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Family Games (NC-17) Print

Written by December

19 December 2010 | 65301 words

Title: Family Games
Author: December
With: Boromir, Unknown
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Trials, surprises and more than a little temptation await the twenty-year-old Faramir as he embarks on his first military assignment, namely to assume command over the Ithilien Rangers. Was it merely an old man’s eccentricity that led the Steward to suddenly assign his youngest this venerable position, especially in a time when a strange new beast is rumoured to roam the woods?

Disclaimer: The author claims no ownership whatsoever over the characters and settings of this story.

In case you are unsettled by the ambiguous unknown pairing, rest assured this work features no bestiality, no parental incest, no wizard sex, and no intimate relations with characters of my own invention.

Many thanks go to:
The one who provided this request. I found the idea both nutritious for my imagination and in a good way challenging, and hope the outcome is to your liking.
Anastasija – our long conversations have greatly inspired parts of this story.
Alcardilmë – for language advice.

All feedback is highly appreciated!

Written for the 2010 Midwinter Swap.

Request by Nerey Camille: A young Faramir is sent by Denethor to command the Rangers and he finds his reputation (as worthless second son who could never hold a candle to marvellous Boromir) has preceded him. The men distrust him and resent being captained by someone so young, but then Faramir earns their respect and love, either through some spectacular action or by his personal qualities (kindness, justice, etc). Bonus points if you include a ship in the story. I’d like it bookverse regarding Faramir’s looks and personality, and please no romance between him and any of the men.

‘Do you really think … that it is weakness that yields to temptation?
I tell you that there are terrible temptations that it requires strength, strength and courage, to yield to.’

Oscar Wilde

Chapter 1. Long Time No See

Boromir strode into the Tower Hall.

The noon meal was in progress, and at the far end of the long room he saw his father sitting at the middle of a large black-wood table, exactly where the warrior had anticipated to find him.

The young captain’s and his companions’ footfalls echoed sharply off the alcoved dark walls and the high vaulted ceiling, where gloom lurked around the ornate chapiters of the tall polished pillars. It never ceased to amaze the man how coming to this indisputably grand and majestic place not once failed to oppress him and make him feel small and lacking. Besides, on such occasions he preferred to be wearing his official black-and-silver uniform – together with the fur-trimmed cloak and winged helmet – one that best matched the solemn grandeur of the settings. Instead he, as well as the two soldiers he had brought with him, were all sporting their Ranger gear, which, given it was winter, did not spot a single colour that could not be defined as either grey, brown, or taupe. Much as it was extremely practical during the forays, this attire inexplicably made Boromir feel bucolic and laughable whenever he entered his father’s main hall.

He would have changed, of course, had his business been any less urgent. And he knew that today, of all days, the way he looked was not the only thing to render him laughable…

Now, it was not rare that Boromir had to bring unpleasant tidings from Ithilien: after all, this was effectively their border-land with Mordor, so it was only natural for it to receive the lion’s share of the enemy’s activity, including numerous spying expeditions and inroads. Yet it was seldom that Boromir had to speak of the failure of his own troops in their struggle against the dark forces, and that was something he could hardly do without having his pride hurt, or his worth doubted.

The young man was too preoccupied with his cheerless thoughts to pay proper attention to Denethor’s company – and thus it was that only when he came close enough to salute his father and lord, he looked up and noticed the Steward was neither alone, which was the usual case, nor accompanied by any of his elderly counselors.

A young man sat on his immediate right, and that in itself struck Boromir as so odd that he momentarily forgot about his chief concern and almost stammered on his greetings. This seat had ever been reserved only for him, and even when, like today, Boromir was not supposed to be present, he knew it would be kept empty.

This was where the Steward’s son sat, and it defied all logic that some stranger should have been given this place of honour. Admittedly, said stranger looked unmistakably noble, and just as unmistakably rich, judging by his elegant although sober and undemonstrative attire – but that was no excuse. And so young, too, practically a youth, not likely to have passed the mark of twenty.

Boromir did not even try to feign courtesy as he frowned at his father’s guest in questioning puzzlement, trying to comprehend the reason for the special treatment he was receiving.

The first term that came to mind when looking at him, even despite Boromir’s rising displeasure, was ‘fine’. A fine gem he was, pleasant in all senses, fair in a classic style.

The way his glossy raven hair was neatly shorn just above the shoulders and modestly tucked behind his ears, his upright collected pose, the flawless creamy paleness of his skin and the perfect proportions of his regular features would have created a detached and temperate impression, were it not for the sensuality clearly written in the shape of his lips, and the keen attentive intelligence of his clear gaze. And Boromir saw this was an interesting character indeed, for although his dignity seemed so unaggressive and unassuming as to belie excessive gentility, the sharp lines of his straight nose, as well as his strong well-defined jaw suggested quite a bit of will to reside behind the comely façade.

Boromir became so absorbed studying the young man, he did not immediately register the other was looking squarely back at him.

The stranger did not seem in any way intimidated or even bothered to have the tall imposing warrior stare down at him unkindly, and he endured it calmly and patiently, without as much as shifting in his seat, although a bright spark came to twinkle in his clear eyes. But then the corners of his mouth quavered, as though he were fighting down a grin – and in another moment he gave into it, and beamed widely.

And all of a sudden he was altogether transformed.

His smile seemed broader than his face, so full of joy and mirth, so brilliant and sincere. His grey eyes lit up, and his whole face was as though illuminated. And in that one moment he went from fair to strikingly handsome, and appeared older and more mature than Boromir had first taken him to be – and Boromir saw that indeed there was in him not merely gentleness and dignified bearing, but also substance, and energy, and considerable strength.

Although somewhat taken aback by this rather unusual reaction, for the first time in years Gondor’s heir was forced to allow the possibility that he had finally laid eyes upon one who could make him reconsider his up-to-now immutable resolution to –

It was in that one second that it all came back, the past and present charging to clash together with a roar, a deafening confluence of two powerful rivers. Everything suddenly made complete and perfect sense, and Boromir’s breath caught as waves rolled over him, washing heat and colour to his face and neck.

For a moment his voice failed him, then he cried out, “Faramir! Little Faramir!”

And already he was rushing around the table to him, driven by the unthinking animal need to embrace him, to hold him as close and tight as only he could.

“Brother!” Faramir replied in kind, rising to his feet vigorously, and laughed happily.

It astounded Boromir to hear his voice – clear and strong, but much deeper than both his looks and age suggested, far more suitable for a man than a youth. What more, its particular tune happened to have miraculously remained unchanged since Faramir’s childhood – this warm, upward note caught at Boromir, and made his heart contract.

He too laughed out, disbelieving his blessed fortune.

But an instant before he could reach his younger brother, their Father was standing as a wall between them, casting Faramir into shadow. The Steward raised his hand and touched Boromir lightly on the chest, stopping the man.

“You are come early. We have not been expecting you for another week,” Denethor observed with a faint curve of his graying brow.

Boromir blinked at him in confusion bordering on bewilderment.

“Aye, I have news I need your counsel on,” the young captain said a little vacantly, and made to step around the lord to resume his interrupted reunion with Faramir, who now stood motionless, his vibrant enthusiasm having wilted like spring flowers struck dead by an unforeseen frost.

The Steward did not move either, and only his eyes flashed dangerously at Boromir.

“Then why don’t you and your men partake in the meal, and share your tidings?” he asked in an unusually pleasant tone, although his gaze bore into his firstborn to the point of making him physically uncomfortable, so that once again the man became acutely aware of the pesterous discrepancy between his rustic apparel and the refined surroundings.

Boromir’s lips parted as though in confusion, then a look of dismay and great annoyance fleeted across his comely face. Yet he quickly reined his emotions in, and, with no more than a curt ironic grin to himself, bowed to his father and stepped back to take the seat swiftly prepared for him – one directly opposite the Steward.

The captain had not eaten since before daybreak, but his appetite had all but vanished. Yet he knew that if he did not touch the food, neither could the two Rangers at his side – and under no circumstances did Boromir forget about those in his care, even when it came to seemingly little things. So he cut a small piece of the juicy headily fragrant roast, and washed it down with a generous swig of the limpid sourish wine…

Slowly the young heir recounted his news to his father and lord, but as he did, his eyes went ever to Faramir. And the more he looked, the more he marvelled at having failed to recognise him the moment their eyes met. Of course, Boromir had not been prepared for this turn of events, had had no reason to hope to see his younger brother that day – to hope to ever see him, perhaps…

And to think how much time had passed, how much Faramir had changed. Yet at the same time he had not, and the proof was there, in his very eyes. Here it was – that light, that purity, that fundamental goodness of his, somehow coming through even when he did nothing at all. It was this rare quality that made this man seem utterly, physiologically incapable of harshness or scorn, of pettiness or vindictiveness, of hypocrisy or deceit – of any sort of malevolence or dishonesty. And it was this rare quality that had always made him one of the exceptionally few, if not the only person, to whom Boromir would wish to open himself up.

And Boromir saw that Faramir was not so much listening to what he was saying as rather watching him talk. To one who did not know him, Denethor’s youngest would have appeared composed and unperturbed, paying all his attention to his brother’s narration. But Boromir knew well how to read this beloved face, and he caught in Faramir’s gaze signs of the gladness and affection he had so eagerly shown when greeting Boromir, yet now there was also weighty sadness, and longing, and thoughtfulness, and it was clear to the older man that many notions and conclusions passed through Faramir’s quick mind as he sat there still and silent.

Nothing more Boromir would have desired in that moment but to take him by the hand, and lead him away from the burthen of their father’s hard disapproving gaze, from the Rangers’ perplexed glances, and be at ease with him, and talk, and learn what sort of man he had grown into.

But even if that was allowed to happen sooner or later, which Boromir strongly doubted, it would not be until he had profoundly humiliated himself in front of his little brother…

Even more disgracing was that he could not bring himself to actually get to the bloody point of the problem…

He spoke at great length of each encounter his company had recently had with the Orcs, turning to his men to get them to provide yet more details. His whole account, however, came down to one single point: the Orcs had been going as though mad in the past two months, reckless and furious as never before, displaying such rage and determination as though driven by an adamant conviction in their own invincibility. Even though so far the Rangers had managed to fight off all the attacks, and had not suffered any considerable losses at that, the situation was beginning to try their endurance.

At last Boromir fell silent, and a deep troubled frown creased his brow.

“There is little news to me in your words, son,” the Steward pushed away his plate and took his artfully wrought silver goblet to sip on the wine ponderously. “Pray speak of that outstanding occurrence that drove you to end your term prematurely and come here seeking my judgement, even though you ever prefer to manage by your own efforts.”

“Aye, Father,” Boromir admitted sulkily, and after that point would no longer look at Faramir as he spoke to the Steward, “and so we have been trying to manage, for quite some time now, yet, alas, to no avail. I do believe, however, that we can now explain our opponents’ unprecedented confidence. They seem to have a powerful and most unusual ally.”

Denethor leant forth in his seat, his dark eyes lighting up. “What exactly are you saying, Boromir?”

“There is a strange beast in the woods.” The heir sensed his men grow uneasy now that their main predicament was brought up, yet he himself actually felt relieved to finally be getting to the heart of the matter.

Denethor raised his brows, leaning forward just a notch more. “What kind of beast, to be precise?”

“Well,” Boromir stretched out the word, “we are not exactly sure. We… haven’t had a proper sight of it yet. We, actually, haven’t had any sight of it.”

“Oh?” Denethor raised his brows even higher. “That is strange indeed. Then how do you know it is a beast, and is harmful, and is aiding the Uruks? I have had no tidings of your men perishing or suffering any unusual wounds…”

Boromir nodded. “Indeed, no one has been hurt directly – so far, that is. For this… this thing surely is capable of doing any sorts of mischief, should it wish to. We know it walks among us, sneaking about all the time. It must be a spy of the Enemy, and because of it we have had to camp out in the woods and stay clear of Henneth Annûn, lest we betray its location… Although, like I said, we have not yet seen the beast,” he sighed and did his best not to shift nervously in his seat as he added the last bit. “And, in point of fact, we have not heard it make any distinct sound either, so only the Valar know what sort of creature it is.”

“Apparently, it is only they who know whether it actually exists,” Denethor observed drily.

“Oh, we have no doubt it is real,” Boromir said heatedly. But in reply to the Steward’s inquiring look he only frowned yet again and pursed his lips. “Things disappear from camp,” he added reluctantly in way of explanation.

Denethor put his goblet down with a thud. “Boromir, what is it with you today? Why do I have to extract the answers out of you word by word? What sort of things?”

Boromir shrugged. “Some gear: blankets, utensils, sometimes food, too. But not much – mostly it takes arrows.”

The Steward regarded his eldest for a long tense moment, then asked very quietly, “And where is it your men keep their arrows that this thing manages to get possession of them?”

“In the quivers, Father,” Boromir replied as quietly, although going noticeably crimson in the face. “It takes them right out of the quivers at night. And as I said, we have not managed as much as to get one proper look at it. It walks unseen among us, and there is naught we can do. We keep the grounds lit at night, there is a constant watch around the perimeter. All is clear, but come morning,” he sighed and spread his hands in defeat, “we discover a fresh loss. We have made ambushes, set traps, tried to espy it – nothing works.”

Denethor lifted his chin thoughtfully. “Well, I gather none of those stolen arrows have been shot back at you…?”

Boromir licked his lips and took a long deep breath.

“No…” he replied at last. “Not as of yet that is, like I said before. Mayhap it is not there to attack us in the first place, and it pockets our belongings with the sole aim of entertaining its wicked self. I truly do not know what to expect of it, but I would hardly be shocked if it turns out to be a specimen of some hideous new invention of the Enemy that he is testing out for future evil deeds. And the fact that we are so powerless to stop it renders us inexcusably vulnerable. It could cut the throats of half my men in their sleep if it so wished.”

Denethor inclined his head, then took up his wine again. “Yes, that notion is certainly quite unsettling.”

Boromir leant forth, putting his elbows on the table, and spoke passionately. “Father, I am fully aware our case comes in a farcical package, but this is serious! There are no tracks, no marks, nothing. A couple of times we have caught a glimpse of movement, but, given how strung-up everyone is, it could have been merely wind swaying the branches. I do have a surmise, though, that it climbs trees, like a cat would – or else it must have wings. How else would it get past our guard? It is utterly uncanny, and it creeps the men out. Besides, we cannot even be certain that there is only one of it.”

Still the captain refused to meet his brother’s gaze, which he felt with such sharpness it made his skin tingle. He knew he would find reassurance and sympathy if he were to look – but he did not want sympathy, and he did not want pity. What he wanted was a solution.

“My humble opinion, Boromir,” the Steward began in the voice which he had once used for giving his children lectures on how a proper lord should behave himself, “is that what you are dealing with is naught but a thief. A skillful and cunning thief, but no more. Were this indeed some unprecedented progeny of the darkness, it would have given you far more trouble than it has. Much as the Enemy has unfailing confidence in his supremacy, even he would not be wasting such a widely applicable weapon on merely taunting my men by stealing a dart or two from them while they snore away. Don’t you reckon?”

Boromir pursed his lips and straightened up in his chair. “Who am I to argue with you, Father? My only concern is what to do about this matter, and if you would advise –”

“In that case, you need worry no longer. Faramir here were to leave for a placement in the White Mountains later this afternoon, but –”

“Father!” Boromir cried out in shock. “Later this afternoon?! But I was not scheduled to return to the City for the next week! If it were not for these unforeseen circumstances bringing me back today, we would have not even met before his departure…! We have not seen each other for nearly ten years, certainly we deserve –”

“Ah, I see you’ve been counting,” Denethor replied in an exceptionally amiable manner. “Well, duty calls, my son: first things first. We have little time for lush family reunions. Now, if you would kindly let me continue, I was saying I had initially appointed your brother to partake in a mission up in the Mountains, where we have been enjoying some uninvited visits from what seems to be a pair of voracious disgruntled trolls. However, seeing you indeed are back earlier than expected, I would change the arrangement around. You, Boromir, may go and deal with this issue up in Ered Nimrais, for certainly it would benefit from the involvement of an accomplished captain as yourself. And for the meantime, Faramir here shall go serve in your stead and attend to this bother concerning your thief.” At this the Steward turned to his younger son. “You should get to preparing for your departure, you leave first thing on the morrow. You may have my leave.”

“Yes, Father,” Faramir bowed his dark head, and got up at once.

“But –!” Boromir nearly jumped up in his outrage.

Denethor stayed the man with his eyes, and Boromir, fuming, settled back in his seat. But Faramir had stopped in his tracks, and was looking at his brother questioningly, and his gaze enheartened the former Captain of Ithilien.

“But Father,” the man ventured again, “with all due respect to your wisdom, it is too dangerous for him! He does not know the landscape, for starters. This whole situation is such a mess, even we cannot manage, and –” he trailed off, seeing Faramir wince at his last words, and also perceived the men at his side – the men who were now under his brother’s command – grow stiff with tension. “Oh, I… I am sorry, I did not mean it to come out this way. I am sure our grandfather and uncle had done a fine job training you all these years, it is merely I –”

“I understand your concern, brother,” Faramir replied softly, and there was kind sadness in his eyes as he spoke. “I may not have been to real battle yet, but I assure you, I shall do all in my power to prove worthy of the responsibility bestowed upon me, and live to deserve the trust our Father put in my abilities.”

“‘Tis not a matter of trust, Faramir, and I trow you know it well,” Denethor remarked coolly, but as he spoke his eyes were on his other son. “I would ask you to forgive me, but even the most loving father cannot keep his child out of harm’s way forever, for some things a young man must learn he can only learn through first-hand experience,” the Steward paused, narrowing his eyes. “Someday you might understand.” Another pause. “Now, as I said, you may go.”

Chapter 2. Sweetness in the Dark

And so Faramir’s story begins.

He rode out to Ithilien before sunrise the following morning, together with Eldir and Belegorn, the two Rangers he had met in the Steward’s hall.

In other circumstances the young lord would have been glad for the opportunity to spend time with such men, the sort of men he liked to have as friends. They had the familiar reassuring air of rugged, careless manliness, of inborn trustworthiness and dependability that he had always associated with his older brother. Their stern, neatly chiseled features, the keen hard eyes, the relaxed confidence of seasoned, battle-hardened warriors all served to imply a grave no-nonsense personality – yet Faramir was not of the chatty frolicking kind himself, and had nothing against long stretches of good-natured companionable silence.

Were he in a better mood, he would have no doubt found Eldir’s and Belegorn’s presence greatly refreshing after the several days he had spent at Minas Tirith getting to know his father’s court. These two apparently cared very little for refinement, decorum, and fancy talk – they were all about what made up the genuine worth of a man: valour, strength, reliability and loyalty, they were about doing much and talking little, and knowing how to do it well.

Yet as the small party passed through the tall gate and followed the wide empty road through the Pelennor, Faramir’s heart grew increasingly heavy, and he felt neither glad nor refreshed. He understood the way he was going to be received by the rest of the company greatly depended on what these soldiers would make of him, and he saw his chances were low – little wonder, though, given the scene they had been witness to.

The young man wanted to scream with frustration. For his part he may have well understood what agenda had driven his father to speak in such diminishing terms of the Rangers’ trouble and consequent attempts to solve it, as well as to so easily replace his older son, reputedly very popular among the men, with an inexperienced boy of twenty whom nobody had even heard of for the past ten years. Faramir hoped that Boromir – given the sentiments that had passed unconcealed across his face when Denethor would not even allow him embrace his younger brother – also knew that their lord’s decisions had little to do with either Faramir’s or his own capabilities as warrior and captain.

But the men Faramir was assigned to take charge over – how were they to know of the Steward’s purposes? In fact, it was part of the scheme that they did not know.

Hopefully, Boromir was clever enough not to take this replacement as personal offense, as an insult to his previous accomplishments and his ambitions for the future. Boromir may have been rash and self-assured, yet he was no fool, especially when he had direct personal experience to base his judgement on.

But the Rangers had nothing else to found their opinion of Faramir on but the odd exchange they had beheld – and the immediate impression his looks and conduct were to provide.

Yes, his chances were low.

Back in Dol Amroth his appearance had always been on his side – at times even too much on his side. But in Dol Amroth expectations had been different.

He had arrived there as a skinny boy, wearing the label of a high lord’s second son, already so deficient even to his own father’s eyes as to be considered a futureless burden and thus be dumped on the other side of the family to take care of. Yes, Faramir had no elusions regarding the popular explanation of Denethor’s decision to part with him – part so suddenly and so completely.

And before a few seasons had passed and Faramir had grown old enough to understand certain things, he had even entertained the notion himself.

On his first night in the Southern castle – and it had been a dark windy night, chilly and damp – he had been unable to find sleep, unaccustomed to having a bedchamber all to himself. So the boy descended to the common floor to see if anyone else was still up. He heard voices coming from one of the drawing rooms, and saw the friendly warm glow of a blazing hearth, and turned his quiet footsteps that way. Yet before he had made himself seen, he was able to discern that the men speaking were his grandfather and uncle, and they were speaking about him. Not wishing to cause embarrassment he stopped in his tracks – yet curiosity and anxiety prevented him from leaving immediately either, and he overheard part of the conversation.

“I still do not understand this: young Faramir seems fine to me,” Uncle Imrahil said thoughtfully, and from his tone it was clear he had a puzzled frown on his brow.

“Perhaps it is too early to tell – after all, Denethor is no fool, his decisions are usually well justified, and he certainly does not have one child too many,” Grandfather replied just as thoughtfully. “Although I agree, I am also quite perplexed. Had we both not heaved a long sigh when this request came that we accommodate the boy – indefinitely? Had we not speculated at length as to what kind of nuisance we would have to deal with? Perhaps an insufferable arrogant brat, lazy and shallow? A weak spineless coward, pathetic and soppy? Or a talentless unambitious dimwit, mediocre and dull? Maybe someone his father could not trust, a skillful little liar, calculating and cold-hearted?”

The younger man snorted unkindly. “Yes, Father, the latter outcome would have surely left me unsurprised – given his parentage…”

“Imrahil, please! I know you are still sore about your sister, and I am well aware of where you allocate the responsibility – and this is not the time to discuss any of it. In fact, now that we have the boy in the house, I would rather you kept your grievance to yourself altogether. Faramir has been effectively exiled from his home, I am sure he has enough bitterness of his own.”

There was a long moment of silence, and Faramir chewed on his lower lip and clenched his hands, knowing he should go, yet unable to resist the temptation to stay and perhaps shed some light on the matters that so haunted both his dreams and waking hours.

At last Adrahil exhaled heavily and went on, “The point is, your nephew matches none of our guesses – for that matter, I see no fault with him at all. He comes across as a perfectly normal boy, perhaps a little shy and on guard, but that is only natural given the circumstances. But apart from that… He is hale and comely, modest and complaisant but not without some healthy confidence, and from what I’ve heard of him talk, I’d say he’s sensible, and sharp, and unusually mature for his years.”

“Do you know, my father,” Imrahil mused softly, “I would go even further than that, and say that he is outright charming. We had all sorts of prejudices against him, and already we like him – and not only we. The young maids, I have heard, are waging a war over the right to clean his room – that is certainly telling, isn’t it? My brother’s-in-law argumentation notwithstanding, I believe we might come to actually enjoy Faramir’s stay with us.”

At that point Faramir’s prudence got the better of him, and he headed back to his room.

Although the boy did feel relieved to hear the men speak kindly of him, on the whole his little expedition proved to render him sleepless not only on that particular night, but for many more to come – and shame of eavesdropping on his elders was by far not the main cause. He would lie on his back staring into the darkness, listening to the nervous sound of his own breathing, trying to understand. He had suspected as much, and now that he had heard others voice his thoughts, he knew it to be true: he had done something to direly displease his father – or else his father had discovered some fundamental unfixable fault with him.

