|The Men We Become
Author: Halfwest PM
Faramir takes a shower. PostRotK, a look at differences between siblings and the evolution of family dynamics.Rated: Fiction K - English - Drama - Faramir & Boromir - Words: 3,755 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 1 - Published: 04-25-06 - Status: Complete - id: 2912148
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Rain. Hard rain, steady rain. Hiss and patter and steam. Faramir smiled, watching the reflections in the mirror become geometrical ghosts as he undressed.
There had never been any need for showers in the Steward's Quarters. Even the hurried schedule of a ruler or Captain provided time for a hot bath. It was simply how things were done, and why would the Stewards (or Kings) adopt the ways of common soldiers? For showers were mainly provided as a swift and uncomplicated means for soldiers to cleanse themselves many at a time between battles.
Yet Faramir had come to enjoy them, and so had one installed in his personal quarters once the business of resettling a kingdom had settled down and the routines of daily life could reestablish themselves. The water was hot, and the pressure of the spray relaxed him. The sound blocked out all other noises without being deafening – like the waterfall of Henneth Anun. He had loved that, too. It reminded him of safety, that sound. They had been protected there. No enemy had ever breached their borders knowingly, and only three trespassers ever left alive…
The punishment for disobedience to that law would have been death, had his choice proven unwise. He had staked his life against his father's laws, and he had been right to.
How many more guesses would he have had to make before he made a wrong one? How much mercy could he have shown, how much true justice could he have sought, before the iron fist of law and the jaws of power came down upon him? There would have been no mercy there, and no appeal to any higher force or wisdom. He had not wanted power: he had not wanted to have to be the one forced to make those choices. Yet there was no one else to take his place. How long would it have been before necessity became his tombstone?
Ah, it very nearly had! Faramir tilted his head back and felt the water rush over his face, its gentle, warm pressure unable to undo the tense knot in his brow already carving premature lines around his eyes. Nor could the water wash away the memory. Nothing could, he knew: neither water hot nor cold, nor drink, nor blood could wash away the fire and the dying scream, and the knowledge of what his father had done. What he had become. What they had all nearly become.
There was a balance in that burden, of course. He recognized it as simple wisdom, the truth as logical and natural a conclusion as many instincts seem. The path of madness his father had driven his son to follow alongside him had ultimately led Faramir to a blessing greater than any he believed himself capable of finding on his own. The poisoned dart, the fever, the darkness that claimed him after the ill treatment at a madman's hands (not his father anymore, he told himself: a body emptied of its noble soul, try to believe his father would never have done that) – all this had conspired to cross paths with the woman he called his wife.
Eowyn. How sweet her very name upon his lips as he whispered it, the sound lost under the water's roar. Her name, the thought of her, that face, that golden hair, the courage and sorrow in her voice banished the darkness where it was strongest, lightened his heart in a way nothing else ever had. She had touched him, opened a part of his heart that had never been opened before. At least, not in this WAY. And not for so long, he had almost forgotten it was there at all.
He remembered now, of course, if only in terms of dim generalities. There had been a part of him open to that gentle warmth once, open to receiving it as well as giving. Perhaps that was how he had learned it – if such things were learned and not born. Perhaps both, he thought – for how else could one explain the differences between siblings?
Differences indeed: he had seen them in other children, and he knew them well between himself and his brother. And the thought of their natures, reminded as he was of the sweet face that his heart had once been open to long ago, mingled to make magic in his mind, until the smell of the soap as he poured it from its bottle sent him falling out of this world, and into another, a daydream of a past that suddenly seemed clearer, as if the pathways to details long faded had been reopened somehow.
A bright summer morning, a family of four on the banks of the river, almost like any other family. Only the guards, hovering unnoticed in the background with their backs turned to the Steward and his wife and children, marked this family as different. The children were too used to the guards to pay them any mind at all, and Denethor too proud. Only Finduilas cast her eyes now and again up beyond the circle of her family to be certain none of them tried to peek. She knew they wouldn't dare, for a single word from her was enough to condemn them to death at her husband's own sword. He was a fair and just man, but he was also a man capable of following through with punishments that needed to be dealt, and his mercy did not extend so far as to compromise the honor of any kin of his.
