Serious Angst



Honor Unabated
by Linaewen

The heat was intense and the pain excruciating.  A roaring was in his ears that drowned out all thought but one -- that the pain was unbearable, and he could not endure it much longer.

Intolerable!  he cried, but his words were no more than a shriek of agony.

Surely I will die from this pain!

Suddenly, it was over; the heat was gone, and with it the suffering.  All was blessed coolness and silence without pain.  His relief was great as he relaxed, basking in the quiet stillness like that which comes upon awakening from a dream.

He lay quietly and time passed unnoticed.  Slowly, slowly, his senses returned, and the ability to move.  He opened his eyes, to discover he was standing in the center of an enclosed chamber.  For a brief moment, he was disoriented -- had he not been reclining but a moment before?  Had there not been walls of stone and cold marble about him, instead of tapestries and shuttered casements?

But no, he must have been mistaken.  It had only been part of his dream, that burning, painful nightmare.  Here he was in his Tower, where the tapestries depicting past glories of Gondor hung still and heavy, and the windows were shuttered against the bright sky.  He spent much of his time here, especially of late, bending a discerning eye to all parts of the land under his care; seeking for news that would bring hope, yet all the while fearing that victory now was forever out of reach.  As the days had grown darker, his seeking for answers and insight had grown more desperate and more wearing, but still he came here, to probe the black globe of the palantír for the visions that might keep him one step ahead of that Enemy who sought ever to turn him aside to despair.

Yes, I remember now, thought Denethor -- though indeed, his memory was hazy of how he had come to be here, in this place.  Perhaps it had been a vision of the Enemy that had given him such pain, and left him feeling so oddly light and empty...

Thoughts of such a vision caused him to turn inexorably to the Seeing Stone which lay at hand -- but to his utter astonishment, he saw that the palantír was gone, and the silken cloth that usually covered it lay crumpled and discarded upon the floor beside the stone plinth in the center of the room.

Denethor stood frozen for a long moment, stunned into immobility; then with a strangled cry he darted forward to catch up the discarded silk covering.  All the while his sharp eyes ranged to and fro about the room, seeking any sign of the missing globe.  But there was nothing to be seen. The palantír was gone.

His heart swelled suddenly with furious anger, and a deep sense of loss smote Denethor so that he reeled.

"Who has dared enter here without my leave, to lay hands on that which is mine alone?" he cried.

But there was no answer; indeed there was no sound whatsoever -- only a heavy silence that pressed upon his ears and muffled the sound of his voice.  His anger drained away as suddenly as it had come, but the sense of loss remained.  With a moan, he swung away from the plinth and began searching desperately for the missing palantír.

Nothing!  It was not here, though he searched the length and breadth of the Tower chamber.  In frustration and mounting fear, Denethor grasped the shutters of the north-facing window and yanked them open to allow light to enter the room -- but outside, evening had fallen, and though the sky was still afire with the setting sun, the light coming in at the window was dim and turning to grey.

A reek of smoke and burning smote his nostrils, and Denethor felt his heart clutch in fear.  Burning in the City?  Was that why he had dreamed of fire and heat?  What had happened while he slept, and why had they not sent for him?  Had the battle begun at last, with the coming of the Dark Lord against him?

Memory stirred, then; dimly he recalled sitting in just such a high chamber, looking out across the shadowed plains to the North, whence would come the Riders of Rohan, allies of Gondor -- if they came at all.  Memory returned, and he recalled the long dark hours, as he sat there thinking, watching, waiting, spending even his son...

Then the memories came fast and furious, and an echo of pain returned to mock him.  Faramir wounded and lost in a feverish dream... stone-revealed visions that brought despair and the end of hope, and the sense of something snapping inside... tears cold upon his face and the fumbling comfort of the Halfling, speaking hopeful words in a high clear voice like that of a child.  Yet there was no comfort, only the bitter knowledge that he, Steward of Gondor, had failed and his City was burning.  The Enemy had found It...

His mouth moved, and Denethor found himself speaking the words again that now sounded clear in his mind.

