirith restored! He had fought long and bitterly in her name against Mordor, yearning only to see his land and people free of its curse. But his older brother was lost, slain by merciless arrows of the Uruk-Hai. Faramir sighed to himself as the bitter warmth of unshed tears pressed against his eyes; the war had left him no time to fully mourn when he learned of Boromir's death. The duties of command allowed little chance for personal sorrow, a selfish luxury at such a time when so many of their countrymen had suffered far worse losses than his own. Nor could he grieve in his father Denethor's presence; it only reminded the Steward that Faramir still lived and Boromir, his favored son, did not. Such a display only resulted in cold words of vicious contempt concerning Faramir's weakness.

He pursed his lips, swallowed by the sad thoughts. His father had perished by his own hand, consumed by despair and madness as Mordor's armies closed in; now both of them were gone, unable to share in the rebirth of the kingdom they loved so well. But of the two, Faramir thought most of his brother on this night of celebration; as he paced the quiet tower floor and studied the places where the two of them used to play as children, he felt surrounded by shadows from the past, the unexpressed grief growing more unbearable with each passing memory.

A more recent and more puzzling recollection mingled with the older images. Faramir had learned of his brother's death in a vision, a very strange dream whose full meaning he had not been able to decipher. He could still see it quite clearly; he had been standing on the banks of the great river Anduin, watching for Orcs, when a beautiful boat slid silently into view upon the silver water. In the boat, almost covered with glowing water, lay Boromir, pale and dead. It had been a vision of both dread and wonder, for although Boromir had been terribly wounded, the most profound expression of peace had been upon his face. Faramir had tried to reach the craft, but it had glided out of sight, leaving him to ponder its troubling mysteries. He had not been asleep when the vision occurred, but there was no way to tell if what he had seen was truly real, or to discover the meaning behind his brother's tranquil expression.

"Faramir?"

The young man jumped a little, and turned. Behind him was the door which led to the tower's stairway, and emerging from that portal was his King, Aragorn, who was regarding him now with a most concerned expression on his rugged, handsome face.

"Oh! My Liege," Faramir exclaimed, turning away from Aragorn the instant he recognized who the visitor was. It would never do for Gondor's new monarch to see his Steward in such a shameful emotional state. Long accustomed to shielding his innermost thoughts, Faramir adopted an instinctive air of dispassion, a habit born from many years of living beneath his father's disapproving eye.

After a brief moment, he faced Aragorn, completely composed. He had not had much chance to talk to Aragorn; the King's skills had healed him of the monstrous wounds he had gained at Osgiliath, but beyond a few official meetings, they had not truly spoken. He was still a bit in awe of the man; despite his youth, Aragorn possessed the noble bearing of a true king, and Faramir could discern the light of the ancients upon his brow. As the new monarch approached him, Faramir was overcome with the impression that he was seeing a legend come to life, someone his people had waited hundreds of years to behold. It was, to put it mildly, a bit unsettling.

"I hope I am not disturbing you," Aragorn said as he drew nearer, his voice quiet and slightly rough. Faramir studied him swiftly, noting that while Aragorn's appearance was still far neater than when they had first met, he had exchanged his formal coronation clothes for far more simple garb. The beautiful silver crown of Gondor was gone, and the King's long black hair danced free in the light wind. In one arm he cradled a long package, something wrapped in white velvet.

At the question, Faramir shrugged and shook his head. "Not at all, your Majesty, I was simply...seeking some fresh air."

The other man nodded once, slightly, and Faramir could see perfect understanding shining in his green eyes. "I was possessed of that desire somewhat myself," he confessed, coming to stand beside the high wall as he looked out over the fields of Pelennor. A slight smile played on his lips. "I have the feeling that in the time to come, I will remember my solitary times as a Ranger with great fondness."

He laughed slightly, and after a moment Faramir joined him, relief filling his mind to know that he was not the only one stifling amidst the joy.

They stood together in silence for a few minutes, both men staring out across the landscape. Finally Aragorn shook his head.

"It is a marvelous land," he murmured softly; Faramir was surprised at the gentleness in his voice. "From these heights, one can sense the strength and beauty of it, the land and its people. They roll before us as a mighty ocean, flowing through the streets and the fields, and beyond the mountains."

Faramir nodded, the love for his land sweeping through him as he considered all that Gondor had endured. "It is a strength born of tribulation, my King," he replied, his own tones becoming hushed. "We are the mightier for it, although the price has been dear."

Here his King's face grew wistful, an odd melancholy light flickering behind his expression. After a moment's pause he carefully placed the velvet-wrapped bundle on a nearby stone bench.

"Far too dear," he repeated, his face grave, "though I have no doubt that those who have paid it were willing to embrace the sacrifice, and it is on behalf of the noblest of those that I am here."