Much as Faramir raked his mind for a recollection of some outrageous offence on his behalf, he could find nothing. His behaviour was not perfect, of course, but hardly any more ‘not perfect’ than that of any other boy his age – if anything, he was actually far less troublesome than the average pre-adolescent lad. Yet far from bringing him comfort this thought filled him with innermost blind dread, for if he had done no misdeed, it could only mean there was something gravely, hideously wrong with him, with his very self – so very wrong that he had no idea what it could possibly be.

Yet even though he could not come up with as much as a half-plausible guess at the nature of this accursed flaw, the boy knew there must be something indeed: he had proof.

He had been unable not to overhear another exchange, back in Minas Tirith, earlier that very day when without any warning he would be told to take supper in his room and prepare to depart on the morrow. Many heated words had passed between his father and sixteen-year-old brother, yet Denethor had been the only one talking loud enough for Faramir to catch something. Most of it had seemed meaningless to the boy, yet one particular bit he had comprehended well enough.

Boromir muttered something spiteful, and then for the first time in Faramir’s memory dared raise his voice at the Steward – but his cry was hoarse and clouded with tears of powerless anger, and entirely incoherent for that.

“Unfair?” Denethor retorted sarcastically, apparently reiterating a part of Boromir’s last line. “Damn sure it is. But seeing as I am now forced to part with one of you, I would rather it be him.”

Ten years later Faramir understood everything his father had said to Boromir back then – and could well imagine what Boromir had replied. But that was of little relevance at this particular hour, when the task at hand was to start on the right foot with the Rangers.

What was relevant was that he was no longer in Dol Amroth, where being amiable, polite and unassuming had often been more than sufficient to keep people happy. They had prepared themselves for a bother, and instead received a boy who took very little of their time and did not add to the lists of their worries. That on top of it he was pleasing to look at had only been seen as a plus.

But with these men now his fairness was hardly a strength – if anything, they were likely to take him for a spoilt self-assured fool used to getting everything on the sheer grounds of having a pretty face. He also suspected that most of the soldiers, if only they were not much younger than his two current companions, could have daughters of marriageable age – and with such folk young attractive men were hardly particularly popular.

Faramir, being unpresumptuous of character, would have never come to actually define himself as attractive, had he not been given countless and mostly uncalled-for testimony of the allure he exerted over the gentler sex. Said testimony ranged from the subdued little expressions of interest like the long wistful glances, the veiled artful compliments and incessant giggling – most of which he preferred to attribute to the inborn female propensity to coquetry – to the more prominent ones. Among the latter was the collection of anonymous letters he had accumulated over the recent years, some romantic and innocent, others quite educational in the explicitness with which they denoted to what use the author would like to put the endurance the young lord had acquired in his military training. Other examples were the caring solicitous inquiries as to whether he was feeling lonely so far away from home – inquiries that always happened to take place in some private secluded location, and also happened to be accompanied by serious meaningful looks and confidential pats and caresses planted on his forearm.

Faramir had never encouraged any of this attention, even when he did find the other party engaging and lovely – for reasons of his own he had long since developed a wariness of the sensual side of life, and to merely consider the subject brought about unease and a vague sensation of indecency and shame. Thus he had come to prefer and even seek the society of women who did not envision him as their husband or lover, for with them he could enjoy himself and be a man without feeling threatened or growing uncomfortable and ill-at-ease.

Yet again, the Rangers knew nothing of this, and he was certainly not going to tell them. That aside, all their other assumptions about him, unlike those of his grandfather and uncle, unfortunately happened to be correct.

He was exactly what they saw him as, namely unworthy of the role he had been given: he was young, without any experience whatsoever either as a fighter or an officer, and very little like his brother apart from the features of his face and the colour of his hair. Word of Boromir’s uncontainable prowess, of his love for battle, of his passion for risk, of the fact that his body simply lacked the organ responsible for generating fear, of how easily and naturally he established unquestionable authority over his men and gained their devotion – word had long since spread throughout all of Gondor, and had well reached Dol Amroth, so that even there instances had occurred of Faramir being referred to as ‘Lord Boromir’s brother”.

Faramir, on the other hand…The last anyone in Minas Tirith had heard of him was that upon turning eleven he had been sent to reside in far South with his mother’s side of the family – presumably for educational purposes. But everyone in Gondor knew that for a proper upbringing, including military training, men sent their sons to the capital, not away from it. The swan-knights of Prince Adrahil may have been esteemed for their finesse and stamina, and their school enjoyed a fine reputation, yet for the past few decades they had ever only displayed their skill at pompous festive tournaments…

The Rangers of Ithilien were the elite, the best of the best, handpicked by the Steward himself – even to join their ranks as a cadet was an honour to be hard earned. And here he was, a beardless boy of twenty, all of a sudden given command over them, handed this position on a plate – this same position that his brother had paid for with sweat, blood and an immeasurable amount of work. Truly, Faramir could not blame the Rangers for being less than thrilled.

And thrilled they were not, and did not try to pretend otherwise.

Faramir needed to talk to them, if not to establish a personal connection, which he had little hope of succeeding at, then at least to learn all the matters that he, as the new captain, could not afford not to know. Eldir and Belegorn, however, seemed intent on staying several feet behind, as though in order to keeping a respectful distance from their superior – needless to say, this did little to facilitate the conversation. Faramir either had to raise his voice, or keep talking over his shoulder, neither of which he enjoyed.

What was most annoying about this seemingly puny inconvenience was that it was a sign of a worrying tendency. Faramir could live without these people’s understanding, without their affection or approval. He could stand them to think he spent all his free hours seducing naïve gullible girls, that he wanted to rival with his much worthier brother for their father’s favour – even that he despised them all and considered himself infinitely above them. But he could not manage without their cooperation – in fact, it was in their self-interest to help him be a better captain, for, ultimately, their survival depended on the wisdom of his decisions.

Yet he saw clear as day that at least these two Rangers were closed to him. The young man asked many questions regarding the work ahead, and they made their answers as short and undetailed as they only could without actually refusing to reply – so that he was forced to ask yet more questions, and the whole talk was growing rather awkward and strained. What rendered him even more awkward was that he was beginning to get the unpleasant impression both Eldir and Belegorn were deliberately presenting themselves as men duller than they actually were, as though playing along with what they reckoned a haughty young lord would take them to be: dense narrow-minded commoners.

Faramir’s candid nature nudged him to be sincere with these men and say, “Look, I know you are unhappy with me being here, and so am I, for I know this is not my place. I understand you are wary, and distrust me, and resent me for having played however unintentional a part in humiliating your beloved captain and your entire unit, which to me all seems fairly justified. Truly, I regret this is what things have come to – yet it is not in my or your power to change this arrangement, so wouldn’t it be more beneficial for all of us to try and make this work somehow?”

The young man may not have been to war, yet he knew a little about the workings of a man’s heart – knew enough to understand that all his good intentions would be entirely misinterpreted, and at least for the present such a speech would serve only to turn things for the worst.

And so he said nothing, and did not ask his two companions to ride abreast with him.

Only once did Faramir’s spirits lift throughout the whole trip: when they crossed the bridge at Osgiliath and finally entered the woods. Even at this time of year, when the ground was brown with last season’s withered grass, and the trees stood stripped of their emerald vestures, he could feel the intense flow of life in this place. The air itself seemed fresher and more fragrant, as though spring were already approaching.

At this point the young captain held his mount back to let Eldir overtake him and lead the way. Faramir was dismayed to note that now that they were embarking on the final part of the journey, his heart took a leap and began to pound in earnest – he still hoped the men he was soon about to meet would miraculously take to him, and this whole venture would be saved from turning into a complete disaster.

The party turned north-eastwards and for more than two hours followed some unseen path, the older Ranger confidently finding his way through the thickets, around gullies and across smaller brooks so that they had not once had to dismount. Faramir said nothing, yet to him the place felt distantly familiar, too, at least it had until they moved out of hearing distance of the River: after all, in his childhood years he had been on the Eastern bank of Anduin many a time, and the deeper layers of his memory carried some recognition. He wondered how long it would take him to learn the terrain like Eldir did, and whether he would be given the time…

Faramir had grown thoughtful and was startled when Belegorn who rode behind made a whistle akin to how a bird would, at once ringing and soft, long and intricate. Even though the trees were bare and visibility was good in the clear morning air, the answering whistle that came almost immediately sounded unnervingly close. A few seconds later arrived yet another one, about two or three hundred yards ahead, and then again, still further away.

Yet the men did not actually meet or even see anyone until they practically entered the Rangers’ camp itself. They passed around the bend of a steep rocky mound, rode out of the dense thicket, and suddenly in sight came a neat clearing with people busy about.

At once they were spotted by one of them, a tall middle-aged man with silver in his hair, all clad in brown and grey. He straightened up, wiping his hands on the front of his jerkin.

“You are back already!” he exclaimed with a pleased grin, heading towards them.

Reining in his mount, Eldir turned to Faramir and said loud enough for the approaching Ranger to hear, “This here would be Dearmad. He was in charge of the company in the captain’s absence.”

Before Faramir could say anything in return, Dearmad gave Eldir a good-natured thud on the thigh. “Begging your pardon, my good sir – ‘was’? I still am, unless a toothless cub like yourself would like to put that to a challenge. In case you’ve forgotten, ‘twas our Captain Boromir himself who assigned me this post, and it shall stay mine until he returns – and, much as it pains me to say so, I don’t see you bringing him with you now.” There was a faint questioning note in his voice, as though he hoped Eldir would say that no, in fact Captain Boromir was due to arrive any moment now. The Ranger even craned his neck to throw a searching glance behind the company. “Well then,” he concluded with an air of finality and a resigned sigh.

Then his eyes turned to Faramir. Taking in at a glance the young man’s brand new ranger garb and his alert anxious expression, Dearmad smiled warmly. “So, a new arrival, I take it? ‘Tis not usual for us to get cadets at this time of the year, but oh well, we could stand to use some extra help around here. Get down, son, I’ll find someone to show you around the camp. I see you’re very young, but don’t count on getting any special treatment: we’ve got a lot on our hands these days as is.”

Faramir took a deep breath, meaning to finally get a word in edgewise, but just as he opened his mouth, Eldir, who had already dismounted, said, “Actually, my good sir, this is our new Captain. Young or not, you might want to reconsider calling him ‘son’.”

Dearmad gave the other man a look of unconcealed annoyance. “Darling, I don’t mean to be brutal, but ‘tis time someone finally told you humour is not your strongest trait. One lame tease a day is more than enough. Alright?”

“Don’t fret, I’m well aware of that. That’s why I am being kind and not teasing you right now,” Eldir gave him a tight smile and patted the older man sympathetically on the shoulder. “And Lord Boromir isn’t coming back, by the way.”

“Oh,” Dearmad looked up at Faramir, and the change in the older man’s expression as the truth sank in confirmed to the young lord that his stay would be something to remember.

That first day had passed in a blur, although on the surface it had been quite uneventful: no attacks, not even a sight of the enemy.

As time for sleep had at last arrived and Faramir settled down by the fire, his starkest recollection of the day was the desperate, burning shame that consumed him as was receiving Dearmad’s apology for the disrespectful conduct the man had allowed himself on the grounds of misunderstanding, for which he apologised also.

Faramir had hurried to jump off his horse, so at least he would not be physically above the man. He saw it made no difference, though: Dearmad was completely lost to him already, buttoned up to the very chin. It was almost as though it were a different man before Faramir: all his patronising friendliness, his good-natured grumpiness, his pleasant familiarity were gone without a trace.

To his utter horror, Faramir had realised that their arrival had not passed unnoticed, and the strange hold-back was attracting even more attention. The other members of the camp were quickly gathering around them, looking on in wonder…

Lying down and shutting his eyes, the young captain did his best to rid his mind of the images, and soon drifted off into troubled dreamless blackness.

Faramir’s eyes flew open.

The morning was still far, far away, too far to even seem plausible.

The young man was lying on his side, and behind himself he could sense the slow deep warmth of the dying campfire – not a fire as such, only the dimly crackling embers. What light they might have been yielding was securely blocked by his back, and ahead of himself he saw only the thick, impenetrable darkness of a cloudy night.

But he knew there was someone in the darkness. He had known it before he awoke, and it was why he had awoken. It was looking at him, and he had registered as much with his very skin.

He could see nothing, absolutely nothing, not even the overall shape of it, yet he knew beyond reasonable doubt that this was no other but the source of Boromir’s frustration and anger, come to pay Faramir a visit on his first night with the Rangers.

Strangely, he was unafraid. Although it was not strange, but only rational: there was no point in fearing, death was inevitable. Faramir knew the stranger had him nailed: no matter how fast Faramir’s reactions may be, it would still require him at least a moment to reach for his blade and draw it out, certainly enough for his observer to end his life with one precise stab of a dagger, or whatever weapon it used. And even if Faramir managed to get that far – what next? Would he blindly throw himself forth relying on luck to guide his strike? Or would he roll back and scramble away in hope of making a swift escape? Would he simply shout at the top of his lungs to alarm the guards and scare the visitor away? In whichever scenario, the unseen creature would have enough time to finish him off before safely disappearing into the night.

Faramir also understood, of course, that the most appropriate thing would be to raise the alarm. He would die, yes, but at least the others would have a chance of catching the intruder.

And yet…

He lay still and silent.

He did not feel ashamed of his inaction, though, for he knew it was caused by neither reluctance to part with his life, nor by stupefied indecision. He sensed very clearly, although he could not come anywhere near being able to explain it to himself, that doing nothing at all was the one proper course to take.

So he lay on his side, looking where he was certain – although why? – was the creature’s face, or snout, or wherever it had its eyes. He knew he was being studied in return, studied with keen, highly intelligent attentiveness. He could sense no malevolence behind it, only a shade of apprehension – and the whole notion did not unsettle him. For some reason, it only intrigued and amused him, and he felt himself getting progressively excited by the situation, to the point of his cock twitching in his trousers.

Had he known mortal danger could be this fun, he would have understood his older brother a little better.

Faramir strained his senses, striving to catch the stranger’s smell, to make out the sound of its breathing. Yet there was nothing besides the usual scents and noises of a sleeping forest.

And then, exactly where he was gazing, about two feet from the ground, Faramir saw a momentary gleam, the dim symmetrical reflection of light on a pair of eyes. The young man gasped sharply – and then, amid the general blackness, he saw a vague shape only a shade lighter than the rest of the night swiftly fall away to the side, swerve around and disappear. It had not made a sound – he had only felt a gentle wave of air on his face.

Faramir sat bolt upright, breathing heavily, as though he had just come back from a blood-curdling nightmare.

The warrior sleeping next to him stirred.

“Som’thin’ amiss?” he murmured hoarsely.

“No, no,” Faramir whispered hurriedly, settling back down.

It did not take him too long to steady his breathing, yet even trying to close his eyes was out of question.

And then, as he looked up at the starless sky through the net of naked branches above, Faramir’s mind registered two rather unnerving things.

First, he did at last catch an unusual scent, one that was rapidly fading away now that the visitor was gone. A trace of the sweet redolence of melliferous herbs. Nothing out of the ordinary about it in the heart of the woods, of course – except that it was the middle of January, and not a single flower was yet in bloom.

And second, Faramir was having a stunningly powerful, throbbing erection.

Chapter 3. Hunters and Prey

Days went slowly by, each intense and packed to the brim with things to attend to and worry about, yet at once exactly akin to the one before it. For the time being Faramir did not mind the repetitiousness though, for it gave him at least an illusion of security and stability to comfort himself on. And so busy his duty kept him that it was not until a few weeks had passed that Faramir, to his great astonishment, realised that aside from constantly feeling miserable and alone, he was actually rather pleased with how everything was going.

For one, no calamity had happened. Quite a few encounters with the enemy had taken place, some hardly worth a mention, others stretching into full-blown skirmishes – and not one of Faramir’s men had been slain or even seriously injured, whereas not one Orc that entered Ithilien had made it to the River. What scathes and cuts the Rangers did receive were light enough to be fixed back at the camp and not once did require the soldier to return to the City.

Admittedly, Faramir was aware the others did not approve of his ‘style’: too cautious, too on-the-safe-side, too wait-and-see, too let’s-think-everything-through, too prudent, too sensible. Captain Boromir, on the other hand, had always been more about let’s-kick-their-arse and tear-their-ugly-heads-off. Fighting for Captain Boromir was not only rewarding – it was fun. Captain Boromir’s hardiment was contagious, it filled the soldiers with the same belief in one’s inborn invincibility that the heir himself apparently entertained. Not to mention Captain Boromir would have managed to get the same work done with half the people in half the time.

Of course no one said as much to Faramir’s face. They did not even say it among themselves when he was out of earshot. They had no need to, for these were things everyone knew without speaking – everyone including Faramir himself. Yet from the very beginning he had resolved to do his job his own way. He would much rather be deemed cowardly and indecisive than get half the company killed in a feat of pointless boldness. Besides, the young man saw no point in trying to imitate his older brother, for he knew he would never come near reaching the sacred ideal, not in the men’s eyes, not in his own.

For goodness’ sake, he would not even be able to grow a proper beard like the rest of them. Much as Faramir’s hair was thick and glossy, the stubble on his cheeks and chin was still far too sparse to deserve anything but the razor – and the razor it got, first thing every morning. Let the men gaze on in wonder: he did what he could to fit in – but he would not stand to have them think he was going out of his way. Better to look like a boy than a boy desperately striving to be taken for a man.

And if anything, Faramir had to give the Rangers some credit for how they were dealing with the bitterness about this inferior replacement. They put up with him, bore their burden with stern dignity.

The men had too much maturity and self-respect to be petty with him or try to make his life unnecessarily difficult. They did not dispute his decisions unless for a very good reason, did not provoke or challenge him in any way, did not make a show of finding his presence unwelcome.

Their hostility was of the chilly, withdrawn kind.

Only one expression of disagreement with Faramir’s being there did they allow themselves, and a well veiled one at that. They did not call him Captain. He was ever ‘my lord’ and ‘your lordship’. Technically, there was nothing wrong with that, for it was one of the ways to address a man of his breeding – yet he knew well enough they did this on purpose, and knew why they did it. Every nobleman bore that title, even those who had never left the safety of the city walls, even those who were only five years old, and by calling Faramir ‘lord’ the soldiers paid respect only to his lineage, not to who he was as a man.

He had thought about this matter, and concluded he was fine with it. After all, the men obeyed his word, however unenthusiastically, they gave their honest opinion when asked for advice, and did not abandon him in the face of danger – and if they found a bit of consolation in reserving their commander’s proper title for their beloved Boromir, Faramir was not going to rob them of it. An open confrontation would be of little use in any case, for even if he got the Rangers to address him according to his rank every single time, his standing with them would hardly improve for it.

Thus days wore on, and springtide came to Ithilien. All living things awoke from their sleep, and the woods filled with birdsong and the sound of leaves whispering in the wind. The Rangers traded the cheerless drab palette of their wintertime gear for a somewhat more up-beat combination of various shades of leafy verdant and warm earthy brown, their cloaks no longer a faded dusty grey, but rather a velvety tobacco-green.

It was then Faramir decided time had come for another change as well.

Two months had passed without a single nocturnal visit to the camp, and not one thing had gone missing, and the young man could not quite make up his mind whether to be relieved or unnerved by this sudden development. Besides, he strongly suspected it was not that sudden at all, for the way it had perfectly coincided with his arrival as the new captain did not, in fact, seem much of a coincidence. And whereas at the beginning he had deemed the bizarre experience that had taken place on his first night with the men to have been naught but a trick of hid over-wrought nerves, now the young warrior was becoming more and more convinced something important had indeed come to pass back then.

In any case, he had come to feel they could once again make use of the original Ithilien base for the troops, the well-hidden cave at Henneth Annûn, instead of staying out in the open at all times. Faramir understood that from the rational point of thinking this was not a sound verdict, for if the unknown beast Boromir had spoken of was indeed a spy of the Unnamed – and what else could it be, really? – it was in all likelihood simply biding its time to trick the Rangers into relaxing and slackening their guard. Yet much as it may have been so, Faramir felt a strange certainty that the creature no longer wished them harm, if ever it had.

Thus on a clear sunny afternoon they moved, so now in the evenings the men returned not to the clearing, but to the water-curtained roughly hewn hall of stone, where they could eat at real tables and sleep in real beds. The configuration of the cave was such that it did not allow for a large fire to be lit, and therefore would have been frosty in winter, yet now that the nights grew ever balmier, the rearrangement brought nothing but comfort.

Apart from that, the days went on as before. The end of Faramir’s term was drawing nearer, and soon he would have to leave his post to return to the City for a couple of days to report to his father and lord. The young captain was beginning to believe that, unless Denethor were to be interested in the detailed description of the Rangers’ every brush with the enemy, he would not have all that much to recount to the Steward.

Then one day that altogether changed.

Soon after the morning meal was finished and the men departed to their appointed posts, Faramir received an urgent report of some highly peculiar happenings taking place in the forest. A large company of Uruks, all armed to their teeth, was charging through the woods, forfeiting all notion of stealth and caution. They shouted, and screamed, and swore, they brandished their blades and shot arrows, they stomped, and thumped, and trampled down every growing thing in their path. Much as this was generally unusual, most unusual of all was that their actions did not seem in any way directed at the Gondorian soldiers.

“Truly, my lord,” Belegorn who had witnessed it was saying to Faramir, the soldier’s face screwed up in puzzlement, “it looks like they are doing this with no purpose at all. Either they’ve stepped on a nest of those savage wasps – but ‘tis a little early in the year for wasps, isn’t it? – or they are playing tag. I’ve been serving around here for the past fifteen years, and I’ve never seen the likes of it… If they are having a bit of a quarrel amongst themselves, which does tend to happen given their foul tempers, then it must be one marvel of a quarrel…”

“Yes,” Faramir nodded thoughtfully, “I can hear it even from here. Well, let us have the men gathered, and we shall see if that quarrel could fit some additional participants.”

And so the young captain and his warriors followed the Orcs discreetly on their wild chase, waiting for the perfect moment to join the party – and also for their foes to tire out a little.

Eventually it became apparent the creatures were playing no game – they were on a hunt. And the object of their pursuit soon came into view. There was not much of it the men could make out, though, only a glimpse of a vague shape flickering through the trees now and again. It did not appear that much different from the Orcs, at least from the distance, except that it moved with lightness and agility none of them could even dream of. It ever outran and stayed well ahead of the crowd following it, and the only reason it could not altogether escape was that it was alone against what the Rangers had counted to be nearly three score, and the Orcs used that advantage well. They had spread in a wide curved line, chivvying their prey from the sides, forcing it to dart left and right, and double on its tracks, securely keeping it on some course they apparently had in mind.

Faramir had come to know the woods well by then, and before long he perceived their plan. And the order was made for the men to get at the ready, for the moment was approaching.

The Uruks drove their game into a large bare clearing that went slightly uphill for a couple hundred yards, then ended in a sheer drop of several dozen feet, thus making up one of the tall eroded banks of a broad albeit shallow creek, water gurgling nonchalantly on its rocky bed.

The Orcs cried in glee, for they knew of the precipice and thus considered their deal closed, since their catch had nowhere to flee else it would haul itself into the brook to its certain death – nowhere, that is, except up the trunk of the tall mighty oak standing in proud solitude sheer steps away from the brink, already sporting a lush merry attire of long wavy-edged leaves, light and soft in colour like the finest jade.

The shouts of triumph abruptly changed to curses and shrieks of rage, for the Orcs realised the error in their judgement too late: theirs was no ordinary prey, and, after ducking from what black-feathered arrows they sent its way, it leapt and easily caught on to the lowest branch of the tree, which was at least ten feet above the ground, and swiftly hauled itself up to disappear amid the bountiful foliage. A mere second later it fired back at its hunters, then again, and both its bolts struck true, this time evoking screams not only of spite but also of fear.

