As he was quickly making his way to his own chamber, Denethor still felt his knees shake.
Once inside, he bolted the door and took two swift steps to the chair, not even bothering to light a candle. The faint glow from the dying fire was enough. He sank heavily into the chair, pressing a hand to his face.
He had managed to preserve an expressionless appearance while the tale of his sons' adventure was being told, but his blood ran cold every moment he thought of how close he had been to losing them both…
He took several deep breaths to calm himself. It was a miracle that both the lads were unharmed. On the morrow, he would talk to them about it and think of a fitting punishment…now, he was merely grateful to have them back.
A faint noise startled him. He turned and stirred the fire, extracting several merry flames.
The noise seemed to have come from the direction of his bed. Denethor came closer, thinking that perhaps a cat had decided to share it with him, and becoming somewhat irritated at the thought.
However, he was wrong, for it was no cat, but his younger son, wrapped in a warm coverlet apparently borrowed from Denethor's own bed.
'I am sorry, Father,' Faramir said, not waiting for Denethor to recover from his astonishment. 'I wanted to ask you about something, but you were not here, and then I was cold and climbed into your bed…you are not angry?'
Denethor, still not over his initial surprise, nearly chuckled. No, indeed, there was no danger of him becoming angry at this after all that had happened earlier in the day.
'No, child, I am not, though you should be in your own bed by now.'
'I know,' Faramir said, nodding gravely. 'I only want to ask you something.'
'I am listening, then.'
The lad inhaled deeply, then clasped and unclasped his hands, and finally asked his question. 'How are you going to punish us for running away?'
Denethor sat on the edge of the bed, looking at his son's anxious face, barely discernible in the semi-darkness of the chamber.
'Something tells me you are not asking this because you are afraid of it, Faramir. Am I right?'
Faramir pondered the question and shook his head.
'No, I am not afraid,' he said. 'But Boromir is…very sad.'
'Sad? Well, he should be ashamed of what he did. Not only did he foolishly rush into something very, very dangerous…something that could have cost him his life; he also put your life at stake, and he was responsible for you because you are his younger brother. But for a lucky chance, you might have both been dead,' Denethor said, expertly keeping his voice quiet and level, though something twisted painfully in his stomach again as he was saying it.
Faramir sighed almost inaudibly.
'I'm sorry that we made you fear for us, Father,' he said, clutching the edges of the coverlet tighter.
A familiar faint sense of astonishment swept across Denethor's mind. He was by now accustomed to Faramir's astuteness when it came to what was behind the things that people said. He had not said a word about fear, nor had he betrayed himself with any tremor of his voice or body…and yet the child simply knew. A somewhat disconcerting sensation it gave…
He stood up abruptly and walked to the fire.
'You do realise, Faramir, that what happened was your fault as well,' he said somewhat gruffly, his back to the bed. 'I know you have not talked about this much with your tutors yet, for it is too early for you to be taught about the ways of the state…'
'Oh, but I know something about it,' Faramir said with confidence. 'I know that I shall advise Boromir when he is Steward…and much shall depend on myself as well as on him…and I should not support Boromir if he is thinking of doing something perilous. Is that right, Father?'
Denethor turned around and eyed the lad with new curiosity. Faramir was talking so solemnly that he could be mistaken for a grown man, if not for the voice.
'Aye, it is, though I should prefer you not to interrupt when your elders are speaking,' he said, and was content to see Faramir look properly chastised. 'Did you try to persuade Boromir not to escape?'
Faramir nodded, and suddenly the solemnity left him altogether.
'Yes…but he wouldn't listen to me! He said he wanted to help, and also that he wanted to see if there was anyone in need, and he hoped to work with others and perhaps save someone, and surely you, and Uncle, and Grandfather, and everyone would be proud of him, because he would be a real hero then. And then I decided to go with him and look after him, because Boromir can be so careless, though he's already so big and strong, and I…'
'Peace,' Denethor checked the outpour, 'I have guessed that much. But you wanted to know about your punishment…'
Faramir nodded, turning grave again, and yawned. Denethor came back to sit on the bed.
'Truthfully, I do not know yet. However, your words might have given me a good thought,' he said. 'Now go. 'Tis long past your bedtime.'
Faramir let go of the coverlet, emerging from it only in his nightshirt, and prepared to leave when suddenly Denethor's hand on his shoulder stopped him.
''Tis chilly in the hallway, Faramir. You may take that with you.'
The Steward watched with mild annoyance mixed with amusement as the child struggled to wrap the thick thing around himself. Faramir was much too tired and sleepy, and the coverlet kept slipping out of his fingers, which were still red and swollen from the cold.
'Let me assist you with that,' Denethor finally said, stooping to his son and wrapping him up warmly.
He looked at Faramir's flushed face under a mop of thick black hair. The two grey eyes, darker now than was their wont, were blinking at him sleepily. A long, thin scratch went down the left cheek; Denethor noticed it was still bleeding a little. Faramir smiled tiredly and yawned again, showing a missing tooth in his upper jaw… Denethor's heart constricted painfully in his chest as he was struck with the blood-curdling thought that he might have never witnessed the new tooth growing in the little gap…that this sleepy, warm, innocent child could be lying cold in a forgotten, flooded house…
With a sharp intake of breath, Denethor took the lad in his arms and whispered, for he could not trust his voice, 'I shall take you to your chamber, Faramir.'
