Black Velvet

by Varda

‘Faramir! Wait for me….’

Boromir had caught sight of his younger brother striding along with his head down, moving quickly down the great darkened gallery that led to the Feast Hall of the White Tower of Minas Tirith.

Faramir stopped and looked back. A smile lit up his face, but as Boromir hurried up to him he could see his brother looked worried. He clapped a hand on Faramir’s shoulder.
‘Come, let us go in to dinner together!’

The great echoing gallery was dimly lit by torches in a row of sconces set high in the bare stone walls. At intervals guards, dressed in the black and silver livery of the Tower Guard, watched from under the vizors of their tall mithril helmets. The two brothers presented a contrast as they passed on towards the feast hall. Sometimes it was hard to believe they were both of the House of Denethor….

Faramir was dressed in a tunic of black velvet, sewn at wrist and throat with silver thread and clasped at the waist with a silver belt. He was weatherbeaten and lean from a winter fighting in Ithilien, and his hands were calloused and scarred from sword and bow. His long light brown hair lay on his shoulders and he was fair of face and lightly built and graceful in movement, more like his mother Finduilas than his father Denethor. He would never be as tall or as strongly built as Boromir, but the days when his older brother could overpower him in a wrestling match were long gone…

‘You seem preoccupied, brother….’ said Boromir. He put an arm round Faramir’s shoulders and whispered;
‘What have you been up to….cooking up spells with that wizard friend of yours?’
Faramir coloured and pushed Boromir’s arm away. He looked at his brother, laughing at him in the dark hall. Boromir wore a russet-coloured tunic of fine wool, embroidered with blue and trimmed with fur, as the evening was cold. Around his waist was a red and gold belt of Eastern make, and Faramir saw he bore a dagger, even though Denethor did not permit arms in the feast hall. Faramir knew Denethor would not reprimand his favoured eldest son….

Beside Boromir Faramir looked sombre in his black clothes. He answered calmly;
‘I don’t cast spells, I just seek to learn….’ Boromir slapped him on the shoulder again and said with a laugh.
‘Well not tonight! Let’s not keep father waiting…’
And he led the way on down the hallway, under the wavering torches into the great high feast hall of Minas Tirith….

It was Denethor’s custom from less troubled times to always have his sons at table with him in the Great Hall, if they were in the city and not afield fighting the foes of Gondor. Boromir, who knew his father’s moods and could easily parry his wrath, relished these meals. But Faramir, always saying or doing the wrong thing in his father’s eyes, dreaded them. They swung the great doors open with differing thoughts running through their minds…

The Great Feast Hall of the White Tower had remained unchanged for many centuries. Its walls were hung with two great tapestries showing hunting scenes but for the most part were bare stone with iron brackets from which blazed torches, their light illuminating the great high wooden ceiling. Around the walls were hung arms captured from the enemies of Gondor, lances and javelins with shreds of enemy banners and uncouth weaponry from the East. At the end of the hall was a great wide fireplace where a mass of logs burned brightly but hardly took the chill from the air. Near the fire stood a rosewood harp. As times grew more desperate for Gondor Denethor did not exempt any from war and his harpist, Cíoná, had perished fighting in the East. A youngster from the kitchens who had shown some aptitude, Daonna, had been drafted in to play for the family of Denethor. The Steward did not care; music mattered little to him. Nothing mattered much to him now, except the defence of Gondor….

Their father looked up as the two young men entered in and bowed. He nodded curtly, his keen black eyes taking in every detail of their dress. And now Faramir’s carefully sombre dress was explained, for his father’s gaze rested longer on him, examining him with something close to hostility. Then he said to Boromir;
‘Well, well! You are late! Be seated, we cannot waste our lives at table…’

Boromir took no heed of his father’s cranky tone but bowed cheerfully and sat down. A great black wolfhound got up from the fire, stretched and walking over placed his head on Boromir's knee and Denethor’s stern expression softened when he looked at his son. The Steward was still tall and erect and active, a warrior lord, his robes rich but plain, a belt of gold set with amber winking in the torchlight. Daonna started up a low sweet song, almost like a lullaby. Denethor’s face seemed to relax then he turned to the harpist and barked;
‘None of those nursery songs here! Sing a lay of ancient Gondor….’

Flustered, the lad began again, a song called the Sword of Egalmoth, one of the Stewards of old. It was an ancient lay, difficult to play and he was nervous and Faramir winced inwardly at the noise. But Denethor was heedless of discord and said to Boromir...

‘What say you to replacing the garrison at Cair Andros this spring?’ Boromir shrugged and broke a small loaf of bread and a black-clad page passed the plate to his father.
‘They will be cut off almost at once, my lord’ he said easily. ‘It will become a seige…’

Faramir ate in silence, his mind burdened with other thoughts. He envied the confident way his brother could reply to his father and deflect his ire. It had never been so for him, and he feared it never would be. And tonight he had something to tell his father which he knew Denethor would not like, and which might even enrage him…..

There was no point in delaying; he blurted out;
‘Father, I have had a dream….’

Denethor and Boromir both turned to stare at him, surprise on their faces. Faramir usually did not speak at meals. He risked a glance at his brother, and saw Boromir was annoyed at him for not telling him first. But for some reason he could not explain Faramir had not wanted Boromir to know….
‘Dreams!’ snorted Denethor. ‘Dreams are for wizards and old women…’
‘That may well be..’ answered Faramir with a calmness he did not feel. He felt Boromir’s eyes boring into him and went on;
‘Yet for all that, I have had a dream….’

For a moment no-one spoke, and the great hall was filled with the soft sound of the harp and the crackle of logs on the fireplace…Denethor’s eyes had taken on a strange look.
‘Tell me of this dream’ he said, and his voice was not brusque but almost apprehensive.

