Looking for Boromir by Valante|
Summary: When Faramir is lost, who will help him find his way?
Faramir sat huddled in the corner of the tavern, nursing a tankard of dark ale. The hood of his ranger cloak shielded his eyes from the light, shielded his face from strange eyes. He swirled the foaming drink in the tankard. Lifted it to his lips. Paused.
"You do not want to drink that," said the shadowy man near his table.
Faramir looked up with narrowed eyes. "Why? Who are you?"
But the man had already walked away.
A flash of fair hair outside the window caught his eye. Boromir? Faramir surged to his feet, staggered, and caught himself against the table. Dizzy. Drunk? No, he hadn't drunk a drop yet. He needed to reach the man with the fair hair. He needed to find Boromir.
On stumbling legs he headed for the tavern door, but the barkeep's drawling voice caught him halfway there:
"Can't leave before paying, boy."
Faramir stalled. The barkeep was standing behind his counter, wiping a golden goblet with a filthy rag. The goblet turned round and round in his hands. Every pass of the cloth made the gold more dull and brittle, like the barkeep's hair. The barkeep's gimlet stare fixed Faramir in place.
Faramir reached for his belt but found no purse. He rummaged in the pockets of his cloak. Empty. His face colored under the barkeep's stare.
The barkeep's hands kept wiping, wiping, wiping.
Faramir searched on his body again, digging under layers of clothes. Nothing in his leather armor. Nothing in the ranger's garb. Nothing in the gray robe underneath. But the playclothes under the robe – he felt a bump in the chest pocket, and fished out a stone, held it out on the palm of his hand.
"Will this do?" he said.
The hearth fire reflected and throbbed in the ruby, casting liquid shadows on his palm.
The barkeep's eyes never left Faramir's own, even as he gave a slow nod.
Faramir hesitated. The thought of parting with the stone hurt. But the fair-haired man was getting farther by the heartbeat, and he had to catch up. He crossed over to the counter.
The shadowy man blocked his way: eminent, pressing, so close that the breath of space between them felt solid. Over the man's shoulder, Faramir saw the barkeep's eyes narrow.
"Let me through," said Faramir.
"No," said the shadowy man. His hand closed over Faramir's own, curling his fingers tightly over the ruby. "You need not pay for what you haven't done."
Faramir glanced at his table. His tankard was full. He hadn't drunk a drop.
He stumbled away from the shadowy man and left the tavern, his back tingling under the barkeep's stare. The door creaked shut on the smoky air inside.
Outside, it was an empty dirt road. No sign of the fair-haired man, and no sign of Faramir's horse. Did he have a horse? He couldn't remember how he'd gotten there.
He had no idea where he was.
The road stretched left and right in equal anonymity, but on the left, the horizon still blazed with sunset. The man with the fair hair had moved that way, he remembered, and the tracks on the road confirmed it. Faramir hitched up his bow and followed.
In all his years as a tracker, he'd never seen such baffling tracks. A single man had passed on the road, that much was obvious. He'd worn heavy boots. Cavalry boots. And there the sense ended. While each footprint seemed twice as large as Faramir's, they had hardly left an impression on the road. Obviously the man was traveling light. But so was Faramir, and yet, as he matched his steps to the stranger's huge footprints, his own shoes sank deeply in the dirt.
He was so wrapped up in this paradox that only when he walked into a signpost did he notice the crossroad. Faramir started and looked up. The road that intersected his own was labeled "Marto" in both directions, north and south. He circled the signpost. The road he'd come from was also labeled "Marto". So was the west path.
The footsteps – Boromir's? – continued along the western trail. Marto or not, that was Faramir's destination.
He was about to set out when he saw someone walking over from northern Marto. The shadowy man.
"I almost lost you," said he.
Faramir blinked. "I'm right here."
"Are you?" The man dipped his head towards southern Marto. "Come with me."
Faramir blinked again and shook his head. "No..." He looked at the flaming west horizon and the Marto that lay that way. "No, I'm headed there."
"You don't belong there, Faramir."
Faramir bowed his head briefly. "I'm sorry," he whispered. Then he set off on the western trail.
"Faramir!" the shadowy man called after him.
He hunched his shoulders and ignored the voice.
Soon he overtook some traffic that was also headed west. Strange traffic, slow and stubborn. An eyeless soldier on a horse. A child lugging a great-sword. Two maids that strew dead petals in their wake. An oxen-harnessed cart with no wheels.
He caught up with the driver of the cart and hailed him. "Where to, sir?"
"Why, same as you, lad." The wizened man shielded his eyes with his palm and gazed west. "To rebuild the City."
"Marto?" said Faramir. "Is that the City?"
"Nope. Marto is only the road."
Puzzling over that, Faramir watched the crawling cart. It wasn't even a cart, really: it was an iron plow fitted with a box and loaded with smashed stones and rotting wood. It moved at an agonizing crawl. The plowshares were worn blunt, the oxen were groaning at the yoke, and the road was left behind in butchered furrows, but Faramir made no comment. You used what you had at hand.
Finally he said, "Is Boromir there?"
He had to be. Where else would he be, if not working to restore Gondor to its past glory?
"Might be," the driver said affably.
Excitement flared up in Faramir's chest. He checked his stride forcefully, lest he overtake the cart. "How far are we? Are we very far yet?"