Finduilas was bathing in the river with her two sons. She was not one to suffer maidenly modesty, but as the day was warm she had chosen to wear only a thin white shift, which by now hid nothing, and she would not have a loose-tongued spy make her the gossip of the guards. Her husband reclined some small distance away in soft, thick grass by the riverside, propped up on his elbows as he watched his two sons play. Faramir was crouched in shallow water, knowing he was not allowed to go in deeper without mama or papa's arms around him. He dabbled and stacked smooth river stones, intent in his task of building an underwater tower which the current could not knock over. He was three years old. His brother, at the age of eight, had been showing off his swimming skills, but now as his mother had dipped under the water to wash her long hair, he sought other amusements.
The children had a pail and wooden shovel to share between them. Now as Faramir was disinterested with them, Boromir looked them over with haughty disdain, for most toys his little brother was allowed to play with he considered himself too old for. Usually.
His eyes lit up with the seed of an idea. Taking the bucket, he filled it with water and crept behind his brother. Some childish need to share in the humor of his prank compelled him to look around to make sure his father was watching. He was, but, Boromir noticed, with a dour expression. He knew it for what it was: disapproval. But he was too young to have developed much more than a vague sense of relative morality and the self-assuredness that father must simply misunderstand his intentions and surely he would laugh when the joke was done. Therefore ignoring the very slight shake of the head, Boromir dumped the bucket over his brother's head. The three-year-old immediately began wailing – more out of surprise than because any actual harm had been done to him.
Boromir felt himself plucked from the water and was taught EXACTLY why his joke was not funny, while gentler Finduilas came out of the water and attended to her frightened younger son.
He recalled, or he thought he recalled, she had sung to him, held him in her lap in the shallows and splashed at the water until the glimmer of the sun on its fractured surface made him laugh. The song and the splash melted into the spray and the shower hitting his belly as he scrubbed his hair, almost chuckling to himself to think what must have been the expression on Boromir's face when he had returned and been forced to sniffle an apology to the child who had already forgotten his transgression.
A bright summer morning, a family of four on the banks of the river, almost like any other family. Only the guards, hovering unnoticed in the background with their backs turned to the Steward and his wife and children, marked this family as different. Boromir alone glanced their way now and then, his eyes on the bright tips of their swords and the delightful, solid roundness of their shields.
Finduilas sat on the edge of the bank with her feet and her legs in the water, clothed in a simple white shift, but the material was heavier, its hem somewhat longer, and atop it she wore a sleeveless surcoat. She did not seem to wish to go into the water to swim or to bathe. It was damp to her waist from when she had gone in just that deep and held Faramir up while he dogpaddled messily, but that novelty had ended soon enough. Now she sat tending the blessedly calm four-year-old as he played in the shallows building little pools with riverstones and trapping twigs and leaves inside them, where they were swirled about inside their cages by eddies around the rocks, but would not be carried away. Boromir had joined the game briefly by catching a fish to put into a rock-pool, but Faramir objected on the grounds that the fish would be trapped and let it go.
Boromir was sulking. That fish had been difficult to catch! He could have played with it in the bucket if Faramir hadn't wanted it, but he had to let it go. That made the nine-year-old grumpy. He had been trying for almost fifteen minutes to catch another fish, but without success. Now his ire turned to another target.
Denethor had abandoned his spot in the grass far enough away that the boys' splashing would not wet him, but seeing that their play had reached a calmer point, he crept now silently, slipped behind his wife, and knelt suddenly, his hands on her shoulders. She gave a little start, turned, and laughed. And while the mother's back was turned and his father much closer, Boromir saw his opportunity.
