Clenched Soul

I remembered you with my soul clenched
in that sadness of mine that you know

Clenched Soul by Pablo Neruda

It was quiet in the city; all seemed muted, all seemed somehow less important, less bright, less lively than it had been before. A gray pall was draped like a sheer linen shroud over the roof of the sky, letting the sunlight show only through pale shafts that illuminated the land in sections.

A gust of air like a plaintive sigh swept through the long corridor, before being swiftly cut off by the closing of a casement.

Someone was knocking at the door.

Denethor either did not hear or did not care. His worn hands, aching with cold and scorning the fire that burned merrily nearby, ever beckoning, continued to cradle the palantír, as Denethor stared frowning into its smooth night black depths.

Why did it not show me…My son…Why could I not see and prevent…

The knocking persisted. A voice drifted through the thick wood of the door. "My Lord?" The voice was familiar, and worried. Denethor did not stir from his chair, and barely cast a glance to the door or to the key that sat on a table nearby.

Then there was a metallic sound in the lock, and Denethor remembered. Faramir had had a copy of the key made.

Denethor forced his heavy head up as the door quietly creaked open, and Faramir stepped inside. After closing the door behind him, Faramir dipped in a perfunctory bow, murmuring something that didn't quite reach to Denethor's ears.

Almost unconsciously, he put the palantír away from him; it would only serve to distract. Denethor took in the look on his remaining son's face, and knew he could not well afford to be distracted.

"Yes, Faramir?"

Faramir stood stiff-backed, somewhat pale (his pallor was not any lessened by his black mourning clothes), and was clearly drawing in his courage to speak the words he wanted to say. "You were not present for…" he broke off, and Denethor felt his face sour, knowing Faramir was trying to spare him further pain "…you were not present today."

"I wished not to witness it," Denethor answered honestly, some spasm shooting over his face. Faramir nodded, a flash of sympathy moving through eyes gray as the sea.

Denethor had always despised attending funerals. And the thought of Boromir's death, even a passing thought, shored up old memories of Finduilas. Finduilas, sickening, dying. Finduilas, lying cold on her bed, hands folded in front of her, long dark hair splayed. Finduilas, shrouded in shades of deep blue and black, silver and a gauzy veil caught in her hair, deep gray eyes closed, skin waxen, lips nigh on blue, as she was interred in her final resting place in the tomb of the Stewards and their families.

It was just too much.

Faramir moved across the room, picking up a poker to stoke the fire and keep it crackling and steady. "As it is, when asked I told the court that you were ill, and wished not to be disturbed."

Denethor allowed for a bitter smile. Ill, yes, and wanting to be left alone also.

Still kneeling by the fire, now holding his hands to profit from its warmth, the voice of Denethor's remaining son drew up once more. "Are you well, sir? Should I have a servant bring up food?"

Three years ago, he would have been trying to draw me down from this tower, instead of simply making sure that I was not taking ill from the draughts. It had ever been as it was now; Faramir feared for his father's health, locked away as he so often was in the highest room in the Tower of Ecthelion, where none but Faramir and… could enter without incurring the Steward's wrath.

Denethor did not know if he counted it as a blessing or a curse that Faramir saw so clearly. That he saw his father for who he was, an aging, stubborn man made ill and prematurely old by his repeated use of the palantír—There are so many days when I would dearly love to put the accursed orb away from me, but it always draws me back, a siren song I can not deny—saw that he was only human.

They would not speak of Boromir. Later, maybe, when the raw grief was not so fresh, and sorrow could be cast aside in favor of the happy memories that both had in such abundance, but that was not now, and neither would speak for fear of seeing their own emotions reflected on the face of the other, and for fear of what that would bring.

"No, no," Denethor waved away the thought with a ringed hand; he had no doubt that all food would inspire in him was the rising of sickly bile in his throat.

Faramir looked down at the fire, crimson flame playing scarlet shadows over his pale face as he knelt. He stared into the fire, not looking at his father.

