For a moment, Denethor could not either speak or move.
All he knew was waves of rage hitting him from inside, and he would have burst out with curses but for his ill child lying very still on the bed.
"Who were they?" he hissed, slowly rising from his chair.
Faramir looked at him again.
"Who were the people? I have to know that," Denethor pressed.
"I…I do not know, Father… I was not fully awake…" the boy mumbled.
Denethor sighed. There was no way that he knew of to make his son speak the names, and he was sure Faramir knew them, judging by the sudden colouring of his pale face.
"And you believed them?" he asked, feeling unexpected anger and bitterness towards the poor boy. "You just took their words for granted, not even trying to ask me if that…thing was true? You never once doubted their words, Faramir?"
He sighed, sitting down onto the bed.
"I have to know who is spreading gossip like that, son," he said tiredly, placing his hand on his son's arm.
He could have wept, seeing a tiny flicker of hope in those darkened, anguished eyes.
"So…that was just gossip?" Faramir whispered, his eyes slowly filling with tears.
"It certainly was!" Denethor shouted, springing to his feet and starting to pace the room. "Your Mother died five years after you were born, Faramir! She was gravely ill, but that had nothing to do with the birth! In fact, I took her out riding just a week after you arrived…you should have heard what we had to listen to from healers upon our return."
He smiled involuntarily at the memory of that childish escapade.
"But…but…" Faramir stuttered helplessly, "you said that I reminded you of her… and then you went to the House of Stewards after our talk… and I thought… I thought that it was my fault that you were upset…"
Denethor sat beside the boy again and gently, but firmly took his hands with his own.
"Who told you that the memories were unpleasant, son?" he enquired, looking gravely into the moist grey eyes.
"You looked sad," Faramir pointed out.
"Oh, right," Denethor snorted. "And what would you have preferred, the sight of me singing tavern songs in the place? I did love your Mother, Faramir, and to lose her was the most painful thing that has ever happened to me; were it not for you and your brother, I do not know how I would have lived through all these years. And when I was there, your Mother was not the sole occupant of my thoughts. She passed away, and our troubles are nothing to her… unless there is a world somewhere indeed from which the dead can watch us. But I thought of you, too, of our children that we brought into the world together, of all the perils that awaited you… and that was what made me truly sad."
He wondered at his own words, for it had never been his habit to declare his feelings so openly; Faramir seemed astonished too at the thought that appeared rather unexpected.
Denethor was immensely relieved to feel Faramir's hands press his almost imperceptibly. His son gave a tremulous sigh and closed his eyes.
Denethor reached to touch his face once again, and brushed away two glistening tears that had managed to escape, this time meeting no resistance.
"Is this why you did not want me to touch you, son?" he asked softly. "You thought that would bring me pain?"
Faramir's face crumpled in distress; it was obvious he was taking great efforts not to allow any more tears to follow, but he was too exhausted by his illness and by the recent stress. All he could do was turn to his side and bury his face in the pillow.
At that moment, Denethor would have killed the two fools who were to blame for all this with his bare hands. He decided he would have the guards and servants questioned thoroughly later; now, he shifted closer to his weeping son and pulled him close, cradling Faramir's head against his chest.
He sighed, hearing the boy sniffle into one of his favourite tunics. The cold together with his present distress would surely make it impossible to wear in tomorrow's Council meeting… but it did not matter. Denethor could not help feeling a little proud of himself: he had just managed to reach his younger son, and there were very few people who could boast that.
Faramir gave a final sniffle and a sneeze, pulling away from the embrace, and the tunic was ruined once and for all.
"Get back under the covers, or tomorrow we shall be dealing with something more serious than just a simple cold," Denethor said, pushing his son into the warm bed and covering him warmly. "Whatever made you get out in the rain like that? I had an impression that at least one of my children was not hot-headed."
He smiled, tucking in the blankets around Faramir, but the boy was grave.