Although technically they had it cornered, the Orcs fell back, for neither one wished to perish getting their enemy down. They showered the tree with arrows, yet their aim was obscured by spite and leaves, which was soon confirmed by another retaliation, once again perfectly precise. Two more Uruks fell with feathered wood sticking out of their eye and throat, and the others scattered around the clearing, well aware what easy targets they made out in the open.

It was then that the Rangers struck. Before the Orcs could realise what was happening, their number was halved. Panic ensued: they had no enemy to assault in return, for all they got was green-fletched death flying forth from the fringe of the woods. A few bet on luck and tried to break forth by charging blindly through the trees, but were felled by the Rangers’ swords within seconds – but most merely stampeded around, some even falling down into the creek, and not one took a stance to shoot back at the unseen attackers.

Before ten minutes had passed, it was over, the wood once more quiet except for the hoarse groans of those Uruks unfortunate to have suffered such wounds that did not bring immediate death. Yet much as the soldiers of Gondor prided themselves on always having the decency to mercifully finish off their defeated opponents, now no one was in a hurry to step out into the clearing and set about the job, for first there was another business to attend to. It was impossible to tell with any degree of certainty what fate had befallen the creature that had recently been orcish prey – and whether it had any arrows left if it was still up in the tree, and still alive.

None of the men had seen it fall or try to make a getaway amid the general commotion, but then again, they were unsure what it looked like. In the few moments it had spent outside cover the Rangers had caught a few glances, yet that was of little help. All that could be told was that it was a being of about the same make as a Man, but it was all dark and strange in colour, either as though it was desperately, hideously dirty, or had a troll-like scaly hide. It seemed to have been wearing some sort of tattered rags, although once again no one was sure. For all they knew, it could now be lying dead among its foes, and the warriors would not even recognise it.

Several men staying on the watch-out for any sudden development, the others gathered to discuss the available courses of action. As various propositions were put forth, Faramir, his green mask lowered to his neck, kept looking over the battlefield in thought, and his eye fell on one of their injured opponents. The Ors was spread before the captain’s eyes some forty yards up the slope, lying in a half-sitting position with a large boulder propping up its back. He had a bolt planted deep into his thigh, and two more in his belly, so close to one another the shafts nearly touched. Yet still death would not take him.

He trembled and kicked convulsively with his hale leg, and squirmed in the gathering pool of his own dark blood. His clawed fingers were wrapped stiff around one of the arrows in his stomach, as he obeyed the overwhelming instinct to try and wrench it out despite the futility of the action and the insufferable pain it caused. Chest rising and falling feverishly, he wheezed and croaked, his already abhorrent features wrought into a mask of horror and anguish.

Faramir’s mouth contorted and the muscles in his jaws flexed, for the sight was verily sickening, both the Uruk himself and his beastly agony. The young captain had never seen such a large aggregation of dead bodies, and the overall view was enough to make a gentler man’s stomach turn, not to mention the smell – and now this one particular image on top of it all roused in him little but an overpowering desire to avert his eyes at once, and never look back.

Then suddenly Faramir wondered whether in that moment the creature envied those around it, already unshackled from their suffering, and whether the thick clingy stench of their – and its own – foul blood penetrated its senses.

And just like that, unobserved to the men around him, something vast and massive shifted and settled in Faramir. What he felt for his defeated opponent was not pity, not sympathy and definitely not regret – it was understanding. Not some intricate philosophical epiphany it was, but much rather the most primitive sort of understanding only possible, one that can be seen in the eyes of one animal watching another animal die, understanding that cannot be hindered even by bone-deep hatred. There was a colossal breath-stopping universality in what the Orc was going through, for all mortal things were destined to meet their end, and the specific manner of his departure made no difference – a wild beast could go this way, a Man could go this way…

And in that moment Faramir knew that for him to spare the Uruk its torment was not a question of decency, or military honour, or simply putting a stop to a repelling spectacle – it was something far deeper, something so crucial to his sense of self that he could not even put a name to it. He met now the force that would ever guide him in all his actions, and it felt natural and fitting to rely upon this guidance.

As the others kept speaking in lowered voices, he stepped aside and, not taking his eyes off the writhing Orc, reached back over his shoulder to pull a long arrow from his quiver.

The Rangers turned around sharply as the air was cut by the loud vibrating sound of the bowstring releasing the bolt. For a second they thought Faramir had spotted the stranger, but then saw the splayed Orc arch rigidly in one last throe and slump back limply.

For a heartbeat all was silent, and then a short forbidding cry pierced the grove, and it came from the old oak.

Faramir, shaking off the sensation of emptiness that followed the shot, raised his brows and commented evenly, “Well, this answers two of our questions: it is certainly alive and still up there.”

“I believe, my lord,” Dearmad said darkly, “that it also answers another question: this thing is in no mood to have any dealings with us. I may not understand its tongue, but that was an advice to keep ourselves out of its business.”

“Aye, so it was,” Faramir agreed with a thoughtful nod to himself, and turned his eyes to the tall ominous tree. He said no more for a while, and the warriors proceeded to debate amongst themselves how the situation could and should be tackled.

The Gondorian longbows could easily cover three hundred yards and more, and the oak where the stranger had taken refuge was little more than half that distance away, so, strictly speaking, it was well within their shooting distance even without them abandoning the protection of the trees. The dense foliage of the mighty tree, however, hid their target so completely no one could tell even as much as which part of the tree it was at. To get a remotely sure aim, they would have to come right up to it, which would give their foe just the perfect opportunity to discharge all the arrows it had, including many an Orcish one that were bound to have stuck amid the branches. Besieging it and waiting for it to pass out in exhaustion and hunger was hardly an option either, since for all they knew it could be one of those unnatural creations of the darkness that could sneak past their guard unseen when nighttime came.

And only Faramir remained standing aside, ever gazing towards the hill in deep thought.

At last the Rangers realised he was not with them, and trailed off to exchange puzzled looks.

“Lord Faramir, what shall your or–?” Dearmad began, approaching the young captain.

“You stay here, I should go talk to it,” Faramir cut him off decisively, and without as much as glancing back at the man already took a step forth.

“My lord, is that prudent?!” Dearmad exclaimed, putting a hand on his captain’s shoulder. “Had it been willing to surrender, it would not’ve gotten itself up in that tree. Anyway, had it deemed those Orcs its only enemy, it would’ve climbed down, seeing as they are all dead now. But no, ‘tis ready to shoot anyone who dares come near – hadn’t you heard its anger? I wouldn’t be much surprised if it proves malicious enough to try and slay at least one of us, even if at the price of its own life.”

Faramir looked at the man keenly. “It climbed up fleeing the Orcs, and I reckon it is staying there just in case. It must be very frightened, and weary, and likely wounded, and if I were in its place, I wouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to get myself down and surrender to a crowd of armed strangers either. It wouldn’t be right to slay it without giving it a chance to explain itself.”

The older warrior curved his brow skeptically. “And may I inquire, does your lordship speak Orcish to hear out its explanation?”

Faramir smiled softly. “I don’t think such knowledge shall be required, Master Dearmad. Nor do I deem our opponent to be a renegade Orc. Now, please keep this safe for me,” and at that he proceeded to unfasten the belt holding his scabbard in place and hand it over to the much bewildered Dearmad together with the blade it bore. The others fell quiet and eyed him apprehensively as Faramir went on to entrust his longbow, his half-full quiver and both his daggers to the grey-haired Ranger, who was by then looking almost pleadingly at the captain. When Faramir went on to put his mask and cloak on top of the pile he was holding, the older man’s restraint gave way.

“My lord, please, if you are slain –”

“If I am slain, you shall take charge until Lord Denethor assigns the company a new captain,” Faramir replied calmly. “I know you have done this before, and I am sure you shall manage. And if indeed it should shoot, and I fall – only if I fall, Dearmad – then you and the men may go ahead and kill it to the best of your ability. But unless I am struck down you are to do nothing, just stand at the ready – no matter what happens – is that understood?”

Dearmad heaved a sigh of great suffering. “Aye, m’lord, what’s there not to understand…?”

Faramir nodded curtly and, pursing his lips, turned away from his men.

Just as he was about to leave the shelter of the grove’s skirt, the young captain caught Eldir murmur with forced cheeriness, “Well, like I always say: madness is a family thing. ‘Twas bound to come out sooner or later, if you just think of the fatuous things Lord Boromir used to do –”

“Oh, would you just shut up and hold this?” Dearmad muttered gruffly. “I need to have my hands free.”

Faramir grinned mirthlessly, and turned his will to focus on the task ahead.

Slowly he entered the clearing, pausing after each small step, his posture straight and undaunted, arms spread to the sides a little to show he carried no weapon.

Before he had covered a dozen yards there was frantic movement up in the higher branches of the oak, the foliage swaying madly, as apparently the hidden warrior changed position preparing to receive the intruder. For some reason it reminded Faramir of the badgered cat he had seen back in childhood, thrashing in senseless fright amid the thorny boughs of a tall acacia as it hissed and sputtered down at a pack of stray dogs barking at it from below – and he felt a sudden pang of pity for the unseen creature. When driven forth by the Uruks, it had leapt through the trees with such effortless ease, barely displacing a leaf as it passed, clearing bushes and little gullies with deer-like jumps – and now it had lost its grace, exhausted and on edge…

Faramir breathed out slowly, telling himself to keep his mind clear. His was a hopeless gamble, and he ought to harden his heart and be prepared to die any moment.

The man took another several steps, careful to avoid the numerous pools and trickles of orcish blood – and all movement stopped. Brittle anticipation filled the air.

Another ten yards or so, and Faramir was well within shooting distance for even a small poorly made bow.

One more deep breath, one more step. He looked intently, but could pick out nothing specific amid the thick leaves.

And then came again that sharp warning cry, urgent and imperative, yet just as unintelligible as before, although it did not sound remotely like any of the crude dialects of the Orcs.

Faramir stopped and raised his hands level with his face, open palms facing forward. Now, he knew, came the time to make his bet.

“I come unarmed,” he called loudly and articulately, “let me approach, and we shall talk.”

Dead silence was his answer, yet he sensed that it was not the silence of animosity, but the silence of great bemusement, and on the inside he smiled to himself even as a bead of sweat made its way down the side of his forehead. He had not used the Common tongue as he addressed his concealed opponent, he had spoken in the language the other Rangers sometimes used to whisper among themselves, thinking he would not understand – the same language that the Dúnedain folk had long ago adopted from the Grey-elves.

The longer the silence stretched, the more convinced Faramir became that he had done right. And at last he judged it was relatively safe to test that assumption and claim yet another foot.

At once another cry sliced the air, far more strained than before, almost desperate. But this time it seemed to the man he had discerned the words, a simple message sent in the same tongue he had used.

Stay back.

“I can do you no harm,” the young man reasoned, his grey eyes searching the impenetrable mass of green. “I only wish to talk. But let me come closer, else I would have to keep on shouting.” This was not the point, of course: if any good were to come out of this venture, Faramir would have to establish a proper contact with who the man was now quite certain to be one of the Elf-kindred, however far-fetched the notion seemed. Standing where he was the captain could hardly achieve anything, given he could not get as much as a glimpse of the other’s shape, even though it was obvious he, on the other hand, was fully exposed.

So Faramir assumed the most reassuring, benevolent expression he only could and moved another pace forward.

The ringing twang of the string, the rustle of the leaves, the shearing swish and the thick thud all came as one – the arrow quivered with the aftershock of impact, planted almost half-way deep into the ground not more than two inches from the toe of Faramir’s boot.

The man’s eyes glazed over as he strained his ear for any alarming sound from behind. Yet Dearmad must have remembered his word, for no reaction to the shot came from the Rangers.

Faramir swallowed and exhaled. Then he smiled, for he saw the fletching on the bolt at his foot was of a deep emerald hue, and knew this to be one of the arrows taken from the Rangers’ camp more than two months ago, and also knew he had been correct in his assumptions.

“You have made your point,” Faramir resumed his monologue, and was surprised to hear his voice sound so even and strong. “Now let me make mine. I have come to offer you a simple choice. You can do away with me now, and then the rest of my men – and I am sure you are well aware just how many there are – shall avenge me. Or you can let me come and speak with you, and perhaps we shall find a way to avoid any more deaths today.”

He waited for several minutes, yet no reply was made. So he did once more what he had already done many times that day. He stepped forth and prepared to meet his end.

Nothing happened. The threat was not carried through, and no arrow pierced his chest.

Enheartened, the young captain went slowly yet steadily on.

And then, as he came into the shade of the oak, Faramir saw him.

Chapter 4. To Capture an Elf

First it was only the eyes he saw, and the contact struck the man as though indeed he had been shot.

The gaze meeting his from above was full of suspicion, and mistrust, and grave determination – yet it was also lucid and clear, and Faramir knew it for the gaze of someone who could be reasoned with – reasoned but not intimidated, for one capable of communicating such fuming defiance in a sheer look would rather lose their life than risk losing their dignity.

Those eyes were so bright amid the general shade and gloom, that for one surreal moment Faramir had even fallen under the ludicrous impression they belonged to the tree itself, but then he saw it was not so. As his vision adjusted, the young man was able to make out the other’s shape: he was squatting low on the base of a thick powerful branch some fifteen feet above the ground, his back against the knotty trunk, and both his torn overworn clothes and his very skin and hair were of such colouring that indeed he blended seamlessly with the bark. Had it not been for the faintly otherworldly radiance of his large perceptive eyes, for the sharpness and weight of their glare, Faramir would have strongly doubted the haggard being before him had anything to do with the race Gondorian lore depicted as beautiful beyond comprehension and graceful beyond description. Despite his bent position it was quite obvious the stranger was tall, long-legged and athletically slender of build, but apart from that little could be told of his appearance or age, for the features of his face still were strangely obscured, and his hair was pulled back save for a few loose shaggy tresses hanging limply to the sides of his face.

What was not obscured at all, on the other hand, was the bow he held pulled taut, the long sharp-pointed arrow aimed at the center of Faramir’s chest.

Faramir stopped in his tracks, and the Elf smirked coldly.

“What’s there for me to talk to you of? I have no need for any mercy a soft-hearted man like you could offer,” he said quietly but very clearly. He had an unfamiliar accent to his speech, his pronunciation soft and melodious, as though water running in a creek, the words flowing smoothly one into the next, yet Faramir could understand him without difficulty. “You are a damned fool for taking pity on that Orc. If you were in its place, it would just spit in your face, and laugh, and leave you to die like a dog!” The stranger’s words may have been harsh, yet the scorn in his tone was mixed at least in equal measure with wonder, and Faramir knew he said not exactly what he felt, or at least not all of it.

Nevertheless the Man shrugged, showing he had nothing to reply in way of objection. “I am sure it would – that is what they do. But it is not what we do. And I would much rather waste a good dart on it than watch it suffer without need: ‘twould have been a slow and ghastly death, and why would I wish that upon anyone?”

The Elf narrowed his eyes, studying Faramir appraisingly, then shook his head. “Well, either you are not a warrior at heart, or you are plain insane.”

Faramir laughed softly. “A little bit of both, I suppose. But look at it this way: I had put faith in your good nature before knowing you, and trusted you to not kill me if I come to you – and now that you actually know something of me, would you in turn not have a little faith for me, however odd you may deem my attitudes? Or do you truly find it below yourself to even hear me out?”

The Elf let out a heavy sigh and lowered his bow wearily. “But you see, there is nothing you could give me that I would desire, for I know you would not let me go in peace.”

Faramir shook his head solemnly. “That I cannot do, ‘tis true. For many miles west of the Shadow Mountains all the land is in the care of Lord Denethor Steward of Gondor, and these woods that lie between the Great River and the mountains are ever assaulted by the servants of the Unnamed, thus those who tread here are either my Lord’s soldiers, or his foes. Hence no, without his leave, I cannot let you go, even if I would.”

“Then this chat is pointless,” the Elf observed drily, and threw a quick glance around the clearing, apparently checking that Faramir’s Rangers had not been creeping closer while the Man distracted him. “For I shan’t be surrendering myself to you and your gang: you are sadly mistaken if you reckon I value my life highly enough to risk my honour. I have come to this place already prepared, if not altogether wishing, to meet a violent end, but disgrace I have faced before, and I shan’t stand to face it again.”

“You would have likely faced it indeed had the Uruks bested you after all, yet like I said, we are not them, and our ways are different,” Faramir replied patiently. “I understand you come from afar, and as my people have not had any dealings with the Fair Folk for many a century, I reckon you might be just as wary of us as we are of entering territories where Elves are rumoured to linger still. Yet we in Gondor have never ceased to hold the Eldar culture in reverence, and honour it many a time every day through the way we perform our chores and take our rest – hence to bring undeserved abuse upon one of your people would be the last among our intentions. Besides, I would have you know it is not in our practice to torture or humiliate our captives, especially not for the purpose of entertainment. Yet let us not speak of this now, for it may be so I would not need to apply that unwelcoming term to you at all once I learn of your reasons for being here in the groves of Ithilien. Would you tell me naught?”

The Elf smirked again, this time with sad irony in his eyes. “And what if I do? You would make me your guest?”

Faramir spread his arms. “I cannot know beforehand – and like I said, ‘tis not up to me to pass any conclusive judgement on this matter; but if indeed I like what I hear, and I believe I might, then for the term of your stay with my company you shall be treated with care and respect, and your hands shall be untied.”

“For the term of my stay…?” the other repeated guardedly, his fingers tightening their hold on the stave of his bow.

The Man bowed his head in confirmation. “Yes, on the morrow I am to return to the city of Minas Tirith, our capital, some fifty miles to the south-west of here, and I would have to take you with me to my lord. The laws of my people are strict, but they are neither cruel nor unjust, and I suppose you already have a few circumstances speaking in your defense.”

Suddenly the Elf smiled, and leant forth a little. “Oh, but again, you are a fool. Standing before me thus, lacing flowery speeches – I could take you hostage, and make your men release me else I slay you. They may not like you, but you are their leader all the same, they would lower their bows.”

Faramir smiled in return. “But you see, I am not interested in being your hostage. To buy my life this way is not my purpose – in this matter we seem to be rather alike. Not to mention that indeed my men obey my word regardless of what they make of me, and you would not come to order them about. So you would either have to slay me, or come with me eventually.”

The Elf settled more comfortably against the oak’s trunk and hung one of his long legs down from the branch. Faramir noticed his foot was unshod.

“‘Eventually’ is a highly ambiguous concept,” Faramir’s potential guest observed in barely concealed amusement, “especially for someone like myself.”

“Well, I for one am certainly in no position to hurry,” Faramir replied with a grin directed at the situation he had landed himself in. “I can wait, I have pretty much all day at my disposal, seeing as thanks to your little row with the Orcs there are none likely to have remained for miles around. That must have been their whole camp you had uprooted.”

“All day?” the other snorted. “Indeed, we have different understandings of time. But truth be told, I have not had an intelligible conversation with another for quite a while even by my own reckoning, and seeing as I am as good as stuck here, and you are so resolute to keep me company – fine, let us talk. So what is the way to call you, o Man of Gondor?”

The young warrior smiled. “The proper way would be ‘Captain Faramir’, but it is… seldom used, so ‘Faramir’ would do.”

“Faramir… Fair enough, ‘tis a name I can say without getting my tongue tied in a knot, and so I see ‘tis true your folk are mostly hight after the manner of mine.” The Elf regarded the Man for a while, then finally acknowledged his questioning look and continued, “And I am Orophin of Lothlórien, or I used to be, for it no longer stands – so ‘Orophin’ would do.” But before Faramir could reply anything, he threw his head back and laughed, and although the laugh was filled with little else besides tiredness, it still sounded fairer than any other Faramir had chanced to hear. “Don’t you find the irony quite hilarious, though?” the Elf asked, beginning to twirl his arrow in his fingers. “Were our fathers to behold us now, they might have had to question their own wisdom, for you have not made such a jewel of a hunter, have you now, Faramir, what with your putting yourself at your game’s mercy? And I myself, not so highly nimble I have proved, given I’ve let myself be chased up a tree as kitten silly with fright,” he shook his head ruefully and chuckled to himself.

“Were you not nimble, Orophin, would have you evaded the wrath of five dozen Uruks? And as for my game, if indeed you wish to refer to yourself thus, I shall say to you that fair and softly goes far. But do tell me, what is it that brought you here to Ithilien whereas you name the fabled Golden Wood as your former home, and why had your formidable luck turned today? But pray speak the truth, at least as you know it, for I may overlook my life being threatened, but I shan’t overlook deception.”

For a while Orophin was quiet, seemingly absorbed by playing with his bow, although Faramir saw clear as day it would take him less than a blink of an eye to reassume his aim if need be.

“What brought me here…?” the Elf mused at last, and began to swing his leg to and fro a little, as though he were engaged in casual light-hearted chitchat. “Hm, you could say it was chance – or you could say otherwise. Speaking plainly, I was lost – not in terms of direction, but in the sense I knew naught of what this land was or who it belonged to, although I had hoped it was free of claim. I had wandered to and fro in the wilderness for a few seasons, and had been to all sorts of places, and then last autumn I came here, and it reminded… You do know how lovely it is here in the autumn, do you not, Faramir? I walked here for a time, and my heart lifted – but then I discovered I was not alone in having an interest in this place,” at this he frowned sternly, an unkind light coming to his eyes. “‘Twas a company of heinous Uruks the likes of those that had pestered me today. Such indignation filled me at seeing those beasts soil this fair land, that once I had learnt their routes I climbed high in a beech tree to the side of a track of theirs, and when they were passing by, I discharged my full quiver at them before they knew what hit them – I take it you’ve seen I shoot without fault or tarriance. Only two survived, for I had run out of arrows, and they fled in fear. But I could not retrieve what was mine, as the stench of their blood does not wash off; thus I left the darts in the corpses, only breaking off the feathered ends so as to make them harder to recognise for Elven-work – but I was troubled, for I knew more Uruks would come, and I no longer had the means to meet them in style. And would you believe it, by then I had grown so fond of this place you call Ithilien, I would have rather fought them bare-handed than accepted defeat to depart elsewhere…”

“And then one day you saw Men the likes of myself in the woods,” Faramir said quietly.

“So I did,” Orophin agreed with an appreciative smile, and looked at the young captain thoughtfully. “So I did… You were correct, my people are wary of your kind, they are wary of any other kind but their own nowadays, and in my living years none but the exceptional few of your race had been allowed entrance to our realm. Nor do we welcome trespassers however well-meaning, and I reckoned these Men who apparently deemed themselves masters of this land would do likewise. So I stayed out of sight and did not make my presence known, although I saw these were good and honest folk, and they were passionate about their work. But…”

“You needed your arrows,” Faramir offered again.

“Aye, I needed my arrows,” Orophin raised his face and looked up at the branches and foliage above, “and the Men had plenty – and they, unlike me, had a replenishable supply. Most importantly, I knew I could get at the Orcs where these warriors could not, for I could follow them unobserved even in the dark of night, and catch them unawares, and have two or three down and disappear ere they knew which way to run. So yes, I took the arrows,” he stared Faramir square in the face. “If ‘tis any comfort to you, not one of them had failed to find a foul-snouted target, except for the last one I had saved for later,” he nodded in the direction of where the warning bolt he had fired at Faramir was still stuck in the ground, “and mayhap it has served a purpose as well. Oh, do not tell me, I am well aware I had made it hard for your folk: of course the Uruks had gone quite mad what with these constant assaults of out nowhere. The fletching was yours, and they knew no one else to be around, so they took it out on your men…” He fell silent for a while, then grinned down at the Man. “Are you going to guess again?”