Faramir blinked, slightly confused. "My lord?"

A solemn expression settled over Aragorn's face. "The matter I wish to discuss tonight is one I approach with great caution, as I understand it may still be very painful for you. If I have chosen the time unwisely, merely say the word and we shall discuss it no more until you are prepared to do so. Are we agreed?"

Faramir peered at him, wondering what matter would be so delicate. Curious, he nodded once. "Certainly."

Aragorn's face turned deeply sad; he echoed the nod, his eyes falling for a moment as if he were composing what he would say next. A few moments later, he lifted his gaze and said quietly, "I wish to speak to you of your brother."

Faramir froze, unable to stop his eyes from widening slightly; it was the last thing he had expected Aragorn to say. He felt the familiar pang of grief stab his heart and threaten to overwhelm his composure, but fought against the weakness with all of his might. No man save Boromir had seen him weep since he was a young boy; he could still hear the sharp, angry voice of Denethor echoing in his early childhood memories, berating him for allowing others to see his failings whenever he had been caught crying. No, he thought as he swallowed his pain with practiced skill; he had faced the Nazgul, surely he could hear what Aragorn had to say and be strong about it. And there were so many questions about his brother that he had longed to ask...

Faramir pursed his lips and faced his King, utterly calm. "I believe I am well prepared for your words, my liege," he said softly. "Frodo told me Boromir was one of your fellowship, and Pippin has given me such information as he is able, but there is still much I yearn to know."

"And there is much I long to tell," Aragorn replied, gesturing to the stone bench with one hand. The two men sat, the King saying as he did so, "Boromir was a valiant ally to us, and I owe him my life many times over. I do not believe he would forgive me if I did not attempt to repay my debt by doing what I can to ease your grief."

As he uttered the final words, Aragorn's voice dropped to a near whisper, the tone suffused with such open sadness that Faramir felt slightly startled. He eyed his sovereign keenly for a moment; no highly placed official he had ever dealt with allowed emotion to be shown, unless it was anger, and Aragorn's openness caught him by surprise. After a pause, the younger man murmured, "Thank you, my liege."

Aragorn peered at him solemnly, the full moonlight softening his rugged features. "Tell me what you have learned of your brother's death, and I will do what I can to provide the rest."

There was silence as Faramir turned his head, taking a deep breath to compose himself. He dared not face the King as he talked, but selected a stone in the floor not far away, and stared at it as he spoke.

"I know he tried to take the Ring from Frodo," he began quietly, the words slowly uttered. "Sam told me of how it wound its evil into his mind, and spurred him to such madness that he forsook his better nature and sought to take the Hobbit's life."

Faramir's voice broke, and he stopped, instantly chiding himself. But how could he restrain the misery in his heart at the thought of his brother's suffering? Instinctively, he turned his face away from the King, hoping that Aragorn did not notice.

These hopes were gently dashed with Aragorn's next words, and the feeling of the King's hand on his shoulder.

"It could only have been an evil wrought of Sauron that could have caused such a one as Boromir to fall," he heard the King say in consolation. "The Ring strove to work its dark will on all who came within its reach; I have felt its call myself, as have many in our circle."

Upon hearing this, Faramir was struck anew, and turned his head sharply to face his King, his face wreathed in bitter self-recrimination.

"You need not convince me of the Ring's malevolence, my liege," he said angrily, getting to his feet in one quick motion. In a few steps he strode to the battlement wall and leaned his hands on it, gazing out with dark eyes upon the starlit plains of Pelennor. "I have heard its beckoning voice with my own heart, and was weak enough to succumb, if but for a brief time."

"That is aught to be ashamed of," Aragorn assured him from his seat on the stone bench. "You found the power to resist at the end, and that in itself is remarkable."

Faramir did not move, but stood staring into the deepening night. "Yes, but the troubling memories of that time haunt me still," he confessed softly, his eyes fixed on the black horizon. "It is one thing to battle the enemy's minions with arrow and sword, but quite another to have him reach into your heart, and feel his chilling touch upon your very thoughts." He paused, then shivered, despite the warmth of the spring air. "The words the Ring spoke to me were most enticing, my liege, wrought only of the deepest desires of my soul. I would have dared anything the Ring asked to turn them to reality, so great was its grasp on my will. All it demanded of me was that I slay Frodo, and take it for my own."

He sighed and bowed his head.

Aragorn's voice stirred the air a few moments later. "I believe that is how it spoke to Boromir," he said softly. "He believed its power was the only way Gondor would be saved. His only thought was for his land and his people."

