Lalaith stood a half step behind Faramir, half hidden from Denethor’s gaze by Faramir’s shoulder as if he wished to shield her from some imagined blow. Her head was bent forward slightly, watching Denethor who sat morose and silent upon his throne of dark stone, the burning glare of his eyes flashing from his son’s face, to hers, and back again.
“And then I let them go, Father,” Faramir muttered, his eyes fixed carefully upon Denethor’s face.
“Upon the road to Minas Morgul,” he added, swallowing softly when Denethor made no move but to breath, his chest rising and falling beneath his dark robes with greater agitation as his son spoke.
“To take the ring to Mordor, and destroy it in the fire of the mountain,” Faramir finished quietly, the silence of the great hall fairly pounding in Lalaith’s ears.
Denethor stirred at last, and Lalaith reached a hand out, lightly touching Faramir’s arm. The steward’s eyes darted toward the slight movement, then his eyes shot to hers piercing and intense, his face shivering in barely contained rage before he turned back to his son.
“This is how you would serve your city?” he seethed, his words dark and harsh. “You would risk its utter ruin?”
Beneath her fingers and the rough tooled leather, the muscles of Faramir’s arm grew taut.
“I did what I judged to be right,” Faramir answered in return, his back straight, his words soft, yet firmly spoken as his eyes remained unwavering upon his father. Lalaith felt a wave of pride wash over her, but Denethor seemed only more incensed at his son’s words.
“What you judged to be right?” Denethor seethed as his jaw trembled in silent fury. “You sent the Ring of Power into Mordor! In the hands of a witless halfling!”
Lalaith shifted her weight as his fuming words rang through the silent hall, though she said nothing.
A dark look stole over Denethor’s eyes as he continued, “It should have been brought back to the citadel to be kept safe. Hidden.” he glanced away as if at some secret thought and his voice lowered. “Dark and deep in the vaults. Not to be used.” His eyes twitched minutely at this, and a chill shuddered over Lalaith’s heart, the look in his eyes recalling to her, Boromir’s countenance upon Amon Hen when he had tried to take the One Ring from Frodo.
No, you could never deny the Ring’s will, were you to have it in your possession, she shuddered to herself in her mind, recalling the seductive pull of the Ring that she had felt herself, when she had for that brief moment, held it in her palm before she had summoned the strength to give it back to Frodo. Denethor did not possess the strength to deny the Ring’s temptation. Faramir strength at letting the Ring go, was a tribute to his nobility indeed, and Denethor’s anger, an even greater sign that he could not have denied the Ring’s will.
“Unless-,” Denethor continued, “at the uttermost end of need.”
“I would not use the Ring,” Faramir answered back, a firm lift to his voice, and a wave of pride swelled in Lalaith’s heart. “Not if Minas Tirith were falling in ruin, and I alone could save her.”
Denethor smirked curtly at this. “Every you desire to appear lordly and gracious, as a king of old.” His sneer fell to a trembling down turned line. “Boromir would have remembered his father’s need. He would have brought me a kingly gift.”
“Boromir would not have brought the ring,” Faramir shot back resolutely. “He would have stretched out his hand to this thing and taken it. He would have fallen-,”
“You know nothing of this matter!” Denethor cried, pushing himself forward upon his throne, his lips furrowed, white and bloodless.
“He would have kept it for his own!” Faramir returned, undaunted.
“And when he returned,” he added, his voice lowered, somewhat, “you would not have known your son.”
“Boromir was loyal to me!” Denethor exploded, leaping up, and staggering from his throne, wielding his white rod as if he meant to strike Faramir with it. “Not some wizard’s pupil, who consorts with a faithless, heartless-, Elf!” Denethor spat, waving his white rod in Lalaith’s face.
Faramir fell back a pace, snatching Lalaith’s wrist, and drawing her back behind him as he did.
Staggering back, Denethor tripped upon the step of his dais as he did, and falling clumsily at the foot of his throne.
Lalaith sighed low, and shook her head, dropping her eyes. But Faramir stepped forward once again, attentive, and concerned.
“Father?” he murmured, to which Denethor lifted his eyes, glancing past his shoulder, to Lalaith, though his focus went beyond her as a trembling smile touched his face and slowly he rose once again.
