Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings and all associated characters belong to the estate of JRR Tolkien, god of the nerds.
A/N: I actually wrote this quite a while, but I only recently realised that I haven't posted it. As per usual, any concrit, however harsh, is gratefully appreciated.
The Anduin flowed like moonlight in the darkness, the silver stars dimly reflected in its waters behind a greyish mist of cloud, when the Captain of Gondor went walking. Far from Minas Tirith, far from his men, where the only sound was the soft rustle of reeds and the occasional cry of some woodland beast, Faramir son of Denethor went walking.
As he walked, ever wary of any sound or movement, his hand rested lightly on the hilt of his sword. Ready. Always, beneath the sharp sickle of the waxing moon, he was ready. And yet his mind was not focused – could not be focused. There was a far more important thought nagging at his mind.
His brother's horn, the Horn of Gondor. Three days had passed, and still he could not convince himself that the echo of a thought that he had heard had been any less than Boromir himself; any less than a cry for help. It had been faint, so faint that no ear should have heard it, as if from many, many miles away. Almost silent, and yet he knew that his father had heard it as clearly as he; that much had been clear from the way his face had paled and his knotted hand had tightened on the wall they had leant on.
And, much as fear for his brother itched at the back of Faramir's mind, a worse thought was beginning to surface.
What would he have thought, if it had been me?
If it had been Faramir who had borne Gondor's pride and honour, what then? He could not help wondering whether that same paleness would have come over Denethor's haggard face had it been the younger son who had gone to Imladris, if it had been he who had been missing for so long. Equally, he could not help suspecting that the answer was no.
But then, he thought bitterly, sighing and sitting down in a bed of reeds, his father would never have entrusted such a task to him in the first place. Not to Faramir, the weakling who would not fight. Not to Faramir, who cared for people more than cold steel, who would rather wield a pen than a sword.
Only to Boromir, boorish, self-obsessed idiot that he was.
Scowling, he reached down to the Anduin waters he sat beside and dragged one hand through the water, fracturing the reflection of himself that was clear in the silvered flow. Ripples ran through the face, shattering it; the high cheekbones, the slight shading of stubble, the dark, untrimmed hair. Sending lines of moonlight through the reflection of his tightly clenched jaw and his angry grey eyes. Crossing him out, erasing him, as his father no doubt wished he could.
"All my life!" he muttered angrily in the Westernesse dialect, clenching his fist in the water. "All my life, Boromir! Wasted, for thee – for thee and for Father! I hope that thou art dead, brother! Dead and gone, never to bother me more!" The instant the words left his mouth, lost to the cool mists of nightfall, he knew that he didn't mean them; they were born of frustration, nothing more, and he was glad that nobody was there to hear him say them. Not that he would have spoken, had he not been alone.
Nonetheless, there was truth there, a truth that had too long gone unspoken. That he was almost as opposite to his brother as two men could be, that his brother was everything he could never be, that he had lost his own life in looking to theirs… those, Faramir felt with some degree of certainty, were truths. And while he might not wish Boromir dead – he could not wish any man dead, least of all his brother, closer to him than any other man – there was a dark corner of his mind that whispered that his brother's prolonged absence was by no means a bad thing.
He sighed, the pressure of the river's current pushing against his fingers, and glanced up at the sky. Midnight. The darkness would have been almost uplifting, were it not for the reddish glow of Orodruin reflecting against the thin patina of cloud to the east, an ever-present reminder of the imminence of war. Still, it was calming to rest on the shores of the Anduin, the water cool on his still-immersed hand, the breeze blowing lightly against his cheeks.
Calm. Calm was what he needed, at this moment. Already bringing his resentment and anger under control, the captain was glad of it. Glad of the night, shrouding him in cool darkness. Glad of the slim curve of the moon, giving him light enough to see without fear. Glad of the rushes, whispering their lonely melody around him as their stems bent in the gentle wind.
A shadow passed over the moon, darkening the night and making Faramir start uneasily, his hand automatically flashing out of the water and to his sword hilt as he glanced around cautiously. Laughing softly at his own foolishness for allowing a cloud to set him on edge so much, he shook his head with a sidelong smile and turned back to his thoughts, allowing the sounds of the night to lull him back into that same calm. But his hand stayed at his sword hilt, the light touch of the weapon calming him as much as any soft splash of the slow-flowing Anduin, any animal rustle in the night. Silently, he cursed himself for not remaining alert. There were Orcs abroad, whether or not they were nearby, and this close to the old city of Osgiliath, no man, be he Ranger or hunter, could afford to be negligent in his watch. Certainly not him, not the son of Gondor's steward.
Boromir would not be negligent.
