Two of Swords

by Orangeblossom Took

Part One

Minas Tirith, summer 2999

It was a bright summer morning when Faramir woke up with the flushed complexion and warm forehead of a fever. His stomach felt like he had swallowed frozen rocks. The sixteen-year-old had seldom been sick in his life and this was the worst he could remember feeling.

Despite this, the sight of the sunlight pouring in his bedroom window filled him with dread. His father expected him to be up and at the practice field with his arms master before the sun had risen fully over the eastern horizon. He knew he would pay for his tardiness. He was usually scrupulously punctual and knew this was not a good time to anger his father, who had been acting strangely and spending a great deal of time in a locked room in the tower.

He managed to get dressed quickly, although the effort made him slightly dizzy and did nothing to ease the turmoil in his stomach. He got his sword and walked swiftly to the practice field. Master Charis was there waiting for him and contentedly humming a tune as he polished his sword.

He looked up when Faramir approached and, in a teasing tone, said, “You are late, lad. Were you up all night chasing girls with Lord Boromir?”

Faramir smiled weakly and said, “No, Master Charis. Boromir spent the evening meeting with father and his councilors. I went to bed shortly after dinner and am afraid I simply overslept.”

Charis looked at his pupil with an assessing eye and concern deepened the lines on his friendly but weathered face. “Overslept, nothing,” he said, “Your color is not good, young lord, and you are carrying yourself stiffly. Come here.”

Faramir obeyed this directive and allowed Charis to put a hand on his forehead. The arms master exclaimed, “You are burning up! You should go back to bed and I will send for a healer.”

Before Charis could do this, they were interrupted by the sight of Denethor approaching them. His long cloak billowed about him like the wings of a blackbird and the scowl on his fact could have darkened the brightest day.

In a voice tight with barely suppressed rage, the Steward said, “You may leave, Charis.”

Surprised and alarmed by the look on Denethor’s face, Charis forgot himself and said, “But, my Lord…”

Denethor roared, “You dare to contradict me! You will speak only to answer a question from me! Now, give me your sword and leave! I will teach this lesson.”

Faramir watched Charis leave with some consternation but did his best to keep his expression neutral and his posture straight. He had never seen his father this angry since he was a child and his mother was dying. He had been sent to foster in Dol Amoth immediately after her death and had been back in Minas Tirith for less than a year. His relationship with his father had been frigid but Denethor had not been physically violent to him since his return.

“Ready your sword, boy,” Denethor ordered, pointing at the rack of practice swords.

Faramir dutifully unsheathed the weapon. He could never understand what it was about him that his father hated so much. He could, with difficulty, recall a time in his earliest memories, before his mother died, when it had been different. He had been a tiny child, what could he have possibly done?

The Steward snapped, “Be on your guard, boy!”

Denethor was aggressively on the offensive. Faramir, with great effort, blocked his father’s blade. This became progressively more difficult and Denethor fought with words as cold and sharp as the steel he wielded.

Denethor sneered, “Faramir, you are weak and disobedient! I shudder to think that, if anything happens to Boromir, you will be Steward.” Faramir did not say anything in response to this and Denethor continued, “Finduilas indulged you far too much and then sent you to that pompous brother of hers who continued to coddle you.”

The heat of the sun, his churning stomach, the physical exertion, and his father’s words were taking their toll on Faramir and he was having more difficulty in keeping Denethor at bay. The summer sky whirled above his head in a spiral of infinite blue. He failed to check his father’s next attack and received a deep slash to his arm. The blue turned black at the edges and tunneled in as he dropped to the ground. The last thing he heard was someone shouting, “Father! No!” Had Charis summoned Boromir to his aid?