Author's Note: the story was originally written last February as a birthday present to Cressida; eventually, it was saved for the fourth volume of The Noble Steward's Chronicles, a collection of fanfiction and fan art written by members and friends of the Brothers of Gondor discussion board (edited by the wonderful Illwynd and downloadable in .pdf format). Big thanks to Cressida herself for the betaing job (yeah, there's sometimes still a price to pay for birthday stuff!)
A Flickering Light
The light footfalls echoed through the hallway.
If some sleepless maid heard them at that hour, she would think it was someone either well-accustomed to darkness or well-familiar with the building – or, which it was, both.
A flickering candle appeared from behind a turn, lighting a tall and slender figure of a young man, who was shielding the little flame with his fingers. He strode confidently to a door at the end of the passage and inserted a key into the lock. A moment later, the door opened noiselessly, letting the Steward's second, and now only, son into the dark empty chamber.
Once in, Faramir placed his candle on the desk at the window and stood before it for a while, as if wondering what to do next. The chamber, although in the care of servants, already bore the signs of its occupant's absence; the air felt very still, almost stifling, and cold at the same time.
How unlike Boromir, Faramir thought with a wistful smile, taking his candle again and turning to the hearth to busy himself with a familiar task of lighting a fire.
The wood that had been left in the hearth was perfectly dry; soon, it broke into merry crackling flames. Faramir sat down on the thick rug, putting his arms round his knees and looking at the fire.
It gave him some odd comfort to be in Boromir's chamber, breathing in the remnants of the familiar smells, listening to the far-off noises of the City and feeling the wave of warmth from the fire.
Soon, he would be away from here, in Ithilien, and he would have other things to occupy his time and mind. This evening, he wished to spend here. To sit, and to think, and to remember...
He lowered his head, letting out a tremulous sigh, and closed his eyes.
He was not aware of the presence of another until a hand lightly brushed his shoulder. Faramir looked up sharply.
'Aye,' Denethor said very quietly, his eyes slowly searching the chamber and then turning to Faramir. 'Why are you in this chamber?'
Faramir shrugged, and at first, it seemed he was about to let the question hang, but then, he changed his mind.
'I wished to spend some time here, ere I leave,' he said.
'Ere you leave…' Denethor repeated slowly, going over to the desk.
A long silence hung between them. Faramir turned to look at the fire again, when suddenly Denethor spoke again.
'You two loved to sit on the rug like that.'
Faramir smiled. 'Aye, we did, when we were little.'
'Not only. Are you telling me that you never did it when you grew up?'
Faramir looked up at Denethor again.
'You are right, Father…we did. We last talked here the evening before Boromir left.'
'I know that.'
The Steward turned away, placing both hands onto the desk. Faramir's eyes were still at him.
How he has aged, he thought, feeling his heart constrict painfully in his chest.
Indeed, Denethor looked very old to him, his head bowed and all his posture telling only of his immense weariness and grief. Faramir was not fooled by his level voice; many signs there were that belied his father's true state…signs he, his son, had long learned to read.
Faramir got to his feet and quietly made his way to the door. It pained him to leave Denethor alone, but he knew the Steward well enough not to expect him to want company.
Just as he put his hand on the doorknob, he was stayed by Denethor's voice.
He turned around. 'Yes, Father?'
Denethor had opened a drawer and was eyeing its contents.
'Your brother kept his papers in perfect order,' he said.
'He did…' Faramir said, approaching the desk too. 'Is there something you want me to find for you, Father?'
'Nay,' Denethor said quietly, suddenly looking his son straight in the face and then averting his eyes in the same abrupt manner, with a sharp intake of breath. For an instant, Faramir looked at him too; then, he moved a tall-backed chair to the desk, and Denethor sat on it with a nod of gratitude. Faramir returned to his place on the rug; however, this time he was sitting with his back to the fire.
'What did you talk about the evening before Boromir left?' Denethor suddenly asked.
'We started with grave things, but then…Boromir started to tease me,' Faramir said, smiling at the memory. 'He said he was not certain if he could entrust me with his duties, because I was a poor fighter if there were no trees around me…'
Denethor looked interested.
'And what did you say?' he asked.
'That if Boromir had to fight amongst the trees and bushes, he would probably trip on every little twig, and curse so loudly that ambushes would not be possible…'
Denethor lowered his head again, pressing a hand to his face. His voice was hoarse when he spoke again.
'There was more reason in this exchange than might seem,' he said. 'Gondor indeed needs…needed you both…you and Boromir…my Boromir…'
His voice reduced to a mere whisper and then faded.
Faramir got to his feet again, only to kneel at his father's side and take his free hand, pressing it gently. Denethor stiffened, but only for a moment; next, his hand squeezed his son's in a near-desperate grip.
Neither made another move to get closer to each other. Faramir raised his eyes to Denethor's, no longer concealed by his other hand and streaming with tears. His own vision suddenly blurred too, and he bowed his head again, hiding his face in the soft folds of the Steward's mantle.
They knew not how long they had sat there in silence. Finally, Denethor said quietly, ''Tis time you were in bed, Faramir.'
Faramir nodded and got to his feet.
'Aye, Father,' he said. 'I should…I shall be leaving early on the morrow.'
'Not on the morrow. The day after that. There are some affairs in the City I should like your assistance with.'
'Pardon me, Father, but I did not think it would be wise to leave my company for too long…' Faramir started saying, but then suddenly checked himself.
'I shall stay if you wish me to,' he said quietly after a pause.
Denethor nodded. 'Let us seek our beds then.'
…Silently, they walked along the empty hallways again. When they stood before the door to the Steward's apartments, Denethor turned to Faramir again.
'You will take good care of yourself when you are back in Ithilien, Faramir,' he said.
'As I always do, Father,' Faramir assured him with a faint smile. Denethor, however, stayed grave.
'Do so better than you always do. Now…that your brother is gone…Gondor needs you even more.'
He placed his hands on his son's shoulders, drawing him closer and kissing him on the brow.
'Good night, Father,' Faramir said, bowing his head again.
As he was walking to his own chamber, Denethor's words resounded in his head.
Gondor needs you even more.
The words he said…and the ones that he did not…
I need you.