"Neh. See that?" He pointed to a column of smoke, and Faramir realized that it wasn't sunset on the horizon, but a reflection of some great fire, perhaps from the blacksmiths' work. "We're almost there."
Faramir felt his face breaking into a smile. "My thanks," he called to the driver.
He lengthened his stride and walked ahead of the others. Soon the City's walls loomed ahead, and the air became hot and heavy. A focused column of smoke rose from within the City; apparently the fire was fierce but controlled.
The City's walls were crumbling, and Faramir could see where even the smashed stones in the plow-cart could be put to good use. He reached the gate and hailed the guard. When he tried to enter, though, the guard lowered his lance and blocked his way.
It was the shadowy man.
"I cannot let you enter, Faramir," he said.
Faramir clenched his fists at his sides. "My brother is in there."
The shadowy man shook his head. "I'm sorry. Please, let me lead you away."
Faramir curbed a growl. The shadowy man looked vaguely familiar. If he were a guard, possibly Faramir knew him; Faramir tried to recall his name.
From within the gate, a well-known voice called: "Faramir!"
He looked up in surprise as his father walked out. Surprise turned into disbelief, first numb and then delighted, when Denethor enfolded him in a hug. Faramir reveled in the man's warmth, despite the smell of smoke that clung to his office robes.
"Is there a problem?" the steward demanded of the shadowy man.
"He won't let me in," said Faramir quietly.
Denethor pulled himself to his full height. Faramir expected derision at his inability to command, but instead, the steward leveled a glare at the shadowy man. "He is Faramir of House Húrin and my son. He will come with me. Step aside."
Faramir swelled with warmth at the protectiveness of the gesture. The shadowy man didn't quail, only looked at him with earnest plea in his gray eyes. Faramir felt a guilty twinge in his heart. But Denethor's hand on his shoulder bolstered him, and when the steward pushed past the guard, Faramir entered the City by his side.
"Is Boromir here?" he asked his father as they crossed debris-strewn streets.
"He is somewhere around," Denethor said. He steered them left into a tunnel-like alley. "Let me bring us to him."
The shadowy man's words echoed in Faramir's mind: "Let me lead you away." Away from family? Away from his beloved brother? From his father, newly-gained against all chances? How could he walk away from that?
And yet his heart misgave him as he followed Denethor.
"Where are we going, father?"
"Home." The steward smiled at him. "Don't you recognize this place?"
Faramir didn't recognize the City – it wasn't Minas Tirith, of that he was certain – but he did recognize the street where they arrived: Rath Dínen.
"Father?" He faltered to a halt among the tombs of ancient kings. "Are we lost?"
"We're right here," said Denethor. He made a sweeping gesture with his arm, and Faramir finally saw the source of the smoke and the blaze in the sky. A great pyre burned in the middle of the street. Lying on the pyre was the body of Boromir.
"Come," said his father, extending his hand.
Stunned, hesitant, reluctant, Faramir took it. They approached the conflagration side by side. The heat battered Faramir's face and throat, and he couldn't breathe. He dropped to his knees at the base of the burning platform.
"Come," Denethor said again.
A tug on his hand. Faramir looked up and saw that his father had already climbed into the pyre. Into the flames. Startled, he pulled back.
"What is it, son?"
Faramir tried and failed to form words. Despite the heat, he felt himself go cold.
His father frowned. "Don't you want to come home to your family?"
"Yes, but I can't – I –"
The shadowy man's words echoed in his mind: "I cannot let you enter."
As if summoned by the thought, the shadowy man was suddenly there, gripping his other arm and pulling him away.
"Leave him!" Denethor commanded. "He is mine."
"I lay claim to him," the shadowy man said. "Faramir, come."
"You belong by my side, son!"
Torn beyond endurance, Faramir tuned out both of them and concentrated on Boromir's body. It was untouched by the fire. The arms were crossed over the chest, and the fair hair surrounded the upturned face like a halo. His brother, dead. How could that be? And how could he leave him?
Boromir's head lolled to the side. His closed eyes met Faramir's. The shimmering heat gave his lips the illusion of movement.
"Go with him, brother."
Faramir's eyes opened as if for the first time.
He wrenched away from Denethor, who howled in anger. The fire was already consuming the steward. Faramir turned to the shadowy man and looked at him questioningly. Too late?
The man gave him a gentle smile and squeezed his hand.
Outside the Silent Street lay a city in ruins: Osgiliath. Faramir finally saw everything. The fallen buildings. The mess of rubble and bodies. A beaten horse wandered past them, carrying the slumped body of the eyeless soldier from the road. Just inside the gate lay the body of the child, who had fallen on his great-sword. Dead flowers everywhere.
The shadowy man – Faramir finally saw him clearly in all his glorious light – had gone out the gate and was waiting for Faramir.
Faramir turned back to the ruined city, still drawn by a strange sense of affinity. Perhaps it was his place after all. Was he not himself misused, broken, ruined?
"Faramir!" the man called.
Faramir turned to the gate, passed through, and opened his eyes. "My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?"
Author's note: Many metaphors are strewn throughout the story, especially in the tavern scene, the tracks on the road, and the cart scene. Now that you know the context, another reading might shed different light on things. "Marto" means "fate" in Quenya, by the way.