- The Greatest Warrior -
Sword clashed against sword; wood against wood, for now, but someday it would be steel ringing above the training grounds, Faramir thought. He shifted on his feet, uncomfortable under the midday sun, and glanced towards his wife. Éowyn watched the display with a blank face; but years of marriage had taught Faramir to read that mask of hers, acquired during the darker days of her life. He knew she was worried.
Turning his attention back to the training grounds, Faramir scanned the couples of fighters for his son's golden hair. Elboron was there, amongst the other boys of his age who wished to join the training to become a Guard of the Citadel. It was a great honor, he remembered, and few were chosen; only the best, the most skilled and daring warriors were given the chance to serve their King this way. There was no place for favoritism.
Éowyn inhaled sharply as Elboron failed to dodge a blow of his opponent's wooden sword and staggered backwards. "Hold on!" she whispered, hands clenched at her heart, completely absorbed by the fight. "Attack! You must attack!"
Smiling at his wife's unusual display of emotions, Faramir watched his son strengthen his grip on the handle of his weapon as though he had heard his mother's encouragement. The boy narrowed his eyes, his face scrunched in concentration; but Faramir was pleased to see that his attention remained focused on his opponent's face. He did not give away his next move, and when he lunged forward, the other boy barely had had the time to parry. But Elboron's opponent was strong; stronger than the smaller boy who was forced to step back under the blows that rained on his defense.
Éowyn sighed as her son fell to the ground, his opponent's wooden blade at his throat. "He fought well," she said, turning to Faramir.
"He lost." Faramir watched the boys shake hands and his son leave the grounds, head hung low in defeat.
"But he fought well." Éowyn looked at him, and he saw reproach in her eyes. "Are you not proud of him?"
Faramir looked away, thinking over her words. There was no doubt in his heart: Elboron was his son. A good, brave boy, kind and intelligent. Faramir loved him with all his strength. But his mind, his treacherous mind whispered something else entirely, something that Faramir would have rather forgotten long ago. The words still stung, after all the years, and from beyond the grave.
Thirty-eight years ago
Why do they hold these selections in summer? Faramir wondered briefly as sweat trickled down his forehead and into his eyes. He wiped it away hastily with his sleeve, loath to leave an opening for his opponent. Clutching the heavy wooden sword, he positioned himself for an attack once again.
"Come on, boy!" yelled his father from the tribunes. "Fight!"
Faramir felt joy swell in his heart at the sound of that voice. His father was there, watching and encouraging him. He would fight, and win, to make his father proud. Just like Boromir did… Despite his exhaustion, he focused once again on his opponent.
The other boy chose that moment to attack from above, swinging his sword at Faramir's head. Faramir barely blocked, the shock of the impact reverberating down his arm and numbing his hand. Swearing through his teeth, he grasped the handle with both hands, the sword suddenly very heavy, and raised it to counter-attack. But he was not fast enough, nor did he possess the other boy's size and strength. He was forced to retreat, sweat prickling his eyes.
How long had he held on? Faramir blinked, his vision blurred, his arms and legs heavy with exhaustion. He saw the blade rise, unable to react. He knew, in a distant corner of his mind, that the impact would hurt, and managed to close his eyes for all protection. The blow knocked the breath out of his lungs, pain erupting in his ribs. Faramir flew backwards, landing awkwardly on the hot sands; the wooden sword fell to the ground and was promptly kicked out of his reach.
"Surrender," said his opponent, towering above him. "You have lost."
"Damn it, boy!" his father roared from the tribunes. "Get up! Get up, and fight!"
"You have lost," repeated the other boy, looking at him with what seemed to be compassion. "Be honest and admit your defeat."
"Get up! You useless wimp, you little coward! My sons do not lose!"
The other boy looked away, embarrassed. "You have no choice."
Swallowing the painful lump in his throat, Faramir nodded. He recognized the truth in those words. How could he not? He had rightfully lost to a better, more skilled fighter. "I yield," he whispered. I have failed. Through the sweat and the pain, he squinted to see his father leave the tribunes in a flurry of robes, never looking back.
"Get up, brother." Boromir crouched beside him, offering his hand. "I bet these sands are not comfortable."
Faramir pushed the proffered hand away, feeling suddenly angry at his brother. Why did Boromir always have to succeed where he, Faramir, had failed, and with such ease that it was enraging? Only five years ago had his brother fought on these same grounds and won his place amongst the future guards. But he had finally refused the position, adding to Faramir's current humiliation.
"Go away!" he snarled. "Leave me alone!"