"...his power waxes... all we do is ruinous... I sent my son forth, unthanked, unblessed... better to burn sooner than late, for burn we must... the West has failed... go back and burn... my life is broken... "

All thoughts of the palantír were forgotten as he strode from the chamber and descended the Tower to the Hall.

***

The passage leading from the Tower stairs brought Denethor into the Hall from the side, behind the dais.  As he passed through, intending to seek out someone who could tell him what was happening in the City, his attention was caught by flickering torches at the front of the Hall.  He paused and turned towards his chair at the foot of the steps leading up to the King's throne, and was brought up short by the scene confronting him.

King Théoden of Rohan lay there before the dais, on a bed of state hung with rich cloths of green and white.  He was covered to his breast with a cloth of gold, upon which was laid his unsheathed sword.  At his feet was set his shield, and twelve lit torches were set round about him.  Twelve knights of both Rohan and Gondor formed a guard of honor, standing at attention beside the bier.

"What is this?" cried Denethor, grief-stricken.  "The King of Rohan, dead and laid out here within my Hall?  And I not here to receive him, who came in answer to my call?  I do not understand!"

But the knights who stood at attention took no notice of him, and his cry of dismay fell upon deaf ears.

Denethor slowly approached the King, until he stood at the head of the bier. The torches fluttered and flickered silently, casting light that shown brightly upon Théoden's snowy hair, and upon his face, which looked young and beautiful and utterly peaceful.

A great longing gripped Denethor, the desire to know such peace of heart, visible at a glance to all who looked upon him.  Would his own face upon death tell such a tale as this, of peaceful knowledge of a battle well-fought and won, though death came at the end?  Or would it rather be a tale of grimness and despair in the face of hopeless odds?

A chill passed through Denethor, and he trembled.

What is wrong with me?  he thought fiercely, suddenly angry at his weakness.  I am behaving like a fool who starts at every shadow and fears the darkness of night.  Have I no pride left, no strength of will?  Surely I cannot have been stripped of that, no matter what has gone before!

Yet the memory of burning pain, cold tears and keen loss pressed upon him, and it was only with great effort that he shut those memories out. Sighing heavily, he looked once more upon Théoden's calm visage, and composed himself for a time of mourning.

***

A sound behind him brought Denethor out of his reverie and back to full alert -- the sound of approaching footsteps ringing in the Hall behind him, echoing in the lofty rafters and among the stone columns.  It was the first sound he had heard since awakening, other than that of his own voice, and it filled him with a strange sense of dread mixed with anticipation.  He was hesitant to turn and meet the one who approached -- yet his desire to do so was even stronger than his dread.

For he knew that firm, confident tread, the sound of which he had never expected to hear again.  That he heard it now was significant and frightening, but once he had acknowledged the familiar step, his apprehension lasted but an instant.  What could there possibly be to fear from his own son, his Boromir?

Denethor turned swiftly, knowing in his heart that Boromir could not possibly be here, walking towards him; half expecting the sound of footsteps to die away as the dream ended, the longed-for reunion still out of reach, forever.

But Boromir was there, in truth.  He approached swiftly, his long stride easily covering the distance between them.  A welcoming smile was upon his face and a light was in his eye that made Denethor's heart melt and tears spring to his eyes.

Boromir opened his arms wide and Denethor stepped into his son's embrace. Pressing his face against Boromir's cheek, he felt the roughness of his beard and smelled his familiar scent and heard in his ear the beloved voice murmuring "Father", and he trembled with joy and relief.

"Boromir, my son!" he sighed in a broken voice.  "You have returned to me!"

Boromir's only reply was to hold him tighter.  They stood thus for countless moments; when at last they drew apart, Denethor kept a tight grip on Boromir's arm, as if to prevent him from departing unexpectedly. He looked Boromir up and down, scrutinizing him closely, as a frown creased his forehead.

"They told me you were dead, and lost to me -- sorely wounded, pierced by many arrows," Denethor ventured hesitantly.  "Yet here you are before me, whole once more, and no sign of wound or injury.  What does it mean?  Is this yet another dream?"