“And then one day you decided to stop taking our arrows.”

The Elf pursed his lips and looked away.

“Aye, and that was my undoing. The Uruks were angry enough that I shot them, but when I started stealing from them as well…” he chuckled grimly. “Nay, ‘twas bound to end sooner or later – and so it did in the last hour before today’s morning. They had tried to snare me many a time before, and at last luck had fallen on their side. I only escaped because initially they strove to take me not only alive but unharmed, no doubt to make me atone in full for all the discomforts I had caused. Had they only wished to finish me off, they would have, there had been plenty of chance for that. They ceased me and wrestled me to the ground – goodness, it was savage, I thought I’d suffocate under their weight…” he shook his head with such a smile as though he were recounting the good old times, and in that moment suddenly reminded Faramir of Boromir. “They tore my cloak off – and I even lost my shoe,” Orophin dangled his bare foot for Faramir to see, “I do not know how, but I did manage to fight free – and then I ran. I was not entirely fortunate at that, though, for I was, as you might guess, a little agitated, which ever renders me clumsy: so I tripped and fell in a gully. Before I could scramble out, they were upon me once more, yet again they tried to catch me, and we wrestled in the dirt for a time – and that is how I got filthy as a hog after a mud-bath, so there’s not an inch of me that isn’t covered in dried-up mire or silt. There even might be some weeds left in my hair, but oh, I truly could not care less for the present. Anyway, I ripped one of their bellies open with my dagger, and got away again, and thank Elbereth I had retained my bow and quiver. At that point they finally decided to try to shoot me, although they never aimed to kill – and by then indeed their whole company was after me… Well, I wager you know what happened next.”

Faramir stood silent, as though stunned, then nodded slowly. “Yes… Yes, I do know. I am sorry, Orophin, to learn of such experience on your behalf. I do understand how after something like this you would not want anyone come near you, not even one who is not an Orc.” He brought his hands to his mouth and exhaled heavily, then a thought struck him. “You are not wounded, are you?”

“Oh,” Orophin looked a little surprised by the notion, then replied somewhat absently, “No, I… I don’t think I am, not with any degree of seriousness, at least – who would count bruises and scratches on such a day?”

Faramir inclined his head thoughtfully, and both were silent for a while, each thinking his own thoughts – then Orophin budged. He slipped from his seat to jump to a lower branch, his movements displaying the same unconscious effortless grace Faramir had once witnessed in a band of street-performers doing acrobatics back in Dol Amroth.


“Look,” the Elf sighed, “I am tired, awfully tired of this – of this whole charade. I shan’t ever win this wood for myself, and I am tired of sneaking around and hiding, it doesn’t solve anything… And I had never intended to hurt you anyway, as you well knew from the very start. So I’ll come with you, as you’ve said you would give me safety and decent treatment…” he trailed off, catching the change in Faramir’s expression. “That is what you said, isn’t it…?”

Faramir took a deep breath. “Before I give you my word, Orophin, there is something worrying me I ought to ask you about. Why did you leave your home?”

“Oh,” Orophin nodded, his face becoming stern and withdrawn, more like Faramir had first seen it. “‘Tis not exactly a pleasant thing to speak about… But of course you could not promise protection to someone who…” He chewed on his lip, then said, “I fell out with my people, I was no longer welcome, and I left. That’s it – I committed no murder, no treason, whatever my record with your men may suggest I did not steal anything, and I treaded on no property that did not wish being treaded upon.” He stifled a sigh, lowered his gaze and asked quietly, “Is that good enough?”

Faramir looked up at him in great sadness, then spread his hands open. “Yes, it is. Come down now.”

Orophin jumped to the ground with no sound at all – and at last some proper light fell on him, and Faramir saw that indeed he was neither brown nor green on his own, but merely filthy beyond belief. So much so it was impossible to tell the real colour of his hair, as now it was an indefinable mousy shade of dark dirty-blond, hanging in a rat-tail of a plait down his back, and indeed there were twigs and leaves stuck amid the tresses. It did not look he had been bothered to even as much as try and wipe his face, as the only part of it free of grime was his eyes – it became apparent, however, that he did have regular and rather comely features. The Elf’s clothes, on the other hand, turned out to be in far worse condition than Faramir had first taken them to be: his left sleeve was barely holding in place, the front of his tunic was ripped open halfway down, what looked like the remains of his cape hanging around his neck, the trousers torn at both knees.

Faramir hurried to reign his expression, so that his sentiments would not show in his face and embarrass the Elf.

“You understand I must ask you to hand over all your weapons,” he said very evenly, his tone friendly but firm. The young man deemed it would be better if he were to assume a slightly more official manner for the time being, thus giving the Elf a chance to collect himself after what had obviously been a sore recollection.

Orophin stood hesitant for a moment, then shrugged wearily. “I don’t suppose this is up for discussion.”

“No, it is not,” Faramir confirmed just as evenly. “And there would be no point in you keeping them in any case. If you try to fight your way out, you won’t stand a chance – whereas if you do as is asked of you and don’t undertake anything rash, no harm shall be done to you. Like I said, you have my word.” He took Orophin’s bow, the wood still carrying the warmth of its owner where he had held it, and allowed himself a faint smile. “Thank you. Now come, we have a bit of a journey ahead of us.”

Chapter 5. Waves of Sunlight

Faramir showed the Elf into the small chamber created by a curtain in the furthermost corner of the cave at Henneth Annûn. Two buckets of water already stood there, and just as Orophin looked in, a man came over carrying a towel and some folded clothes.

“Here you can wash and change,” Faramir said with a look over the Elf. “I am not certain what spare things we have to offer will fit too well, but at least they are clean and without holes.”

Orophin smiled in gratitude. “Thank you. If you would just have my old gear discarded – it’s got the juice of Orc-bodies on it, I’ll never wish to don it again.”

By the time he emerged, the Rangers, seated out around several long tables, were busy with their evening meal and engrossed in conversation, much of which revolved around their unexpected company.

They had met Faramir’s return with expressions of great wonder, and also relief, but had fallen grim and quiet upon taking in the appearance of their captain’s companion. The sun had long since passed midday, and Faramir had ordered to make a swift return, saying only that the person with him was one of the Fair Folk from the old tales, and the men ought not to see a foe in him. Until Lord Denethor’s decree Faramir was to consider the Elf his guest, and the Rangers ought to do likewise.

And now said guest finally moved the curtain aside and quietly stepped out.

No longer a demon of mud he appeared, although neither did he come to resemble a common mortal creature, for of course he was not one. He bore a gentle light in his face, so gentle it could almost be mistaken for a trick of illumination, as though unseen to the observer some private lamp was held close to his face, one that cast its warm glow only on him.

And exceedingly fair to look upon he was.

Orophin had put on the plain unadorned clothes the Rangers had found for him, and although the length matched, the girth did not, and the pale-green linen tunic hung somewhat loose on him, as did the trousers that were supposed to hug the legs. His long moist hair was let down, brushed away from his face but otherwise left to fall as it would down his shoulders and back. It was sleek and dark in its dampness, suggesting shine and a deep blond colour when dry, but for now it only added to the washed, simple and somewhat vulnerable impression he was supposed to produce under the given circumstances – was supposed to yet did not.

Orophin stood unassuming and silent, yet all the same all heads turned to him and all talk died – but as though oblivious to the effect of his entrance, he only sought out Faramir with his eyes, nodded to him and ventured a tentative smile. A warm private smile it was, one reserved for a trusted old friend met amid a crowd of hostile strangers.

Faramir smiled back and gestured for him to join the meal, indicating the seat reserved by his side.

“Come share our supper, and we can talk some more.”

In that moment, when Faramir turned back towards his men to reply to someone’s earlier question, he suddenly knew the wind had turned.

The whole encounter in the woods, including his highly untypical – and successful – actions regarding the unknown peril, had already forced his soldiers to begin reconsidering their established opinion of him. But now, when at last they saw whom exactly Faramir had so swiftly turned towards himself, when they realised that were it not for him this wondrous stranger would have been pointlessly slaughtered – the men sensed that indeed their captain was a special man, one with a deeper capacity for perception and understanding than either of them possessed. They also knew that since of all of them he alone had seen the possibility to do a good, and kind, and proper thing where they had seen nothing but a problem and a threat, he indeed had greater wisdom than they, whatever his years. And they were men honest and clever enough to be able to acknowledge and accept it, and feel no bitterness but only gladness, for indeed he was their leader, and it was only fitting that he be more than they.

Faramir felt heat rise to his face, for he saw the wonder and respect in their eyes, and knew it for what it was – but said nothing and only smiled inwardly to himself.

Then Orophin was at his side, and Faramir could think of little else.

For one, he could not stop looking, for not only was his guest unlike anyone Faramir had seen, but there was a strange captivating quality about him, one that as though asked the beholder, would you cast your gaze elsewhere when ‘tis beyond argument there could be no fairer sight than the one already before you?

Orophin sported strikingly harmonious features, strong and regular yet at once carefully, almost exquisitely carven; his complexion was a delicate, faintly relucent shade, one even the rosiest maidens of Gondor did not display; and his dark lashes could be the envy of the court ladies – yet, all told, his face called to be described specifically as handsome, not comely or beautiful. That is, it looked so on its own, as some theoretical face, separated from the personality of its owner. This was the discrepancy in him, one that would ever fascinate Faramir: the Elf’s attitude, the expressions he assumed, his way of speaking and gazing took his handsomeness, bypassing comeliness and beauty, straight to loveliness. Gone without a trace were the contempt and audacity with which he had received the young man, as well as the weary ironic casualness that had followed. Now that Orophin’s heart had settled to irrefutably trust in Faramir’s good nature, and rely upon him, and accept his authority, forth came another demeanour: modest, and even, and highly amiable, gentle guarded dignity replacing the earlier defiance.

For a while Faramir tried to distract him with speech as little as possible and let him eat his full, for much as Orophin displayed some effortlessly impeccable manners, as though he were come from a high king’s court, the swiftness with which he emptied his plate – and then again – suggested this was his first proper meal for quite some time. So for the most part Faramir spoke with his soldiers or just watched the Elf.

The young man could not help noticing how beautiful his hands were, pale, long and light of movement, although apparent strength and skill lay in them as well. Admittedly, Orophin’s nails were in a rather sorry state after the frenzied chase, but even that did not ruin the elegance of his slender nimble fingers. And on the whole, although Faramir knew these hands had mercilessly brought many an Orc to its ruin, the very look of them promised nothing but warmth and kindness of touch, and bespoke a capacity for mindfulness and tenderness sufficient for handling a delicate featherless nestling.

Suddenly Faramir was struck by the notion that he could not remember when was the last time he had received as much as a friendly pat on the shoulder from another, let alone a proper embrace…

The young captain quickly dropped his gaze to his plate and frowned. No, no, it was nothing, truly, nothing – yet nevertheless he decided not to look at the hands again.

Soon, however, Faramir noticed he was getting lost in the Elf’s eyes instead: exceptionally clear and bright they were, like a cool deep lake pierced to staggering, sparkling transparency by the noon-light of a midsummer sun. Their colour was grey – that is, until one looked a little deeper. And then it became apparent that in truth they could not be defined as grey, for there was hue in them, albeit so subtle it could be mistaken for a play of the light. These eyes were like the silvery underside of an olive leaf, barely, just barely green.

As the evening wore on, and plates were taken away and wine-cups put in their place, and more torches lit, so Orophin changed also, coming into even fuller bloom. Although the drink he took seemed to have no more effect on his senses than water, it took away what had remained of the Elf’s tension, and brought a tint of pink to his cheeks, and darkened his gaze. As his long tresses dried, they acquired volume and with it a most delectable texture, that of soft loose waves. But most delightful was the colour that came through, and what was in turn most delightful about it was not so much the shade itself, but rather the strange radiant property. Most like concentrated sunshine it appeared, as though for years uncounted it had absorbed and packed into itself the rays of Anor at its zenith, and was now gently giving it back, shimmering and faintly scintillating as though off its own accord.

The Elf’s very presence seemed to bring light and warmth to the gloomy hall, making the men forget it was still the breezy volatile spring and not heady summertide outside. Faramir grinned to himself wearily, wondering whether it was the wine or his own senses that played a trick on him and made him believe he could even detect a hint of the thick honied scent of nectarine flowers in the air. There was no hearth in the cave, yet all the same the room had somehow grown too hot for his liking, or else he had grown hot inside his clothes…

The soldiers at the other tables had one by one left their places to come and stand around Faramir’s table with their clay goblets in hand, to better hear the Elf and their captain talk. The men were all of Númenorean origin, and the tongue Orophin spoke differed little from the one they had learnt in childhood, if only his accent made it a little difficult to understand at first. With great engrossment the Rangers listened as he answered Faramir’s questions and recounted the journeys that had eventually brought him to Ithilien. Faramir was careful not to tread on the topic of the ways of Orophin’s people, for even though he knew his soldiers were greatly curious to know how the Elven-folk lived, he assumed it would not be comfortable for his guest to speak of that which had perhaps been dear to him and was now out of reach. Thankfully, Orophin had many other tales to tell, speaking of the lands he had visited to the north and west of Gondor that had long since gone out of the living memory of Faramir’s kinfolk. And Faramir in turn told him of the marvels and beauty that were to be found in this Southern heir-state of the Westernesse.

By all means it was time to retire for the night, yet no one seemed to remember about that, and instead a new cask of wine was broached. His cup of unembellished silver refilled, Faramir settled back in his chair.

“Now that you have eaten your meal with us,” he began with a smile, “I believe it would not be too impolite to bring up the matter that I am sure much intrigues us all, and ask how it is you had managed to get past our guard all these times? I understand the woods are your natural environment, and yet there must be a little more to it than that…?”

Orophin inhaled deeply and pursed his lips, but then gave Faramir a sidelong glance and smiled also.

“Actually, there is,” he agreed enigmatically. He seemed a little embarrassed when the room went completely quiet in barely contained anticipation. “You see,” the Elf began, talking rather to his goblet than his host, “I used to have a special object with me – a piece of my gear: an Elven-cloak of the make my people wear that can hide you from the sight of those you do not wish to notice you. But my hood had slipped and I was seen – and when the Orcs caught me, they practically ripped it off of me, and if there’s aught left of it, it’s lying in shreds in some gully. All I have left is a part of the collar, which, sadly, is not enough to make it work.”

Faramir could tell his men were much relieved to learn the Elf had not bested them through the sheer superiority of his skill, and they were growing progressively at ease around him. So much so that Eldir, who was sitting directly opposite Orophin, leant forward across the table to ask with unconcealed excitement:

“And when whole, such cloak would render one invisible?”

Orophin stared at the Man in open-mouthed shock.

“But of course not!” he cried out utterly scandalised, flaring up at once. Shoving his chair back with a loud scraping noise, the Elf sprang to his feet. “I think I have already proved I have nothing to do with the Dark Lord!” he shouted, his blazing gaze jumping from one face to another, his chest rising heavily. “Is that what you all think?! Why would –”

Those Rangers who had been sitting were up at once as well, some already drawing their swords. Not one of them could understand what was going on, but they saw without any ambiguity that their strange guest had gone from amiably amusive to unpredictably aggressive in a flash, and they were ready to deal with it.

“Orophin, sit!” Faramir ordered sternly, laying his hand down on the Elf’s shoulder. The other nearly jumped for the touch, and stared at the Man with wide uncomprehending eyes. “Let us not make a scene,” Faramir went on in a tone both commanding and very calm. He was holding the Elf’s gaze with his own, and saw that amid other things Orophin was very frightened.

The captain sighed. “I assure you, no one had meant to affront you. Now please, you need to –”

“That Man,” Orophin nodded at Eldir, “has just accused me and all of my kindred of employing Dark Arts for the purposes of disguise – I could not have reacted in any other manner, and had I my blade with me –”

There was a collective intake of breath, some muttered curses and more sounds of steel leaving scabbards.

Faramir sucked his teeth. “Stop this already and sheathe your swords. He is unarmed, for the Valar’s sake, have some shame!” he snapped at his men in impatience, then turned to the Elf.

“Orophin, no,” the Ranger shook his head emphatically. “Eldir has accused you of nothing, there was no ill meaning to his words – it was just a question.”

Orophin still looked unconvinced, yet this time he made no harsh reply, and Faramir once again gestured towards the table. “Now let us all sit down and clear this up in a civilised manner,” he looked pointedly around the room, catching the eyes of his men still alight with the fire of battle.

“Very well,” the Elf said quietly and, when the Rangers proceeded to resume their seats, also lowered himself onto the edge of his chair. “But just for reference, my cloak did not make me invisible.”

“All right,” Faramir made a placating gesture. “I truly do not know why it is such an issue, but all right, as you say.” He took a deep breath, wishing he had drunk less than he had. “Now, this obviously calls for a talk. You see, we are rather ignorant when it comes to the ways of your people, and even more ignorant when it comes to the arcane,” Faramir said softly, interlocking his fingers and putting his hands before himself on the table. “You must lend us some credence and trust that we mean no offense even if our words may sound harsh to your ear – or else explain how not to affront you inadvertently in the future.”

“I do apologise,” Orophin replied in a lowered voice, and cast a quick wary glance at Eldir. “‘Tis that you, and all of your men… you are so well familiar with Elven-speech, which I would have never expected, that I had somehow assumed you would also know… But of course, how would you…?” He settled back in his chair. “Fair enough, I shall explain to the best of my ability.”

For a time he was quiet and thoughtful, looking ahead of himself, then nodded resolutely and picked his cup to twirl it absently in his hands. “Much of what is common and everyday to us would seem sorcery to you, but sorcery is not always an evil tool. Elven-magic is capable of many things, yet it ever draws its power only from the good and healthy sources,” he began slowly. “It works through perceiving the true nature of things, and capturing and preserving what is fair and useful about it, and…” he searched for the word, rubbing the fingertips of one hand together, “and bringing out, amplifying the inherent virtues of an object. Yet it does not make anything out of nothing, and it does not turn something into nothing. It is the morgul arts that specialise in perverting and warping the essence of things, in making something both one and the other, and at once neither, so that the fëa can slip in between and be lost,” he looked around the table and added doubtfully, “if you see what I mean…”

“Perhaps not entirely…” Faramir mused with a shadow of a grin, “But do go on.”

Orophin nodded accommodatingly. “Mayhap an example would make it simpler. I am sorry if at this hour the subject should prove uncomfortable, but truly it is the starkest instance. Think of those eerie servants the darkness is said to have once had, or maybe it still does – the living dead: despite the name, they were neither living nor dead. They can have an unending existence, that is true, yet it is in no manner related to the concept of eternal life, although in a way you could certainly call them immortal, as for them there is no death but only a return to nonbeing.”

“But isn’t that one and the same?” one of the younger Rangers interrupted impulsively, startling the other Men who had grown rather tense and uneasy for the sinister topic.

Someone shushed him hurriedly, and he was embarrassed and lowered his eyes, so Orophin looked questioningly to Faramir. The captain inclined his head leniently, the corners of his mouth curving with a suppressed smile.

“If you know the answer to that question, I would certainly like to hear it – although I must observe we have strayed quite far from your enchanted garments.”

“I shall get to that,” Orophin assured him, allowing himself to once again exhibit the tentative smile that was so becoming to his youthful features, and Faramir was pleased to see his guest was no longer sitting on pins and needles. “But as for this other question: no, the short answer would be that it is not one and the same, at least not always. When the flesh is slain, the fëa oft is not, and can wander for a time, and then come to reembody itself and once again tread the earth in a form like mine or yours – or at least that is how it works for the Elf-kindred and those creatures that are above us. Perhaps to you it would not even seem like real death, I do not know… In any case, this is a matter too complex for my understanding, and I am in no position to make any definitive statements – if anything can be said with certainty, it is that there is no certainty, for the law governing the flow of life in the children of Eru is susceptible to a certain degree of flexibility, however little, for there are other forces at play besides the divine order…” he trailed off, apparently suspecting he was not making much sense to the company.

Faramir pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Well, I am no judge of the other races, but we in Gondor do entertain the belief that Men too have what you refer to as the fëa, or one akin to it, that is not necessarily altogether destroyed with the end of the bodily life – or at least not destroyed at once. ‘Tis said the departed can linger after their passing for a time, to bring warning to their kin – or say farewell. I’ve not met anyone who had seen actual proof of this, though, and mayhap ‘tis naught but superstitions on our behalf, who’s to say…?” He shrugged. “So, about the cloak…?”

“Yes,” Orophin nodded, putting his cup down. “That word… ‘tis not a good word – ‘invisible’,” he winced as he said it. “It carries a highly negative meaning, perfidious, unwholesome; and we do not use it unless to suggest something of the sort. We say ‘hidden’ and even ‘unseen’, but that is different. A thing can be unseen, and still be – that is how our capes work, they merely cover and blend in, they do not make something disappear. I… I really am not certain how to best explain this: it may seem like a subtle nuance to you, but the difference is tremendous. Invisibility is not natural, Faramir. Some things are not seen by design, and never shall be: like wind, like song; others have a hidden side to them that shows itself to some and does not to others – but things that can alternate in a blink,” he raised his hand and clicked his fingers emphatically, “Faramir, it just goes against the order of the world. There are various… planes, levels of existence, and everything under the heavens is allocated its proper place. When an object is made invisible – where do you think it goes?”

Faramir raised his brows and shrugged.

Orophin smiled in satisfaction. “Exactly – it doesn’t have anywhere to, because it is just being shoved into the other side, where no space had been prepared for it. And that is not right, it creates perturbation, and unsettles the balance, and simply messes everything up.”

Faramir looked around the room, and in the faces of his men saw exactly what he had expected. They were puzzled, and discomfited, and even slightly bored, and none of them any longer enjoyed the discussion. So the captain had the tables put away and the beds brought out; and the men set about getting ready for sleep.

But Orophin Faramir took aside, and looked at him with shining eyes. “‘Tis fascinating, the things you speak of… It seems to you ‘tis all casual and mundane, a regular part of the world you live in – but to me… Are all the Elf-folk so knowledgeable in the matters of the supernatural, or are you perhaps a scholar – you never said…?”

“Ah, no,” Orophin laughed merrily. “I was but a marchwarden back in Lothlórien, and to be honest with you, most Elves do not care for the arcane, at least they do not care to apprehend how it works as long as serves its stead,” he shrugged vaguely. “Perhaps I am indeed somewhat more informed than others, but that is only because I was…” a shadow of a frown fleeted across his face, “I was close to my Elven-lord, and he taught me many things – just for the sake of it.”

“I see,” Faramir nodded, the slightly dazed agitated expression not leaving his features. “It is incomprehensible, though, you are veritably come from a fairy-tale… Would you tell me more? So much I would desire to ask you… Now,” he raised his hand, cutting himself off, “I understand if you are exhausted, and –”

“I don’t need sleep,” Orophin said softly, looking at the young man with warm gentleness, apparently touched by Faramir’s interest. “Not really, I don’t. I don’t even truly need sustenance, for that matter. But I do enjoy conversation.”

Faramir laughed incredulously, and shook his head. “Then will you stay up some more, and speak with me?”

Orophin smiled and nodded without taking his gaze from Faramir’s. “So I will.”

For the better part of the night they sat at the one table that remained, talking animatedly in lowered voices as the men lay down and went to sleep, some later rising to go outside and stand guard, others returning from their post for a few hours of rest. Towards morning, when a gentle blue-green light came to glimmer through the ever-falling sheet of crystalline water, Faramir took Orophin outside to breathe the fresh cool air, and watch the sky change colour as sunrise approached, and speak some more.

Orophin was quiet and even a little morose standing by Faramir’s side as the Man packed for departure a mere hour later. The young captain noticed the change in his companion’s mood and smiled at him reassuringly.