A faint groan escaped Faramir's lips as he bowed his head, his long fair hair blowing slightly in the wind, hiding his face. "How cruel!" he moaned, his hands gripping the cold stones of the wall. "All my brother ever cared for was to save our country; his fear for her gnawed at his mind night and day, and ever more as the war worsened for us and our people lost hope for salvation. He would have taken any chance, no matter the cost, to secure Gondor's future. To see Boromir's love for our people twisted so, torturing him with falsehoods to the point of abandoning all reason-" Here he choked with anger, and after a moment of silence slammed one palm against the wall. "Such evil is beyond the reckoning of men. I rejoice all the more at Sauron's downfall; I only wish he might have suffered more."

Faramir gasped a bit, trying to regain his composure; his heart was beating rapidly, his face flushed with rage at the thought of his brother's pain. He heard footsteps behind him, and soon Aragorn was standing at his side.

"There are none who fault your brother for what befell him," the King assured Faramir, his tone even and quiet. "We well knew Boromir's true noble heart; even Frodo, whom it could be said suffered most, knew that it was but the Ring's shadow which overtook his mind. Have you heard any more of your brother's fate?"

Faramir hesitated, thinking, feeling his face cool down as the lofty breezes fanned his skin. "Pippin and Merry have told me what happened next," he finally said, his eyes fixed on the distant mountains. "How he shed his madness, and strove to save them from the Uruk-Hai." He paused, and a smile touched his lips as he looked at his King. "I cannot tell you what a balm those words were to my heart, my liege. Boromir looked after my welfare diligently when we were growing up; it eased my grief to know that even at the end, he was ever mindful of those who needed his aid."

"Then let that thought overshadow all others," urged Aragorn, his tone emphatic. "Boromir gave his life valiantly for their protection, as a true and honorable son of Gondor."

The other man fell silent, then nodded, pursing his lips in thought. "More than that, neither Merry nor Pippin could say," he said with a mournful sigh, loosely folding his fingers together. "They were borne away by the Uruk-Hai before my brother breathed his last."

After a moment of gazing into the starlit night, Faramir turned his eyes back to the King, his face set in somber lines. "That is all I know."

The other man lightly placed his hand on Faramir's shoulder. "Then you do not know all," said Aragorn, a lilt of reassurance in his voice, "for although he was parted from Merry and Pippin, we were called to his side by the sound of the Horn of Gondor, and it was my honor to slay the Uruk who dealt your brother his mortal wounds."

Faramir's blue eyes grew wider at the words, a swift hope rising in his heart. "You were with him?" he whispered.

His companion gave a single, solemn nod. "Legolas, Gimli and I attended him at the last," he said quietly, his green eyes soft with sorrow, "and I was at his side when he died."

The younger man blinked, almost overwhelmed by the news. Among his greatest fears about his brother's death was the idea that he perished alone, uncomforted, with only the dead bodies of his enemies about him; or, worse, that he had been mercilessly butchered by an Uruk's hand. The knowledge that his murderer had been slain by the King, and that he had died with his comrades at hand, almost defied his belief.

Faramir gasped, suddenly aware that he had stopped breathing, and he looked earnestly into his sovereign's face. "You have no notion, my liege, how greatly your words comfort me," he said at last, fighting to steady his voice. "Please, I wish to know all - every detail - no matter how small, so that I might also be at my brother's side through your words."

There was a moment of silence, during which Aragorn gazed into the younger man's eager face with infinite understanding. At length he nodded, and the two men moved to sit once more on the stone bench.

"Boromir had weakened greatly by the time we found him," the King began, every word suffused with sadness and reverence. "Yet his first words to me concerned the fate of Merry and Pippin."

Faramir had seated himself leaning forward, hands clasped, striving to hear all that Aragorn said. At these words he nodded, perfect understanding in his expression.

"How like my brother that sounds!" he exclaimed. "Often when we would go to battle, he was far more occupied with his men's fate than his own."

"And so it was at the end," Aragorn assured him. "With his next breath he sought news of Frodo, and confessed that he had tried to take the Ring. The madness had fully left him, and his mind was clear of its evil at the last."

Faramir closed his eyes at these words, drawing a deep breath. "You have lifted a great weight from my heart this night, sire," he breathed. "I have long feared that Boromir died suffering from the tortures of the Ring."

Aragorn lay a gentle hand upon Faramir's arm. "That shadow dared not touch his heart again," he replied. "His last thoughts were only of saving Gondor, and the people of the White City."

Faramir opened his eyes and peered at Aragorn, too overcome to move.

"He feared he had failed the Fellowship, and brought the world of Men to ruin," the King continued in hushed tones. Then he slowly shook his head. "We could not have asked for a more courageous or honorable defender than your brother, and I pray that he believed my words when I told him this. I swore to him that I would not let the White City fall, which greatly eased his mind. He pledged himself to me with his last breath, and it is an honor that I will cherish above all others to the end of my reign."