He filled his bucket and crept as his father had done behind his younger brother. A glance over his shoulder saw Denethor still murmuring to the distracted Finduilas, but the deep grey eyes were on him, and disapproving again. Boromir was nine years old, and he had Learned Something about more complex reasoning and justice, and why pranking one's younger brother was Not Allowed (unless you were not caught). But this was not a prank: this was just punishment, and compensation for the loss of his fish. His father would understand once he explained it, but he could not interrupt whatever he was saying to mother. It was sensible! It was logical! Boromir pushed away the little knot of doubt growing in his belly. His father would be proud of him for his thinking, even if he had to disobey his authority and ignore the little shake of the head.
The water over Faramir's head elicited once more the startled wailing. Boromir felt himself yanked by the wrist as a weary but gentle Finduilas crouched next to her younger son.
He remembered the song: it was softer than what he imagined he'd heard her sing to him the last time. But it had calmed his fears and made him smile when he discovered that she was singing along with the burbling of the river around his rock-pools, which rushed into the shower's watery cackle as he stepped into the spray to rinse the soap from his body. His dark hair fell over his shoulders and oozed its unrinsed suds over him also. Boromir had come back that time dry-eyed but pouting, and had apologized to his brother who answered with conviction (if not understanding), "I fo'give you."
He recalled, or thought he recalled, that he had looked up to his mother for approval at having given the correct response, and seen her staring at his pools, transfixed by their murmuring.
Faramir tilted his head back under the water.
A bright summer morning, a family of four on the banks of the river, almost like any other family. Only the guards, hovering unnoticed in the background with their backs turned to the Steward and his wife and children, marked this family as different. Boromir had asked one of them to be allowed to hold his sword and shield, but the guard had wisely sought the boy's father for approval, and had received none on the grounds that the boy was still too small to handle such weapons. Therefore the elder son of the Steward was swimming laps back and forth between arbitrarily determined landmarks on the bank, as he had also been restricted from attempting to swim across it, even if it would strengthen his arms if he did not drown.
Finduilas was seated fully dressed upon the bank, her husband near her. She was perched in a tussock of soft grass with an embroidery project on her lap, but she rarely lifted it. She watched her sons, and when she did not watch her sons, she watched the river, flowing, tumbling endlessly onwards, beyond her line of vision. It was Denethor, now, who attended to the boys, making certain Boromir did now wear himself into a cramp, and Faramir did not wander off in one of his distracted states. Faramir showed no signs of wandering anywhere, and was happily playing with rough river sand, practicing writing all the letters he could remember how to make and then watching them slowly fade under the current. He had been happily engaged in this activity for some time (even at five he was proud of his letters), so Denethor had focused his attention on his heir, and was calling out instructions as to how to hold his hands, how stiff his arms or legs should be, how to breathe so as to avoid swallowing water, how not to splash so much…
Boromir was proud to strive to conform to his father's every command, but at the age of ten, both attention span and stamina can only be pushed so far, despite the best intentions. The Steward is aware of his son's tiring mind and body. Though this outing was intended for enjoyment, not for drilling, he pushes the boy just a little further, and praises him heartily when he finally allows him to stop – more so because he had called cease in the middle of a lap, yet Boromir had stubbornly stuck in and finished it. The young heir was left, glowing with pride, with instruction to watch his brother while the Steward spoke with his wife.
Boromir was tired, but he could beat a five-year-old in a race. Faramir could swim well enough not to drown; as long as Boromir did not take him deeper than his feet could touch the bottom, it would be an enriching game for the too-quiet Faramir.
…It would, except that no amount of cajoling or threatening could convince his little brother to abandon his sand-writing and race. Boromir was thereby forced to find some other way to entertain himself while his parents muttered between each other. It was pure boredom that made him pick up the bucket, and pure malice that made him fill it with water with the intention of forcing his little brother to get wet whether he liked it or not. Because it would be good for him. His father always pushed him. Pushing yourself was the way to make yourself stronger. Maybe he could push his brother. Make him stronger. And if a little bullying was involved, well… sometimes people had to be muscled into doing what was best for them.
Boromir carried the bucket over to his brother, sure of himself. He only looked back once over his shoulder, towards his father, who he knew was looking back. The same sombre eyes spoke to him without interrupting his flow of speech with the inattentive Finduilas, who was dressed far too heavily for a day as warm as this. Boromir looked down at his bucket. Looked up at his father. Motioned to Faramir's dry hair and the depth of the water, did a nearly comical mime of a race.