"No, Father," replied Boromir gently.  "It is no dream."

Denethor gazed at his son steadily for a long moment, and though no words were spoken between them, at last the veil was lifted from his eyes, and he acknowledged the fearful truth held at bay since his memory had begun to return.

"The burning and the pain... it was truth, and no dream," he said faintly.  "I am... dead, then.  How else could I see you, touch you, hear your speech?"

Boromir nodded solemnly.

"Yes, it is so, my father."

"These guards who stand here, not speaking, taking no notice; they cannot see us or sense our presence -- nor hear us speak together?"

"They neither see nor hear us."

"What of Théoden, then?  Why does he sleep, while we do not?"

Boromir put an arm about his father's shoulders and drew him back to stand before the bier of the dead King.  Laying a reverent hand upon Théoden's breast, he turned to Denethor.

"This is merely the shell of he who is Théoden," Boromir said quietly. "That which remains for mortal men to see and to mourn, after he has passed on.  Théoden living is no longer here; he has gone before us, to sit with his fathers.  And we shall do the same, once you are ready; for this is why I have come for you."

Denethor's face twisted bitterly.

"Once I am ready?  How shall I ever be so?  How can I leave it like this? I remember now -- all of it!  The Enemy had his way, and brought me down low in defeat.  I am broken, shamed!"

"Broken?" answered Boromir.  "Perhaps... but long you held out against the Nameless One, and gave us all the chance that was needed to prepare the way of his defeat.  All is not lost, my father, though it might seem so to you now, whose eyes are still dimmed by despair and regret."

Boromir smiled encouragingly at his father, then leaning past him, he kissed Théoden's cold brow.

"How peaceful his face looks!"  Boromir exclaimed.  "Glad I am to see him so!  When last we met, he was so gravely ill.  I was afraid for him -- afraid he would be unable to aid us should our time of need come suddenly. But he defeated his darkness and rode to victory.  'But say to Denethor that even if Rohan itself felt no peril, still we would come to his aid.' Those were his words, Father, and he honored them.  He answered your call for aid, and gave everything to defend you, his ally.  He paid with his life, but he did so gladly."

"He was victorious over his despair," said Denethor darkly.  "But it would seem that I was defeated by my own."

"Father..."

"No!  You cannot tell me otherwise!" cried Denethor angrily.  "What is left for me but despair?  That is all I knew at the end, and it is all that remains, forever!  I desired life undiminished, love not halved, and honor unabated -- but what I have is naught!  Naught but regret, and the memory of madness and failure.  For indeed I have failed -- failed in my Stewardship, and failed as a leader.  I betrayed my Faramir, who trusted me and served me faithfully; I forsook my people when they stood upon the brink of destruction, when I should have been strong to stand between them and darkness --!  Now I am not with them in their time of great need. They turn to others, and forget me."

Boromir was not dismayed by his father's anger.

"You are not forgotten, Father," he replied calmly.  "And honor remains to you, unabated.  Still you look through the eyes of despair and see only your failure -- as did I, for a time, when I thought on my own evil deed. Failure and betrayal are difficult to set aside, and the pain of your breaking is still fresh.  But it cannot master you now.  Allow yourself to see clearly at last."

"How is this possible?" frowned Denethor.

"The eye of despair sees only crookedly, and thus the picture is incomplete; you must look away from darkness and despair.  The fate of those who can no longer see us is yet cloudy and uncertain, but what has gone before is now more clear to me, and I see my part within it.  For I had a task to perform, and it was not by chance.  I spoke truly that day I told you the quest was mine -- yet I did not see how true it was until now.  Much occurred which might have been avoided, and I did things -- said things -- which sadden me yet, and touch my heart with regret.  Yet I see that my part in the events which unfolded was necessary, although I did not know it, then."

Boromir smiled thoughtfully at his father.

"That is not to say no wrong was done," he continued firmly, "but my evil deeds had an effect for good.  The evil is not thereby diminished, but seeing it as I am able to now, I am indeed comforted.  I turned away in time, and received back my honor from one who had the power to heal me."