"If you wish…" Boromir shrugged, but Faramir saw hurt flash in his eyes. "I only thought you needed…"
"Needed what?" Faramir lashed out. "Your pity? Because I'm not as good as you?"
He saw his brother sigh and glance behind him, to their father's retreating back. "I thought you might want some company," he said quietly, then sat down on the hot sands beside Faramir, disregarding the discomfort and the dirt. "You do not deserve pity, brother. You are no worse than me; in many ways you are better." He looked tired, all of a sudden. "Do not compare yourself to me. It is unfair for both of us."
"How? How is it unfair to you? Father loves you, and me…"
"Father loves what he thinks I can become… And cares little whether I desire the same future." He looked Faramir in the eye. "I wanted to become a guard of the Citadel, little brother. To defend my city along with the others, to live the simple life of a warrior. Instead…" He gestured to his richly embroidered tunic, to his sword. "…He made me a symbol of hope. But I do not know whether I can carry such a burden."
He reached out and patted Faramir on the back. "You are a good fighter, Faramir. Give it a few years and your agility will outweigh their sheer strength, your intelligence outsmart their blows." He smiled sadly. "And do not think ill of me. No matter what I become, remember that we are brothers, and that I love you."
He turned around to see his wife looking at him expectantly. Only then did he remember her question. "I will always be proud of him," he said. "No matter who he chooses to become." Reaching out, he pulled Éowyn closer, inhaling the scent of her hair as he kissed her forehead.
"What is it?" she whispered, looking up into his face. "Faramir? You are pale…"
He smiled. "It is nothing, my love. Nothing but an old, bad memory. But it is all gone now."
Later he went in search of his son, and found him at the ramparts, staring out into the plain. Elboron was still in his training clothes, dust clinging to his sweaty skin. He was stabbing grimly at the stone wall with a small dagger, and refused to look up when Faramir came closer.
"How are you faring?" inquired Faramir cautiously. "Are you hurt?"
"No." Another angry stab. "Leave me alone."
Faramir almost chuckled at how his son reminded him of his youth. "I'd rather not," he smirked. "Lest you take down all our ramparts in your frustration and we are left defenseless."
Elboron grumbled something unintelligible, and resumed the stabbing. Faramir waited. He knew that what his son needed was some time; when he was ready he would speak… Or not.
"Teacher told me I fought well," mumbled Elboron finally.
Faramir nodded. "You did. You are quick and agile, and you hide your intentions well."
Elboron's scowl deepened. "He told me I was not built to become a swordsman." He looked out into the plain again, and Faramir read despair in his eyes. "He advised me to turn towards archery… But archers are never great warriors! They are far from the battlefield… What am I going to do?"
Faramir took a step towards his son, and put a comforting arm around his shoulder. "Have I ever told you the tale of the battle that took place down there, beneath our very walls?"
Elboron shook his head, seemingly uninterested, but Faramir knew he had his full attention. Like all boys, his son adored tales of war and battle prowess.
"Well, all Sauron's armies were massed before the gates of the city: orcs, trolls and treacherous men from the South. Even pirates had joined his side to sail down the river and into the port." He shivered involuntarily, imagining the massacre that had ensued. Even if he had not taken part in the fight, he doubted not that there had been little glory on that battlefield, little prowess. Only the desperate courage of those who knew they would fall. "Haradrim were mounted on giant beasts – mûmakil - that trampled the Rohirrim cavalry and Gondorian soldiers alike. Their skin was thicker than leather, their mouths filled with giant tusks that could sweep a horse off its feet. And everyone – everyone! - feared to approach them. Only one warrior, seeing his comrades so threatened, dared try. He ran towards the nearest mûmak, climbed up its leg and onto its back, and cut off the carrier where sat the Haradrim archers. Finally, he slay the beast. That warrior…"
"…Was Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and our King Elessar," completed Elboron grimly. Faramir smiled.
"…Was Legolas, of the Woodland Realm." He patted his son's back teasingly. "An archer, Elboron. An archer, who proved that a warrior's weapon does not define his skill, nor his courage." He smiled as Elboron seemed to think his words over. "You are my son, Elboron, and I love you. No matter what path you choose, I will be equally proud of you."
"But other boys…"
"Are other boys," finished Faramir firmly. "Comparing yourself to them is unfair for all of you." He looked into his son's eyes. "I will never think ill of you. No matter what you become, remember that I am your father; and that I love you."
Chapter end notes:
Denethor is quite OOC in this story - I was inspired by the movie version (the evil father, rather than the man overcome by his duties).