“Orophin, I cannot say anything for certain, but I do believe everything shall be fine. My father is a learned judicious man – he may not be kindly and gentle of bearing, but –”

Orophin frowned, “What? What does it have to do with anything?”

“Oh,” Faramir shrugged. “I am sorry, I had merely assumed you were worried what my lord would make of your case.”

The Elf stared. “The Lord of Minas Tirith is your father…?”

Faramir blushed. “Goodness… I… I believe I never told you that… Well, it doesn’t matter –”

Suddenly Orophin’s face lit up and he laughed. “But of course it matters! If he is anything like you, I have naught to worry about at all!”

Chapter 6. Over the Edge

Horse hooves clicked briskly as the riders one by one entered the great stone bridge, Faramir at the front, Orophin after him, and another Ranger bringing up the rear.

Even though Orophin had said naught, Faramir had seen his surprise and pleasure when it became apparent that although the Elf was given a swift hale mount, his hands were to remain untied and no convoy was to be appointed to him for the journey. Faramir had even felt awkward about the glance of gratitude Orophin had cast him, for this was hardly a gesture of great trust on the captain’s behalf: all along their route throughout the woods there would be soldiers hidden amid the trees guarding their path should the enemy arrive, and without his bow and special cloak Orophin would hardly stand a chance of getaway should he attempt something rash.

But Orophin had attempted nothing, even though he did grow progressively gloomy as they approached the River, and with it the City. The Elf had stopped talking altogether as the small party went through the eastern half of the ruins of Osgiliath, the numerous soldiers garrisoned there stopping to stare and whisper as he passed.

And now, as the three rode up the curve of the bridge, the great towering mass of Mount Mindolluin coming into view some twenty miles ahead, its snowy peak dyed golden by the lowering sun, Faramir felt compelled to say something nice and encouraging.

But just as he was about to, Orophin told him quietly, “Don’t turn.”

The Man frowned. “What?”

“Slow down, but don’t turn.”

Faramir brought his horse down to a walk, and so did the second Ranger.

“Orophin, what is it…?”

The Elf steered his mare to ride abreast with Faramir. “There are Orcs on the other side,” he stated very calmly, looking ahead of himself with an unperturbed expression.

“On the western bank? How is that possible…? Are you sure?” Faramir murmured back, his features just as unfazed.

“I am afraid so,” Orophin inclined his head just a little. “I don’t know how they got there – perhaps came down the river last night, and are waiting for nightfall to make a diversion. No matter: they are there for certain, I can smell them, and I can see at least a handful of them too. They’re over there at the base of the bridge down by the water, hiding amid the boulders.”

Faramir’s face grew stern. “Do they know we know of them?”

Orophin raised his brows, “Not yet, I think not – but they are waiting for us, and shan’t let us pass. Not even if we try to charge through.”

The Man closed his eyes for a second before saying heavily, “We can’t go back either, we’re already more than half way over – they have bows, I assume?”

“Oh, yes.”

Faramir fell quiet for a moment, thinking quick as their horses moved along. There were plenty of their men on the western side, just no one near the water…

“The Orcs could shoot us from where they are the moment they suspect anything…” he mused under his breath, then said a little louder, “Here’s what we’ll do – Neardil, do you hear me?”

“Yes, Captain,” the Ranger behind them replied in a lowered voice.

“I shall blow the alarm on my horn – and as I do, you two leave your mounts and haul yourselves into the water, you’ll stand a better chance this way. There’s no point in staying here, you wouldn’t be able to strike back.”

“And what of you, Captain?” Neardil asked a little hoarsely.

“I shall follow,” Faramir replied evenly. If they don’t get me first, he did not add. “Orophin…?”

“Yes, I understood.”

“Right,” freeing his feet from the stirrups, Faramir took a deep breath and in as inconspicuous a way as he could, reached down to his hip where a small silver horn was hanging on a strap.

Then many things happened at once.

Faramir raised the horn to his lips.

Two black-clad Uruks stood tall at the bridge’s foot almost directly in front of the approaching riders, their bows ready to fire.

Orophin let out a high piercing cry as he threw himself sideways at Faramir.

Two twangs resonated in the air as two arrows were discharged.

Neardil’s horse shrieked in a shrill panicked voice and reared.

The call of the horn never came to sound, for the collision was so forceful it hammered Faramir right out of the saddle, sending the man over the bridge’s parapet straight into the running deeps below. He not so much saw as rather felt two streaks of black hiss over them through the air as the darts missed their target by a fraction of a second.

Before the man hit the surface and went under he had had time to apprehend only one thing: Orophin who had initially clung to him was not now falling with him, and thus must be still on the bridge.

And indeed it was so, for the impetus of the Elf’s leap had only been enough to push Faramir over, whereas he himself landed on the different side of the carven railing, slumping heavily onto the stone pavement. Orophin did not see Neardil’s stallion rise on its hind legs, nor did he see the Ranger slip off its back: he had other things demanding his attention. The Elf was now directly under his own and Faramir’s horses, and much as the animals were trained for battle, the situation proved just a little too much for them. Orophin rolled away from them towards the edge, searching for a gap in the parapet large enough to slip through, and at once trying to cover his head from the wildly flying hooves.

It was not his head the blow landed on, however.

He rather heard than felt the crushing snap of the bone as his vision was covered with blazing darkness. A heartbeat later a searing, mind-erasing pain exploded in his upper arm – and then he finally rolled down into the river and remembered no more.

Faramir, on the other hand, had just resurfaced from his plunge. At once he saw the Orcs had lost all interest in the three of them, for the noise had evoked a clamour from both banks, and soldiers could be seen – and heard – running in great numbers towards the bridge, weapons at the ready.

Faramir’s gear had grown heavy and was pulling him down just as the current was drawing him away, and he hurriedly rid himself of his cape and boots, and swam back towards the tall stone arch, his eyes searching the dark waters for signs of his companions.

By the time Faramir dragged the half-unconscious Elf onto the bank, everything was over, and men were running towards them.

“Are you hurt?” many voices asked Faramir, no one addressing him by name or rank as apparently he was not recognised. He did not care.

“No, but…” breathing heavily from his burden, he nodded at Orophin. The Elf coughed up water and groaned dully, then twitched and sucked his teeth sharply.

Faramir had perceived back when he caught the Elf that something was wrong with his arm, and had done his best to avoid touching it – and now as he gingerly lowered Orophin onto the rocky shore, he saw crimson rapidly spreading over the Elf’s right sleeve. When he carefully cut the sodden clinging fabric away, the young man could not contain a loud gasp, for fragments of the arm’s fractured bone were sticking forth right through the torn muscles and skin, and blood was leaking everywhere.

Tearing a strip off his own tunic to use as a tourniquet, Faramir looked over the gathered crowd and, spotting a familiar face, commanded, “Neardil, get me a fast horse. He must to be taken to the City at once.”

The rest of the journey to Minas Tirith was swift and blessedly uneventful, and shortly before sundown Faramir rushed the bleeding Orophin into the main ward of the Houses of Healing. Thence, after an inevitable albeit brief expression of utter amazement at this unusual charge, the healers took over.

Faramir’s gear was still somewhat damp from the dive he had taken, and the boots he had borrowed did not exactly fit, and on the whole he was far from blithe, yet the man waved away all attention directed at him, and refused to either leave for a rest or have someone busy themselves with bringing him food and fresh clothes. He was not even aware of his weariness and discomfort, for all that truly interested him in that time was that all turn out well with Orophin.

When his injury was tended to, the bone set in place, the softer tissues stitched and a cast applied, the pale-faced Elf was led to a bed by one of the windows, where he lay down quietly and soon slept, overtaken by the fatigue of pain.

For a long while after the healers left to attend to other patients Faramir stood motionless over him, the Man’s expression sad and troubled as he gazed upon the pallid features of his new friend. Orophin had always come across as young, but now in his rest he appeared even more so, no older than Faramir himself, barely past the May of his youth. And although with his mind Faramir understood this impression to be deceptive, at least in terms of the actual count of years Orophin had walked the earth, the man could not defy the sudden inkling that the one he knew for a fierce skillful warrior and a wondrously versed partner for discourse, was but a lost child on some other, deeper level. So innocent, so unprotected, so easy to hurt, to take advantage of, so unprepared for life he looked lying now on the narrow hospital bed with his sunny hair strewn across the washed-out bedding, alone in the heart of an alien land numberless miles away from the place he no longer considered home. And seeing Orophin thus Faramir felt an ache clench his chest, and was overcome with the sensation of immense, even somewhat intimidating responsibility for him and a powerful desire to take care of him, to make certain he would inflict no more woe upon himself. He was too fine, too special, too unspoilt of heart to deal with the filth and evils of the world…

Faramir frowned and heaved a sigh, for the first time coming to doubt in earnest whether he had done right… But what else could have he done…? What is it the Elf would have needed…?

Oh, but there is something you have not told me, my good Orophin. The root of your passion was neither your infatuation with the fair Ithilien, nor your loathing for the Orcs – something else haunts you. You are clever, and sensible, yet what you did was not only irrational and pointless, it was… desperate.

Faramir was brought out of his thoughts when footsteps fell just behind him, and he turned to see his father approach.

“So this is what all the commotion in Ithilien was about,” Denethor mused with an unreadable expression after he had studied the sleeping Elf for quite some minutes. Hugging himself across the waist, he stroked his chin with his other hand. “How interesting, how very interesting indeed…”

“Father, please, do not be angry with him,” Faramir appealed to the Steward with as much feeling as he could allow himself without forgetting his place. “No ill intent had brought him to Ithilien, and he has slain many Orcs – nor had he ever intended to harm our men, although he was greatly wary of us. I have learnt his tale, and I deem it well explains his being in our land, if not entirely justifies it… And for what it’s worth, he is really quite a fascinating person.”

“I am sure he is,” Denethor murmured to himself rather than to his son, then looked at Faramir and nodded to him. “‘Tis quite an extraordinary case, and you’ve done well to seek my judgement, although…” he raised his brows and exhaled slowly, but then waved it away. “Nay, ‘tis no matter, ‘tis all for the best.”

At that moment the head of the Houses approached hurriedly and bowed to the Steward in greeting.

“My Lord…”

“What can you say?” Denethor gestured towards the Elf.

The healer drummed his fingers on his lower lip in rumination. “He seems to be doing well, sire,” he said slowly in a tone implying the man was rather surprised by that matter. “I wouldn’t go as far as to bet my money on that arm ever being good for battle again, although who can say for certain with this kind of folk, they are not made like us: mayhap he will grow himself a new bone… In any case he’s doing spectacularly well after such a loss of blood, and as there is no other damage, he’ll live. That is unless the wound should become inflamed, which is highly possible since he fell in the water and there could have been any kind of dirt in it – then there is no telling… But we have done all we could –”

“I am sure you have,” Denethor observed absently, and the healer at once fell into polite silence. “And I have a strong feeling he shall fare just fine: indeed, he is not made like us.” The Steward dismissed the man with a nod of his head and addressed Faramir once more, “He shan’t be needing you for the present, much as you apparently need not worry over his health. Come with me now, my son: you could use some rest and a meal, and meanwhile you can tell me that tale – and everything else of relevance concerning your service. And on the morrow when your companion awakes, I shall speak with both of you, and we shall see what to do about him.”

Faramir smiled, at a loss for what to reply, and followed quietly when Denethor turned to leave. Never had the young captain encountered such lenient uninquisitive disposition on behalf of his father, especially regarding a potentially troublesome subject – and as indeed Faramir was still quite young, it filled him with nothing but hope, and already he began to feel refreshed and rested.

Chapter 7. A Fair Song for the High Lord

Denethor touched the tips of his fingers together and raised his brows at Faramir.

The Steward was sitting in his high black chair in the Tower Hall, and for the past hour and a half he had been speaking with Orophin while the young captain for the most part stood quietly at the Elf’s side.

In the morning the staff at the wards had been greatly amazed by the progress Orophin’s recovery had made during the night, and now, although still rather pale, the Elf did not appear in any way strained to stand throughout the audience, and were it not for the sling cradling his right arm, would not have appeared ill at all. The questions posed to him he answered with accommodating willingness, and generally displayed a highly agreeable deferential manner.

The Lord of Minas was not hearing anything his son had not told him the previous day, yet still he took his time, making mental notes to himself about all the little things he read between the lines, about all the little things he perceived regardless of what was being said.

And now that Orophin had finished his account, Denethor looked inquiringly at his younger son.

“Well, Faramir, since you had taken it upon yourself to bring your new acquaintance to the City, what would you suggest we do with him now?”

Faramir hesitated, taken aback his opinion was to be taken into account, and also unsettled by the note of amusement audible in his father’s voice – but then he straightened up and stated confidently, “I think he should stay with us, Father.”

Denethor snorted softly. “But of course he shall stay. You wouldn’t deem me capable of shoving a man with a freshly broken arm out into the wilderness, would you?”

Faramir bit his lip. “Oh, I am sorry, that is not exactly how I meant it, my father. I am suggesting that perhaps Orophin stay with us for good. He shan’t be returning to his own land, so if we were to deny him hospitality, that indeed would be akin to kicking him out – which I think he does not deserve, given he has done us no ill and only good.”

“Stay with us?” Denethor repeated slowly and thoughtfully, as though it was only now the possibility occurred to him for the first time. Then he looked at the Elf, the Man’s eyes keen and calculating. “Very well, I do not wish to be inhospitable, especially to someone who had done my son the service of saving his life. But neither do I provide free indefinite lodging to anyone who might chance to wander into my realm. If you are to stay, you would have to earn your living with an according service.”

“Of course, my lord,” Orophin said with a respectful bow of the head.

“So,” Denethor spread his hands. “What is it you can do for me?”

Orophin blushed, and Faramir looked at him in wonder, for it never ceased to strike him how comely his new friend looked with colour on his cheeks.

“Actually,” Orophin began, “I was thinking, perhaps your lordship would be kind to allow me to return to Ithilien upon my recovery, to serve among your men?”

The Steward curved his brow. “Ah, I see you have liked that fair corner of our land…?”

“Oh, yes, very much so!” Orophin assured him with great feeling, even taking a step forth in his eagerness. “‘Tis by far the fairest sight I have laid my eyes upon since leaving my Elven realm.” He stumbled, and his bright gaze went to Faramir for a momentary glance. “Well, ‘tis certainly the fairest place I have seen,” he added quickly, and Denethor narrowed his eyes faintly at the specification, and also cast a fleeting glance at his son. “Yet of course I would not expect you to send me there merely for my heart’s enjoyment, lord,” Orophin hurried to assure him, “although, by the powers afar, there is little my heart would desire more. But I do believe I could do you a fair service of guarding your border-land against the fell Orcs: I hope I have shown I can be quite useful at such a task…”

“Yes, you are certainly well capable of walking unobserved among those you deem your enemies,” Denethor replied with a nod of confirmation, although as he nodded he did not take his eyes from Orophin’s face, which made the latter blush even harder than before. “Indeed, such ability can prove very productive; besides, I understand you have learnt the woods quite well in the course of your stay, and your skill with the bow has been praised to me. However, given your current state,” the Steward pointed to the Elf’s bandaged arm, “I don’t deem it a viable option, at least for some weeks to pass, hence we shall speak of it again when time comes. But for now, ah, it would truly disappoint me to have someone like you waste the time of your stay in the City…”

“Well, I…” Orophin frowned, as though wary of his own boldness. He took a deep breath, and, making a proposing gesture with his hand, ventured, “I very much wish to make myself useful, and… And I could be a minstrel for your lordship while my recovery takes its course. That is… if you wish…” he trailed off, seeing the surprise his suggestion had caused.

Once again Denethor touched the tips of his fingers together, and looked amused.

“Do you think I need a minstrel at my court?”

The irony in his question, however, sounded too good-natured to signal true displeasure, and Orophin, despite blushing yet again, ventured a cautious smile. “I do believe you lordship might find it pleasurable, to listen to Elven-music,” he said softly. “Lord Faramir here has told me you have a fondness for lore, the tales of my folk among it. Well, I know many ballads and lays, and I would be more than honoured to perform for you. Of course, I do not know whether you shall find it to your taste, but at least among my own people my voice had always been described as pleasant.”

“Is that so?” Denethor mused to himself. “I have to admit, I have not yet had chance to hear an Eldar song in their own execution – and the poignancy of Elven singing is fabled to be beyond compare – so refusing the proposition without as much as giving it a try would hardly credit me as a well-reasoned man. Fair enough, let there be a minstrel.”

Orophin smiled and bowed, and Faramir, seeing his joy and relief, smiled also.

Denethor nodded, his eyes deep with thought. “Yes, let that be so,” he confirmed. “And I do hope you shan’t find yourself aggrieved by the long partings with your new friend this arrangement shall call for – nor much saddened to stay here in a city of cold stone instead of the fresh and lovely Ithilien.”

Orophin bowed again. “You are very thoughtful, my lord. You take everything into consideration.”

“So I do,” the Steward agreed, a full-scale smile appearing on his thin lips for the first time in the course of the audience. “And I believe you might do me a fine service after all, a very fine service indeed.” He leant back in his chair. “You two may go now. My son shall accompany you to the noon meal, Orophin, and in the mean-time a chamber shall be prepared for you. A servant shall be appointed to you, for practical assistance – mine is no royal court, however, so I am afraid I shan’t be able to find you a Sindarin-speaking valet, but I am certain you shall manage to find an understanding.”

As Faramir set out to resume his military duty two days later, his heart was not heavy like on the previous such occasion, for this time a different reception was sure to await him, and in a way he was even beginning to look forward to his return. Now that he knew the Rangers no longer resented him, Faramir could allow himself to admit that for his part he had already grown quite fond of them.

Much as he kept wondering whether it was indeed for the best Orophin was to stay in the City as his father’s bard, and was generally worried about the Elf, the young man could not help feeling glad this whole episode had taken place. He understood it would take him yet many a term to win the full measure of his men’s fondness and loyalty, but at least now it had been made possible – thanks to Orophin.

Truth be told, Faramir would have preferred to spend just a few more days in Minas Tirith, to make certain his friend had settled and was recovering well, and perhaps to help find some amiable company for him – and to have more time to himself enjoy Orophin’s. Not to mention that in less than a week Boromir were to arrive with a report for the Steward considering his errands. Although Faramir had not thought of his brother all that much these past few days, which he was for some reason more than a little ashamed of, it still pained him greatly and filled him with sad longing that once again they would not be able to have a proper reunion. Perhaps next time…

Yes, for now he ought to focus on the work before him, and trust that next time his and his brother’s schedules would finally coincide.

And so next time came.

Faramir’s second stay in Ithilien had proved entirely uneventful after the happenings concluding the first one. In fact, it had almost been a pity to leave: it was the middle of summer, and the lush resplendence of the groves called to be savoured with all the senses of perception, and filled the heart with joy and content. The men had little work to do, for after what they now referred to as the Battle by the Oak, the enemy had become sparse and cautious, and for the most part the Rangers were busy doing perfunctory patrols. They were less fatigued in the evenings, and had more energy – and desire – for conversation, and would often come to question Faramir yet again about the intriguing Orophin, curious for every little detail. Along with that they would also ask of Faramir himself and his years in Dol Amroth, and as he had many a story to tell, the night oft found the cave filled with the man’s clear pleasant voice as he recounted some old anecdote in his measured articulate manner.

Thus the report Faramir brought to his father was rather short and optimistic, and as the young man entered the Tower Hall, he planned to deliver it quickly and then proceed to look for his much-missed Elven friend.

But as the captain walked across the long hall, he saw that no search should be required, as at the Steward’s foot, on the lowest step of the stairs leading to the empty throne, sat Orophin.

Faramir had almost taken him for someone else at fist, however, so little resemblance he bore to the weary uprooted person the Man had parted with some three months ago, so peaceful and confident was the smile with which he now greeted Faramir.

The Elf’s pose was at once relaxed and graceful. He had one knee pulled closer to his chest, his now-fully-healed arm resting against the thigh, his other leg stretched out.

Orophin’s attire was not like one Faramir had seen before. It was made after the Gondorian fashion in terms of cut, but the hues of it were such that no man in the state had ever draped himself in. The prevalent colour was that of young grass after a spring rain: cool, vibrant and sharply fresh, as though brimming with intensity, wondrously bringing out the deep radiant gold of the Elf’s long tresses.

All the garments were made with great care, perfectly accentuating Orophin’s lithe frame, and aptly decorated with semi-precious gems and gold-thread. Across his waist was tied a silk claret-coloured sash that nicely matched the cabochon-cut jacinths and pink opals adorning his collar. His tunic was of the short length appropriate for a commoner, yet otherwise he was dressed to outmatch the wealthiest noblemen of court.

Atop his head and slightly to the side sat a soft velvet beret of the same grassy hue as his robes but several shades deeper. The cap more than anything worked towards making him resemble a Man, for Faramir had never heard of the Fair Folk wearing anything like it, yet at the same time it made the ‘elvishness’ in Orophin stand out all the more, for no matter his vesture nothing could dull the unfading radiant loveliness of his face, nor conceal his peerless gracefulness.

For a second it even seemed to Faramir his father had indulged the extravagant expense of decking him out like this for entertainment’s sake alone, as though wishing to show how alien the Elf was to their culture, a precious exotic toy, a fancy doll…

Faramir shooed the notion away, for it was unfounded and unkind, and filled him with unease and foreboding.

Then the unpleasant thought was obliterated altogether, for, just as Faramir finished delivering his tidings, the clouds moved in the sky outside and the sun came out – and suddenly the tall narrow window opposite the Steward’s seat was filled with it, and a thick beam of hazy yellow shine shot into the gloomy hall of black marble. Of the three of them it fell only on the Elf, and bathed him, and made him seem surreal and weightless, flooding his face with exquisite radiance, turning the long loose waves of his mane into molten effulgent gold, scattering in blazing sparks over the velvet of his tunic and setting alight the gems at his collar.

He was no longer simply a guest from a foreign realm – he was a vision, an apparition from another era, from another age of the earth, and to behold him thus made Faramir reel, for it felt to the Man as though the enchantment had engulfed him too and he was taken to those forgotten times when such beauty was not a distant memory but tangible everyday reality.

And then Denethor, who had seen this wonder many times before precisely at this hour of the afternoon, and was now looking at his son instead, said, “Sing for us, Orophin.”

And Orophin sang.

He closed his eyes and turned his face toward the light, as though retiring to a world of his own, and looked serene and content, alone with his song – and he sang as though not for them, but for the song itself.

It was an uncomplicated, untroubled piece, telling no tragic tales of unrequited love or heroic deaths – it wove itself through the nobly adorned branches of a forest saying its last farewell to the departed summer, and rose to the tops of the silver-barked trees to swim in the sea-like waves that capricious winds rolled through their aureate foliage. It soared in the lazurite heavens above, and swooped down to dive into the cool sparkling streams that hummed and remurmured to their own tune. It fell in drops of morning dew on the juicy ever-green grass, and played as the last ray of the setting sun in the exquisitely shaped leaves of the ageless trees.

It filled the listener with pinching longing for the spring that was forever gone, yet at once it shone with the promise of another spring to return in its place, year after year, age after age, eternally. It was at once a lament for the fragile, fleeting grace of all living things – and a hymn to life’s immortal nature, its uninterruptible continuity, its power, glory and resplendence.

And so easily and fluently it interlaced joy and sadness, so close it placed losing and finding anew, so simple and old was its logic, that it pierced the heart.

Yet what pierced the heart even more was Orophin’s very voice: it flowed like a river, clear and enlivening, full and effortless, as though unconscious of how it swirled, and bent, and slowed and quietened to then surge on with renewed force. It was one of those few things in life that sport such fundamental, unquestionable, undiluted goodness that even the proudest of men are awed and humbled by them, and fall silent, and forget themselves, and look on in wonder.