'But Father, you can't carry me! I'm not little anymore!' Faramir protested…rather feebly, though.
'Silence, child,' Denethor said, holding him tightly and slowly regaining his composure. 'If you needed to see me so desperately, you could have put on your boots, leastways. I should rather have my son be carried to his chamber than run around barefoot.'
When they made their way to the door, Faramir was already asleep, snuggled close to his father's chest. Denethor put him carefully to bed, kissing him lightly on the cheek, and went over to where Boromir was sleeping.
His eldest was lying sprawled across the bed, the covers kicked almost to the footboard. Denethor smiled and covered him again, noticing that Boromir was much taller than he had been before the departure to Dol Amroth. Yes, he would one day grow into a fine youth… Denethor leant down and placed a kiss on his brow. Boromir frowned and shifted a little.
The Steward stepped away, cast one more look upon the sleeping children, and left them to recover after their adventures of the day before.
Boromir was awakened by a playful ray of the late morning sun.
At first, he scowled at it and turned in his warm and soft bed, determined to have some more sleep. An instant later, his eyes opened wide and he scrambled from under the covers and ran to the window.
He felt like bursting in a merry song. The rain had stopped! He could now play outdoors and maybe go swimming if it was warm enough…
And then, the events of the day before came back to him like a…flood.
His glance shot to the other bed. Faramir appeared still fast asleep, untroubled by the sun or his brother's movements.
Why had no one come to awaken them?
As if in response to that thought, the door opened slowly, revealing their father.
Boromir sighed and returned to the bedside, standing there with his eyes upon Denethor's face.
'Good morrow, Father,' he said quietly.
'Aye, 'tis good indeed,' Denethor replied. 'And not merely due to good weather. Sit.'
He did as he was bidden. Denethor took a chair and did the same, eyeing his eldest silently with an inscrutable expression. After a while, he spoke.
'I deem you are old enough to understand all the peril of your venture. Have you aught to say?'
'I am sorry I put Faramir's life in danger,' Boromir said.
'Your own, too.'
'I know…but Father, I didn't want merely to sit here and wait and do nothing! I thought they needed help there, and I'm strong enough to assist, I am!'
'And yet there are things that require sitting and waiting and doing nothing, as you say. You must learn those too. As well, you must listen to what your elders say,' Denethor said.
Emboldened by his father's calm, Boromir snorted.
'Shall I always have to listen to others and not follow my own mind?'
Child…much do I desire you to be your own man, and you seem to be one already… Denethor thought. Certainly, he would not say anything of the kind to Boromir.
'Nay, if making up your own mind is preceded by careful consideration; if you have weighed all your choices and concluded that there is not a better way. Pray tell, where has your mind brought you this time, son?'
Suddenly, Boromir felt terribly weary again.
'Nowhere,' he whispered, feeling a thin veil of tears form in his eyes. 'We nearly died in that house, and there was nothing we could help others with, and…and…and I have lost my boat.'
He nearly burst into tears as he said that; suddenly, the loss of the boat seemed the most disastrous to him. But he only took several deep breaths and looked Denethor in the face again.
'You were to stay in Dol Amroth for a week longer, were you not?' Denethor said.
'We were,' Boromir nodded, feeling an odd sense of relief.
So this was their punishment. Father would take them back to Minas Tirith earlier than was planned…and right when the weather changed for the better. There would be no running on the sandy beaches or swimming or rowing…not that he had a boat anymore.
However, when Denethor spoke again, he said something very unexpected.
'I have decided that you will stay here for two more weeks.'
Boromir's mouth fell open.
'I see that you are astonished at this,' Denethor said. 'But such is my decision. You will stay here, but not for pleasure. Your grandsire or uncle will appoint you to some duties at the site of the flood, where you so much wanted to be. You will work there, and maybe also find some of the renown you were seeking, though that I doubt.'
'And… and Faramir?'
'Your brother will go with you.'
Boromir's glance wandered to where Faramir was still sleeping peacefully, a hand under his cheek. The talk had not been enough to disturb his slumber.
'Awaken your brother, 'tis rather late,' Denethor said rising. 'The luncheon must be awaiting you already.'
He walked to the door and was about to leave the chamber, when something seemed to check him in his stride.
'Boromir, did you not say that you wanted to rescue someone?'
Boromir nodded, not sure what was to come. His father was standing in the doorway, a curious half-smile upon his lips. Finally, Denethor spoke.
'You may think you have. The boat your grandsire gave you was washed to a house in a neighbouring village, also flooded after the dam burst. There was a young woman sitting on the roof with a small child, and she was able to get to safety in your boat.'
With that, he turned and was gone.
Boromir stood rooted to the spot for a while; then his face broke into a wide grin, and he threw himself onto Faramir's bed.
'Wake up, you sleepyhead!!'
A/N: thanks, everyone who reviewed! I'm glad to know you liked the story; I enjoyed writing it too. Hope I'll have more to post soon!