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14 July 2006 | 162886 words
Title: Family Honor
Author: Mcguffan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rating: NC 17
Summary: Denethor sends Faramir on a mission to Khand. Gandalf provides a Northern ranger to guide and advise the Steward’s son
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Notes: This takes place about ten years before the events of the Fellowship of the Ring. Faramir is about 25. I took what little there was from Tolkien about Khand but most of this is just Anne’s junior anthropology so you needn’t take it seriously.
Please review, I really want to know what people think.
Handing the reins of his sweating horse to a groom, Faramir looked about the courtyard glad to see the City again even if he did not know the reason for his abrupt recall. For two years the young man had roamed about Ithilien leading the troop of rangers Gondor employed to scout, reconnoiter and carry out the occasional lightening raid against troops of the Enemy attempting to make their way west. In that time he had sent weekly reports to Minas Tirith. The reports had been briefly acknowledged by the Steward’s secretary but no word of personal communication had he had from his father before now.
Even to call the letter summoning him a `personal communication’ might well be an overstatement. The Parchment had very succinctly read. `Faramir: I require your presence in the City. Return with all due haste.’ It had been signed `Denethor’. Despite the brevity, Faramir had reread the letter a dozen times and spent a long time trying to glean any information from it that he might have missed before. His close scrutiny, however, did not delay him in obeying the clear meaning of his summons and Faramir had been riding toward Minas Tirith within an hour of the message’s arrival.
Marsel, Faramir’s second-in-command, having been informed of his captain’s intent to depart immediately for Minas Tirith had asked if he or some other should not go also to attend the young lord. This question drove Faramir to yet another examination of the letter. The steward had been silent about whether or not his son should be accompanied. After a moment’s agitated thought Faramir declined any attendants. It had taken a while to adjust to Ithilien and the company of rangers he led but Faramir now felt that he had in some measure won the respect of Marsel and the others. The thought of any of them witnessing an interview between himself and his father filled the young man with dismay. He knew how he appeared before the Steward and he did not want his men to see him thus.
For his part, Marsel worried to see his usually so calm and steady captain flustered. At first, he feared the message contained news of some dire catastrophe- perhaps word that Lord Boromir had met with an injury. That would certainly explain Faramir’s agitation for the steward’s sons were as close as brothers could be but his captain had assured him the letter had mentioned no trouble at all. Marsel had grown very fond of Faramir since he had come to Ithilien. He had never been pompous and he didn’t pretend to know things he didn’t. Faramir had been eager to learn from anyone able to teach him and it was clear that the young captain held the welfare of his men to be his first priority. It was true that Faramir did not immediately impress one as a forceful commander, able to inspire instant devotion and obedience like his brother was famous for but Marsel felt that it was a mistake to underestimate Faramir. It took time but it was impossible not to respect the man. Besides the captain was still young he would grow in authority and confidence as he aged.
Faramir sensed something of the growing bond between himself and his men and it gave him a feeling of happiness and satisfaction he had never had before. He was still amazed every time he gave an order and it was obeyed promptly and without question. It was so foreign to all his earlier experience that Faramir sometimes felt he was dreaming. In addition to the kinship he seemed to be miraculously developing with his men Faramir also found he enjoyed the life of a ranger. The land would give up its secrets with careful study and Faramir enjoyed learning about the world around him. Nature was a fine companion and he grew attune to the rhythm of his surroundings. The services his rangers performed for the larger army helped the steward’s younger son feel useful. It was especially thrilling to be able to guide Boromir’s larger forces safely through terrain thick with the enemy.
There were a few drawbacks with his life in Ithilien, of course. Faramir missed libraries and discussions with librarians. The men of his troop were loyal and adept but none had had much formal education and Faramir missed the company of his tutors. The great relief Faramir had felt at being away from Denethor’s actual physical presence had quickly given way to something more sinister. The Steward’s son found himself stepping into his father’s role. Where Denethor would have criticized him, Faramir took to criticizing himself, where Denethor would have hounded him to improve Faramir drove himself to exhaustion trying harder at all his endeavors. Against reason and all fairness Denethor had seemed to grow more powerful in his absence. Add to all this, Faramir missed his brother. It was true Boromir spent much of his time in near by Osgiliath commanding the garrison but the younger brother craved the reassuring presence of the elder. Only Boromir could fully ease Faramir’s worst fears and moments of self doubt. Even so, frequent visits between the two were made and Faramir had been slowly carving a tolerable existence for himself in which he believed he could even find moments akin to peace in Ithilien. Then the summons came.