Was he remembering the brother who had guided him, held his hand and taught him the joys and sorrows of life? Or the mother he barely recalled, the sad angel that had left so soon, too soon for anyone to truly appreciate her, but not too soon for her to be cherished in memory?

Staring into the fire as well, Denethor remembered Finduilas. And he had to know.

"Faramir, what do you recall of your mother?"

Faramir, looked up, startled, and Denethor saw underscored by the shadows of the fire every line, worry and care that had ever impressed itself on Faramir's face, down to the fresh circles that spoke of long nights spent awake instead of sleeping. His son was starting to look like him. "Not a great deal," the younger man spoke slowly, uncertainly. "It was quite long ago…"

"I'm aware of that!" Denethor snapped. "I'm not in my dotage yet, boy!" He fell back into the chair, suddenly exhausted, and secretly ashamed; he had no idea what had made him snap like that. "Just…tell me what you remember."

A pale ghost of Finduilas's smile confronted him as Faramir spoke. Fitting. "She was…kind, always kind. And gentle. And very beautiful, like a spirit of the sea."

And very much like you, I might add. Denethor smiled sadly, rising from his chair and walking towards the window. Minas Tirith was cloaked in twilight, shooting shades of purple and blue mingling over the sky, little stars twinkling like diamond. To the east, the ugly orange light rose from Mordor.

"Aye, she was all that and more, and I do wish you could remember." Denethor lifted his eyes. "There is much you would have remembered," he murmured. You and your brother both. Denethor was assailed by images, old memories. Of Finduilas and Faramir both asleep in a chair facing south, Faramir relatively untroubled in his sleep, Finduilas somewhat restless. More often, it was Faramir alone with her, but at times Boromir would join them. He remembered the way Finduilas would drape her arms around both of her young sons as Faramir climbed into her lap and Boromir wriggled in beside her. His knees buckled, making him brace his hands against the rough stone walls.

"Sir!" Immediately, Faramir was at his side. "Are you unwell?"

Denethor cursed his own weakness, and saw the pity in his son's eyes and recoiled from it. Denethor had never wanted anyone's pity. "I am well," he roughly assured him. "Well enough."

Momentary relief shuddered across Faramir's face. Denethor knew, knew that Faramir had only ever seen him as what he was. Saw the wide streaks of silver in his dark hair and knew it to be a sign of age, not only wisdom. Others looked and saw the Steward, and thought that the world turned on his breath because of his stern authority and imposing presence, but Faramir had never expected the world of him. It was because he saw his father and not the Steward that he feared moments such as this.

Denethor straightened, assuming the vigor that, even as a man old long before his time and only getting older thanks to Boromir's death, still made the court tremble at his anger. "You return to Ithilien tomorrow, do you not?"

"Yes, sir." Faramir frowned slightly, an unidentifiable emotion coming over his face. "Do you wish me to stay? I can remain, if you so wish."

Once, many years ago, Denethor saw Faramir's fate in the palantír, and though he had managed to banish it from his waking thoughts, Denethor doubted he would ever forget the sight. As much as he feared for him in these dark days, as much as he would have preferred to keep his son in Minas Tirith where at least he could be somewhat sure that he was safe, he knew he could not.

Denethor shook his head, feeling older than he ever had, older than he felt even after delving too deeply into the palantír for his safety. "No. We all have our duties. Boromir had his, and we have ours. I would not keep you from your duty. Besides," Denethor managed a slightly conspiratorial smile, which Faramir returned, albeit warily, "I know how you love to skulk amongst the trees. One would think you were more comfortable in the wilderness than in Minas Tirith."

The fire let out a sharp pop. "Go and rest. It is a long journey to Ithilien."

Faramir dipped his head as he went to let himself out. Before he was gone out of the door, Denethor called after him, wearily, "Be safe, son."

The shadow of Finduilas's smile, stronger and clearer this time, met Denethor's eyes. "And you."

Denethor sighed as he settled back into the chair. "Be safe," he whispered into the fire.

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