Summary: Young Faramir suspects not all is well with his mother. Third Age -- Faramir, Boromir, Denethor, and Finduilas. Éowyn and Elboron appear later.
Author's Notes: "It seemed to men that Finduilas withered in the guarded city, as a flower of the seaward vales set upon a barren rock." –Appendix A, LotR.
I attempted to play with symbolism in this story – water and fire and whatnot – but I think all I succeeded in doing was driving the intended metaphor into the ground. Whoops.
By Lady Wenham
Minas Tirith, 2988 T.A.
The chill in his mother's room bit at Faramir's cheeks when he hesitantly peered inside. Beside the empty bed, a solitary candle fought to stay lit as waves of cold air blew in from the open window. Unattended, the embers in the fireplace were dying. Squinting through the darkness, Faramir found his mother kneeling before the small window. He frowned deeply at her back, for something did not seem quite right to him.
Stepping inside, Faramir approached and took her hand. "You're cold," he said quietly, feeling foolish and out of place.
"Hush, darling." Finduilas' voice was gentle but distant, as if she was no longer in the same room with her son. Her eyes were fixed on the southern horizon. Following her gaze, a strange feeling twisted in Faramir's stomach, and he drew close to her to push it away. Pressing his nose into his mother's mantle, he traced the embroidered silver stars absently with a tiny finger as he breathed in her familiar scent.
"I wonder," she whispered, trickling her fingers over her son's hair. "Can you hear it?"
Faramir's brow crinkled. The sea was many leagues away, off where his mother's kin lived. How could he hear it from where he sat when he was so far away? Still, he strained his ears against the silence and listened carefully. "No," he said after a moment. "I can't hear it."
Finduilas' chin dropped slightly, her eyes falling away from the window. A few moments of silence passed before she shook her head and said, "Neither can I."
He looked up at his mother, expecting some sort of explanation, but she said no more.
The tight, concise movement of the pen stilled at the sound of the voice. Denethor glanced briefly at the small figure in the doorway before returning his gaze to the document before him. "I believe I've asked you in the past to knock before you enter, Faramir," he said by way of greeting.
Hovering in the doorway, Faramir bit his lower lip. Though his father's voice did not hold any particular anger, Faramir was wary of upsetting him. Denethor's recent temper was not something he cared to incur. "I'm sorry, father. I'll remember next time."
Behind his desk, a bright fire crackled and hissed behind an iron grate, casting Denethor's face in flickering shadows. "You needed something, child?" he asked, resuming his writing.
Taking a slow breath, Faramir said, "It's about mother."
Denethor's dark countenance lifted slowly, and Faramir felt a moment of panic when he felt himself pierced by that gaze. Rooted to the floor, he fumbled for the right words. "I-I think there's something wrong with her. She won't come away from the window, and the fire in her room has gone out. I'm worried."
Unblinking, Denethor continued to stare for several troublesome moments. "Go to your room, Faramir," he said evenly, his face unreadable.
Faramir's shadow wavered in the doorway. "But . . . "
Hearing the change in his father's tone, Faramir fled without another word. Denethor let his pen fall to the desk. Feeling the beginnings of a headache, he pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.
Thunder echoed in the distance, but the heavy rain clouds hovered over the mountains, unable to rise, for the present, above the peaks to cover the city. Still, the smell of rain was thick in the air, and the promise of a cloudburst was imminent. The hour had grown late, but Faramir found no solace in sleep.
Footsteps in the hallway interrupted his thoughts. Faramir turned away from his bedroom window to see Boromir standing in the doorway. The candle he held cut a hazy swath of light in the darkness. "Why aren't you in bed?" he asked. "It's late. The moon has already set."
"How can you tell? It's going to rain."
"Faramir . . ."
"I couldn't sleep," Faramir answered quietly, turning back towards the window.
Boromir peered at his brother knowingly. "You've been to see father, haven't you? You should know better than to disturb him while he's working. He didn't yell at you again, did he?"
"He sent me away before he got the chance to."