As he hurried through the Steward’s palace Faramir wondered for the hundredth time what he had done wrong. He examined all his actions since being sent to Ithilien. What had he done or neglected to do to earn the rebuke he knew in his bones was coming. Faramir considered everything from the trivial to the momentous. All of his dispatches had been sent promptly and according to the strictest form of secrecy and courtesy. He had maintained his patrols. He had led several successful skirmishes… Ah, but that thought gave rise to fearful memories:
The young captain, flushed with the success of several earlier victories had organized a raid against a band of orcs moving west. The plan was executed according to Faramir’s design. All of the enemy were slain but at the end of the day two of his own rangers were dead. It had been the first time anyone had died under his command. He knew both men and liked them. They had been young, lighthearted and trusting. Now they were corpses rapidly cooling in the evening air.
The grief and guilt of it had nearly overwhelmed Faramir. He might not have been able to resume his duties as Captain had it not been for the solicitude of his men and for Boromir. The steward’s older son saw the report of casualties as the information passed through Osgiliath on its way to Minas Tirith and he had run to Faramir’s side. He found his brother in abject misery, too paralyzed with guilt to command his men. Faramir remembered that time as the blackest in his life. He had grown accustomed in his short life to disappointment, shame, the pain of failing to meet expectations but that was all nothing to the agony of being the cause of suffering in others.
Boromir had held him close and told him that it was a mark of his nobility that he felt so keenly for the welfare of his men. He said that time, against all the evidence of the moment, would ease the pain and make it bearable. The first time a captain lost a man was always the worst. The shock of it could be overwhelming but Boromir insisted that the men had not died because of Faramir. They had died because of orcs and the men themselves had chosen to face the danger for love of their City. Faramir had to remember that lives were saved as well as lost. Mostly, though, Boromir was simply there, keeping the worst of the demons away with his solid, loving presence.
The memory of that time caused Faramir to stumble now as he strode down the corridors of the Steward’s palace. That had been eight month ago. Boromir had been right. Time did dull the pain but Faramir knew he would never be completely free of it. No word had come from Denethor concerning the incident either by way of comfort or condemnation. Upon reflection, Faramir doubted that the loss of the two men could explain the summons. It had been too long and the letter had urged speed. Again he was at an utter loss as how to explain it.
Chewing his lip in agitated puzzlement Faramir came to an abrupt halt as the hallway before him forked. If he went left he would soon find himself in the audience chamber where his father conducted business. If he went right then he would come to the family’s private rooms where he could wash and change his clothes. Faramir left off worrying about why he might have been summoned in favor of worrying about how to interpret the words `all due haste.’
On the one hand, he should proceed immediately to the Steward to discover the reason for his sudden recall. On the other, Faramir was mud spattered and rumpled from the rushed journey from Ithilien. Denethor could be fastidious about the appearance of his court. Faramir did not know what to do. Angrily he chided himself for wasting time in indecisiveness. He wondered vaguely if other men worried about such matters or if he was the only fool who had no idea what to do in these situations.
Finally, Faramir decided on a middle course. He would hurry to his rooms, wash his face and hands and brush off the worst of the dust from his clothing then he would hurry to Denethor. Faramir hoped that thus he would be able to make an acceptable appearance while sacrificing little in the way of speed yet the ominous churning in his gut suggested the compromise would not help him.
Putting down the report on wheat, Denethor raised his eyes to regard his visitor. A lifted eyebrow was both greeting and permission for the wizard to state his business. It was an irritation to the Steward that though Gandalf was rumored to be curmudgeonly the old wizard had infinite patience when dealing with Denethor. If Denethor could light upon even the slightest impropriety or breach of protocol he would have the grey pilgrim tossed out of his presence but Gandalf was ever a model of perfect decorum.
