And finally, the last bit…

Chapter 4

Crouched on the floor in his room, Elboron thought this was the worst thing that could possibly have happened to him.

He had stumbled out of the Tower with a silent Eldarion behind. They had not talked until Eldarion threw the unneeded horn away angrily and put his hand on Elboron's shoulder…

Elboron had been unable to bear that touch. It had always been his father's gesture…

So he had shrugged off Eldarion's hand with what must have looked like annoyance, as his friend's eyes had instantly filled with tears. He had apologised hastily and run home.

Only now, here, sitting alone and shivering in a warm sunlit room, did he understand his mother's words about conscience…

For he had tried to tell himself that everything might yet be all right. The Horn might not fall apart during the ceremony. Even if it did…who would know it was he, Elboron, who had broken it? What if it was a maid? What if the silversmith had mended it badly?

'To be worthy is not only to be tall and strong.'

But that had only been an accident! He had not meant to break it!

'You are a good boy, truthful, caring, and responsible. I believe you deserve to be given the Horn.'

But he had lied to his father. He had not treated Uncle Boromir's Horn with care. He had made Eldarion feel bad too. How could he deserve the Horn then?

And…his father was going to tell everyone how good he was. Would he then lie too? The thought horrified him…

'Elboron, are you well?'

He looked up and saw his mother there, looking very worried. She knew that very instant that something was amiss.

She hurried to him and sat right on the floor, in her lovely yellow gown that he liked so much. She drew him to herself, pressing her lips to his brow lightly. He knew it was not a kiss; she was checking to see if he had a fever.

She appeared relieved when she looked at him again, but soon a frown creased her face anew.

'What is it, dear?'

'Mother… can I ask you something?' he asked in a tortured whisper. 'But it will be a bad question…'

Éowyn smiled and held him close.

'Ask your bad question, you little rascal.'

He breathed in deeply, plucking up his courage.

'Mother…when you did that bad thing and your conscience made you feel bad…what did you do?'

Éowyn sighed.

'There was not much I could do,' she said. 'The bad thing could not be undone. But I did one thing that helped me. I talked about it to a very good person… to your father. I told him everything.'

'And after that… did you start to feel better?'

'I did. So, Elboron… if there is something that makes you feel bad, and you do not want to tell me about it, then perhaps you could talk to your father too?'

'Yes…' Elboron whispered, pressing closer to her. Yes, that would be the best thing to do. His bad thing could not be undone either.

When he finally pulled away, there, right before them, stood his father.

Éowyn got to her feet and said, 'I have things to see to.'

She patted Elboron's head, smiled at Faramir, and was gone. Elboron breathed in deeply again.

'Father,' he said firmly, 'I can't take Uncle Boromir's Horn.'

Faramir lowered himself on the spot where his wife had been sitting.

'And why not, son?' he asked.

'Because… because we… because I was showing it to Eldarion yesterday and dropped it, and… and it broke in two.'

The worst said, words poured forth from his mouth.

'And then we tried to mend it… Eldarion had a candle, and we melted it and… it now looks good, but it's broken. And you said you wanted to give it to me on the morrow…' he stopped short.

Faramir waited, and if Elboron were able to look at him at that moment, he would have noticed a slight smile on his father's face.

'You said I deserved the Horn,' he whispered. 'I don't.'

'No,' Faramir agreed. 'Not yet, at least. But you have given me some hope that you might in the future.'

Now his eyes did shoot up. Faramir nodded.

'Yes, that is so. You confessed that it was your fault and did not try to blame it on Eldarion, the way you did last time. You understand that you have done wrong – do you know why, Elboron?'

'It's Uncle Boromir's Horn and it's very important and I…'

Faramir shook his head.

'No, Elboron, this is not all. The Horn is just a thing… I should be sad if it were lost, but its loss would not be irreparable. But one day you will be entrusted with things far more valuable and important than this. What will happen if you only see them as something for play? Tell me now… what did Eldarion do when you suggested playing with Dorlas or taking the Horn to look at?'

'Er… nothing,' Elboron replied, puzzled. 'He just did what…'

'Did what you told him to?'

He nodded. Meanwhile, Faramir continued, in a very calm and level voice.

'And one day he is going to become King, and you his Steward, the adviser to the King. And all the advice you give him will have to be well thought over, because you will not have merely your playroom to rule. You will have a kingdom. Yesterday, you only scared and hurt poor little Dorlas and broke a horn. Now, what may happen when you grow up and are strong and have armies at your command and a King who listens to you – but are not responsible or do not care about other people?'