Boromir turned to face his father and gripped him by the shoulders, giving him a reassuring shake.

"The same is true for you, Father!  Though you were goaded by madness and pride, and your deeds at the end were harmful, there was much you accomplished that no other could have done, for the good of your people, and the good of all."

Denethor shook his head.

"I cannot see it," he replied, his mouth twisting bitterly.  "Your end came with honor; you died well, achieving a good thing.   Théoden also saw darkness defeated, and hope renewed by victory.  But I?  I brought about my own end, in cowardice and brokenness, and attempted to take my son with me to ease my passing.  If I am remembered at all, it will be with hate and disdain for my madness."

Boromir sighed.

"I see you are not convinced," he replied patiently.  "Come then, I shall prove to you that you are not forgotten, nor are you dishonored.  Look upon what I have to show you; see what you have missed when your pride saw only yourself pitted against the Enemy.  And in seeing clearly, take heart."

Gently Boromir drew Denethor away from the bier towards the great doors that led out of the Hall.  Passing through, they walked across the wide lawn, past the White Tree standing forlorn and drooping over the pool of the fountain, until they came to the Embrasure that overlooked the Pelennor and the Great Gate hundreds of feet below.  Though evening had fallen and darkness fast approached, their eyes saw clearly the City laid out before them.

"Look around you," said Boromir, with a sweep of his hand.  "See the people of this great City?  See these men who still stand, guarding the walls, preparing new defenses, setting in place that which is needed to protect this fortress against further attack?  These men were trained by you, led by you, and they do not balk at the danger.  See how firm they stand, defending the gates?  They did not let evil pass into the streets of the White City, though evil stood upon our very doorstep.  They followed Mithrandir at your word, and though you were not present, you commanded them still, because you made this City what it is, and instilled in them the pride and sternness they required to keep up the defense, against all hope."

Denethor looked, and saw proudly that it was true -- the City was no longer burning, nor was there any sign of the enemy within the walls of the fortress.  He felt a faint stir of hope begin in his heart -- until he raised his eyes to look out over the plain, and his gaze was drawn eastward, to the ever-present fire of Mount Doom.

"What of my vision?"  he demanded mournfully.  "Is not all hope ended? The Dark One has what he most desires, and all defense is useless!"

"No, Father, he does not yet have It, and while It eludes him, hope remains.  You saw only what he wished you to see, and acted as he wished you to act; for in no other way could he defeat you, who remained so strongly opposed to him until the end."

Denethor was silent, struggling with the news of what he had been told. Then he bowed his head in grief.

"I am a fool," he moaned brokenly.

"Come, my father," said Boromir soothingly.  "I would show you more."

***

Boromir now led the way to the sixth level of the City, to the southward wall near the Citadel-gate.  Passing through gardens and a greensward of trees and flowering shrubs, they came to the doors of the Houses of Healing.

Denethor hesitated and drew back fearfully, but Boromir took him by the arm and led him inside.  He directed his father towards a door, beside which stood a guard at attention.  The guard was dressed in the livery of a knight of the Citadel, yet he was scarce the height of a boy; Denethor saw that this guard was in fact the Perian called Peregrin, who had sworn himself to his service.

Boromir smiled broadly and with warm affection at the sight of Pippin standing guard at the door of the chamber.

"My Pippin!" he said proudly.  "My little one!  He has come so far, grown so much!  See how tall he stands, as a true soldier of Gondor!  He served you willingly, Father, and did you great honor.  He does not despise you, though you might think it.  He still serves you in his small way -- his heart is bigger than he knows!  He shall remember you with honor."

"No," answered Denethor sadly.  "It is you he serves.  You are the one he sees and honors when he wears the livery of the White Tower."

"Perhaps!  But he serves you through me, and thus it is the same.  He shall remember us both with love and mercy, and honor us the more because he was witness to our frailty, and did not condemn us for it."

They passed in through the door and entered the chamber.  There upon a bed lay Faramir; his eyes were closed and his face was peaceful, though it was pale and drawn.  Denethor cried out in fear and anguish and ran to his side.  Kneeling by the bed, he reached forward to take Faramir's hand, but hesitated, and drew back.