“My son,” he whimpered, and Lalaith furrowed her brow softly. He was not looking at Faramir. “Come,” he stepped forward, his hands outstretched, gesturing toward Lalaith. “Here is she, who loves you, she of the fair Elven folk, who has traded her immortality for your love! Your bride awaits you!”
Ai, the poor man, she sighed within herself, pity rising as she realized he saw what they did not see, a memory, intangible as mist, of Boromir, his first born. She knew she could never comprehend fully, the grief of a parent over the death of a child. Was the loss such a terrible thing, that Boromir’s death could drive his father to the loss of his wits as it seemed to have?
But then Théoden’s son had died of battle wounds as well, and the king of Rohan had not given his soul to madness, when he had learned of it, Lalaith reminded herself, turning her eyes once again upon Gondor’s steward. Doubtless, Denethor suffer from more than she could see, and she could only pity him mutely, unable to help.
The vision beyond her shoulder seemed to have faded as Denethor’s face fell back into a miserable, bitter look, his gaze falling upon her with distaste.
“He loved you, yet you-,” his seething words faded into angry silence.
“My heart is another’s, my lord,” Lalaith returned quietly.
“That-,” Denethor seethed, “Elf lord,” he spat the word, “is not half the man my son was!”
Lalaith drew in a swift, hot breath at these words, and she lunged forward a step, fuming, though at Faramir’s hands upon her shoulders, she remembered herself, and drew back, conscious now, of Denethor’s face trembling, as if near tears.
Pity returned to her, and she turned her eyes away, ducking her head.
“Leave me,” Denethor’s voice grated. “Both of you.”
And without protest, Faramir turned away, drawing Lalaith with him as Denethor stumbled back to his dark throne of black stone.
The open air of the high mountain was a welcome relief as it washed over them both as Faramir and Lalaith stepped out upon the steps, the great iron doors booming shut behind them, locking Denethor in, alone in the prison of his mind.
“Come,” Faramir bid, offering her his arm, which she took now, the two of them leaning slightly against each other, both wearied from Denethor’s words. “I will see you back to your rooms.”
“Thank you,” she returned quietly as they skirted the stone path around the White Tree, still bare and lifeless.
“So-,” Faramir began as they started toward the green sward, drawing near toward the white tree, its bare branches reaching plaintively toward the sky. Faramir’s voice had grown somewhat tense, though he struggled to hide it. “Your heart is given to another?”
She looked up, wondering at the tone of his voice, and the almost plaintive look of boyish pleading in his eyes.
“Yes,” she answered swiftly, pushing away the cold chill that threatened to clench her heart in its icy fist. “I have loved him for centuries, in truth. And he, me. We have only this last autumn pledge our troth, though. When he spoke of his desire to join Frodo on his quest to destroy the Ring, I offered my bow, as well.”
Faramir’s eyes widened at her words. “That is how you have come to be here, with Gandalf,” he murmured in almost a whisper. “Frodo Baggins spoke of two Elves, with whom he had come, but he did not say that one was a woman.” His lips twitched softly at this. “A shieldmaiden of her people, fearless and stalwart beneath her beauty-,” he murmured quietly before he shook himself, and pursed his lips.
“May I be so bold, my lady,” he inquired quietly, “as to ask the name of the one who has been fortunate enough to win your hand?”
Lalaith’s eyes shot to Faramir’s as the dim light of the sun found them again.
So like Boromir, she thought quietly, yet not so.
“His name is Legolas,” she offered glancing down at her mottled reflection in the pool beneath the tree’s roots as they passed it. “He is a prince of the Elven realm of Mirkwood. King Thranduil is his father.”
Faramir nodded at this. “A prince of the Elves,” he muttered softly to himself. “A bold warrior, I do not doubt, to come on such a quest. And you, no less brave, to join him.” He smiled, though it was a timid boyish smile. “I do not doubt but that you and he are well matched, and that the love between you is great, such that one like myself, who has not yet lived even fifty years, could never hope to comprehend.”
Lalaith lifted her eyes at this, a wide smile of gratitude drawing across her lips at his words.
“Surely one day, you will find a maiden who will awaken your love, as the spring rains awaken the first flowers,” she offered, squeezing his arm. “And you will understand then.”
But Faramir only smiled silently at this, and place his hand over hers where it rested upon his arm, softly returning the gentle squeeze of her hand.