“Your son has arrived in the City, my lord Steward.”
“See the seneschal if you are interested in employment as a page. Of course, Faramir is here. I sent for him.” To his annoyance Gandalf treated Denethor’s remarks as good natured humor rather than the calculated insult he had intended.
“Just so.” The wizard replied, smiling as though still appreciating the Steward’s wit. “Shall I take that to mean you have found some little merit in my suggestion?”
Denethor’s jaw set. He reminded himself firmly that there were good reasons for allowing the wizard to believe he had been persuaded. Even so, it rankled to permit the old istar to think him malleable. “It seems to me your idea can do no harm and it may give Faramir more experience of the world. I fear he has been too coddled in this City. I have been too indulgent with him and as a result my second son is spoiled and sullen… and often tardy.” The Steward added loudly as the young man in question entered the audience chamber bowing low to his father and then to Gandalf.
“I believe this mission has a good chance of success and if so Sauron will find himself with fewer allies than he intended. And even if none who live so near his influence can be tempted from him it can only do good to demonstrate that Gondor’s arm is long enough to reach into Khand.” Gandalf put in quickly forestalling Faramir’s apologies which had quickly sprung to his lips as soon as he heard the Steward’s censorious tone.
“I doubt the Variags can be turned from their current master.” Denethor said derisively and then remembering that he was supposed to approve the possible efficacy of just such an attempt he added hurriedly. “Yet it will be no small thing to remind them of Gondor’s strength.”
Faramir who had been listening avidly was temporarily overcome with excitement. “Not all of those who dwell in Khand are Variags. Tribal wars are frequent in that land and I think there might be many enemies of the Variags who would willingly consider an alliance with the west. Alaric, who is the premier scholar of Khand’s history even suggests that several of the tribes…” Faramir, at last, became aware of his audience and trailed off, blushing. The Steward was watching with mounting malevolence as his son talked so enthusiastically.
“Well, well, despite all indications to the contrary all those hours you devoted to study and research will not turn out to be a total waste of time. You are familiar with language, Are you not?”
“I have studied it, my lord.” Faramir replied meekly.
“Well then perhaps we have finally found your strength. It is unfortunate that the times do not call for men who can chat with savages with the urgency it calls for men of war.” Denethor was, as usual, frustrated with his younger son. It was one thing to be drawn to wisdom and useful knowledge. Denethor himself had excelled in his studies but he had also excelled at the soldier’s arts. Faramir lacked backbone and the charisma of leadership. Even now the young man was turning upon him a look of such childish hurt that it made Denethor want to kick him.
If the Steward had been blessed with many children it would not matter so much if one of them was a pedantic little bookworm but in their years of marriage Finduilas had only produced two sons. After her death, Denethor found himself too busy to arrange for a new wife and he was in no mood to court again. Even a daughter would have been preferable to a son who lacked all initiative and could be bullied with a stern look. A girl could be a useful piece in the game of diplomacy. She would have been the most coveted bride in Middle Earth. Allies would have competed in great feats of loyalty to gain such a prize. Meanwhile a girl would be a comfort to Denethor as he aged, keeping his house and tending to all his needs. Again the Steward thanked the Valar for Boromir. The future of Gondor lay with him and his first-born was everything his father could ever want.
Gandalf who had watched Faramir’s head lower contritely in response to his father’s excoriation spoke quickly to divert the Steward. “Indeed many tribes inhabit the land of Khand. Every few years these tribes gather, along with other invited dignitaries and hold discussions, form alliances, settle dispute and declare war as well a host of other things. Such a meeting is to be held soon and I think Gondor will have a great opportunity to impress all those present.”
The wizard regarded father and son. Faramir had been thoroughly squelched and would offer no comment. Denethor seemed almost… bored. Gandalf would not have suspected such a reaction and his curiosity was somewhat aroused. If Denethor wasn’t truly interested in sending an embassy to Khand then why had he agreed?