Faramir swallowed and looked away, unable to prevent the gentle trembling which had seized his body. He had sworn not to break down unmanfully in front of the King, yet he could not control the grief and joy engulfing his soul. Long-held fears and questions about Boromir's death had finally been answered; and yet there was so much more he had to know, if he could only bear to ask.

Bracing himself, he looked back at Aragorn. To his relief, the King did not seem disdainful of his emotional display, and Faramir gathered the courage to ask another question which had haunted his mind. "My liege, did...did my brother suffer?"

The slightest hesitation flickered in Aragorn's eyes; he dropped his gaze for a moment, then looked full into Faramir's face, his expression one of somber regret. "There was pain," he said softly, "yet he bore it bravely, as a true soldier of the White Tower. You may be assured that whatever suffering he endured, he inflicted on the Uruks tenfold."

Faramir nodded, fierce pride flaring across his face as he glanced away. "My brother would do no less," he said in a low but firm tone. A sob caught at his throat; he quickly stifled it. He could almost hear his father's stern voice, reprimanding him for showing softness in front of one so much above him in power. Later, in the privacy of his chamber, he could release the torrent of his soul, but he would show nothing to Aragorn but his highest measure of control. A King would expect nothing less from his Steward. But how his heart was straining to be set free!

Clearing his throat, Faramir quickly drew a deep breath and lifted his head, settling himself into as dignified a demeanor as he was able to manage. "Thank you, my liege," he murmured, amazed at how steady his voice was. "For your comforting words, and for your kindness to my brother in his final moments."

The other man allowed a melancholy smile to bend his lips. "He deserved far more, as a member of our fellowship and as our friend."

Faramir nodded, suddenly feeling very worn out from the deep, hidden emotions sweeping over him. He sighed and glanced up at the sky. "I should not keep you any longer, your Highness," he said as he prepared to stand and make his farewell. "Doubtless you are exhausted from the long day, and-"

In one smooth motion, Aragorn stretched out his hand and placed it gently on Faramir's arm. "If I may, Faramir-one moment more?"

Faramir had risen halfway out of his seat; now he stopped and glanced at his King, puzzled. But he could hardly refuse the request, particularly when it was uttered in such a kindly way. "Certainly, my liege," he said after a moment, lowering himself back onto the stone bench.

Aragorn was reaching behind him, and Faramir could see his jaw working as if he were trying to hold back a powerful surge of feeling. Slowly the King turned back to him, now holding the package wrapped in white velvet. He cradled it with great reverence, as if its contents were quite precious.

"Although Boromir was lost to us, I was able to bear the memory of his courage and friendship with me through the days which followed his death," said Aragorn as he gazed solemnly at the bundle in his hands. "Never did I lift my sword without thinking that his valorous spirit rode beside me. That memory has delivered me safely to the throne of our people, and I believe the time has come to deliver these to your keeping."

Carefully he handed Faramir the mysterious package.

The younger man frowned a bit as he accepted the gift; whatever was clad in the soft velvet was heavy and awkward to hold.

"Thank you, my King," Faramir said with bewildered courtesy as he placed the bundle in his lap and began to undo the folds. "I have no doubt that my brother would have been at your side, had he been able. You have already done far more for Gondor than any of us could have-"

The last of the white velvet fell away from the bundle's contents, and Faramir froze, unable to speak further.

Within the plush confines of the cloth lay a large pair of leather vambraces, well-used but carefully preserved. Upon the rich brown surface of each vambrace was tooled an intricate image of the White Tree, painted with silver and crowned with seven stars, each tree shining in the gentle moonlight.

Faramir stared, overcome, as a warm and powerful surge of emotion swelled through him. His heart began to pound.

"My brother's vambraces," he gasped, shocked, when he found his voice again. His eyes never moved from the precious treasure nestled in the cloth.

"Yes," he heard Aragorn murmur beside him. "I have kept them with me ever since he fell, and bore them into battle and victory as a reminder of his devotion to our people - a devotion which inspired me in even the darkest of moments. They have seen me to the throne of my fathers; now I wish them to bring what comfort they may to your heart, as I believe he would have wanted me to do."

Faramir heard the words, but they made little impression on his mind. He had long ago given up any hope of recovering any of Boromir's possessions from his last journey, save the broken horn of Gondor; but even that relic served only to remind him of his brother's defeat and death, his life cut in two. He never would have thought...

With trembling hands he reached into the cloth and gently slid his palms beneath the vambraces, gingerly lifting them from their snowy bed. The air stirred, and suddenly he caught the strong scent of oiled leather seasoned with long travel. He blinked and closed his eyes, transported at once by the smell; it was as if Boromir was before him again, the vambraces cleaned and strapped to his wrists, arrayed for his final journey. For a moment, the two brothers were together again, so clear in Faramir's memory that it felt as if he could extend his hand and touch Boromir once more.