"Don't pay him any mind," Boromir said, ruffling his brother's hair affectionately. "You know how he gets. What did you go see him for anyway?"
"I tried to talk with him about mother," Faramir answered, shaking his head in frustration. "Something is wrong with her, Boromir, and no one will listen to me."
A mixture of guilt and pain washed over Boromir's face as he glanced down at his brother, looking so small and indignant. He was like a pocket-sized adult rather than a five-year-old child. Faramir might be young, but his mind was sharp and quick like his father's. Boromir wondered how much longer he could keep up this pretense around him. It seemed too much like lying, and that was something Boromir could not do to Faramir, no matter what his father had requested of him.
"Just between you and me," Boromir said, "I'm worried about mother as well. I think father is also, and that's why his temper has been so short."
Faramir stared up at his brother with pleading eyes. "You know something, don't you? What's going on, Boromir? Please, you have to tell me."
Finding himself caught between loyalties, Boromir shook his head. "I'll speak to father about it. That's all I can promise you. I'm sorry, little brother. I don't want it this way."
"You'd tell me if she was dying, wouldn't you?" Faramir whispered.
Boromir swallowed with difficulty. His eyes fell to the floor, unable to meet his brother's gaze any longer. Placing his hands on Faramir's small shoulders, Boromir led him through the darkened room and tucked him into bed in silence.
That night Faramir dreamt of great crashing waves overtaking him.
Darkness and hopelessness were everywhere he turned. Inescapable. Screams echoed in the distance. Salt water stung his eyes and throat as he tried to fight against the angry waves. He lost his footing and rose upward in the sudden flood, and then was dragged down to the bottom again where the darkness was deepest. He opened his mouth to scream but instead choked on the bitter water. His limbs struggled against the invisible fingers that pulled him deeper and deeper beneath the surface, closer to death.
The nightmare ended before the flood prevailed. Strong, familiar hands pulled Faramir from the dream, back into reality. Weeping and gasping for air, Faramir awoke and found himself in his father's arms. He pressed his face into Denethor's plush robes, shamefully trying to hide his tears.
"It's all right, little one," his father murmured into his hair. "I've got you." Denethor watched patiently as Faramir pulled away to wipe his cheeks. The child took in a hitched breath and peered uncertainly at his father in the dim candlelight. "What did you dream, child?"
Still shaking, Faramir looked elsewhere.
"There were waves," Faramir whispered. "Screams. The sea was coming down on top of me, and I couldn't escape the flood."
Denethor's eyes narrowed with interest. "You saw of the fall of Numenor. You've had this dream before?"
Faramir gave a weary nod as he gripped his bed sheets.
"I've had it myself, once or twice." Denethor considered the small child before him thoughtfully.
"Did I wake you? I'm sorry, father."
"Not at all. I was in my study, doing a bit of thinking. Boromir came to see me earlier this evening, asking about you and your mother."
Faramir shifted uncomfortably. "Did he?"
"You love your mother, don't you, Faramir?" Denethor asked, running a hand over his son's hair with unaccustomed tenderness.
"Then you must promise me that you'll be strong for her in the days to come. You see, your mother is very ill."
Denethor's gaze was like a lance as he spoke. Unwavering and challenging. Faramir felt fresh tears sting the corner of his eyes, and he dropped his own gaze so his father would not see.
"I'm telling you this because you're a clever boy," Denethor continued. "You've suspected the truth for some time, I believe. You see much. Too much, I fear, if your dreams are any indication. I thought you too young for such news, but I believe I was wrong in that decision. However, now that I've told you the entire truth, you mustn't disappoint me. You mustn't disappoint your mother."
Faramir shook his head. "No, sir. Is ... is she dying?"
"I honestly don't know," Denethor admitted quietly. "The healers aren't certain. They can't seem to pinpoint what she suffers from."
"I know what's wrong," said Faramir. "She misses home."
"This is her home," Denethor insisted hastily, as if drawing upon an old argument. "And besides, people don't become ill simply from missing a place. That's absurd."