“With luck Faramir will make a better presentation in Khand than in Minas Tirith. Look at you, you’re filthy.” Denethor said, suddenly becoming aware that the wizard was watching him, as well as being genuinely annoyed that his son would come before him in such a disheveled state.
“I wanted to hurry, my lord. I thought it better to…” The Steward waved his hand for silence. He always seemed to be listening to Faramir’s tiresome excuses. Gesturing to one of the omnipresent and stone faced guards standing discretely around the throne room, Denethor doubted once again, the wisdom of sending Faramir on this mission. The boy did have a gift for languages and the whole idea of soliciting the tribes of Khand for alliances was merely to distract Gandalf and the Khandrim. Yet who knew the depth of his second son’s ineptitude. Well, Denethor would endeavor to keep him on a short leash. The rest was with the gods.
There were a few moments of silence while Faramir tried not to fidget nervously as he watched his father in minute detail, desperately trying to assess if he was genuinely vexed with him or simply using Faramir as a convenient target for his grumpiness, Gandalf tried not to look too openly sympathetic with the still blushing young man beside him and Denethor ignored them both. Then, two men entered in the wake of the guard sent to fetch them. Both bowed before the Steward’s chair at the foot of the steps leading to the empty throne before inclining their heads to Faramir and Gandalf.
“Faramir, this is Lieutenant Gildel and Lieutenant Flyn.” Faramir nodded politely at the introductions. “They will be accompanying you to Khand. Heed their counsel. They are experienced men and I have faith in their ability. They will know better than you in most instances. Listen to them.”
“Yes, my lord.” It had taken a few seconds before Faramir realized his father was waiting for an acknowledgment of his words. Faramir had been given genuine orders. Denethor was not simply making unpleasant conversation or attempting to flatter the new arrivals. The lieutenants had adopted the blank demeanor of soldiers who were unwilling witnesses to a painful scene. They acted as though they were completely oblivious to the fact that one of their superiors had just completely undercut the authority of another superior but Faramir could not help but feel that gaining the respect of these men had just become a much more difficult proposition.
“See that you do. I would like to hear good reports of you.” Faramir tried not to wince. “You leave tomorrow. I’ll send thirty troops with you. That should be enough to impress the easterners. I’m also sending a wagonload of goods you can present as gifts or bribes as needed. All right, that’s all. You may go.”
“Gentlemen, will you dine with me? We have a long journey ahead of us and I look forward to discussing our mission in greater detail.” Faramir invited. He wanted to get to know the men he would be relying on. He had expected instant assent but to Faramir’s surprise Gildel and Flyn looked a bit flustered.
“Your pardon, sir,” Gildel recovered his composure first and his posture straightened. “but we are engaged for this evening. The lord Steward has indicated his wish to talk over a few logistical question about the journey, sir. Thank you for the offer, sir.”
`And not only have I not been invited but I didn’t even know such a meeting was to take place.’ Faramir thought to himself miserably. “Well, there will be plenty of time to become aquatinted later. It is a long way to Khand. Good evening, gentlemen.” Faramir tried to smile as though he were unaffected by his father’s slight.
Murmuring polite words of parting the lieutenants left the steward’s son. `No doubt they are in a hurry to discuss what they have done to irritate Denethor such that they should earn the punishment of babysitting me.’ Faramir thought glumly turning to Gandalf who was now the only other person in the room. “Well, I hope you will eat with me, my friend.”
“I was just wondering how I might finagle an invitation. I would be happy to share a meal.” Gandalf beamed benignantly and Faramir looked back at him with an almost embarrassing rush of gratitude.
By the time Faramir emerged from conducting his ablutions, the food had arrived. Gandalf had not waited upon ceremony but had already buttered a roll. “There is something irresistible about the smell of freshly baked bread.” Gandalf proclaimed, letting his eyes close in appreciation of the hot roll.
“The pleasure is even greater when one has been denied it for a while.” Faramir responded taking a seat and proceeding to fill his plate.