Inhaling deeply, Faramir opened his eyes and gazed down at the vambraces. Without warning, the coldness of reality slammed into him; the vambraces were here, in his hands, no longer a part of Boromir because Boromir was gone. The only reason Faramir was able to hold them was because his brother would never wear them again. Boromir had always worn these wrist guards; it suddenly seemed horribly wrong for them to be apart from Boromir, when he loved them so much. Just as he and Boromir had loved each other, and were now parted...

He shuddered, alarmed at the power of grief sweeping over him. Tears were pressing painfully behind his eyes, and he knew that he had to leave the King's presence quickly if he had any hope of preserving his composure.

With haste he placed the vambraces back into their white velvet wrappings and folded the cloth around it, standing the instant he could do so. He was trembling severely.

"I-I thank you again for this wondrous gift, my Liege," he managed to blurt, sensing the crush of his heart increasing with every passing moment. He did not risk looking at Aragorn. "I should not detain your Highness any longer. We are both most fatigued. I..." He swallowed. "Good night."

Executing as steady a bow as he could manage, Faramir whirled and quickly walked through the stone doorway which led to the tower staircase, clutching the velvet bundle close to his heart.

As soon as he passed through the door and out of Aragorn's sight, Faramir increased his steps, eager to find a secluded place where he could give voice to his anguish. At length he came to a room he knew well just off of the stairway, guarded only by a wooden door. He stepped from the stairs and pushed his way inside, tears already coursing down his face. It was a small room, once used for storage but now empty except for a few pieces of old furniture, one of the many Tower chambers he and Boromir had spent time exploring as children. Throwing himself onto a dusty wooden chair, Faramir bent over the vambraces in his lap and buried his face in his hands.

Powerful sobs wracked his body; he did nothing to hold them back now. There was no father to scorn his weakness, no King to disapprove of such a display, no witnesses save the ancient stones and the beloved memories they contained. His men had no further need of his strength; the people of Minas Tirith were occupied with their own sorrows and joys this night. Alone and unobserved, Faramir released the fullness of his sorrow, caring no more for propriety. The wall which had held for so long would hold no longer.

Hot tears coursed through his fingers as he wept, his mind reeling from thoughts which seemed to assail him from all sides, appearing without reason or order. Boromir, the one whom he loved above all others in Middle-earth, his guide and protector and dearest friend, was dead - he had known this for weeks now, but now the truth of it struck his soul with profound power, propelled by Aragorn's words and the empty vambraces. The awful mystery of his brother's death was gone, replaced with certainty; the newly found knowledge both eased and deepened his grief, assuaging the fears he had held in the darkest chambers of his soul but reinforcing the reality of his loss.

He grew dizzy from the torrent, felt his face flush hot from the intensity of his anguish, yet he could do nothing to stem the tears. The sound of his sobbing echoed from the stone walls of the room which had once resounded with the childish laughter of himself and Boromir; the lonely sound of his solitary grief came back to his ears all the louder, reminding him of his isolation. There was none to whom he could truly voice his sadness. Only Boromir had ever cared to know his true heart, and never chided him for feeling in a deeper manner than other men. Now his brother was gone, and it felt as if Faramir would stay behind the stone walls for the remainder of his life, unable to find complete understanding in any other living soul.

There was no telling how long he wept in the moonlit room. Gradually the violent sobs grew more quiet as exhaustion crept over his weary form. Yet the grief remained, scorching his heart as he reached down with one hand and clasped the softly wrapped vambraces to his chest, as if trying to draw Boromir into one final embrace. The force of his sorrow had left him lightheaded; he felt scarcely aware of the world around him, submerged in a whirl of deep feelings and memories. He could almost see Boromir before him again, his face wearing the usual sympathetic expression he assumed whenever he saw Faramir distressed. He could almost feel his brother's kind hand upon his shoulder, resting there in a light but undeniable gesture of compassion and friendship. It was but a dream, but felt so real-

Suddenly Faramir's head shot up, his eyes flying wide open. Somebody's hand was on his shoulder.

Letting out a choked gasp, Faramir clutched the vambraces to him and leapt from the chair, whirling around to face the intruder of his grief. To his dismay, Aragorn stood before him, the hand which had been on his shoulder still held in midair.

Faramir took a step backwards, trying to catch his breath as he stared at his sovereign. His trembling increased as a sense of shame and dismay consumed him; he knew he was in a state of dishevelment, his face and hands soaked with tears. Worse still, he had proven his weakness to Aragorn, the weakness he had hoped to keep hidden. He could hear his father's angry voice now, ringing through his head, deriding him for so disgracing the house of Hurin before his King.