His father gave a nearly imperceptible shake of his head.
The water splashed down out of the bucket without hitting the child. The shower splashed down over his eyes as the foaming white soap washed down his back. The great wave towered, arched, foaming white at its crest and spitting brine into the backlash, a great green wall of water surging ever onward, unstoppable, rushing forward until momentum overbalanced it and sent it breaking over all—
Faramir's eyes flew open. He gasped and felt water choke him. He was drowning, drowning in the sea. Except… the sea wasn't warm. He leaned against the shower wall, coughing, at last coming out of the daze.
There had been no summer after. There had been no quiet singing. There had been no consolation when on the shores of Dol Amroth, he had looked out over the waves and felt them swallow him up in a cold shock of sorrow. There had been no one to warm him or to shelter him from the winter wind biting through his funeral cloak. He had met with only sombre faces all those endless hours, and sad songs he could not understand as they carried his mother away to be laid in a tomb.
But all that while he had sat so still, been quiet and respectful, and he knew she would be proud. For he was not allowed to sing with those cold voices, though he thought they were far too mournful; and he was not allowed to cry in front of father, though he wanted to; and he was not allowed to run and hide, but must stay beside his brother and do as he was told. And he obeyed, until at last the earth was shoveled and weighed down with a stone. She looked beautiful, mother, carved perfect at peace, though they had forgotten to put a book in her pocket, and had left out the pretty necklace she always wore that had been given to her by father, and the statue was draped in a cloak that was missing the stars. Stars, all up and down the border, all around her throat, sparkling as if the aura of her song bled from her vocal chords even when she was not singing. She could not sing anymore, why couldn't they have remembered to show her magic in the stone?
She deserved one song before the end. The mourners had departed, and their father turned to follow. Faramir let go his brother's hand and stepped up to the tomb. He glanced over his shoulder, to seek his big brother's approval. But the eyes were sombre, just like father's, and the older boy shook his head very slightly. Faramir bit his lip and turned away again. He could hurry. He had followed father's word until now, he would continue when he was done, but just this once, there was a higher justice.
The little voice sang in the lonely tomb. The key was off-kilter and his voice rose and fell in funny places because of the lump in his throat, but it was a good song, a fine song, and mother would be proud of it. Though his voice was barely louder than the pit, pat of his tears falling on the marble, the echoes carried it across the cavernous ceiling to the ears of the Steward as he stopped in the door. His knuckles turned white on the wood as he passed through the doorway. The boy is weak. He has always been weak. Just like his mother.
It was the first bitter thought he had ever had about her, the first he had ever put into words about his second son. It tasted sour in the back of his throat. He could never thereafter manage to wash it away completely, save with the temporary thrill of reinforcing its first immediate sweetness that had hardened his sorrow into hate and the first seeds of madness.
The little boy finished his singing, wiped his eyes, and paused only one moment to touch his fingers to the collar of her statue's death shroud, leaving water marks from his tears that looked like stars. Taking one last moment to memorize the vision, he turned and ran back to his brother, who gathered him into his arms in a bone-crushing hug. He had gotten stronger, but there were tears Boromir's eyes as well.
"It's all right," he had whispered. "I'll take care of you."
All this passed in the space of an instant. The knobs squeaked and the water stopped. The wave passed out of sight, the dream banished into smoke and mirrors, no more than the tentative geometry of light and dark on the clouded mirror. The child had grown tall and strong, gentle and wise, with his mother's voice and visage. He'd lived through the war, both on the battlefield and off. He'd commanded a Company, and seen the crowned King returned again to his throne.
And his father would be proud, if he had known that this time the little boy doused with water did not cry, but stepped up out of the river, wrung his hair out, spread a towel on a chair, and sat down to polish his sword. His skin glistened with the facets of the water, like stars around his neck, and as he rubbed the metal with its polishing cloth, he thought of the woman with pale hair and strong eyes who slept below, and began to hum a song no one remembered but him.