“How goes life in the wilds of Ithilien? Have you learned to get by on roots and berries and collected rainwater?”
Faramir smiled but it did not touch his eyes. “I have not had it as bad as all that and I would gladly subsist on roots and berries if it meant I may be spared some of the more onerous duties of court life. But, in truth, soldiers and especially captains of soldiers eat well enough. There are, though, folk under our protection who must always spare a thought for finding next meal.”
This line of conversation seemed to cure Faramir of much of his appetite. Gandalf waited patiently for more, feeling that the young man might have a great deal he wanted to get off his chest but Faramir did not wish to speak of such grim topics. He wanted to be good company for his friend but more than that Faramir did not wish to lose himself to the sadness that could so quickly and unpredictably sink him into despair if he did not constantly monitor his own thoughts.
“So tell me, Gandalf,” Faramir continued after a moment, forcing himself to adopt a cheerful, bantering tone. “how did you convince the Steward to support this undertaking?”
“What makes you think this was my idea?” Gandalf demanding, feigning innocence.
“You are here for one thing.”
“I am capable of visiting the beautiful White City with no ulterior motive but the appreciation of its elegance.” Gandalf retorted.
“And that is why you came?”
“Well, perhaps not this time, but the tribes have not gathered for seven years. Sauron’s influence increases. I thought this was an opportunity not to be missed. Do you not think it a good idea?”
“On the contrary, I wish someone had thought of it sooner.” Faramir replied sincerely. “It grieves me that men, no different from you or me- well no different from me at any rate.” Faramir amended, remembering with whom he was speaking. “That men should be subject to such evil by an accident of geography. I cannot think that those in Khand are any less strong and steadfast, no less willing to do the right thing as they perceive it than those in Gondor. But with the dark lord such a near neighbor, they are condemned to oppression. I would like to bring a message of hope and solidarity to the east.”
Faramir had been speaking with a great deal of earnestness and the wizard had been studying him closely. As the young man finished his impromptu speech, he suddenly became aware that he probably sounded like a prize prig. `Bring hope to the East’, indeed. Who did he think he was? Blushing furiously, he hoped to make some amends for his over-zealousness in a lighter but nonetheless sincere vein. “Besides, I cannot help but look forward to the prospect of studying a foreign land. And, I am of course delighted to have your company for so great a time.”
“You do me great honor, young Faramir, but I fear our ways will part before we reach Khand, though I shall travel with you for several days.”
“But I thought… I will be disappointed to lose your company as well as the benefit of your advice.” Faramir admitted, trying to mask just how much of his confidence had drained away with the revelation Gandalf would not be with him.
“It is unfortunate but duty calls me elsewhere. I do not intend to abandon you, however. I have made arrangements with someone who has been to Khand several times. He knows the language and the customs. He will be able to guide you better than I could.” The wizard informed the young man, using all his considerable art to conceal the anticipatory glee he felt at the meeting of his two friends.
“Who is this you speak of? He is a scholar? Might I have heard of him?” Faramir asked intrigued.
“Oh, he’s not a scholar. He is just a ranger with a lively curiosity. The festival that will accompany the official meetings draws many and I believe my friend intends to participate in the fencing competition that is always held at such times.”
“He is a warrior, then? I should like to meet him. Why did you not ask him to join us?” Faramir asked, wondering suddenly if he had been unknowingly discourteous to the man Gandalf would have guide him.
“Oh, he did not come to the City. The ceremony that would accompany a meeting with the Steward would not suit his temperament.” Again Gandalf struggled to conceal his amusement. He did enjoy his little games. They always helped to pass the centuries.
“He is a man accustomed to the simple life, then.” Faramir commented, who sympathized with the discomfort of too much ostentation.
“Oh, no. I wouldn’t say that. Not a simple life at all. Not at all.” Before Faramir could question this Gandalf went on. “We will meet him at the end of the first’s day of travel. He shall be waiting for us at an inn in Eastfield.”
From then until Gandalf bid Faramir good night the Steward’s son questioned the wizard about the their guide but the only further information Gandalf would provide was that the man’s name was Strider.
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