Faramir swore, the anger beginning to rise again like bile in his throat at the thought. What of it? Boromir would not be negligent; Boromir would not do many things. He was not Boromir, and he would not force himself to fit that mould! There was one such brother, and there could never be two, for he would not be any the less Faramir for trying to match his brother, but a certain closeness would be lost for the change, he was sure. And nor would he be equal to him, no more than he already was. Boromir would still be older, still be stronger, still be braver. Boromir would still be the better man, and all of Gondor would still know it.
And it was not fair to him to resent him for going to Imladris, no matter how much Faramir might wish that it had been him on the journey. No matter how much he felt that that dream had meant something more to him, no matter how much he thought that it had been sent for him, Boromir was the stronger, and Boromir had gone north in an effort to avoid Faramir being put in danger. Faramir had relented only partly through force of habit, and almost entirely through love of Boromir, faith in him. How, then, could he blame his brother for being so long gone; how could he blame him for being the one to bear the weight? No, it was his own fault, if it was anybody's; his fault for being so much less than his brother could be, his fault for not being strong enough to go. And when Boromir returned in triumph, Faramir wanted to be there to greet him. He wanted to be there to see his kinsman, he wanted to sit and hear the tale, listen as the meaning of his dreams was unravelled for him.
More than anything, he wanted to watch his brother come home. Above everything, more than victory, he wanted his fears to be relieved, to see Boromir laugh and smile and know that the distant cry of a horn had been no omen at all, only a shadow of an evil thought.
But, for all that he told himself time and again that his brother would return, that sound echoed in his ears in mockery of his optimism. The Horn of Gondor, winded only in the greatest of need… he knew that sound like he knew his own heartbeat. If it were real, and not some phantom of worried meditation, then it was surely a harbinger of some terrible fate… what of Boromir? Long they had watched, long they had waited, and fear was spreading cold tendrils through Faramir's heart – a fear the greater for his other dream, the dream he had not mentioned, lest he cause only despair with his idle thoughts.
He had been standing on the surface of the Anduin in this dream, in a place he had vaguely recognised as being the Nindalf, for the falls of Rauros crashed down a scant few feet from him, though, in the way of dreams, he had not felt its ripples under his feet. And the Horn had sounded again, as they had heard on the walls of Minas Tirith, but louder, closer, again and again. He had stopped, freezing completely, not moving a muscle, and listened as the last clarion tone rang into the clear morning sky. Then, over the roar of the falls, as the sky darkened, he had heard a song, a lament, the words lost to the thundering river and the merest hum of tune remaining. Suddenly, he had felt a sensation of falling, as though he were at the top of the falls, and though he tried to look around, he caught only the Anduin, which seemed to him blood-red and cloying. He had been crashing to the Nindalf in a river of crimson, screaming for help and finding only more pounding darkness, and then his screams had stopped, and he had awoken, breathing hard and scarcely daring to believe that it was not real.
It had been nothing, he told himself. Just a trick of the mind, like the horn. Not a prophecy, only a dream, brought on by the dread that the horn had caused him that day. He had to believe that. Had to believe that they were just foolishness. Because, if they were more, if they were omens, then…
Then he would have to accept that Boromir would not return. And it was not only that he didn't want to believe that it was so, but that he couldn't believe it. He couldn't believe that his brave, strong brother would fail on such a simple quest. Boromir was stronger than that. True, no trip to and from Imladris should take so long, but perhaps… perhaps he had simply been delayed. Perhaps he had even been wounded, and could not leave the Elves. Or maybe there had been complications, maybe Elrond had told him what the prophecy meant, and Boromir had set out to find Isildur's Bane, whatever that was. It seemed the sort of thing that Boromir would do, after all, hot-headed and impulsive as he undeniably was. Faramir might admire his brother to the point of hero-worship, but even he had to admit that it was extremely likely that he would be caught up in the moment, that he would sweep others up with his enthusiasm and set off to wherever Isildur's Bane was without a second thought. The more Faramir thought about it, the more likely it seemed that that was what had happened, and the easier it was to put aside the feeling of unease he had.
He sighed, trailing the fingertips of his left hand lightly through the shallows of the river and looking up at the clouded moon. Did that crescent moon shine down on Boromir, he wondered, and did Boromir look up at an unclouded sky and think of home? Not of Gondor, Boromir was always thinking of Gondor. But home, Minas Tirith, Denethor and Faramir himself – did he think of those? Faramir certainly hoped so.
Allowing himself to smile, albeit a little sadly, at the thought, the captain returned his gaze to the clear waters, narrowing his steel-grey eyes in an effort to see the opposite shore. And it was then that he saw the brightness.
It was a few feet away, almost hidden behind a clump of rushes. Not exactly a light, but a silvery glow that might have been a lantern, or might have been some sort of reflection. His forehead creasing curiously as whatever it was moved slightly, Faramir levered himself silently to his feet, his hand going to his sword. As he rose, he saw above the reeds whence the radiance came; a boat floated on the Anduin waters, high-prowed and made of some silvery wood that he did not recognise. It had been its reflection that he had seen coming across the dark midnight waters, then, although the boat itself did almost seem to glow somehow.