After what seemed like hours, Faramir managed to draw a full breath as he wiped his face with his free hand. Before he could say a word, however, Aragorn stepped forward. In the dim light, Faramir saw that his expression showed not scorn, but concern.

"Forgive me, Faramir," he said quietly. "I did not wish to startle you."

Faramir shook his head and straightened, hoping to convey at least some semblance of composure. "No, my liege, I...I..." He paused, then sighed. It was no use. "I beg your Majesty's pardon."

The King said nothing. After a few awkward moments, Faramir glanced at Aragorn, and was surprised to see no trace of scorn upon his noble features.

"I have seen nothing here that warrants forgiveness," Aragorn finally said in a quiet voice. "It cannot be a sin to mourn the loss of one such as your brother; otherwise, all of Minas Tirith would be in need of absolution, not least of all myself."

Faramir raised his eyebrows a little; he had not expected his weakness to be so quickly forgiven. Men, especially men of great power, despised those who exposed their failings; at least, his father had always insisted as much. Yet here was the new King of Gondor, not only sympathizing with his pain, but admitting to the same weakness himself. It went against everything Faramir had been taught about such matters, and he was momentarily thrown.

While Faramir pondered this startling event, Aragorn took a step closer. Faramir studied his face, and noticed the faint tracks of tears upon the King's cheeks, tracks which definitely had not been there earlier. He blinked, bewildered; why had the King been weeping?

After a moment, Faramir realized that he had been staring, and he broke off the gaze, looking away as he swallowed. "Thank you, sire," he murmured in a roughened voice. "You do my brother a great honor by saying so."

"It is the truth," Aragorn assured him. When Faramir managed to look his King in the face once more, he saw that Aragorn's face was wreathed in a soft expression of reverence and sorrow. "After your departure, I sat upon the White Tower, thinking of your brother and the words we shared concerning his love for Gondor. The memory of his devotion deeply moved my heart, and I too shed tears this night for the loss of Boromir. It is a deprivation that bereaves us all."

Never had Faramir heard any nobleman, let alone a king, admit openly to the act of weeping. Denethor had often dismissed such men as weaklings, but such a charge could never be leveled against Aragorn Elessar, who had stood against Sauron's legions and braved the Paths of the Dead. Faramir's mind whirled at the new prospect dawning before him; it appeared he would no longer have to shelter his heart behind cold walls, denying his nature, living beneath the constant threat of derision for the slightest misstep. In his father's day, such practice was common; but his father, and the days of the Stewards, were gone. Faramir's shame melted away as he regarded Aragorn in wonder and admiration; clearly, this man would prove to be a King far different from those of Gondor's past.

Aragorn placed his hand lightly upon Faramir's shoulder once more, gazing with profound sympathy into the young Steward's eyes. "You need feel no shame for your grief, my friend; it falls at some time to all men, save those who have no heart. But take some comfort in the thought that he will ever be held in the hearts of those he loved, and that his name shall be remembered in Gondor until the White Tower itself falls to dust."

Fresh tears threatened Faramir's composure at the King's words; for a moment he could only return Aragorn's gaze, marveling at the sovereign's eloquence. After a few attempts to adequately frame his thoughts, he drew a deep breath and said, "I will remember your words, Sire, and find solace in them. Nor will I ever forget your kindness this night; my brother was fortunate indeed to have gained your friendship."

Aragorn smiled and tightened his grip on Faramir's shoulder. "The greater fortune was mine," he said, leaning forward a little. "Although there were times, I fear, when I sorely tested your brother's patience."

Faramir laughed a little, relieved at feeling the weight lift a bit from his heart even as his eyes shone with tears. "Your Majesty should not blame himself too much; forbearance, alas, was not chief among Boromir's virtues."

The King shook his head slightly as his hand slipped from Faramir's shoulder. "I may well have exhausted all that he possessed. My path to Gondor has not always been clear before me; without your brother's urging, I might never have found the will to walk it."

Faramir studied his King with a discerning air. "For Gondor's sake," he finally said in a quiet tone, "I am most grateful that my brother was such a stubborn man."

The King smiled at the the compliment, then glanced out of the window onto the moonlit landscape of the Pelennor Fields, his face assuming a more pensive air. "Gondor will need all that you and I can give her, now that the years of war have ended," he said pensively before turning his eyes back to Faramir. "Yet I believe with the help of my Steward, she will soon regain her true beauty and strength, as Boromir desired for her with all of his heart."

The younger man lifted his head a bit, his blue eyes shining proudly in the dim light. "My hands and sword are yours, Sire, for as long as you and Gondor require them."