'I may hurt those people then too…' Elboron whispered. 'But… but I don't want to, Father, I don't!'

'I know you don't,' Faramir said, smiling at him again. 'I do not believe you will. You are a good boy and will one day grow up to be a good man. But even very good people sometimes…'

'…do bad things,' Elboron finished. 'I know, Mother told me.'

Faramir placed both hands on his shoulders, the way he often did.

'And she was right. It is important to remember this, always. And try to put things back to rights, if it is possible.'

Elboron released a sigh.

'We did try to mend Uncle Boromir's Horn,' he ventured.

Faramir chuckled.

'Aye, you did.'

Elboron looked up at him.

'So… you are not angry with me? Or upset?'

Faramir shook his head.

'No, I am not, child,' he said simply.

The relief was so enormous that he thought he might fall down. He took several gulping breaths, and then his father took him in his arms, and he suddenly started to cry, sobbing loudly into Faramir's tunic.

Faramir picked him up and sat on the bed, stroking his tousled hair. Gradually, the sobbing quieted, but Elboron still clung to him as tightly as he could. The door opened, and there stood Éowyn, her expression questioning; but upon exchanging a glance with her husband, who shook his head slightly, she smiled, nodded, and was gone.

Éowyn stood behind a door having opened it just a little. She was grinning so widely her cheeks hurt.

Inside, Ithilwen was making a perfect imitation of the Houses of Healing. The girl's impressions were still very fresh and strong, and now Elboron was obediently playing ill while she was spoonfeeding him something from a big mug. From the orange smudges on Elboron's face and Ithilwen's hands, Éowyn suspected it was apricot jam.

Now the girl stepped back and placed both hands on her hips, cocking her head. Éowyn clapped a hand to her mouth for fear of laughing out loud and startling them, so perfectly did her daughter copy the stance and expression of any nurse from the Houses.

'Two more days in bed, no cold drinks, and take this two times a day,' Ithilwen proclaimed. Éowyn heard a soft chuckle behind her, and an instant later, Faramir's arm was around her waist.

'I never tire of wondering how she can make him do whatever she wants,' he whispered.

'She merely has…a way with people,' Éowyn smiled. 'That must run in the family.'

'Aye, on her father's side,' Faramir agreed.

'That is true,' his lady laughed.

The children heard them and stopped their play. Elboron sat on the bed watching Faramir and Éowyn warily. Ithilwen squealed and threw herself at Faramir first, then wrapped one arm around each of her parents' necks and sighed contentedly. Having them both to herself at this time of the day was highly unusual, and she was more than happy at that, although Father was holding her a little awkwardly, with only one arm, the other behind his back.

'Elboron, come here,' Faramir said.

He did so, and then…there was the Horn of Gondor, in his father's hand, with a new streak of silver and a slight smell of the Queen's scented candles…

Elboron's hand jerked back halfway to the Horn. He looked up to meet the smiling eyes of his father.

'Will you… will you take it back to the office now?' he asked hesitantly.

'No,' Faramir said. 'You will.'

Elboron gave a little gasp, but finally took the Horn and pressed it to his chest immediately.

'You… you are not coming with me, Father?' he managed.

'I trust you can do it without me, son.'

Saying that, he squeezed Elboron's shoulder lightly and smiled at him again. Elboron swallowed hard and looked at his mother… she was smiling too, head cocked slightly to the side. Finally, he looked at Ithilwen and saw that there was a broad grin on her round face as well.

Grinning back at them all, he hugged the Horn tighter and marched into the hallway.

At the entrance to the office, there was a solemn and pale Eldarion, fidgeting with his belt. Upon seeing his friend, he brightened immediately and ran up to him.

'My father had the Horn mended,' Elboron informed him.

Eldarion only nodded, relief plain on his face.

'Come, help me,' Elboron commanded.

They hurried into the office. While Elboron stood holding the Horn, Eldarion dragged a chair to the shelf. The Steward's son handed him the heirloom and climbed onto the chair, then took the Horn and placed it in its old place with utmost care.

Most unusually silent, they stood there awhile, until Elboron sighed contentedly, turned on his heels, and headed for the door. Eldarion followed.

They made their way to the Queen's garden and there were greeted by the sight of Faramir and Ithilwen sitting on the grass.

Before anyone could say anything, the little girl suddenly flashed them a grin, leaped into the air and dashed off, crying out 'Catch me!' Elboron and Eldarion gave something that sounded distinctly like a battle cry and were gone in a split second.

And the soft laughter of the Steward of Gondor followed them along the sunlit path.

The End

19 February – 19 March 2006

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