But whence did it come, and how? He saw no oarsman to steer it, no sail to send it flowing. By all rights, it should have foundered long ago, unmanned and unguided – but it had not. What was this boat? Did he sleep and dream, and would he wake in alarm? The sight had a certain dreamlike quality to it, certainly; the obsidian surface of the river, reflecting the clouding sky, the darkness around him, and this strange craft, unmanned and serene.
He watched the boat carefully as it drifted slowly by, then, with surprising suddenness, made up his mind. Laying his bow down on the shore beside him, the captain drew his sword cautiously, then blinked once, half-expecting the vessel to vanish, and took the first step into the cold water of the Anduin.
It clasped around his ankles like a live thing, grabbing at the leather of his breeches as he took the next step. It was colder than he had thought, now that he was ankle-deep, but curiosity kept him going, sword raised and eyes narrowed. By the time he was knee-deep, his feet were beginning to sink into the silt of the riverbed, each step requiring a certain degree of force to tug his boots loose. Every time he raised his foot, mud blossomed up around it, and a tiny part of his mind muttered that this was madness. But the boat was drawing nearer, now mere feet away, and he did not stop; rather, he increased his pace, not wanting to let it pass without seeing what it held. It never even occurred to him that it might be empty, and, as he came closer, he could see that there was indeed something inside; over the edge of the silvery wood, he could see the feathered shafts of several arrows.
Raising his sword still further, he glanced around cautiously for any sign of movement, then took the last few steps, just as the river swept the craft to within a few inches of him. Half-lifting his hand to drag the boat nearer, he paused, then dropped his arm. There was something untouchable about the boat, he could feel it. This close, he saw the elaborate carvings on its prow, but they were not what made his mouth dry up, nor were they the reason that his sword fell with a splash from a suddenly nerveless hand.
His mouth formed the word silently, disbelievingly, as he looked down at his dead brother. He knew him at once; it could have been nobody else. His hair was longer than when Faramir had bidden him farewell so long ago, and there were the beginnings of a beard on his broad jaw, but it was undoubtably Boromir.
Beside him was his helm, and on his lap lay his sword, which, Faramir saw with a pang, was broken near the hilt. He had always known that his brother would die fighting, and it seemed that it had indeed been so. There were ragged gashes in his grey-green tunic, their edges soaked with dark, crusted blood, and his torso was pierced with several black-fletched arrows. Orcish arrows, Faramir noted without thinking, his tracker's mind working away while the rest of him stood and stared in disbelief, wanting to cry out, unable to force even a whimper past his open lips. The Horn of Gondor was missing from its place at his belt, but his long, dark hair had been neatly arrayed around his shoulders, and somebody had collected many Orcish weapons and armaments before laying him in the craft, for they were clustered in a great heap around his feet. Around his waist, glinting gold in the moonlight, was a belt of intertwined leaves, and under his head was a folded mass of soft grey; Faramir recognised neither, and could only guess that Boromir had come across them in his journeys. But then, it was clear that this was not the same Boromir who had left Minas Tirith. This man was harder, older in a way that a few months could not grant. There were lines of stress around his mouth and eyes that Faramir had not seen before, and he seemed somehow nobler than he had, as though he had died in triumph. Despite the gaping wounds littering his body, despite the crusted blood at the corner of his mouth, he seemed almost peaceful in death, satisfied. Tears stinging at his eyes, Faramir smiled sadly, still unable to force out any sound. At least he died bravely, he thought, swallowing. At least he died proud.
Three days. Could it have been three days since his brother had died? On that morning they had heard the horn from the north – had it been on that morning that Boromir had fallen? Then the blowing of the horn on that clear morning… had it not been an omen, nor a premonition, but truly Boromir's cry for help? Faramir bit his lip, reaching out a trembling hand to his brother's face, and again pulling away. The Anduin flowed onwards still, carrying Boromir's body with it, and Faramir watched as the boat slid past him, unable to reach out or even to speak, grief flooding through him.
Only when the boat had passed him, Boromir's noble face slipping out of view, did Faramir find his tongue. Tears welling in his eyes, he took a deep, shuddering breath, still unwilling to entirely believe what he had seen, and cried out "Boromir! Boromir! Where is thy horn? Where goest thou? Oh, Boromir!"
But Boromir could not reply, and, as Faramir watched, the boat was swept further and further downstream, until it was lost to sight in the darkness. The moon's scythe illuminated the captain's youthful face, the silver light fracturing on the long tracts of tears now flowing freely from his cold grey eyes.
He stood in the waist-deep water, staring blindly in the direction the craft had floated, his duty forgotten. His heart cried out louder than his tongue ever could.
The sad reeds and the soft wind sent a shivering lament into the air, and the Anduin flowed around him, running ever onwards to the sea.