"Papa! Papa!" Faramir looked up to see four-year-old Elboron burst through the doors of his study. He pushed his chair back from the desk and caught up his little boy. Elboron began to cry.
"What is the matter, Elboron?" Faramir asked, rubbing his son's back soothingly. Elboron gave a loud hiccup.
"Mama's lap is gone!" Elboron wailed. "I wanted her to read me a story, and I wanted to sit on her lap, but the bump is so big that her lap is gone and I couldn't sit on it. Mama said you would know where her lap went."
"I see." Faramir studiously kept his face straight. "Mama's lap will be gone for a few months, Elboron. But when midsummer comes, you will not only have her lap back, but you will also have your new brother or sister."
Elboron peered at his father suspiciously. "Will I have to share Mama's lap?"
"Yes, you will."
"Then I do not want a new baby," Elboron huffed. "Tell Mama that we don't need one after all." Faramir could not suppress a chuckle.
"I am afraid it is far too late for that, Elboron," he said. "This baby will come whether you will or no. But I do not think it will be so bad. You will have the chance to be a big brother. Would you like that?"
Elboron considered the offer. "A big brother like Bergil is?" Bergil and his younger brother Borlas lived in Ithilien, as their father Beregond was captain of Faramir's Guard, and Elboron idolized both of them.
"Yes," Faramir said. "You will be a big brother just like Bergil."
"But I will still have to share Mama's lap."
"You will." Faramir tickled his son. "But perhaps, when Mama's lap is occupied, you might come and sit on mine. And if you promise to be gentle, we will let the baby sit on your lap sometimes."
"I get to hold the baby, too?"
"Then we can keep it. But only if I get to hold it." Elboron wiggled around as a new worry struck him. "Papa?"
"Who will you love better, the new baby or me?"
Something twisted in Faramir's stomach, and he hugged Elboron closer to him. When he did not answer, Elboron squirmed. "My friend Hamdir says that if you get a new baby, your Mama and Papa love the new baby better."
Faramir tucked Elboron's head underneath his chin so that Elboron would not see the tears springing to his eyes. "Hamdir said that?"
"Yes. He is wrong, isn't he?"
Faramir sighed. "No, he is not wrong. Sometimes, a Mama or a Papa will love one child more than another. But this is a very bad thing, Elboron, and it does not happen very often. Most Mamas and Papas love all their children just the same."
"Will you love the new baby better than me?"
Faramir shifted his son so that Elboron was straddling Faramir's knees and facing him. He looked seriously into the child's eyes. "Elboron, do you know what an oath is?" he asked.
Elboron nodded. "Yes. It is a big promise. Bergil told me. He is going to make an oath in the winter. He is going all the way to Minas Tirith for it, so it is a very important oath."
"Exactly," Faramir said. "An oath is a very solemn promise. It is so solemn that it may not be broken, ever, as long as you live. So you should not make an oath unless you are very sure that you can keep your promise. That is how serious an oath is. And now, I will make an oath to you. I promise you that no matter how many children your Mama and I have, we will love each one equally. We will not love you any more or any less than the new baby. Sometimes, we may have to pay attention to the baby and you will have to wait for us. But that will not mean that we love you any less. You will always be our first-born, and we will always love you."
Elboron nodded. "All right."
"Give your Papa a hug?" Elboron cuddled close, and Faramir smiled. After a while, Elboron looked up at his father again.
"Will I be a good big brother?"
"I think you will. I think you will be as good as your Uncle Boromir."
Elboron frowned. "Who is Uncle Boromir?" he asked. "Where does he live? Why do we not visit him like we visit Uncle Éomer and Aunt Lothíriel?"
Faramir was startled by the questions. He had not realized that he had not told Elboron about Boromir. It did not seem possible that he had failed to do so, as he himself still thought about Boromir often. But Elboron was only four, he remembered, and had just learned about his Grandfather Denethor last year. It seemed as good a time as any for Elboron to learn more about his family. Faramir cast a rueful glance at the paperwork still on his desk. It would not be finished today, but he found that he did not care.
"Come," he said. "It is a lovely day. We will walk in the garden, and I will tell you all about your Uncle Boromir."