So Faramir recounted the dream that had visited him for three nights past. The dream that had robbed him of sleep and when awake of any peace of mind. For he wondered all the time what it meant, and he knew it was of great importance, even doom for his family and city, whatever it did mean. If only Gandalf were here….

‘Seek for the Sword that was broken
In Imladris it dwells;

There shall be counsels taken

Stronger than Morghul-spells.

There shall be shown a token

That Doom is near at hand.

For Isildur’s Bane shall waken,

And the Halfling forth shall stand.’*

‘’Seek for the sword that was broken’ repeated Denethor. ‘you are quite sure it said that?’
‘I am my lord..’
‘What sword?’ asked Boromir, who spent more time fighting than studying old legends. His father turned to him and said.;
‘That is Narsil, the sword of Isildur, and of Anárion, the last of the kings. It is said to be kept in the Elven kingdom of Rivendell, which is called by them Imladris….’

‘Rivendell!’ thought Daonna, and broke a harpstring. ‘The beautiful realm of the Elves, where music constantly plays…not like here where I have to play to soldiers more interested in their stomachs than my songs…..’

A silence fell. Denethor turned to scowl at Daonna and the lad hurried to play on…

‘What is a halfling?’ asked Boromir in bewilderment.
‘Folk no more than half our height.’ Said Faramir, who had learned this from Gandalf in their lessons in the library of Minas Tirith.
‘They live in a land far to the West. The Rohirrim call them Holbytla…’
‘Half-sized people?’ laughed Boromir. ‘Whatever next!’

But his father was not laughing. He rose to his feet and paced the hall.
‘’Seek for the sword’ it said? You are absolutely sure?’
Yes, Father’ replied Faramir. Boromir looked from one to the other.
‘What does a dream matter?’ he asked, but Denethor was not listening; he was thinking of Narsil.

Long had Denethor thought that his house, the Stewards of Gondor, should claim the throne and reign as kings. Boromir thought so too. But what excuse, what claim could they advance to take what they had only guarded? Perhaps this dream was the passage to royalty…..
‘This is a command’ said Denethor abruptly. ‘We must obey….’

Boromir stared at his father, and understanding dawned on him. He collected his wits and said quietly;
‘I am glad the dream does not displease you, father. For I have had it too…’

Faramir looked sharply at his brother, but Boromir stared straight ahead.
‘It was just as Faramir described. It is clearly an order, for our house to obey, and I claim the errand…’
‘You can’t!’ said Faramir, forgetting Denethor’s presence. ‘It came to me….’
‘And afterwards to me’ replied Boromir, without losing his temper. Then Denethor shouted;
‘Silence! It is for me to decide who goes and on what errand.’ He turned to Faramir and asked;
‘When did this dream appear to you?’

Faramir drew a deep breath and answered;
‘Imperfectly and only in pieces, for two nights. Then the night before last it appeared to me whole and without interruption….’
Denethor turned to Boromir and asked;
‘And you?’
‘Last night’ said Boromir firmly.

Faramir was in turmoil; he knew Boromir had not had the dream…or had he? It was often so hard to tell when Boromir was in earnest. But what filled Faramir with consternation was that he was not able to convey to either his father or his brother the sense of dread and danger that had accompanied the dream. It was not a dream of gold or glory in arms but of something else, something of far greater peril than either, lying in wait for those who went to Rivendell on this quest….

‘Why…’ said Denethor querulously to Boromir ‘should I give you this errand? Your brother had the dream first’

‘Because I am more suitable, my lord’ said Boromir. Faramir’s heart sank.
‘I am older, stronger and….’ And here he looked straight at Faramir; ‘..I am the eldest….’

Denethor had returned to his chair. He looked at Boromir and said;
‘It is much to ask, to risk my eldest son and the heir to the Steward’s chair..’
‘That is why you should send me…I am the eldest….if any of the Stewards should claim the throne of Gondor, it should be me.’

Denethor did not speak for some moments then he said;
‘Very well, you shall go, Boromir….

When they finally withdrew from the Feast Hall leaving their father gazing into the fire in silence, Faramir ran after Boromir and seized hold of his tunic.
‘What do you mean by this, Boromir? You had no dream!’
’Surely you are not calling me a liar, little brother!’ countered Boromir calmly but there was a dangerous gleam in his eye and he looked down at Faramir’s fist rolled up in the cloth of his tunic and said quietly;
‘Let me go’

Faramir might have been strong and toughened by a winter fighting orcs but he was no match for his brother, and he let his hand open and release Boromir’s tunic. His brother smiled.
‘Why do you take it so hard that I should go?’ he asked. Faramir said passionately;
‘Because it is dangerous, Boromir! This is not a game….’

Boromir laughed.
‘Oh but it is, Faramir. A dangerous game, like boar hunting….’
‘You don’t understand!’ said Faramir desperately. ‘If you really had the dream you would know….Boromir..’ and now he was almost pleading
‘.. in my dream, and yours too if you really did have it, there was not just the sword. There was something else, something of such great peril that even in dreams it was hidden….something that could destroy our house, not lift it to kingship…..Isildur’s Bane.’

The words fell away into silence and he realised he was holding Boromir’s arm tightly. His brother put his hand round Faramir’s wrist in a grip of iron. Faramir tried to pull away but Boromir forced him closer and said with a faint smile;

‘If this task is indeed perilous, better I take it than you, little brother….’

Then his smile vanished and he went on in a hard voice;
‘I would face any peril to raise the House of Denethor to be kings. The errand is mine….’

‘And so..’ said Faramir to Frodo ‘..Boromir claimed the errand, and would let no other have it but him….’
‘Alas for him, and for us all….’ replied Frodo….

*The Fellowship Of The Ring , JRR Tolkien