The King smiled, and a few silent moments passed as the two men regarded each other. Faramir felt his heart fill with gratitude as he met the King's gaze; here indeed was a healing King, a man with the sort of empathy and perception that Gondor would so desperately need in the years of rebuilding that lay ahead. Difficult days still lay before them; there were so many wounds still to mend, so many battles still to fight. Yet how could he help but be encouraged, knowing that one of such skill sat upon the throne?

Finally Aragorn looked out of the window once more. "The hour is growing late," he declared before turning back to Faramir. "Would you do me the honor of sharing one last pipe with me atop the Tower? I would look upon our land one more time before I retire, and take joy in the celebrations of our people below before they are stilled by the cares of tomorrow."

A quiet pipe on the Tower sounded quite appealing to Faramir. "It would be my pleasure, Sire," he said, and motioned an invitation to Aragorn to leave the room first. Soon the two men were slowly ascending the staircase.

"Someday," Aragorn said as they climbed, "you must give me a proper tour of this wonderful Tower. Boromir spoke of it with great love."

"Ah," exclaimed Faramir fondly as they neared the top, "I believe we spent most of our childhood here. There is hardly a stone of it that does not hold some dear memory of our time together, before we knew the demands the future would make of us."

Faramir sighed, and clutched the wrapped vambraces a little closer. The pain returned, but it was not as sharp as before, and somehow he did not feel that Boromir was quite so far away.

"I would very much like to hear of those times," Aragorn said as they stepped once more onto the top of the Tower. Above them shone the diamond-studded ebony sky, below them spread the city still glimmering with lights, and the silver-hued Pelennor spreading out to the mountainous horizon. "His mind was ever on Mordor and the war in our time together; I would be relieved to learn of the days when such matters did not torment him."

They sat once more on the stone bench, Faramir placing the vambraces beside him with great care. After a moment's thought, he turned to Aragorn, his expression somber.

"I would be glad to talk of those days to you, Sire," he said, "but first, there is a question I must ask of you. I had despaired of ever finding an answer to it, until our conversation this night."

Aragorn had been removing his pipe from his pouch. Now he sat holding its smoothly carved wooden form in one hand, lifting his eyes to meet Faramir's intent gaze. "If it is in my power to answer it," he replied with a nod.

Faramir pursed his lips, as if gathering a final portion of strength. "Is there a grave site where we might go to find my brother's body, and bear it back to rest beside our father?"

There was a moment's pause, and a look of sadness passed over Aragorn's face. "We had not time to bury him," he confessed. "We thought it best to place him into one of our boats-"

Here Faramir's eyes flew open, and he sat up straight, as if thunderstruck, and stared at the King.

"-and set his body down the Anduin, and the great Falls of Rauros," Aragorn continued, ending with a frown. "Forgive me, Faramir-did our practice displease you? Our only thought was to honor him-"

But Faramir did not seem to hear him. "The boat was long and slender, the color of morning mist," he said softly, as if describing something only he could see.

Aragorn looked puzzled. "Carved by the hands of the Elves," he said with a nod of affirmation.

"You placed him on his back, with his sword in his hands," the younger man went on, his voice barely above a whisper, "and his shield above his head."

Aragorn was staring at him now, bewilderment plain on his face. "So we sought to pay fitting tribute to our comrade and our friend," he finally said quietly.

Faramir let out a small gasp and swiftly rose, stepping away from the bench and looking up into the sky, trying to control himself.

"I saw that boat, Aragorn," he said finally, not trusting himself to look at his King. "In a vision, which came to me as I stood watch beside the Anduin. I've...I've never know if it was real, or some sort of dream; I know only that I was not sleeping, and that it had the feeling of utter truth."

Silence fell for a few moments, as Faramir stared at the sky.

"I have often wondered if the craft might have survived the falls," came Aragorn's pensive voice from behind him. "The creations of the Elves possess strengths unknown to human craftsmen. I doubt not that it may have emerged from Rauros intact."

Faramir choked, lowering his head as the memory of the vision flooded his mind. "At the time, the sight brought me only pain and grief," he said, his words thick with emotion. "But as the pain lessened, I have been ever struck by the beauty of it." He drew a deep breath, and lifted his eyes once more to the stars. "It was full of water when I saw it, and from the water issued the most glorious light. My brother lay in its embrace; I could see he was horribly wounded, but his face..."

Here he stopped, swallowed hard, and turned to face the King, his eyes shining in the starlight. He was no longer surprised to see that Aragorn appeared to be moved as well.

"My King, I have never seen my brother's face so peaceful, even when we were children and he slept without care in our mother's arms. I have feared that the vision was but a dream, with no reality in it despite my certainty
that it been real. Your words here tonight have confirmed the greatest hope of my heart, that what I saw in the vision had truly come to pass, and he died with serenity upon his brow."