"All right." Elboron climbed down from Faramir's lap and scampered out to the garden gate. Faramir followed him, and they found a spot near the creek under a young, shady tree. Faramir sat down on the grass, leaning his back against the tree, and sighed contentedly. Elboron plopped himself down against Faramir and imitated his father's sigh with a precision that made Faramir laugh.
"I think you learned to do that from your mother," he said. "She always makes me laugh. It is one of the reasons that I love her."
Elboron was not interested in his parents' romance. "What about Uncle Boromir, Papa?"
"Uncle Boromir was my big brother."
"I did not know you had a big brother. Where is he?"
Faramir gazed at the rippling creek. "He is dead, Elboron. He died in the War, before you were born."
"Just like Grandfather Denethor."
"Yes. They both died in the War."
"Oh," Elboron said. "Were you sad?"
Faramir nodded. "I was very sad when Uncle Boromir died, and then I was even sadder when Grandfather Denethor died. But then I met your Mama, and she made me feel better."
Elboron looked worried. "Are you still sad, Papa?"
"Sometimes I am. Sometimes I think about Uncle Boromir, and then I am sad. But then I look at you, and I am happy again."
"Good. Would Uncle Boromir like me?"
"Oh, yes," Faramir said. "He would like you very much. And you would like him. He was a big, strong soldier, and he loved to ride and fight with his sword, and I think he would have loved to play with you. He had a great horn that he used to blow whenever he went anywhere."
"Where is it?"
"I think it is in the Citadel. It is broken now. It broke when he died."
Elboron looked disappointed. "I want a horn like Uncle Boromir's."
Faramir smiled. "Perhaps I can find one for you soon. Perhaps as a big-brother present when the new baby is born."
Elboron sat up straight and giggled. "I will be a very good big brother, then," he announced. "Just like Uncle Boromir."
"Good. And since you are being so nice about it, I think that you and I will have our own day tomorrow, just to ourselves. It will be a special day, and I have something in mind for us to do."
That night, Faramir tossed and turned restlessly in the great bed he shared with Éowyn. No matter how still he lay nor how many breaths he counted, sleep would not come. Finally, after he accidentally rolled over on Éowyn's hair, she tugged it from beneath his shoulder and shoved her pillow at him. "The child is awake and kicking me," she said, "so I do not need my husband to add to that. What is troubling you, Faramir?"
He flopped over on his back and stared upwards into the gloom. "I am sorry," he said. "Elboron came to me today. He was worried that we would not love him once the baby was born."
"I see," said Éowyn, and the sharp edge was gone from her voice. "That must have been troubling for you. What did you tell him?"
"That we would love him and the new child equally, of course," Faramir said. "I do not wish to repeat my father's mistakes. But, Éowyn, I am terrified of doing just that. I fear that, in my urge to give the second child all the love it should have, I will give Elboron short shrift, and I do not want that to happen."
"I do not think it will happen," Éowyn said. "You are stern in your determination when you want to do something. You have enough love in your heart for ten children and me. Besides, Elboron will not let it happen."
"Certainly not after the oath I made him today," Faramir chuckled.
"There you have it, then," Éowyn said. "The Prince of Ithilien is renowned for keeping his oaths. You will love your children equally, you will not become the image of Denethor, and you and I may both go back to sleep."
Faramir spooned himself around Éowyn and laid one hand on her belly, where he thrilled to feel the baby moving within. He dropped a kiss on her shoulder and once again gave silent thanks that he had been blessed with such a wife. "I am going out with Elboron tomorrow for some special time," he said. "We will be gone most of the day, but we will return for dinner. Will you manage things here?"
"I will. Elboron will enjoy spending the day with you. I know you have been busy supervising the spring planting, but that ought not to stand between you and your son. I will make you a picnic lunch."
"Thank you, Éowyn."
"Now let us go back to sleep. It seems we will both have a full day tomorrow." Éowyn pulled Faramir's arms tighter around her body, and they were both soon asleep.
After breakfast the next day, Faramir placed the picnic lunch in a little pack, which he handed to Elboron. For himself, he had retrieved an old wooden box from the chest where he stored special treasures. He took Elboron's hand, and the two of them went to the stables, where the grooms had saddled up Brown Lightning, a gentle old mare who was a retired war-horse and one of the finest of Beauty's grandfoals. Faramir swung up into the saddle, and the groom lifted Elboron up and set him before his father. With a nudge of Faramir's knees, they set out.