Just as he finished, the sun moved, and the radiance abated, no more than a soft glow now.

He sat silent for another long moment, then turned to look up at Faramir, the Elf’s eyes open and expectant.

Faramir swallowed. “Your voice is a miracle,” he uttered with great feeling, and was startled to hear himself sound hoarse, and only then felt the tears in his eyes. Faramir blinked them back and smiled vaguely. “A blessed miracle,” he repeated dazedly.

Orophin, to Faramir’s utter surprise, blushed scarlet and dropped his gaze.

“I am glad you are pleased,” he said in unaffected modesty.

Faramir could not suppress an incredulous laugh. “Do not speak like that! I am not ‘pleased’, I am astounded! And who would not be?”

“It is really quite relative,” Orophin assured him softly. “Your brother, for instance, was not all that impressed. ‘Tis all right, I take it this is all a matter of taste.”

“My brother…? I didn’t know you’ve met…”

“Yes,” the Elf shrugged casually, “he was here just the other day.”

Faramir turned to Denethor sharply. “Father, is that so?”

The Steward raised his brow. “My son, would you question the words of your friend? Just how polite is that?”

Chapter 8. Innocence

The room was sultry and misty with steam. They were sitting in the bathtub – or rather they were crammed into it, for it had definitely not been designed to house both a tall youth and a lanky boy. Boromir’s sharply bent knees rose high above the water, as did his well-sculpted shoulders.

Yet all the same Faramir felt perfectly comfortable, cosily cradled between Boromir’s legs, his back resting against his brother’s front. Boromir had just finished washing the boy’s hair, and Faramir was still a little dreamy, for the way Boromir’s fingertips massaged his scalp always made him melt, and yawn, and almost fall asleep right there in the water. Now his brother had moved down and was lathering his upper back, scrubbing in earnest so that Faramir even swayed back and forth a little.

Faramir always enjoyed these shared baths. He loved being so close to his adored older brother, and also relished the opportunity to look at him without clothes. Boromir had bloomed early, and in his image Faramir saw all the promises of manhood embodied – and also one particular promise that if he worked hard enough, he too would one day grow into a strong mighty man like this. Of course, Boromir was hardly yet a man – to someone else’s eyes but Faramir’s. Faramir was awed by the height and breadth of his frame, fascinated by the round rippling muscles of Boromir’s shoulders and arms, and positively envious of the ample black curls proudly sprouting in all the right places. He was equally envious of the coarse stubble on his brother’s face – not as dense as it would become in a few more years, but already enough to make Faramir gasp and laugh whenever Boromir suddenly leant in to rub his prickly cheek against the boy’s smooth one.

Faramir sighed contentedly and bowed his head to the side to let Boromir wash the curve of his neck.

The rubbery stiffness of Boromir’s erection was warmly prodding against the boy’s slim lower back.

The young man had long since explained that at his age the prick would bone up randomly at all times, and Faramir should not be unnerved by that. It would happen to him too. And Faramir was not unnerved. In fact, he felt a little smug about being all suave and grown-up about it, and acting like he did not even notice anything. ‘It’s a man’s thing, and I’m a man, so there’s nothing about this to make me bat an eye’, his conduct was saying.

It did indeed happen quite frequently. They often washed together, and sometimes slept in the same bed too, and nearly always Boromir would grow hard. Once Faramir had decided to be even more grown-up about it, and suggested in a most casual manner, “Would you like to work it off? I can leave for a while.”

Boromir chuckled appreciatively, but shook his head no. “‘Tis all right, don’t bother. It’ll go away on its own.”

And it did – it always did. Admittedly, while his arousal lasted, Boromir would oftentimes become unusually affectionate, and look at Faramir in uncharacteristic thoughtfulness, and touch him on the face, and even stroke his hair – but always took care to keep his engorged member out of contact with the boy’s body, unless it was unavoidable like when he was washing Faramir’s back.

Faramir tilted his head to the other side – and saw their father standing motionless in the doorway. The Steward’s floor-long robes of black wool looked so out of place in the hot humid bathing quarters that Faramir, even though the unexpected visit startled him a little, could not help but smile.

Denethor’s lean pale face bore an absent look as he took in his flushed wet-haired younger son, but then the man’s eyes moved just a notch – to Boromir, and a strange expression came over the Steward’s proud features.

“Father…?” Faramir asked anxiously, for some reason deeply alarmed all of a sudden.

“Father…?” Boromir echoed him, now also becoming aware of the lord’s presence – and Faramir felt his brother grow strangely tense behind him.

“Yes, Boromir,” Denethor said softly, stepping inside and pulling the door shut behind himself. “I was meaning to speak to you of something, but I see you are rather preoccupied at the moment.”

“Father, I –” Boromir began hastily, but Denethor did not let him finish.

Speaking in the same mild even tone, he addressed his younger son. “You are done with your washing, Faramir, and may get out now. You certainly aren’t going to get any cleaner in that tub,” he gave a curt nod of the head to indicate the boy should do as told at once.

As Faramir climbed out, heavily splashing the floor, he cast his older brother a perplexed searching glance, but Boromir would not meet his eyes, and altogether turned his face away. Denethor, on the other hand, looked him up and down so pointedly and so probingly, that Faramir instantly felt self-conscious to the extreme about his nakedness, which in turn rendered him inexplicably embarrassed, and the boy hastened to wrap a towel around his body.

“Take your things,” his father ordered with another nod, “you can put them on in your room: I should like to have a word with your brother.”

“Yes, Father,” Faramir inclined his head obediently and, holding his clothes in a pile, hurried to leave.

As he struggled to pull the close-fitting leggings up his damp legs in the adjacent chamber, Faramir felt his cheeks burn with shame and self-disgust. The boy could not understand the origins of these sentiments much as he could not understand Father’s conduct, but he knew without doubt something improper and unacceptable had just taken place.

And then he heard a shout.

The boy froze, his eyes round with fear and shock. Their father never shouted, and least of all at Boromir…

Faramir’s heart beat madly as he turned to look at the closed door to the bathroom. He was seized by an urge to run back and take the blame that was rightfully his – even though he had no notion what he was to blame for. But Boromir could not be guilty, Boromir was never at fault, he was by default always an example to follow…

Nevertheless another shout came, and Faramir sensed he should stay out of it, that interfering would only make things worse.

So he busied himself with his garments – fingers shaking, buttons and cords escaping his grasp – and shivered involuntarily every time he heard their father’s raised voice.

Not much reached the boy’s ear though, only some ambiguous, unconnected bits and phrases.

“…shan’t tolerate… …own house…

“…lie to me, I saw how you…

“Just take a… yourself! …exactly is it you tell him to explain…?

“That does it!

“…the sooner the…

“…the Valar your… live to… her son…

“So what?! I would remind… Lord Baraldir’s daughter… only twelve when…

“Never again shall…”

And, last of all, “Unfair? Damn sure it is. But seeing as I am now forced to part with one of you, I would rather it be him.”

Then in a flurry of robes Denethor stormed out and banged the door shut behind himself, his face black with thunder clouds. The man stopped short, however, when his eyes fell on his bewildered eleven-year-old son standing before him – and with a supreme effort of will he collected himself immediately, as though simply swallowing his fury down.

“Oh, good, you are dressed,” the Steward observed briskly, and were it not for the straining tendons in his neck, he would have appeared entirely at peace with himself. “Come with me now, Faramir, I have news for you.”

It would be nearly ten years before Faramir would see his older brother again.

There was no telling how long it would be before Faramir would chance to touch him again.

“Pray tell Lord Steward I am come to request to speak with him,” Captain Faramir told Denethor’s esquire, and heavily leant against the cool stone wall of the corridor when the young man bowed and went inside to report to his lord. The warrior closed his eyes, willing the memories – and the sentiments they aroused – to retreat and leave his mind clear.

The esquire soon reappeared, bowing again and inviting Faramir in, and the young captain braced himself.

The Lord of Minas Tirith was sitting in his private drawing room, his face tired and stern as he scanned some letter in his hand.

“Father…?” Faramir heard the strain in his own voice, and did not try to conceal it.

“Yes, yes,” Denethor nodded, rising from his armchair and walking over to the tall narrow window overlooking the City. “I was expecting you would come to see me – eventually,” he said with a sigh.

Striding over to the older man’s side, Faramir took a sharp breath, his cheeks already on fire.

“Please,” Denethor said wearily, “contain yourself. I have little tolerance for drama.”

“Father, must it go on like this?” Faramir exclaimed loudly, his tone a mixture of pleading and indignation. “You know there is reason to ground my dismay, for it is humiliating, and embarrassing, and nothing has been done to warrant such treatment!”

“Oh, yes, I fully understand your frustration, and that is the one and only reason why you are getting away with all this cheek. Indeed, nothing has been done,” Denethor agreed evenly, inclining his head. “But something will, unless I continue to take the measures that I do.”

“But why?” Faramir appealed desperately. “Do you have no trust in us?”

Denethor’s brows went up as he turned his face to study his younger son for a long moment – then the Steward let out a curt dismissive laugh.

“Trust! Ha! I have been Steward for twenty-seven years, my son. How much trust in the moral excellence of mankind can I possibly have left, do you think?”

Faramir shook his head in disbelief. “But we are your children! Do we deserve no credence? Can we not even see one another?”

“Children, so you are. And that only means I know you even better than I know others under my responsibility – although what I know about you is not so much different from the general truth about men.”

Faramir took a deep breath and pursed his lips in resignation. “And if I may, what truth would that be, Father?” he asked in a noticeably more collected manner.

Denethor folded his arms and looked ahead of himself. “Men, my son, are weak – and foolish,” he said slowly. “And the more foolish they are, the less they realise their weakness. Oh yes, do not look surprised, each of you two is quite a fool, in his own way. Your brother, Faramir, cannot possibly deny himself anything he desires, nor does he think that he ought. And as for you – ah, you have always been prone to these,” the older man winced and waved his hand vaguely, “theatrical romanticised gestures of self-effacing righteousness. Oh yes, I am well informed about all those incidents you had in Dol Amroth: you may have been away, but I was watching you from afar, so don’t think I don’t know you, Faramir.” The Steward exhaled heavily and recrossed his arms. “On its own none of this is necessarily catastrophic – but put together, my boy, yields a fail-proof recipe for disaster. Truly, I shan’t be much surprised if one day your and your brother’s brilliant double-act would see me to my grave.”

Faramir stared at him aghast. “Father, you cannot possibly insinuate –”

Denethor grinned with one side of his mouth. “Oh, by the Valar! Faramir, please, I am a little too old to play the insinuation game, I can allow myself the luxury to speak plainly. He would ask – and you would consent, that is all there is to it. Maybe not at once, but what does it matter? You would take pity on him, or convince yourself that you are doing ‘the right thing’, or whatever – but you would not reject him: trust me, you have no notion of your own capacity for foolishness. Hence it is all merely a question of time.”

Faramir flinched as though with pain and spread his hands incredulously. “But Father… What I do not understand is this conviction that he would ask. I have never seen any testimony to the very existence of this desire you are taking such precautions against.”

“Ah, you have not? Truly? Well, perhaps that is because whenever a situation can be interpreted in a variety of ways – and most situations can – you ever choose the one that conforms to your naïve assumption that people, first, are prone to virtue and, second, their idea of virtue coincides with yours. Well, at least when it comes to you and I, our ideas clearly do not coincide, for I, as opposed to you, prefer not to leave anything to chance, and avoid risk whenever it only can be avoided – and if the path to doing so is not exactly strewn with rose petals, then so be it, I would not lose any sleep over that. My Boromir is the heir of Gondor, and I shan’t stand for his good name to be ruined.”

Seeing the stubborn look on his son’s face, he shook his head in exasperation and heaved a tired sigh.

“I am sorry if my attitude angers you, Father,” Faramir said quietly.

Denethor waved his hand irritably. “It does not, for it is of little importance: you flatter yourself if you think much depends on your actual point of view. You are not the lord here, Faramir – I am, and whatever your opinion, I shall make my decisions as I see fit. I hope that is clear?”

“Of course, Father.”

Denethor nodded. “Besides, I ought to give you a little latitude: you are only twenty, ‘tis common for young men such as yourself to be unreasonably optimistic and impractical. After all, you have not seen much of life yet. But all this had better change as you grow into full manhood, Faramir, for, sorry as I am to say this, time is taking its toll on me, and I shan’t be turning blithe and cheerful with the passage of years, and my leniency for self-assured fatuousness shall ever only decrease. So consider yourself advised. Now,” he clapped his hands, “returning to the subject of proof – I could give you any amount of proof you like. You would disagree with all of it, of course. You would say that Boromir’s reaction when he saw you sitting at my side was naught more but one brother’s joy at meeting the other after nine years of separation. You would say the fact he avoids female company proves nothing. You would say his resentment for your new blond friend is based on nothing but the humiliation Boromir had had to suffer for publicly making our guest into an indestructible monster while in truth he was but a thieving Elf. But I trust deep down you realise I do have a point.”

Faramir stood quiet and grave for a long while, then spoke very quietly, “If this is the light you see us in, my father, then may I ask why I was called to return to the City?”

Denethor grinned ruefully. “Certainly not because my heart desired it, which it did not; but dire times are approaching, and I need you here: don’t think I would have appointed you Captain if I didn’t think you had it in you to be one. Now then, I have dedicated quite a bit of my time – and patience – to this matter already; you should get going, I have other business awaiting my attention. And mind you, we are not having this conversation again.”

Without a word, Faramir bowed and left, the young man’s jaws clenched so hard his teeth hurt.

Chapter 9. The Horse and the Falcon

Night was descending onto Ithilien.

The Rangers’ camp filled with lowered voices as men returned in twos and threes from their forays, reported to their captain and set about preparing for a well-earned repose after a full day of work. Small companies gathered around the three fires burning amid the trees, where supper was almost ready; jokes were made and news exchanged, hands were warmed and legs stretched out.

For the past fortnight the majority of the enemy activity had been falling to the southern part of the woods, and thus Faramir had moved with the better part of his warriors to a semi-permanent location some fifteen miles to the south-east of Osgiliath, near the hills of Emyn Arnen.

The captain found himself missing the particular charm of their cave at Henneth Annûn, especially the dulcet unceasing song of the ever-falling translucid veil of liquid cut-glass. But being out in the forest had its own sweetness too, especially on a clear starry evening like this, when the dusk coloured everything into creamy bluish shades of dove-grey – so that the woods appeared dreamy and surreal, and the intricate roulades of the unseen nightingales seemed a wordless echo of fairy-music wandering from the past to the present along some intricate ethereal paths.

Faramir took a deep breath of the subtly fragrant air and turned his gaze from the twilit woods to the more prosaic – and homy – sight of the camp. All the men were now back from their posts, guards appointed to keep look-out over the perimeter while the others rested, and as no alarming tidings had been brought, Faramir could now retire with a clear conscience, knowing all was well for the time being.

But just as he was about to do so, Eldir hurried over with word that a soldier on horseback was swiftly drawing near, coming from the City by the looks of it.

Mentally saying farewell to his meal, Faramir swallowed a sigh and headed in the direction the Ranger indicated, grimly speculating with himself on what urgent message was about to be delivered to him that could not have waited till morning.

The muffled sound of a light gallop reached the captain’s ears – he squinted into the gloom and could soon make out the horseman’s shape. Faramir crossed his arms, a bad feeling sinking in his stomach.

In another minute the rider swept into the small clearing in a cloud of warmth, and sweat, and neighing, and stomping. He sharply reined his mount to a standstill, so that the horse, having to make a full extra beat in its own tracks, tossed its head and let out a loud snort of displeasure and annoyance. The man, on the other hand, seemed to be greatly enjoying himself, his very posture bespeaking high spirits and overflowing energy. He gave his puffing bay a gruff pat on the neck, then yanked his hood back and looked squarely at the young captain come to receive him.

“Brother…?” Faramir could not conceal his amazement – although, on second thought, of course he should have known it was Boromir – who else would go charging through the woods at a canter at night…? But what grave tidings could have warranted this visit…?

In the next instant Faramir’s worry was appeased, however, for Boromir had jumped off, and now turned towards his younger brother with a broadest of grins upon his face. The heir made an attempt to withhold it, to feign seriousness, but failed utterly, and this time not only beamed, but laughed heartily.

“Come, Faramir! Come here. Let me see at last how you’ve grown.”

But it was rather he himself who came to Faramir, bearing his usual good-naturedly smug expression. Boromir always had the effect of attracting mass attention to himself, and Faramir felt everyone in sight turn to look at him, to look at the two of them – yet at once Boromir was the sort of man with whom it was easy to feel alone in the middle of a crowd, for his presence was so powerful, so physically magnetic it could block out everything else.

And Faramir looked his brother in the eye, smiled back and forgot there were others about.

Boromir threw his arms out, squeezed Faramir into a mighty embrace, and held him long and tight, the heady heat of Boromir’s body palpable even through all his gear and clothing. As Faramir hugged him back a little uncertainly, the young man grinned languidly to himself: this was how he remembered Boromir – big and loud, confident, overwhelming. For the first time ever they were of equal height, and Faramir was now capable of reciprocating in full measure the strength of Boromir’s hold on him, yet all the same… Years had gone by, and yet they had not…

The younger man would have grown dizzy perhaps, were it not for the shame that suddenly enveloped him just as his brother’s arms did. How could he feel so disconcerted about Boromir’s unexpected arrival? How could he stand so tense, so on guard in his embrace? Father was being overprotective, over-suspicious, taking measures against non-existent evils. Boromir was his brother, was meant to be his best and closest friend. It felt so right, so cosy to hold him and be held by him – Faramir had yearned for this moment for the past decade, and ought to savour it like the rare treasure it was.

The captain exhaled slowly, willed his nerves to relax, and pressed himself just a little harder against the reassuring warmth of his brother’s bulk.

Boromir inclined his head, and briefly pressed his nose to the side of Faramir’s neck, taking a deep breath of the younger’s scent. For one delirious sickening moment it seemed to Faramir the older man would proceed to actually kiss his skin, and he shivered – but Boromir drew back and looked at him appraisingly.

“Aye, you have grown – you are a man now,” Boromir said with a chuckle, and patted the other on the shoulder. The pat was heavy, and it lingered.

Faramir gazed into his face. Boromir was grinning broadly, but his eyes were dark and lazy, and it was hard to stop looking into them – and, vaguely realising some conscious part of him was rapidly slipping away, Faramir felt compelled to throw himself at his brother so that Boromir would once more enfold him, and Faramir could forget himself and drown in…

Suddenly Faramir was aware of all the men come to stand around them, and the notion of so many curious eyes being directed at them made another shiver run through him.

“What…” he closed his eyes for a second, desperately trying to collect himself. “What brings you here tonight, Boromir? I heard you were to go on furlough as of today…?” He stepped out of the embrace and spread his arms in question. His chest was heaving, and he felt profoundly shaken, his thoughts all tangled in a messy snarl.

Boromir grinned ironically. “I’d reckoned you’d be happy to see me.” He shrugged dismissively, forestalling Faramir’s reply. “I am on furlough, and ‘tis my choice to spend the first night of it here. I shall be gone on the morrow, of course, to report of my mission – but it wasn’t particularly remarkable, the account can wait a few hours. Now,” the man clapped his hands, “I’ve had a long day, enough chatter. Take me to the campfire, and there’d better be some supper to spare for your famished brother.”

“There is,” Faramir replied with a smile that did not appear all that carefree and happy. “Of course there is. Come.”

Wrapped in their cloaks, the two men sat side by side before the low-burning fire. The past week had been uncharacteristically cool and rainy for July, and at night both air and ground grew positively chilly, so the glowing warmth from the burning logs was a true comfort, and felt almost akin to luxury. The sour aroma of damp leaves smouldering was added to the sharp smoky smell of the crackling coals, and slightly prickled the eyes; Faramir inhaled the mix deeply, and it seemed to fill his lungs to the brim. The scent was so old, so heartsomely familiar – it reminded him of childhood, when everything was so blessedly uncomplicated, when there was an ever-present sensation of security and certainty.

The brothers had had their meal together with the other soldiers, and Faramir had then taken Boromir on a walk around the camp to give him a little guest excursion of the grounds and share updates on the Rangers’ work – and now they had come to the fire once more, presumably to rest and finally speak at leisure of things not related to their duties. The other warriors had risen politely to busy themselves elsewhere, and thus give the brothers some privacy.

The privacy, however, did not prove to facilitate the conversation.

After a good quarter of an hour without a word being spoken, Boromir finally broke the silence with a short mirthless snort.

“Just look at us,” he muttered and shook his head grimly.

“What is it?” Faramir glanced at him with concern.

Boromir shrugged and spread his hands, the man’s eyes fixed on the flames. “I can’t even talk with you anymore – I just don’t know what to say,” he uttered with a mixture of wonder and defeat in his voice. “You’d been gone for so long, and so much has happened over here meanwhile, so much I had wanted to tell you about – but now that you are actually here… Remember, when you were little, we would sometimes spend the whole night up, because we had so much to discuss, we would argue, and laugh, and dream things up – where’s all that gone to, huh…?”

Faramir inclined his head in agreement. “Aye, it does feel a little strange, after all these years… But do not let that spoil the evening for you. I am glad you are come, and I am still your brother, Boromir – a little bigger, perhaps, but otherwise not that much different; and everything our friendship used to be to me it still is. You can be at ease with me, truly – and don’t get yourself upset, there’s no obligation to talk – we can just sit here for a while, ‘tis bliss in itself.”

Boromir sighed. “Aye, so it is…”

Thus for many more long minutes they did not speak, and only watched the red and orange sway and flicker over the logs in a cadenced hypnotic dance.

Then, still not taking his thoughtful gaze from the flames, Boromir eased his collar and stuck his hand down, searching on the left side of his chest.

“Look what I have,” he said with a grin, bringing his clutched hand out and opening the palm for Faramir to see.

Faramir made a sound of amused surprise. “Why! Could this be my little horse?”

“Aye, ‘tis the one. You made it for me shortly before leaving for Dol Amroth, remember?” Boromir’s grin became both gentle and sad, and he kept his eyes on the little wooden figure in his hand, not his brother’s face, as he spoke. “Look how good you were with your hands, already back then. You were only eleven when you carved this, and it’s such a fine piece. There used to be fine little details, too, like the curls in its mane, but they rubbed away with time…” He flipped the horse over, stroked the back of its neck with his fingertip, then sighed and closed his fingers over it.

“I cannot believe you kept it,” Faramir said quietly. He had intended for his voice to sound just a tad playful, to lighten up Boromir’s sudden gloominess, but it did not have the desired effect: Boromir frowned and glanced at him in reproach.

“But of course I did, why in the name of the Valar would I not? When Father sent you away, all your belongings were taken too. I’d come to your room, and it would be stripped bare – there was nothing left. Nothing. Not even the carpet you used to sit on when you carved your toys. Only the naked walls and the empty frame of your bed, as though no one had ever lived there. Ever.”

The man’s face was stern and hard, and looking at him Faramir heaved a silent sigh. He may have been parted from his older brother for many years, but he had always known how to read Boromir, and now he saw not so much the bitterness and resentment the man’s expression suggested, but rather a deep, bleeding hurt it was meant to conceal. Faramir knew the cause, and knew Boromir knew it too, and knew they would not voice it.

Distrust. Their father’s distrust – and everything that was lost because of it, and everything that would never be because of it.

“So of course I kept your gift,” Boromir said after a while, his voice somewhat hoarse, “as the only proof you truly existed – I wasn’t even allowed to talk of you, you know… And I’d often look at it and wonder why it was you made a horse for me, not anything else. I mean, I’d never been all that mad about horses, and you knew that, and yet… You were probably trying to say something to me, but I don’t reckon you’d remember now…”

There was a questioning note in his tone, and he looked up at Faramir searchingly.