The other man slowly nodded. "He did," stated Aragorn solemnly as he rose. "It was a peace born of the knowledge that the land he loved would be protected. The faith he placed upon me with his final breath has sustained me through many a dark time, when otherwise I might have faltered; thus he shares a portion of Gondor's rebirth, though he did not live to see it accomplished."

Faramir sighed, bowed his head a bit in deep thought, then looked back up at the King, a small smile on his lips. "I cannot describe my gratitude to you, Sire, for bringing such comfort to Boromir. But for your words, he might have perished in uncertainty and fear for Gondor. I will not gainsay his faith in you, but add my pledge of fealty to his, and swear to do all within my power to aid you in the restoration of our beloved land."

Aragorn returned his smile, and placed his hand once more on Faramir's shoulder. "I would have no other by my side," he proclaimed. "Come, let us light our pipes, and you may tell me of Boromir and this land he loved so well."

Faramir felt the weariness fall away as he and Aragorn lit their pipes and stood at the wall, looking over the levels of the City and the plains beyond. An hour passed as they spoke of Boromir, and Gondor, of the challenges of the past and the great task that still lay ahead of them.

At length Aragorn straightened and glanced up at the moon. "Tomorrow will doubtless begin early," he sighed, extinguishing his pipe. "I believe the time has come to retire and prepare for the work to come."

Faramir had been leaning over, his elbows resting lightly on the wall. Now he stood, taking his pipe from his mouth. "Good night, Sire," he said. "And please be assured again of my gratitude for your kindness this evening."

Aragorn glanced over at him as he replaced his pipe back into its pouch, his face creased by a faint smile. "You are well deserving of it, my Steward, as was your brother," he replied. "I believe with our efforts, we shall make certain that his struggles were not in vain." He looked back at Faramir and smiled a bit. "I will see you tomorrow, when we shall begin Gondor's rebirth. Good night."

"Good night."

Aragorn nodded; Faramir bowed slightly, touching his forehead as a gesture of respect. As the King departed, Faramir turned back to the wall, leaning his arms upon it and placing his pipe back into his mouth, unwilling to forsake the tranquility of the evening just yet. Many of the lights in the city below had been extinguished, the joyful residents finally tiring of the revelry. Above his head, however, the stars remained as bright and numerous as ever, and he lifted his eyes to them, calmly watching the gray smoke of his pipe drift over the City and into the shimmering heavens.

A newborn calm fell over Faramir's spirit as he stood still, surveying the night sky. He had learned much this night, and would doubtless be turning it over in his mind for many days. After a few moments' thought, he determined to reserve most of these ruminations for the time ahead, and concentrate instead on the matters most dear to his heart. Boromir had not died mad, alone, or in suffering; he had been comforted by a man whose greatness Faramir was only beginning to understand. If there was any who could guide Gondor back from her long years of anguish, it was Aragorn, who this night had proven his capacity for compassion in the most emphatic manner possible. Through his sovereign's words, Faramir was able to be with his dear brother at the end, and tear away the shadows of mystery which had shrouded the scene in the past.

He could see Boromir's final moments, as he had been unable to before. In his mind's eye his brother lay wounded, only now he was no longer alone as he had been in Faramir's worst imaginings, but aided by the King himself. Peace was in his face, and now Faramir knew that it had truly been there, and was no mere product of his wishful heart. The madness of the Ring had not prevailed over him; he had reclaimed himself at the last, cleansing his soul with the blood of selfless sacrifice, defying Sauron's might with his last act in the only manner left to him. How pitiful the Dark Lord's power seemed, in the face of such nobility!

Lowering his eyes, Faramir glanced at the vambraces lying on the bench nearby, the white velvet wrappings shining softly in the moonlight. They would be treasured and preserved as among his most valuable possessions; his children would be able to hold them, and he would be able to tell them Boromir's story, of his strength and goodness, his devotion to Gondor, and how much he and Faramir had loved each other. And perhaps he would tell them of the Ring as well, and how Boromir fell briefly to its calling before cleansing his soul of its taint forever. Thus they would know that there was great evil in the world, but how it was purged with an even greater good, and how the heart which once dwelt in darkness was able to lay itself to blessed rest.

The torches upon the wall began to burn low. Finally Faramir stood away from the rampart, put out his pipe, and gave one last look to the celebrating city. In the east, the palest pink tinge of the coming sunrise was brushing the horizon. With the utmost care he picked up the vambraces, cradling them gently in his arms. For a moment he felt as if he could touch his brother's spirit through the velvet wrapping, sharing the calm this evening had brought him. They were both at peace now.

With a small smile, Faramir turned and left the tower floor, leaving its stone walls empty, save for the murmurs of old and dear memories and the faintest touch of the new dawn.

THE END

Thank you for reading!

Sue


Add New Comment

Latest Forum Posts

Join the Conversation!