Written for the GFIC Group's August POV Challenge.
Elements: Forty, Brown, Cube
Every mother’s son in Minas Tirith knows the network of alleyways that lace the city, connecting streets and houses and idle gossip. Some know the twisting paths better than others, and somehow, by forty, every man has forgotten the hiding places of his youth. Today, this is just as well. Today, the uncanny talent the Steward’s second son has for disappearance is being put to good use in the familiar, forgotten passages. Today, the Steward’s eldest son is prowling along the dirty, crumbling network on a hunt for his brother. His prey has good reason to disappear; the alleys are likely the only safe place left to cry, far away from nosy playmates, well-meaning advice, and ugly scorn. No one will see; he has made sure of it.
But Boromir is a good hunter.
Faramir is tucked in a shadowy nook of crumbling stone that once, in long lost years, held purpose. Now, it holds naught but a weeping boy. For a moment, a shadow falls over the nook, but Faramir doesn’t look up. There is a sigh, and the nook holds not one boy, but two.
“You will miss luncheon, hidden like this,” Boromir says quietly. Faramir dashes a hand against his eyes and says nothing. “Shall we go home?”
“You think I’m as dull as the rest!” Faramir croaks, his anger cracked and lacking force. “I shan’t go home. I shan’t. I’ll stay here and starve, and everyone will be happy.”
“You should. I’m an embarrassment.”
He spits a word no tutor ever gave him, and Boromir looks distressed and admiring at once.
“Don’t be foolish,” he admonishes. “You’re not an embarrassment, you’re my brother.”
For once, the cloak of relationship doesn’t cover the hurt like it’s supposed to. Faramir throws a rock at the ground ill-temperedly.
“Your brother can’t tell a hilt from a blade. Your brother was outmaneuvered by a stable lad with a mop handle. Your brother doesn’t deserve to be called your brother.”
Anger flares up bright and hard in Boromir’s eyes, and he lifts Faramir out of his slouch by the front of his tunic.
“Never,” he spits through clenched teeth, “never say that. You are my brother, and nothing can change that. If you or anyone else wants to disagree, I’ll… I’ll thrash them. I’ll thrash you. I should thrash you, just for being ridiculous.”
He releases Faramir, and Faramir half-heartedly smoothes the wrinkles in his tunic.
“You’re better than me at everything,” he says in a small voice. “The swordmaster even said so.”
“The swordmaster thinks he’s clever, too, and we both know boxes of straw are cleverer than he is,” Boromir says dismissively. Faramir looks uncertain.
“I really was awful with the sword, Boromir.”
Boromir looks down his nose at his younger brother. “You need practice. I can practice with you. We can drill, every day, just like the Guard. We can do it in secret, and you’ll soon show that swordmaster a thing or two!”
“You think I could?” Faramir says, half wistfully. Boromir gives him a look that he learned from the Captain of the Guard and says a single word.
The name instantly straightens Faramir’s shoulders and banishes the last of the tears. The wistful look flees, sinking into a determined set of chin and grim eye. His name, delivered in that tone with that look, means many things. It means of course you could. It means you will, and I’ll make sure of it. It means I don’t think you’re an embarrassment, and only my opinion matters.
It means you’re my brother, and we can do anything together. Stop sniveling.
Faramir wipes his nose on his sleeve and stops sniveling. Boromir cuffs him lightly about the head and leads the way back home. Walking in Boromir’s shadow, Faramir is strong, safe, invincible.
They are together, and that is enough.
It is his watch, and he crouches by the water, hidden in the shadows, half hating the necessity of watchfulness and half mesmerized by the peaceful river. The water seems unearthly, like starlight itself cutting through the ground. Beside him, the reeds whistle and keen in the night breezes; old wives say they mourn always for heroes long dead. The thought is no comfort, especially in the malevolent darkness that presses from all sides. He shudders, and wishes briefly for less troubled times. Then, he clears his mind of wishes and tales and settles instead to watching the river.
Without warning, a slender vessel cleaves through the current. She slips along silently, guided by neither rudder nor oar, nor captain or sailor. The prow curves gracefully over the water, glimmering grey. She might be the child of starlight and water, a phantom of imagination and memories of days more beautiful. The reeds sing a broken dirge, and he leans quietly forward to look as the ghostly boat floats by, close enough to touch.
He peers into the nightmare.
He has been taught the rules of war, learned by heart the history of death and sacrifice that a kingdom builds, but he has never studied this. There are no books or tutors or lessons for the madness of grief. A scream wells in his chest, his muscles burn to fight, his feet tense to flee, but he stays, silent and still by the water.
Boromir is lying cradled in clear water, his sword broken and shimmering on his thigh. The knives are there, the leather pack, the blanket, all soaked through and as useless as the sword. The sturdy travel clothes are torn and stained, black with the blood of a hundred wounds that will never heal. His face is familiar, but all wrong; there is no strength to it now, no curve of a smile, no crinkles around his eyes, no spark of essence, of life. A hint of gold glints on his waist: a belt, links like leaves, the only unfamiliar mark in the too-real nightmare.
“Boromir!” he screams, though he knows there will be no answer. “Where is thy horn? Whither goest thou?”
How could I have not heard you cry for help? How can you leave me like this?
The reeds keen, and the river does not answer. The vessel slips away, as dreams do, but the horror remains. There are voices, whispered questions, men appearing like ghosts at his side, but the real ghost has gone. There is a collective gasp, a tensing of the other watchmen, and someone presses half of a broken horn, coated in thick brown river mud, into his nerveless fingers.
It is a dream, a nightmare.
He does not wake.
Every mother’s son in Minas Tirith knows the network of alleyways that lace the city, connecting streets and houses and idle gossip. Some know the twisting paths better than others, and somehow, by forty, every man has forgotten the hiding places of his youth. Tonight, there are terrors that even men ought have hiding from, and tonight, the alleys are deserted. Somewhere, in a crumbling nook of stone, the Steward’s second son is using his skills of disappearance. He knows there is no safe place left; when he was young, he was safe only because he knew there would always be a hunter coming for him, a hunter that knew how to right the world with a clever plan, a stern look, and a well-placed name.
Tonight, there will be no hunter.
The horn rests in Faramir’s hands, split into two jagged, uneven halves. By daybreak, the horn will be delivered to his father, and the city will mourn a great man. Tonight, the horn is with Faramir, and he weeps over it as if it were his brother’s own bones. In the pressing dark of the alley, he remembers; by and by, he dreams. But the nightmare is all around him, and he finds no peace. For the first time, he doubts the strength of Men and feels the cold, tight weight of true fear.
If the growing shadows can overpower Boromir, what chance do they have? If the growing shadows have taken Boromir, why should he care?
The chill grey of dawn creeps into the stony alleys, and Faramir stands up. The madness has passed with the night, but the grief remains, and he holds the broken horn as if it were a much heavier burden. He stands straight, determined…as Boromir would have stood, he thinks. He turns his back on the alley and turns his face to the weak light. He walks.
He walks alone.
Chapter End Notes:
Author's Endnote: Sorry, forgot to put this in first time 'round, but Faramir's dialogue in the second part is taken from The Two Towers, in the chapter entitled 'A Window to the West', as Faramir is relating to Sam and Frodo how he found out about Boromir's death. The rest of the dialogue...and the final part of the fic...are of my own invention.