"I have been the death of him!" Denethor moaned, burying his face in his hands.  "He called for me, and I had nothing to give him but death!"

Boromir strode forward, and putting a hand under his father's arm, he raised him to his feet.

"Fear not, Father!"  he said encouragingly.  "Faramir yet lives!"

At that moment, Faramir's eyes opened and he turned towards them, almost as if he sensed their presence, though he could not see them.  A smile touched his lips and color flushed his cheeks, even as a tear rolled down his face.  He sighed, but did not brush the tear away.  Closing his eyes once more, Faramir slept, the half-smile still upon his lips.

Denethor wept, but with eyes open, for he could not tear his gaze away from his son's face.

"Will he live and forget what I have done to him?" he asked hoarsely.

"Fear not," said Boromir once more.  "He shall live, and remember you without blame.  You know well the love his men have for him -- they would follow him anywhere!  You have seen how high he is held in the esteem of the people, and with good reason, for he is a noble man -- the best of men!  My brother!"

Boromir smiled fondly, and reaching out, touched Faramir's hand, where it lay atop the coverlet.

"Know this, my father, and be comforted.  He is your son, and he holds you high in like esteem.  You are his father and he loves and honors you still, with an intensity that has not been dulled by your sternness and pride.  See those tears upon his face?  They are for you, and they are not bitter."

The door opened behind them and Gandalf entered the room, followed by Aragorn.  Approaching the bed of the sleeping man, Aragorn gently laid his hand upon Faramir's forehead, and stood thus for a moment, as if listening.  The lines of weariness in his face eased, and he smiled. Turning to the Wizard, he spoke, and Gandalf answered with a nod, but father and son could not hear what was said between them.

"Thorongil!" breathed Denethor, frowning fiercely.  "So it is true!  I suspected as much!  Mithrandir shows how little he honors my memory, by bringing this one to supplant me, now that I am dead.  They will take everything, and Faramir will be left with nothing!"

"Father!" said Boromir sternly.  "You speak without knowledge!  Mithrandir has ever been the friend of Gondor; he did not fail to give you honor and speak of you with respect, though you trusted him little and did not conceal your mistrust.  Always it has been his desire to work with you and not against you.  Is it not so?"

Denethor hesitated, frowning.

"Perhaps," he admitted grudgingly.  "Perhaps..."

"You speak of taking and supplanting -- Aragorn comes with no such thought in mind!  If you yet lived, he would honor you and thank you for what you have done to preserve his kingdom."

"Yes, Father," Boromir went on, as Denethor stirred in irritation.  "I say 'his kingdom' -- for such it is.  You see him only through eyes blinded by pride and jealousy -- as did I, for a time!  But Aragorn is the one we have awaited for so many years, for whom we have preserved this land, this throne.  What use is it to have done so, if at the last we hoard it or give it up grudgingly?  I know!  It seems strange to you that I should speak so, for I myself once questioned the right of one to claim the Kingship who returned not, and who knew nothing of our struggle.  But I have learned otherwise in recent days; I have learned to trust this man."

Boromir placed a hand upon his father's shoulder and compelled him to turn towards Aragorn.

"Look at him, my father," he said persuasively.  "This man before you is no upstart from a ragged house bereft of lordship.  No, he is Aragorn son of Arathorn, chieftain of the Dúnedain of Arnor, Captain of Men, bearer of the Star of the North.  He is wielder of the Sword Reforged, victorious in battle, whose hands bring healing; he is the Elfstone, Elessar of the line of Valandil, Isildur's son, heir to Elendil of Númenor!"

Boromir gazed upon the face of Aragorn, and smiled through sudden tears.

"He is a worthy man, and he is my friend," Boromir said warmly.  "I say he is indeed worthy to be King.  He will not let the White City fall; he has promised me this, and I believe him.  Did he not come in the very nick of time, bringing help unlooked for, and healing to our people?  They will follow him, as I would have followed him... And the hope that we thought dead will be renewed."