Faramir shrugged and gave him an apologetic smile.

For goodness’ sake, Boromir. I was eleven, it was a completely random thing. It could have, indeed, been absolutely anything else.

But he did not say as much, of course.

“I’m glad you kept it,” he murmured instead, and reached to pat his brother’s clenched hand.

Boromir gazed into Faramir’s face for a long quiet moment, the older man’s eyes intense and alight with some gentle emotion.

“Here, you should have it,” he stated with sudden decisiveness and offered the figure to his younger brother.

Faramir stared at him with eyes agaze. “No. Why?”

Boromir laughed awkwardly, but did not call back his offer, his hand still open and stretched toward Faramir.

“I think it should be so,” he said firmly. “I’ve had it all these years, and it’s grown to be truly special to me. You know, Faramir, I’m a warrior: I’m superstitious, I believe in good luck charms. And seeing as I can’t make you anything with my own hands… This here is my one special thing, one I think could work as a talisman for you. So I want to give it to you.”

Faramir smiled softly. “No, it should stay yours.” He covered Boromir’s hand with his own, closing the older man’s fingers over the horse, and squeezed it affectionately. “I mean it.”

Boromir grinned wearily and lowered his head so that his dark locks hid his face. “Aye, I suppose that’s prudent. I’ve been carrying it next to my skin all this time, it’s probably been soaked through with my sweat. Not a nice thing to get as a gift.”

The younger man could not suppress a laugh. “Boromir, stop being silly. I’m not a lady, I wouldn’t mind your sweat, ‘tis simply that –”

But he did not finish his sentence, for in that moment Boromir looked up at him, and for some reason Faramir felt himself blush fiercely under his brother’s gaze, and trailed off.

Dropping his eyes, Boromir shook his head and made a strange sound, something between a laugh and a cough.

“Actually,” he began with unnatural peppiness, “I had long since had something prepared for you. I’d reckoned Father wouldn’t keep you away forever – I mean, how unseemly would that look? – so I figured you’d return one day, and then I’d have something for you. I’d been meaning to give you my peregrine…”

“Your peregrine?” Faramir raised his brows. “I didn’t know you had a falcon.”

“Oh, I do, and it’s a fine one,” Boromir assured him with great enthusiasm. “I’ve had him for a few years now, so he’s all trained and ready – I didn’t get to see much of him since I was promoted to Captain last spring, though, but I have a very good man look after him, to make sure he stays in shape. Seriously, Faramir, he’s one of the best birds I’ve seen. Perhaps he doesn’t look that impressive, he’s of this smallish low-key variety, but you shouldn’t let that fool you. He’s stronger than you’d think, and he’s fierce, and loyal, and such great fun!”

Boromir talked quite a bit more about his falcon, and so animated and passionate he sounded that Faramir had never found the heart to confess he was not keen for hunting at all and the gift would be wasted on him. And in any case he did not pay all that much attention to what exactly Boromir was saying, for the younger man sensed that the lengthy praise for the bird was mainly a distraction from something far more weighty that was on his brother’s mind.

“Yes,” Boromir nodded to himself, “He’s wonderful, only…”


“I reckoned now that you’re Captain also, you wouldn’t have time for him either,” Boromir grinned without cheer.

Faramir sighed. “No, I don’t think I would, all I get is two-three days every three months, and most of that time I just sleep,” he laughed warmly, to show he in no way meant to complain. Then his mirth abruptly evaporated. “Wait, you… you don’t deem it unjust, do you – that I’m here, in your place?”

Boromir looked at him seriously. “I did at first,” he admitted frankly. “Not to me – I thought it was unjust to you, to throw this task onto you like so… If you ask me, it would have done no harm if you were given some time to adjust, to grow into it gradually, and…” he made a vague gesture. “‘Tis not good when such major changes come like a bolt out of the blue.”

“Really?” Faramir asked in great amusement. “Truth be told, I would not have expected you to voice a preference for hasteless patience regarding these matters.”

Boromir shrugged. “Well, why not? All right, I am aware I am known for a man whose temper is hot enough to scorch with – and most of the time the description applies quite well, ‘tis true. But that doesn’t mean I’m unreasonable in my expectations, Faramir – I know this was your first real experience in the field, and that is always hard. So like I said, giving you a little time wouldn’t have hurt anyone,” he frowned so sternly Faramir perceived his brother had given the subject a great many hours of tristful rumination. “But all that is no longer of much relevance,” Boromir went on in a brighter tone, “because now,” he looked around the camp meaningfully and spread his arms, as though to say the situation was self-explanatory. “I’ve been here all evening, had a word with each of your men – and not one of them had asked me whether I’ve come to replace you. What could be more telling than that? Whether you did or not back then, now you do deserve this place, and I am glad for you.”

Faramir leant in and squeezed Boromir’s hand tightly. “Thank you,” he said with great affection. “I always knew you wouldn’t take it personally, but I’m relieved to actually hear you say as much.”

Boromir grinned and covered Faramir’s hand with his own, and held it tight between both of his. “Everything’s all right,” he said reassuringly, and his voice was low and deeply warm. “You don’t need to worry that I’d ever think poorly of you.”

“All right,” Faramir grinned back. “And you don’t need to worry about giving me presents, I don’t require any material proof to know that you care.”

“Well, perhaps just a little proof,” Boromir mused enigmatically, but immediately afterwards shrugged and chuckled in a dismissive manner, as though to say the remark had no substantial meaning. Nevertheless, Faramir instantly grew ill at ease, and became painfully aware of Boromir’s thumb slowly caressing the back of his palm.

The younger man felt hot all over and generally uncomfortable. He frowned, cleared his throat, made to say something – but could think of nothing.

“Do you know,” Boromir mused thoughtfully, and clasped the other’s hand just a bit tighter, “I’ve said I couldn’t think of any story to share, but now something has come to mind. Do you know, some three years after you left, I ran away.”

Faramir blinked, quite certain he had not heard correctly. “You… what?”

“I did – I just could not take it anymore,” Boromir snorted, as though he himself did not quite believe his own words. “I meant to come over and see you, just for a little while. Back then it seemed like the sensible thing to do – don’t judge harshly: mind you, I was eighteen,” he made another snort. “I was caught, of course, hardly made a hundred miles. Ah, you should have seen Father’s face when I was brought back – and you would be surprised to know how much strength he still had in those arms – goodness, it was savage…” this time Boromir laughed heartily and shook his head. “Just to think of how foolish I used to be back then…”

“Oh, Father thinks you still are,” Faramir said before he knew it.

All cheeriness left Boromir at once, and he stared at his younger brother.

“I… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that,” Faramir mumbled in utter confusion. He had never been the sort of man whose tongue was quicker than his wit, and he could not understand how he could have just voiced something he had not even taken into consideration a second ago.

Boromir tilted his head to the side and narrowed his eyes. “Father talked to you of me?” he asked very quietly.

Faramir sighed and nodded.

“Well, what do you know, he also talked to me of you,” Boromir announced with an acrimonious smirk. “But I’ll tell you what,” the man added with sudden passion, “I didn’t believe a word of what he said: I know you’re a good man – and I want you to believe that so am I.”

“I never doubted that,” Faramir assured him just as passionately, and looked searchingly into his brother’s grey eyes, trying to see there signs of he did not know what.

“Good,” Boromir patted his hand, but appeared troubled rather than pleased or relieved.

It seemed to Faramir he would say more – and if he had, perhaps everything would have turned out differently – but Boromir only chewed on his lip, let out a long sigh and, letting go of the other’s hand, rose heavily to his feet.

“‘Tis late, and you have to awake early on the morrow,” he uttered with forced casualness. “I’ll go find a spot for myself now…” Boromir paused in hesitance, as though considering sitting back down, but then added, “Sleep well.”

He leant in and, laying his palm on Faramir’s shoulder, pressed his lips to his brother’s brow. “Sleep well…”

Chapter 10. Resolutions

The next time Faramir arrived to Minas Tirith with a military account the young man could not shake off the feeling that the Steward knew everything.

Everything – what?

There was nothing special to know.

Yes, Boromir had paid a visit to the camp – and why should he not? These used to be his men, this used to be his area of responsibility – was it not natural that he wished to stop by every once in a while and see how they were doing?

Yes, Faramir had been there at the time – but so what? They had greeted each other warmly, had supper together, and talked for a while – what was wrong with that?

And yet, if there was nothing wrong, why was it so that during the audience Faramir was careful to make no mention of their meeting, not even in passing…? Why was it so he felt guilty about the encounter and hoped so strongly his father did not know of it? Why was he stiff with tension, ever expecting Denethor to try and catch him off his guard with some clever question or remark?

In fact, the extent of the captain’s apprehension was such he noticed something was amiss only when his report was finished and the Steward was about to dismiss him.

“Oh, but Father, where is Orophin?” Faramir asked in puzzlement, throwing a glance around the tall hall. “I thought you kept him at your side at this time of the day…?”

The Steward inclined his head in confirmation. “So I do, but I gave him leave to go to the Houses of Healing today: apparently, he enjoys the garden. He says watching Anor set from amid the trees brings joy to his heart.”

“I suppose it would,” Faramir agreed ponderously, then ventured tentatively, “If I remember correctly, Orophin had requested to join our patrols once his injury healed. He must be quite looking forward to that day, to be back in Ithilien, especially now that summer is almost over…”

Denethor shrugged noncommittally, and motioned for his esquire to invite in the next caller waiting to be received.

“You had a busy term this time, go have some rest,” he said to Faramir, and although his tone was almost warm, the warmth in no way spread to his gaze.

It was a windy evening, and what few patients were at the infirmary had chosen to stay inside.

Faramir walked slowly through the empty garden, the grass bowing soundlessly under his feet, and was glad for the silence. A grave, solemn beauty was upon the place in that hour, and he did not wish his presence to disturb it.

The terrace faced mostly eastward, and there really was only a small part of it whence the setting sun could be observed – but Faramir did not head there, not just yet.

He stayed where the twilight had already settled, and treaded over the silky lawns for a time. Slowly the constriction in his chest dissipated, and as his breathing became deeper, the taut muscles in his neck and shoulders began to relax. Faramir did not feel uplifted, nor hopeful, yet the foggy turbulent concoction of anxiety, dismay, and confusion that had clouded his mind pulled back and gave place to sadness, weary and weighty, but clear.

The vague oppressive despondency that had troubled him for the past weeks stirred and turned over, uncovering the rawer and sharper emotions that hid underneath. Unpleasant as it was to face them, it brought a sensation of relief and closure, for now the man could admit to himself that deep inside he did not deem the gloomy foreboding that haunted him lately to be entirely devoid of grounds. Nor did he honestly believe that everything would somehow blow over and all by itself become as it should be.

Yet much as it was his long-established and rather enduring habit to ever seek a way to ascribe the mistakes of others to his own faults, Faramir saw that perhaps time had come to try and let it go. Maybe he would never succeed: it did, after all, bring a bitter-sweet comfort to think the responsibility was his, for if it was, it was also in his power to fix what had gone wrong. But he ought to try and finally stop brooding, stop asking himself what he could and should have done and said – because what had gone awry already had, and likely would have done so all the same. It would be only childish and desperate to choose to delude himself into the belief that if only he tried hard enough, then perhaps…

For all he knew, perhaps everything was not meant to ever become as it should be – and dreary as the prospect looked, he ought to prepare himself for it. Not dread it, or resent it, or turn a blind eye to it, but accept that some knots in his life might never be untied, and some losses might not be recovered, and sometimes his thought would stray in directions he would rather it did not.

How much sense even a very young man can sometimes make with himself if only given a chance to stop and turn his gaze inwards…

For that alone Faramir was glad to have come to the gardens in this shadowy hour.

And he knew then that Orophin had not been candid as to the reason why he wished to be here, or else the Steward had accidentally or otherwise misstated the Elf’s meaning. This was not a place where one would head in search of joy – this was a place to be alone with one’s sorrow.

The young man stopped in his tracks, wondering if in that case it be better that he abstain from intruding on his friend’s privacy. If Orophin was alone, probably he wanted to be alone.

But such was the nature of Faramir’s character that he would have much rather left to his own devices a man blithe than a man aggrieved. Perhaps this was because the pain of others hurt him too and he could not be at peace with himself without at least trying to lessen it in some way – or maybe because he himself had often nursed a pain he had no one to share with even when he would.

And so Faramir put his doubts behind himself, and headed to the corner of the garden that was warmly lit by the last horisontal rays of the retiring sun.

And then through the trees he saw Orophin.

The Elf did not watch Anor the way he had said he would – he was standing before the very parapet that trimmed the terrace, the garden behind him, and his gaze was turned northward and only a little to the west, where the Elven woods lay.

Somehow he looked more ill than when Faramir had last seen him at the Houses, back when Orophin’s arm was in a sling.

There was a piercing forlornness in his solitary white-clad figure, and the fact that the Elf had chosen to forgo his festive emerald attire and wear something plain and unshowy further confirmed Faramir’s assumption his friend was in no mood for joviality. And the stern, distant expression he bore told the Man that whether the Elf wanted to be alone or not, it indeed be better that he was not. Admittedly, he did look strong, and resilient, and uninviting as he stood tall and still, his clear eyes hard and unblinking as they beheld a sight open only to them – and yet at the same time Faramir perceived in him the same thing that had so shaken the Man back when he had watched his wounded friend sleep in the hospital ward some five months ago.


Not the soft teary vulnerability of a weak spirit, one that openly begs to be pitied and shielded from the uncertainties of the world, but rather such vulnerability that is not even aware of its own existence or else consciously chooses to overlook itself – one that is all the more endearing, and all the more requires protection from the outside, for on the inside it breeds only denial and despair.

Yet even with such insight it was a balm to the heart to look onto him. Was it for Orophin’s innate loveliness and grace that did not abate even in sadness, just as the poignant beauty of an autumn forest is not lessened by the sure approach of winter? Or was it for Faramir’s own sorrow that to see the same feelings in another took him out of the shell of his loneliness, and washed his heart with compassion and fondness, and showed him the possibility of companionship and even kinship where he had not sought to find it? Or was it for the Elf being so different from everything that had ever surrounded Faramir, and in that difference connotatively holding a promise of a fresh start, a new beginning, an escape from all the burdens of the past and present…?

Faramir did not know the reason, and cared little for it – he simply smiled, and felt better than in a long, long while.

And then, just as he was about to make his presence known, the air moved above the city of Minas Tirith, and wind came. It stirred the leaves and ruffled the grass ever so lightly at first, naught more but a playful loving caress and a gentle sigh – to then abruptly switch to potent passion, which it exerted with overwhelming speed and force, throwing itself at the slender trees and making them strain and groan as it bowed their branches and tousled their foliage.

Orophin alone stood unperturbed, as though in being oblivious to his surroundings he had become immune to them, and the gust of cool air thrown full in his face did not as much as make him wince. He did close his eyes, however, or perhaps it was not the wind but rather his own thoughts that moved him to do so.

And that was how Faramir would remember him for years to come: straight and unmoving in his doleful serenity, engulfed by the aurulent glow of the setting sun, hair opalescing with a myriad candescent shades as it flapped, and twisted, and shimmered in the wind. Orophin’s fair youthful face remained pale and smooth as his thought wandered far in space and time, yet at once he radiated such depth and intensity of emotion that it was not possible to draw the eyes away from him.

Then time moved, and the enchantment dissolved.

The Elf sighed – and as he opened his eyes and came out of his reverie the wind sighed also and quietened down, sending one last whispering ripple through the supple grasses of the lawn before dying away altogether. Only the ambient gold of the sunset remained, and it too seemed to have grown fainter, as though meaning to linger one last minute before giving way to the thickening blue dusk.

Orophin took another deep breath and stepped away from the parapet, and as he turned, his gaze fell on Faramir and he stopped. The Elf did not appear in the least bit surprised though, and when he took in the wonder so clearly written across the young man’s features, his face lit up with a welcoming smile.

“I was just thinking of you,” he said softly as Faramir approached with greeting.

“You were?”

“Uh-huh,” Orophin nodded and with his eyes indicated the high skies above, “that it was such a pity you were not here to see all this. I know how you appreciate beauty.”

“So I do,” Faramir agreed quietly.

Orophin tilted his head to the side and looked at the Man with concern. “Is something troubling you, Faramir?”

Faramir smiled and shook his head. “It won’t – if you tell me it was only today, and not every day that you come here to be sad all on your own.”

Orophin laughed with a light melodious laugh. “There is nothing wrong with being sad, however often,” he said brightly, “if there is joy to come afterwards. And now that you are here, you have already brought me plenty.”

Faramir frowned at his evasive answer, and the Elf laughed again.

“Everything is as well as is only reasonable to ask for,” he said in a tone implying he spoke in earnest this time.

“Is there something else you would have asked for were you allowed to be unreasonable?” Faramir curved his brow so as to make the question sound less gave than it truly was.

Orophin grinned in playful reproach. “Do not tempt me, o Faramir of Gondor, for I have given myself such allowance many a time before, and hardly ever had it proved beneficent for my well-being: so I’d rather try and be sensible for a change.”

Faramir nodded, taking the cue Orophin was not disposed to speak with any degree of seriousness. Fair enough, he could adopt a lightweight manner as well.

“So I see being around us mortal folk is making you somewhat more down-to-earth already,” the man observed with a merry twinkle in his eyes.

Orophin crossed his arms and gave him a sidelong glance. “Down-to-earth, you say? Could it be you too are entertaining this popular notion my kind is all ether, and elegy, and aeriality of flesh – and cares little for the joys a mortal man seeks along his road?”

“Apparently your kind is also given to self-contradiction,” Faramir retorted in the same tone of friendly jesting. “Or would I wrong you by saying it was no other than yourself who once told me an Elven body requires neither sleep nor nourishment? To be any more aerial than that one would have to actually walk above the ground, I am afraid.”

“What’s with the clarity of your logic today, my friend? Or is the altitude getting at you after such long an absence? Not needing food does not yet go to imply one lacks the capacity to enjoy it,” Orophin pointed out, the corners of his mouth curving foxily. “In our Elven-homes we take meals no less often than you do here, and we have beds where we sleep, among other things – so I wouldn’t say your people have aught to teach me in that respect. In fact, were I to have any money on me, I’d bet it on having no trouble drinking any soldier of Gondor straight under the table, and then perhaps another one.”

“My, could that by any chance be a challenge?” Faramir asked with a broad grin, only marvelling at the turn their conversation was taking after what had indeed been quite an elegiac beginning.

Orophin curved his brow. “Would that by any chance be a challenge you would consider accepting?”

“Hardly so,” Faramir admitted. “Under the table? Nay, I doubt you’d wish to see me in a state of such unravelment.”

Orophin raised his eyes to the sky and shook his fair head as though in helpless frustration. “But that would be exactly the point, Faramir. Goodness, how tight-laced you really are.”

“I see you too are entertaining some popular notions that are not entirely correct,” Faramir replied in amusement. “And since we are speaking of this, I may as well tell you that a little later tonight I am, in fact, going to risk quite a good measure of unravelment and whatnot.”

For a fleeting moment Orophin’s face dropped, as though in shock or hurt, but in another instant he laughed loudly. “Right – a soldier on a break home… Say no more!”

“Oh, I’m afraid to disappoint you, I’m not planning on making that much of a debauch,” Faramir assured him modestly. “A few of my Rangers who are also here on a break are heading to an inn in a short while, and it shall be no understatement on my behalf to say I am extremely pleased they have asked that I come with them. I doubt anyone shall get as far as dancing on a table, let alone falling under one – but I do believe it shall all be rather enjoyable nonetheless.”

“Yes, it sounds nice,” Orophin mused softly, and strange as it was it seemed to Faramir the Elf actually heaved a sigh of relief as he said it.

“Would you like to come with us?” the man asked on an impulse, but immediately knew he indeed would have liked it.

Orophin stared at him in unconcealed surprise. “Why, that is certainly an invitation I appreciate…” he began vaguely.

Faramir raised his hands quickly. “‘Twas only a suggestion, if you are not inclined…”

“Nay, I suppose not,” Orophin shook his head, and there was again a tinge of dejection in his faintly green eyes. “Not today, that is. I truly am touched that you should ask, but a tavern sounds like a crowded place, and for the present my heart would rather I stay alone.”

“As you wish,” Faramir said with a smile in his gaze. “But may I specify, would that be ‘alone’ alone – or ‘with a little company’ alone?”

By the look in the Elf’s eyes he saw it was indeed the latter case, but Orophin did not say as much. Instead he curved his brow in concern and asked, “But aren’t your friends eager for you to join them?”

“My friends, above all, are eager for ale,” Faramir retorted laughing. “Besides, I had seen them every day for the past few months, and if fate is kind to all of us, that shall continue for yet many months to come. But you… Indeed, I could stand to spend more time with you. I don’t mean this to sound pompous, but after all you once put yourself in mortal danger for me, and an hour with a friend like this, even be it an hour of darkest melancholy, would be more dear to me than a whole night of revelry among my soldiers.”

Orophin blushed and let out a short awkward laugh. “Nay, don’t bring that up, it wasn’t such a big deal.” Faramir stared at him, and the Elf hastened to correct himself, “I mean, of course to you your life is a big deal – and so it is to me. I’m only saying, don’t go making me into a hero, that is the last thing I want. Besides, ‘tis something you should get used to: for a kind and regardful man that you are, there shall always be those ready to risk themselves for you.”

Faramir sighed. “Now you are deliberately embarrassing me, and I see I should better leave you in peace for the sake of my own comfort – unless, of course, you would rather I stay…” He looked at the Elf expectantly, to show he meant it. The short bout of good humour on Orophin’s behalf had done little to fool the young man, and he was loath to go knowing whatever burden it was his friend bore was still high on his mind – and he doubted Orophin had remotely enough joy to follow his sadness.

“I would rather you have a merry night and enjoy yourself ,” the Elf said gently. “There shall be yet plenty of chance for you to wander about in dark melancholy, so don’t hurry to invite it upon yourself. And do not vex yourself over me – you have already brought me more comfort than you know. Besides,” he looked away, once more to the heavens and the horison, “there is a little business that calls to be finished first, before I could surrender myself to gaiety and fun.”

“Of course,” Faramir said agreeably, and with yet another warm smile turned to go. But as he walked back along the pebbled paths in the gathering darkness, a great worry for his friend rooted itself in his very stomach, so that he did not even notice how it smoothly supplanted the unease his own situation had bred.

And as he stepped out into the torch-lit streets, Faramir came to a firm resolve to indeed vex himself over Orophin, and pester him with his company, and not get off his back until he could be certain the only shadows to ever cloud the Elf’s heart would be the product of the latter’s own volatile moods, and be as swift to pass without trace as they been to appear without any grave cause.

Thus no later than early the following morning the young captain found himself knocking on the Elf’s door.

Intrigued as Orophin obviously was as to the reason of this unprecedented call, he seemed in no hurry to get to the bottom of it. Instead the Elf leant against the doorframe in leisured amusement and crossed his arms.

“My, don’t you look fresh and sprightly,” he observed teasingly. “Perhaps they had tricked you at that inn and gave you water instead of ale…?”

Faramir was smiling. “Good to see you are already dressed but not yet occupied,” he said in way of answer. “Come with me.”

Orophin smiled back, although a little uncertainly as the decisiveness of Faramir’s tone clearly implied significant importance if not altogether singularity of occasion.

“Where to?” he asked stepping out into the corridor and gently closing his chamber’s door behind himself.

Faramir beamed even brighter, with that shining white smile that brought light to his face.