"Where are we going, Papa?" Elboron asked.
"Not far. I have a particular spot in mind along the Anduin. We should arrive there just in time for our picnic lunch."
"Can we go fast, Papa?"
"I think old Brown Lightning might have a few canters left in her," Faramir said. "Shall we ask her?" He urged the horse forward, and Elboron squealed with laughter as the road flew by beneath them.
In due time they reached the banks of the Great River, and Faramir slowed Brown Lightning to a walk. They wandered back and forth along the riverbank, slowly narrowing in on a particular spot.
"I believe this is it," Faramir said. "Yes, here is the little hollow. I remember it now." He brought the horse to a stop, dismounted and lifted Elboron down. The child stood stiffly for a moment, then began to climb down the bank. "Be careful," Faramir said, hitching Brown Lightning to a tree. "The riverbank is treacherous. You are not to pass that tree root unless I am holding your hand."
Elboron obediently climbed back up, then looked around. "There is a little pool, Papa," he said, pointing. "Can I play there?"
Faramir examined the pool. "It seems safe enough," he said. "Shall we see if any minnows live there?"
Father and son played in the pool for a while, sprinkling water droplets over its surface to see the minnows rise and gulp at them. Elboron put his hand into the water and held it very still so that the minnows would come to investigate. "They tickle," he reported gleefully. Taking Elboron down to the river, Faramir found some stones of the correct size and shape and showed Elboron how to skip them over the water. Elboron dug deep holes in the black river mud and watched as the water seeped in to fill them. After a while, Faramir washed the mud off of his son's hands and they sat down to open their picnic lunch.
Éowyn had packed bread, cheese, apples and hard-boiled eggs as well as a flask of apple cider. Faramir and Elboron ate happily, enjoying the wind that blew through their hair. "Do you like this place, Elboron?" Faramir asked.
"Yes," Elboron said. "I like the minnow pool and the skipping stones."
"Good. I am glad you like it, for it is a very special place." Faramir wiped at Elboron's face just in time to catch a dribble of cider.
"Why is it special, Papa?"
Faramir sat up and hugged his knees to his chest. "It is special to me, because it is the very last place where I ever saw your Uncle Boromir." Elboron looked at the river with round eyes. Faramir gazed out and in his mind's eye, saw the river as it had looked eight years earlier. "It was very late at night, and I saw a boat floating down the river. It floated right past this spot, and Uncle Boromir was in the boat."
"Was he dead?" Elboron asked.
"Yes, he was dead."
"Did he look scary?"
Faramir gave a small half-smile. "No. All of the scary things had already happened, and they were over. He looked very peaceful, almost as though he was sleeping."
"But he wasn't sleeping," Elboron said in a hushed, awed voice. "He was dead. Were you sad then?"
Faramir nodded. "I was very sad."
"Are you sad now?"
"A little bit. But I am also happy, because you are here with me." Faramir ruffled Elboron's hair. "You look very much like him, and you make me happy." Elboron grinned. Faramir got up and retrieved the wooden box from his saddle bag. He set it down in front of Elboron.
"What is that?" Elboron asked.
"Open it and see."
Elboron opened the box and gave a cry of delight. "Seashells!" he said. "Look, Papa, seashells! They're so pretty."
"They were Boromir's," Faramir explained. "Our Uncle Imrahil brought us seashells when he visited, and we kept them in boxes. After Boromir died, I kept his seashells along with mine so that I could have something to remember him by."
Elboron stirred the seashells with his finger. "I like your seashells," he said. "I like to play with them."
"I know you do," Faramir replied. "Boromir liked to play with his seashells, too." He paused and took a deep breath. "Today is Boromir's birthday," he said.
"Can you have a birthday if you are dead?" Elboron asked.
"I think so. After all, just because he is dead does not change the fact that today is his birthday. I thought we might come here and give him a present."
Elboron frowned. "What sort of a present?" he asked. "How can you give a present to someone who is dead?"
"You can think about them and talk about them and remember what they were like," Faramir told him. "You can even leave a special thing that they liked behind for them, and maybe they can look at us from beyond this world and be happy because we remember them."