"I…I just wanted to be near you," he whispered. "I did not mean for you to see me… I thought it would bring you only more hurt, to see me at Mother's resting place, but then I sneezed and you saw me…"
"A lucky sneeze," Denethor murmured, not quite trusting his voice. "Did you mean to go in hiding for the rest of my life? Perhaps you have been spending too much of your time with the Rangers."
"I did not mean to hide!" Faramir protested. "Just…not to be before your eyes too often. So that you did not have to think of…her."
"Why did you come to my office then?" Denethor asked.
Faramir blushed and sighed miserably.
"I just wanted to sit there with you, for the last time…" he confessed. "I would have never come there again…"
"You little foolish child," Denethor blurted out.
"I am not a child!" Faramir cried indignantly.
So, things were slowly returning back to normal.
"You do admit to being foolish, then," Denethor observed coolly.
Suddenly, Faramir caught a slight quiver of his father's lips, and in a moment his own face lit with a smile.
"Laughing, are you?" Denethor frowned. "First told me to go to bed, and then kept me on my feet halfway through the night."
"Why are we here?"
The boy was clearly uncomfortable under the vaults of the House of Stewards, because of both the nature of the place and the memory of his recent trial.
He had had a severe setback after his night walk in the rain, and spent another week in bed. This time, the things had been different, though, for Denethor did his best to visit Faramir as often as he could. There had also been loud complaints from the Steward's son about the vile taste of the medicines, the lumpiness of the bed, the lack of light and air in the chamber; all as it always is when a young one is firmly on his way to recovery. The healer appointed to look after Faramir observed that it had to be the boy's desire to be like his brother, for Boromir was a case of total healers' frustration.
Denethor had conducted a great investigation attempting to find the two gossips, but failed. Faramir never breathed a word as to who they were, though his father was quite sure the boy had recognised them.
Now, they were standing before the marble likeness of Finduilas, and Denethor was holding a bundle wrapped in a piece of dark cloth.
"I just wanted to give you something, and it is only fair that I did it here, for your Mother would also want you to have it," Denethor said, placing the bundle in Faramir's hands. "Unwrap it."
Faramir did so, revealing a magnificent garment, a mantle of deep blue colour, adorned with silver stars.
"Is it…was it Mother's?" he gasped, stroking the soft fabric.
"It was," said Denethor, reaching his own hand to touch the cloak. "I gave it to her when she told me that she carried our second child. You."
Faramir sighed, clutching the mantle to his chest.
"Thank you, Father," he said, looking up into Denethor's face with his big earnest eyes.
"You are most welcome, son," Denethor smiled. "You can also give it to the lady that you will one day choose to be your bride."
"I do not want any bride," Faramir scowled.
"As you wish then," said his father, laughing quietly. "But do get some lavender to keep the moths away. You might still reconsider."
Denethor almost jumped at the shout, his quill tearing the sheet he was writing on in two.
"For goodness' sake, Faramir! Can you not see that I am working!"
"Oh…I am sorry…" the boy said, almost in a whisper, preparing to retreat back to the hallway.
Denethor sighed and beckoned him in.
"What was it that you wanted?"
"Just…just a question, Father. You gave Mother the mantle when you learned about…well…me… what about Boromir?"
Suddenly, Denethor started laughing quietly.
"Boromir… Oh, no…"
"What?" Faramir frowned.
He rose from the chair and came to his son, placing both hands on Faramir's shoulders.
"I got her a robe, a silk one, light green with golden laces. I waited beside her bed until she awoke in the morning, and ate her breakfast, and proudly presented it to her…" he lowered his voice almost to a whisper.
"And then?" Faramir whispered too.
"It appeared to remind her of lettuce, which she hated…" Denethor sighed. "She…she lost her breakfast all over it…"
Thank you, all who took the effort to review. It was lovely to know that you really enjoyed my story. That helped me to review so quickly, by the way!
You can see that I am hopelessly in love with happy endings (though this one sounds pretty tragic, given the ultimate fate of the family). Still, I wanted to finish the story as lightly as possible, as it is ve-e-ery far from my nature to brood. Will you forgive me this, as well as a possibly too soft Denethor? (Yeah, Linda, I do happen to like the man...)