To the Beat of a Different Drum

by Argenteus Draco

Left, right, left, right… He moved in perfect rhythm with those around him, feeling the beat of the drum as they all did. It resounded through him like a second heartbeat, a sharp, cracking sound designed to keep order in the marching ranks. Hit… hit… hit… It was amazing how loud the single drum was, the sound carrying from the boy's position at the front of the ranks all the way to the end of the column.

Already locked into the rhythm, Boromir allowed his thoughts to drift somewhat, thinking about the task he'd been ordered to carry out. Reclaim Osgiliath with a force of 250 men. He'd requested another company, knew that Sauron's forces outnumbered them at least three to one, but his father had been adamant. No extra forces could be spared. So he'd appealed to the only other person he could. A week later, the rider he'd sent out returned with Faramir's reply. His younger brother would lead his Rangers out of Ithilien to join the campaign.

The news gave new faith to the men who'd felt they were being sent on a suicide mission. Even Boromir felt his spirits lifted, though he could not say the same for his father. When the message was delivered Denethor's face had taken on a sour expression. Boromir suspected there was an underlying cause for his father's reaction; that he'd wanted to make a hero of his elder son.

As it turned out, Boromir knew only part of Denethor's plans. Reports had poured into the city recently, all speaking of Faramir's bravery and talent as a commander. The people of Minas Tirith began to think of the Steward's younger son in a new light, as a misunderstood boy who wanted only to please his ever-demanding father. With his own image at stake, Denethor had sought a way to not only push Faramir into the shadows once more, but to make him appear a coward, the ignorant son who had not come to his brother's aide.

But Boromir, who had always been loyal and defendant of his father, could not see that, because he didn't want to.

He wanted to believe that his father had always had good intentions, but even he could not push aside some memories. He could recall, vividly, a day when Faramir had been only eight years old, and had returned from his blade practice beaten, tired, and dirty, but looking very much proud of himself. For a moment, Boromir fairly glowed with pride for his younger brother; though he was still very small for a boy his age, Boromir thought Faramir was progressing nicely, if slowly. But the moment faded away in an instant as the training master entered the room, and strode straight toward Denethor.

"My Lord," he said, bending into a bow, "might I have a private word?"

Though he and Faramir both waited with their ears pressed against the crack of the heavy, oak doors of the Steward's study, Boromir did not hear what had taken place inside until later that night.

"Master Dolenorn says Faramir will never be a great swordsman," Denethor had replied to his son's question. "The boy is not suited to a life of battle."

Boromir, never one to question his father or his teachers, merely nodded. He did not tell his father about the extra hours he'd been practicing with Faramir, or how badly his younger brother wanted to be like him. Boromir actually suspected that Faramir was hurt by his apparent lack of what Master Dolenorn called natural talent, and the obvious differences between himself and his older brother, who was already being talked about down in the city as one who would become a great commander.

"Faramir," Denethor continued, oblivious to his son's thoughts, "is too different from you and I."

"But those differences are purely physical," Boromir responded, then added – so as not to seem rude – "aren't they?"

Denethor only shook his head. "I don't expect you to understand yet. Faramir marches to the beat of a different drum."

Boromir, who had never been very good at picturing metaphors, did not understand his father's comment, though he did think about it long and hard every time he saw Faramir at practices. Of course, by the time he'd thought he'd maybe seen enough of his brother's technique to understand, he was fifteen, and was called into the field to serve under a commander of the army. When he returned to Minas Tirith, Faramir had been gone as well. In the years since, Boromir had seen little of his brother, though the connection between them had always remained strong.

A sharp, offbeat crack broke through his thoughts, and Boromir tried to kick himself back into the rhythm before he realized he wasn't hearing his own companies drum. Sure enough, a quick scan of the horizon showed an approaching company to the west, and the white field of his brother's banner. The drummer-boy watched Boromir, waiting for him to signal the change to match the rhythm of the new company. But as he listened, Boromir heard what was giving the boy an increasing perplexed expression.

Faramir's company did not march to a single, steady hit. Instead, the drum beat out a rhythm of longer strikes and quick triplets. And – Boromir almost didn't believe it at first – as the group moved closer he could hear voices, all raised in confidant song. The company marched as one already victorious, and Boromir felt a smile pull at the corners of his mouth.

"To the beat of a different drum indeed."