Elboron jumped up and looked straight up into the bright blue sky. "Hello, Uncle Boromir!" he cried. "I am Elboron, and your brother is my Papa. We are having a picnic lunch, and we are talking about you. I hope you are happy!" He grinned at Faramir. "Do you think he heard me?"
"I have no doubt that he did, and I think he is glad to hear your voice. Now, shall we give him his birthday present?" Faramir took the box of seashells and stood up. "I think that Uncle Boromir would like to have his seashells back. Perhaps if we put them into the river, they will be rolled down to the Sea, just as Uncle Boromir was. Shall we try it?"
"Yes!" Elboron grasped three fingers of Faramir's hand, and they carefully made their way down to the river. Faramir opened the box and took out a scallop shell.
"Happy birthday, Boromir," he said, and set the scallop shell floating on the river. Then he offered the box to Elboron. Elboron took a mussel shell and placed it on the water.
"Happy birthday, Uncle Boromir," he said. Faramir released a jingle shell, and then Elboron took a snail shell and tossed it. The snail shell landed with a splash and sank. "I threw it far," he said.
"I see that." Faramir thought for a moment, then found a razor shell and whipped it so that it skimmed across the surface of the water. Elboron laughed, and then they were both throwing the shells as far as they could into the water, crying "Happy birthday, Boromir!" at the tops of their voices. When they had thrown all the shells into the water, Faramir let Elboron dig a large hole by the riverbank and they buried the wooden box.
Elboron turned and waved at the river. "Good-bye, Uncle Boromir," he said. "Papa and I will come back and visit you again soon. I will be a big brother soon, and I promise to be a good big brother, just like you."
"You are a good boy, and I love you," Faramir said. "Go wash your hands and put the picnic box back in your pack." He boosted Elboron up the riverbank, then turned once more to the river. "He is a lovely little boy," he told the water. "I wish you could have met him. Give my love to Father, Boromir. I love you. Farewell for now."
Then Faramir turned and climbed up the riverbank. Elboron was waiting for him, packed and ready to go home. Faramir lifted Elboron up onto Brown Lightning's back, unhitched the horse, and swung up behind. He wrapped his arms around his son, and they cantered back towards the manor house, where Éowyn would be waiting for them.
Many thanks to all who read and enjoyed this story. Before I go any further, there are credits to be given for this show. Young Boromir and Young Faramir are modeled closely on my two little cousins. Boromir's childhood nickname of "big boy" and Faramir's blue pillow also belong to my cousins. The bedtime story that Boromir tells Faramir is in fact part of Child Ballad #4, "The Outlandish Knight." All of the tavern songs described are real (even the one about the maid with the broom). The Baltimore Consort has made a lovely and very funny recording of about twenty-five such bawdy ballads, mostly from the seventeenth century. The account of Faramir's dream is a shameless nod to the BBC's 1981 radio dramatization of The Lord of the Rings, in which the poem was set to music and sung by a boy soprano.
Many thanks also to those who responded by sharing their own views of Denethor. I found it interesting that not everyone agreed on the point at which this family ceased functioning. I do think that Denethor's relationship with his children is a complex one, and one of the things that I tried to show was the harm that Denethor's treatment of Faramir did to Boromir. He seems to have been the glue that held the family together after Finduilas's death, and I am sure that this psychological strain contributed greatly to his own early death.
After doing some thinking about what made Denethor act the way he did, I decided on three major factors. I think that his possession and use of the palantír created an enormous stress which did his mental and emotional balance no good at all, especially after his beloved wife died so young. I think also that Denethor may be a man who just doesn't like children very much. In Boromir, he was lucky enough to acquire a child he could admire and who was everything he had wanted to be. After Boromir, no second child could have fulfilled his expectations, and Denethor is not a man to deal with a child on its own terms. The third factor that I think played into his condition is his relationship with Ecthelion. The roots of family dysfunction are deep, and patterns tend to repeat themselves through the generations. Ecthelion favors Thorongil over Denethor, and Denethor repeats the parental behavior he has learned. If there is a villain in this story, it may very well be Ecthelion, though the pattern may stretch even farther back in the history of the House of Húrin.
That's about it on this end. Again, many thanks for reading, and I will see you later.