Turning to Denethor, he laid a hand upon his sleeve.

"Do you trust me, Father?"

"You know that I trust you, my son!" replied Denethor mournfully.

"Then believe me when I say that our charge is safe in the hands of this King, and he will serve us faithfully.  Trust him, as do I, Father!"

Denethor was silent for a long while, his inward struggle apparent upon his face.  But at last he sighed, and nodded sharply.

"Very well," he said quietly.  "I shall do as you say, and let it pass from me -- though this be the hardest task you ask of me!  You have shown me much that had once been hidden from me, being blinded by the Enemy..."

He looked away for a moment, then his eyes met Boromir's once more.

"And yes, blinded by my own pride!"  Denethor sighed.  "Why should what you say of this Aragorn be any less true?  May he... may he indeed serve my people faithfully, that their hope may be renewed -- for that is all I ever desired for them, in truth..."

Boromir's smile was wide and glad as he embraced his father.

"Then at last it is time for us to depart.  Are you ready, my father?  Let us leave them to finish what we have begun; we can trust them for that. Our part is finished, except to be remembered in song and story.  Those who love and honor us will keep our memory alive, and that is enough."

Denethor made to follow Boromir, but then paused, and turned back to gaze upon the sleeping form of his younger son.

"Come, Father," said Boromir gently.  "Mother awaits us."

Denethor bowed his head as sudden tears spilled down his face.  He heaved a great sigh of release, and when once more he looked up into the face of Boromir, there was a light of joy and anticipation in his eye.

"Yes," agreed Denethor with a nod, as he reached out and grasped Boromir's hand.  "Yes, I am ready.  Let us take our leave of Faramir, and be on our way.  My Finduilas has been patient long enough; it will not do to keep her waiting."

Father and son each kissed Faramir tenderly, and left him smiling in his sleep.  As they passed out of the room, Boromir lingered for a moment at the side of Pippin.  Reaching out, he touched Pippin's cheek and ruffled his hair with a loving hand.

"Guard him well, my little one," Boromir whispered, blinking back a tear as he turned away.  "Remember, no slouching!  Stand tall and wear my colors with pride.  Well have you earned that honor!"

***

A warm breath of air like a caress brushed Pippin's cheek and moved in the curls on his head -- as if a strong and affectionate hand had ruffled his hair.  It was comforting, and brought to mind many sweet memories of a kind and lordly man.  Pippin grinned happily at his pleasant thoughts, then quickly drew back his shoulders to stand a bit taller, and composed his face to one of serious concentration, as befitted a knight of the Citadel, standing watch over the Steward of the realm.

When he was relieved of his duty, he went in to the chamber where Merry lay resting, and sat upon the edge of the bed.  The grin was back on his face, and he was chuckling quietly to himself, remembering the warm caress and the breeze that had sounded in his ear like the well-loved voice of a dear friend.

Merry looked at him quizzically.

"Why are you smiling like that, Pip?"

Pippin laughed and shrugged; Merry yawned and coughed in an attempt to cover his own smile at Pippin's unconscious imitation of Boromir's familiar shrug.

"Oh, no reason, really," replied Pippin, not noticing Merry's amusement. "I was just thinking of Boromir.  Something reminded me of him, and it made me happy."

"Good old Boromir!"  Merry sighed.  "I'd give a lot to hear what he'd have to say if he could see you now, dressed like a knight of the Citadel!"

Pippin grinned and gave Merry a playful poke.

"I know what he'd say," he laughed.  "He'd say, 'No slouching, little one!  You're a knight of the Citadel now; wear my colors with pride!'  And then he'd laugh and cuff me under the chin and give me a big wink and off he'd go with a swirl of his cloak, about his business."

"Yes, that sounds exactly like what Boromir would say," said Merry happily.  "Especially the part about slouching!"

In reply, Pippin jumped on Merry and pretended to beat him until they both collapsed with laughter.  At last, their silliness spent, they sat back and reached for their pipes.

"Yes, indeed," said Pippin quietly, as he puffed contentedly on his pipe. "That's just what Boromir would say..."