"Flowers do," Faramir argued. "They wilt. You pick them, and take them away from the garden, and they wilt. You can give them a new home – a vase, with fresh water and plenty of sunshine – but it's not the same. For a few days they stay beautiful, but really they're drying up inside. Wilting. Dying."
Denethor stared at his young son in surprise. There was intelligence in Faramir that he had never perceived until that moment, and for reasons he could not put into words, that intellect frightened him deeply. "I understand what you're saying," Denethor said slowly, "but I must disagree with you. Your mother is a person, and not a flower. Her illness goes deeper than missing Dol Amroth."
Faramir shook his head but didn't press the matter. Something in his father's tone warned him to keep his thoughts to himself.
"I need you to be strong for me, Faramir," Denethor continued. "I know that you're young, but you need to learn to be independent. Your mother's health may get worse before it gets better, and I'm going to need all your help. I'm not able to see to you as much as I have in the past, because of all that's happening. Do you understand?"
"Good. I'll leave you, then, to get some rest. Goodnight, child." Stooping to place a small kiss on his son's forehead, Denethor rose and departed as quietly as he had come. Feeling the sudden silence acutely, Faramir huddled in his bed and stared at the curls of smoke rising from the extinguished candle. The pungent scent washed over him.
Water dripped steadily, somewhere in the background. It had started to rain.
Emyn Arnen, 7 F.A.
Faramir glanced up from his book, distracted by a soft knock on the door. A moment later, Elboron's face peered inside his father's study. "Can I come in, papa?"
"Of course," Faramir replied, placing a marker in his book. "You look rather glum. Whatever's the matter?"
Stepping inside, Elboron quietly said, "It's mama."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm worried about her," Elboron said, placing a finger in his mouth uncertainly. "She won't talk to me, and she looks so sad. Will you go check on her, papa?"
Already on his feet, Faramir touched his son's small head comfortingly and left the room without another word.
Faramir called her name, but no response came from within the dark room. Seeing that the fire in the hearth was dying, he quickly stoked it back to life. His attention then turned to the pale figure sitting before the window, clearly oblivious to his presence. When Faramir placed a hand on the back of Éowyn's neck, she gasped in surprise and turned to face him with wide eyes.
"I didn't hear you come in," she said, running a hasty hand through her disheveled hair.
"I know," he replied, reaching out to help her smooth the windblown locks. "Are you all right?"
Offering a small smile, she leaned back against him. "Better now."
Faramir remained silent, his face grim and unreadable. He found his fingers tracing the embroidered silver stars on the mantle she wore. "What are you thinking about?"
"Home," she answered without hesitation.
"You are home." He winced as he said the words, remembering something from the past.
Éowyn's chin fell slightly. "Yes, of course."
"You speak of Rohan. Forgive me."
"There's nothing to forgive, Faramir. You're right. Emyn Arnen is my home now, and I do love it here."
"But you miss Rohan," he finished for her.
"Yes," Éowyn hesitantly confirmed. "Very much."
"I see. Then I'll write to the King immediately, begging leave. He will grant it, I'm sure. With luck, we can leave within the fortnight."
"Leave? Where are we going?"
A small smile pulled at Faramir's features. "Where do you think?"
Her lips parted in surprise, as if she still did not believe his words. "Really?" she asked, her eyes sparkling with tears. "You mean it?"
"You act surprised."
"It's just you've guessed a longing of mine that I've long kept quiet," she explained. "I've missed Rohan and my people for so long. But know that I love our home here, Faramir. Please don't think I don't."
"The thought never crossed my mind," he said with a sad smile. "Don't suffer in silence any longer, Éowyn. Promise me."
Éowyn stared at him for several long moments, trying to discern exactly what was bothering him. There was something deeply troubled in his eyes, as if he was reliving some painful memory of the past. She reached out to touch his cheek curiously. "I'll do my best."
"I can ask for no more." Faramir kissed her brow and tugged the mantle closer around her. "Now dry your tears and come away from the window. You'll catch your death."