“I am stealing you for the day,” he announced. “I’ve convinced my father to give you a full day off duty: we shall ride out to one of the fair groves by the River and enjoy the last of the summer’s sun. ‘Tis a quiet place, there shan’t be any crowds – I for one could certainly appreciate that after last night. The water’s still good, and we can swim, if you like. I’m taking along some food and wine too, of course. The horses are already waiting for us – what do you say?”

Chapter 11. Sugared Petals

It turned out Faramir could not have picked a better day.

Calendar-wise the leaf-falling season had already arrived, but it showed neither in the mellow warmth of the hazy air, nor in the intensity of the many fragrances of summer lingering in it. The sky was bright and clear, but not with the cold distant sharpness of September, as rather with the hospitable untroubled transparency more fit for July.

The trees stood green for the most part, if only just tanned yellow or saffron at the very edges of their heavy opulent heads. The malachite-coloured grasses at their feet were long and over-grown, and bowed under their own weight, and here and there amid the thick glossy stalks there could be seen the white and pale lilac flowers of the naked lady.

Not a breath of wind stirred the somnolence of the woods, and only the sleepy buzzing of the few remaining insects and an occasional warble of an unseen bird accompanied the two riders’ journey.

They spoke little, Orophin too engrossed avidly drinking in the sights and the smells that surrounded them, and Faramir indulging himself watching his friend’s apparent delight. In fact, their little trip was already bringing the Elf so much gratification that the young man could not help but feel a pang of guilt for not having thought of this simple and effective diversion before.

Orophin startled him with a sudden laugh of great merriment.

“Ah, I can hear it already!” he exclaimed with a toss of his head, and threw Faramir a playful glance. “Can you?”

And soon enough the slow murmurous hum of the Great River reached the Man’s ears too. He smiled, although the sound brought him far less exuberance than it did Orophin. Faramir did love Anduin, loved it the way he loved everything in his motherland, with his very bones – yet this particular love was to be forever tinged with unquenchable rueful longing.

In his mind the image of the river was inseparable from the image of his brother, thanks to the countless hours the two had spent there in the years before their parting. Boromir had always been a marvellous swimmer, in addition to his general strength and endurance demonstrating some impressive grace and legerity when in the water. He claimed there was little better exercise than doing a good couple hours of front crawl against the current – and whenever he had the time would take his little brother down to the beach for that exact purpose, regardless of the weather and time of year. If it was cold and blowy Boromir would let him get out immediately afterwards, and laugh as he rubbed the boy down with a coarse towel until Faramir’s cool skin blushed pink and he stopped shivering. And if the day was more like the present delectable jewel of early autumn, the brothers would tarry for a long while after the training session was over and horse around in the water, throwing silt and aquatic plants at one another, and tussling, and pretending to try and drown each other. They would swan-dive into the deeper parts from a high bank, and practice catching fish with their bare hands, and eventually come out to sprawl on a blanket and bask in the sun as it dried them up…

Those days had been carefree, and sweet, and full of unreflective, unquestioning bliss – yet the reminiscence was rendered sour for the knowledge that that time was irretrievably gone, and nothing the likes of it would ever be again. And all the more sour it was to think of this when here was the river – same as before, same as it ever would be, following its ancient course with steady indifference, paying no mind whether a boy came to bathe in it or a man, and whether his heart was light or heavy.

But that day Faramir did not wish it to be heavy, for he had come here to enjoy himself and share the enjoyment with another. So he chose not to dwell overlong on what had been, and instead set his shoulders back and took a full breath of the moist penetrating scent of the nearby waters.

And in another minute he could see through the trees a glimmer of Anduin’s sparkling brilliance as the high sun bespangled its swaying surface with silver and diamonds. Orophin saw it too, and laughed again, and urged his horse forth to cover the last furlough at a gallop.

Faramir followed suit, and rode out onto the beach just as the Elf charged all the way into the shallow waters of the small bight in an iridescent fountain of spray. As his horse snorted and stomped, sending splashes everywhere, Orophin threw his arms out and lifted his face to the sky.

“Ah, this is going to be wonderful!” he cried.

And so it was.

Three or four hours later – Faramir could not count – they lay supine on the thick woollen quilt he had spread under a tall willow, the tree’s long pendulant branches casting a lacy veil of shadows over their naked bodies. They had bathed, then rested, then bathed again, and rested some more, and now after the third round were getting listless and drowsy. And so they dozed for a time, and as the day had grown ripe and hot, were perfectly comfortable without their clothes.

When Faramir slowly drifted back to wakefulness, he did not hurry to get up, but instead turned on his side and watched his friend. And the Man’s heart lifted and felt to him light enough to soar in the air, and it seemed to Faramir there was more space for optimism in his life than he had previously allowed: evidently Father was wrong about him.

Here he was, alone with this wonderfully made, loveable young male, conveniently hidden from all the eyes of the world, completely divested and so very close. It did not escape Faramir how kissable were Orophin’s lips, nor how touchable his smooth fair skin, and the Man could well imagine how gently his clever elegant hands could caress and how tightly his strong arms could embrace.

And yet here they lay in absolute, unblemished innocence, their friendship pure and unspoilt. Orophin was so fine it would have been quite understandable – almost justified, in fact – to want him; but Faramir did not. It felt good to look, and he did not wish to stop – he would even go as far as to admit that the sight disturbed him: just as all instances of sublime beauty ever disturbed him, sharpening his senses and giving him a higher awareness both of the energy imbuing the world around and of the life force flowing in his own blood. And no inner conflict was bred in him, no ruinous images, no dark shameful urges came to Faramir’s mind as his gaze slowly moved about the Elf’s figure and face – only wonder and gladness at seeing such grace, harmony and vitality in another living being.

This depraved streak Father suspected in him – it was not there, for surely if it were it would have professed itself now. No, there clearly was no need for him to mistrust his own body, to fear it would play a trick on him, bewray some hideous truth about him and disgrace him.

So Faramir smiled broadly and rolled to once more lie on his back with closed eyes and feel the rays of Anor play on his face with featherlike lightness. He had long since not known a state of such contented untroubled languor, and his thoughts were idle and sweet.

Slowly invigoration and freshness came to replace his lull, and eventually his appetite awoke too, so Faramir unpacked his saddle-bags, and took out bread, and cheese, and several clusters of dark violet grapes coated with a bluish patina of wax, and a flask of wine, and some other things.

Orophin sat up too, his cheeks blushed after the nap, eyes dark and as though a little misty. His gaze fell on the little repast his companion was setting out, and the Elf stretched and smiled lazily.

“Mm, this looks good,” he murmured in anticipation, and Faramir grinned up at him.

They ate without hurry, looking over the river and at the high cloudless heavens above. No sign of civilisation could be seen from their spot, not a single dwelling, no bridge, no road, no boat. For all the uninterrupted peace of the grove suggested, there could be nothing but woods and hills for hundreds of miles about, and not a single person to intrude on their rest.

Inhaling deeply, Orophin leant back to settle into a half-lying position. “Could anything make a day like this any more perfect…?” he mused in a tone of great satisfaction.

“Mm… who’s to tell?” Faramir murmured enigmatically, and reached for his bag, whence he proceeded to produce a small finely-decorated metal box the likes of those for storing sweetmeats.

“Look what I have for you,” he said with a spark in his eyes as he offered the container to his friend.

Orophin took off the lid and gasped in delight. The box was full of candied rose-petals, tenderly pink and exquisitely, luxuriously aromatic.

“I thought you said this dessert was not known to your people,” he observed with curiosity, tilting his face to the side and giving Faramir a long look.

“It wasn’t,” the young man agreed with unconcealed pleasure. “But once I repeated your description to our confectioners, it became a matter of professional pride and honour for them to replicate it. And well, I reckon they’ve prepared this just in time, seeing as indeed today seems a perfect occasion.”

“This is so thoughtful of you,” Orophin said quietly, and heaved a sigh, then took out one delicate leaf and transported it to his mouth. He hummed to himself and added, “And please pass my kind regards to your confectioners, and tell them they have succeeded magnificently. I have never tasted better.”

Faramir smiled broadly. “I am so happy you are pleased. By the way, they said they can try the violets next, and some of the other varieties you spoke of.”

Orophin nodded thoughtfully, as though making some note to himself, then looked at the Man with a curve of the brow. “Do you like how it came out?”

Faramir shrugged. “Oh, I haven’t tried yet. I… I don’t know,” he laughed, as if just realising an instance of silliness on his behalf. “Somehow I’d assumed that since this was an elven dish, it was only for an Elf to eat.”

Orophin frowned at him in playful displeasure. “I’ve told you before: stop making these distinctions – for an Elf, for a Man… ‘Tis good – do you want one or not?” he raised his brows enthusiastically and offered Faramir one of the petals.

The Elf brought his hand so close to the Man’s face that Faramir took the treat from him right with his lips, and as he did so his mouth briefly touched against the Elf’s fingertips. Orophin’s gaze lingered on his face, and Faramir gave him a warm friendly smile, but the Elf suddenly grew sad, and dropped his hand.

He shifted away a little and averted his gaze to the moving water. “You know… I wanted to apologise to you for something.”

Faramir coughed in surprise “Apologise? To me? Whatever for?”

“I understand I upset you greatly – yesterday, when you came to see me. I know you’re worrying about me, I mean, all this,” with a wide gesture Orophin indicated the scene around them, including Anduin, and the grove, their blanket with the remaining fruit and wine, and Faramir’s little gift. “You’re troubling yourself so much to cheer me up, whereas… really…”

Faramir snorted softly. “I don’t want any apologies – in point of fact, I don’t think I’ve deserved as much as a thank you. You think too well of me – Orophin, I’m not doing you any charity, I spend time with you for the sake of my own enjoyment, which you give me plenty of with your sheer presence. I feel more at ease around you than I’ve felt with anyone for I don’t know how long – can’t you be at ease with me also?”

“Well…” Orophin lowered his face, as though discomfited by Faramir’s words. “In any case, I only wanted to say you need worry no more. For when you bring me to a place like this, where there are trees, and birds, and streams, I can see that it is only the nature’s mood affecting me, naught more. That is one of the reasons I so much look forward to the day when the Lord deems it fit for me to go to Ithilien with your troops, like he said I would… The summertide is waning, and that has made it seem to me like my heart would wane with it too – but here I can look around and see that nothing dies, that the sorrow of winter is but a stage, only a brief period of silence, after which all things shall rise from their sleep and bloom anew.”

“And yet you do not sound comforted as you say this…” Faramir observed softly.

The Elf shrugged but made no reply, and the Man added reassuringly, “Winter is not so bad in Gondor either. Do you know, some three months from now, I shall have two full weeks for a break from my duty, and I could show you many a wonderful thing. We watched the sunset yesterday – well, we could go high up in the White Mountains, and meet the sunrise. Just imagine the glory, Orophin! And there’s no better time for this than the coldest days of the year, when there is naught but ice and snow in sight and it feels like the first sunrise of the world – and any song you would sing could sound like the music of the Ainur themselves…” He fell silent, lost in the dream his own words had created; then sighed and went on thoughtfully, “Although, to tell the truth, for my part I also prefer summer to winter – but most of all I’ve always loved that time in early spring when you can feel the awakening of all things the most, and the Great River runs high and cold with the molten snow it brings from its source in the far North.”

“And it also brings the fallen mallorn leaves,” Orophin whispered under his breath.

“You said something?” Faramir looked at him keenly.

Orophin pulled himself up and gave the Man a bright smile. “I said, for now ‘tis warm – and let’s make use of that. Besides,” he nodded at the sky, “it shall soon be evening; let us make the most of a day like this.” With that the Elf swiftly rose to his feet and headed for the water, and in a few moments Faramir followed.

Chapter 12. A Lonely Night

When Captain Faramir returned to the city of Minas Tirith late in the afternoon of a chilly December day, spending a whole night up in the Mountains to see the arrival of Anor was the last thing he would have wished upon himself. For the present what he dreamt about the most was the far more prosaic comfort of a simple supper and a warm bed afterwards. Even the inhospitable weather put aside, it had been a difficult and toilsome term – he had had to send some seven wounded warriors to the infirmary in the City – and Faramir felt quite exhausted both of body and mind, and could easily imagine passing the first couple of days of his long-awaited vacation shamelessly doing nothing at all.

A cheerless inky-blue winter darkness had already descended on Minas Tirith when Denethor dismissed him at last, and Faramir retired to his chamber for a quick meal in private – and then straight to bed.

But just as the young captain settled before the plain table of dark wood, there came a gentle tap-tap on the door.

“Orophin?” Faramir raised his brows in surprise. Then he smiled warmly, for immediately his spirits lifted, and the man realised he had far more strength left in him than he had judged. All the unpleasant thoughts pertaining to his recent tour left him at once, and those cold wearisome months seemed to have been long, long ago. “So good to see you. Do come in. I was just sitting down to eat – the servants have brought enough for two, I’ll gladly share,” Faramir said stepping aside and made an inviting gesture.

He raised his brows again when he saw the Elf had not come empty-handed. In reply to the Man’s questioning glance, Orophin smiled his usual half-timid, half-playful smile, and lifted the bottle in acknowledgement of his intentions.

“In fact,” he took a deep breath and looked Faramir square in the face, “I was wondering if I could perhaps stay here tonight…?”

Faramir blinked at him, then frowned in puzzlement. “Here…? You mean, in my room?”

The Elf’s cheeks turned scarlet at once, and as always Faramir marveled at this trait of his, the blush jumping forth in a matter of a second, as though controlled by some kind of lever.

Yet, despite his apparent embarrassment, Orophin nodded. “Yes… that is what I mean. I understand ‘tis a little straightforward, but… Well, you see, I figured there’d be a spare place, and so there is,” he gestured at the sofa, “and maybe you wouldn’t mind…”

“Oh, I don’t,” Faramir hastened to assure him, “I was merely taken by surprise by your request, that is all. Of course, you are more than welcome to stay.”

Orophin lowered his eyes and nodded, and out of relief blushed even harder.

“Thank you.”

Faramir smiled dismissively. “But of course. It is no big deal, truly. Besides, you were never far from my thoughts while I was away, and when’s a better time to appreciate a friend’s company than after a parting?” he said rearranging the plates on the table and pulling up another chair. But then the Man stopped and looked at the other keenly. “Orophin…?” he asked very gently. “Is something wrong?”

“No, no,” the Elf shook his head hurriedly, looking startled by Faramir’s question. “Why would you ask that?” he accompanied this question with an unnatural laugh, and Faramir looked at him with reproach.

“Because,” the Man said with emphasis, pouring out the wine, “you had never asked to stay with me before, and I deem it a little strange that all of a sudden you should – without any reason behind it. And seeing as you have started the evening on a straightforward note,” he paused, then asked bluntly, “is something making you unhappy?”

“Unhappy?” Orophin repeated in wonder. “By the heavens, no!” He took a full draught from the goblet Faramir had just filled, paying no mind they had not even sat down yet. “I am being treated very well here, I have nothing to complain about. Truly, Faramir, if you wish to know, it is much simpler than that.” The Elf sighed with heavy sadness. “I am just a little lonely, that’s all.”

“Oh,” Faramir nodded, “that makes sense, of course. I have noticed you were keeping a distance from the local people, and unless that has changed during my recent absence…”

“No, no, that is not it. I do not mind the distance. Well, I…” Orophin lowered his eyes and began to fiddle with the edge of his sash. “You know, never mind. You are always so kind to me, and I always take advantage of that and start whining, while you already have so much on your mind,” he looked up and forced a reassuring smile.

Taking his seat, Faramir laughed softly and shook his head. “You know, you truly are impossible.” After they had taken their moment of customary silence and set to the food, the Man went on, “If there’s anything burdening you, better get it out first, so that we could dedicate the rest of the evening to the more pleasant matters. I’ll be far more troubled if I see something is off with you, but you do not share with me. And loneliness is not a state one can just will away, Orophin, I know that only all too well – nor is it aught to be ashamed of,” Faramir glanced out the window into the night outside. “I know that being by oneself out in the wilderness is far easier than being by oneself in a city full of people, and on some of us the City weighs just a little too much.”

“Nay,” Orophin shook his head softly, “‘tis nothing dramatic like that. ‘Tis a different kind of solitude that gets to me: I feel alone at night. You see, I cannot get used to being by myself in my sleep. Back where I come from, I have… I had two older brothers, and we all dwelled together. When we slept, they would lie close enough for me to hear the sound of their breathing… I know it is going to come across as childish, but you would not fancy how much I miss it, that simple comfort of a kin’s presence in the same room.”

“Do not worry, I can fancy it,” Faramir said very quietly, looking ahead of himself.

Orophin pressed his lips together. “I know ‘tis seen as privilege to be given a whole chamber all to oneself – like you, for example, don’t have to share yours, being a nobleman. So I understand it would be ungrateful if I asked your father to take back his favour, and lodge me with somebody else instead. Besides, I wouldn’t want just any Man there, either… You know, some of your folk are rather loud in their sleep…”

“Yes, I know,” Faramir laughed. “Well, like I said, you are more than welcome to stay here tonight – and, actually, whenever I come on furlough. Unless, of course, you should find me too loud for your liking.”

And so they ate, and drank the wine, and the conversation they had did not touch on any sombre topics, for Orophin had noticeably relaxed after Faramir’s invitation, and became quite talkative in a genial upbeat manner. It seemed he had not spoken to anyone since the young captain’s previous visit, so swift and animated he was in his speech. And watching him Faramir thought how very much he would indeed like to have this company every evening: even though the man was not generally given to talking idly and in vain, with Orophin he minded no amount of unsubstantial chatter, for the very sound of the latter’s laughter and the happiness of his smiles infested Faramir with such cheer that he honestly could not care however trivial were the sentences that evoked them. And he observed that in the course of their meal he himself had already smiled and laughed more than in the entire term of his military tour. Yet at the same time Faramir knew he would never grow bored or tired of the Elf’s society, for should another day find him in a more inquisitive and scholarly mood, they could just as easily speak of the most complex arcane matters or delve into the depths of Elven lore.

When the supper was finished neither felt yet ready for sleep, and so the two moved to the more informal and comfortable seat on sofa, where they kicked their shoes off and sat cross-legged as they leisurely finished off Orophin’s bottle and slowly talked in lowered voices.

At some point Faramir trailed off, resting his gaze on the gently wavering flames in the hearth. He felt very quiet inside and absolutely sated in all senses, although without heaviness or drowsiness. The warmth that had come to fill his blood from within and envelop him from without was of an inoppressive variety, soothing and enheartening, and did not make the room feel in any way hot or stuffy.

Faramir took a deep breath and felt a soft peaceful smile settle in the corners of his mouth. The moment, although technically there was nothing special about it, was perfection itself. A simple inconspicuous jewel, so easy to be missed in the rush of chores and worries, it held all the beauty and harmony of life in itself. A homy fire, a cosy seat, a cup of redolent wine – and a dear friend to share it with…

A surmounting sensation of affection and attachment swelled in his chest, and Faramir turned to the Elf – with no clearer intention than to look at him, to see that he too felt all these wondrous things.

“Is something off?” Faramir could not help but ask when he saw the unguarded expression with which Orophin had been watching him. It was… The young man could not quite define what it was, yet for some reason it moved him greatly, and made him unable to draw his gaze from the Elf’s eyes – but he did not know he was unable, for it never occurred to him to try.

“No, I…” Orophin smiled with a most serene thoughtful smile, then murmured slowly, “I was only thinking how I’ve often told you we are not different at all, yet when I look at you I cannot help but feel wonder. We are made so alike, and yet…” He raised his long supple hand and, moving Faramir’s black lustrous hair aside with the inner side of his wrist, traced the contour of the Man’s ear with his fingertips. “It ever fascinates me how smooth and rounded your ears are. Especially since you truly have the hair of the Noldor, like the pristine starless night of the newborn world it is, and so silky too,” Orophin’s fingers lightly dipped into Faramir’s locks, as though curious to feel the silkiness. The back of the Elf’s hand came to fleetingly caress the Man’s neck as he did this, and Faramir shifted unconsciously into the touch. He knew then where all the warmth he so enjoyed had come from, for Orophin’s very body radiated it – and it felt to Faramir as though the touch went further than his skin, penetrating somewhere deeper into him. It felt very welcome and calming, and he smiled as Orophin proceeded to feel the faint trace of stubble on his cheek.

Orophin paused, looking intently and as though expectantly at him, and again there was a strange quality in his gaze that disturbed something inside Faramir – and this time so much so that the young man frowned a little for the intensity of it.

At once the Elf dropped both his hand and his eyes, his face filling up with colour. “Oh, that… wasn’t exactly well-conducted of me,” he murmured in a fluster, his voice thick and heavy. “I have quite forgotten myself, I am –”

Faramir chuckled softly and reached to touch him reassuringly on the upper arm.

“Orophin, you need not fear affronting me with your interest,” the Man said sincerely and even leant a little forward for emphasis. “I understand we and everything about us is still quite alien to you: ‘tis only natural for you to wonder about all sorts of things – even the rather amusing notion of hair growing on our faces – as we, in turn, are wondering about you. In point of fact, only yesterday I overheard a group of ladies speculating as to when you were going to get curious about one of their folk,” at this Faramir’s expression turned outright playful, and he raised his brows meaningfully.

Orophin looked rather astounded by the prospect. “Oh, I… uh… I don’t think it would be prudent on my behalf to get involved into something of the sort,” he said doubtfully.

“Oh, my friend, I am not in any way instigating you to. They may deem it amusing to find some diversity in getting to know an intriguing fair-looking foreigner such as yourself, but I have strong doubts their fathers or husbands would share the notion,” Faramir replied with feigned seriousness, then laughed. But then he sighed and his face became serious again, this time in earnest. “I am sorry, I see I have unsettled you. We have never spoken of this, so I do not know, perhaps you had had to part with a wife or beloved when you left your realm. It was most certainly tactless of me to joke about such matters. You do not have to reply anything, of course.”

Orophin shifted in his seat a little, then said quietly, “No, I did not have to part with anyone. I did have family – but no one like that.” He shifted some more, then asked very casually, “Do you have a beloved?”

“Me?” Faramir snorted softly. “Heavens, no.”

Orophin narrowed his eyes. “You say that like it is a good thing.”

Faramir started, for indeed that was how he saw it, although up to then he had never consciously ruled as much. “Well, I…” he began vaguely. “I suppose ’tis easier for me this way. I am away on duty all the time, and in any case – what would be the point? ’Tis far too early for me to marry. With the place I am in right now, love can certainly wait.”

Orophin tilted his head to the side as he regarded the Man appraisingly. “You sound so rational about this one would almost think you don’t know what you are speaking about.”

Faramir grinned in confirmation. “And one would be quite correct – and if he were to ask me about it, I would say to him that love is often such a ruinous thing that I am in no rush to experience it.”

“So I gather you’ve had a few sorrows of your own…”

“Who hasn’t?” Faramir poured the rest of the wine into the cup, drowned it and got up to bring over the other bottle, the one the servant had initially brought for his supper.

As he returned to their seat, Orophin looked up at him with bright eyes. “Would you like me to sing for you?”

Faramir laughed. “What sort of a question is this? Of course I would.”

And Orophin sang.

It was not the likes of music Faramir had heard him perform before – in fact, it was not the likes of anything the young captain had ever heard. He could not make out the verses, for the language Orophin used was neither of the Elven tongues Faramir was familiar with, yet words were of little import, for the emotion came through in the very melody and poignancy of the piece. There was slow, deep-burning ardour in it, and tenderness inseparably interlaced with breath-stopping passion, and enduring devotion, and piercing tantalising ache.

And as he listened, Faramir’s heart filled with inexplicable longing, and the moment no longer appeared to him in any way perfect, for he had come to yearn for something greater, bigger, vaster… The longing felt all the stronger to him for the fact that as his emotions grew in complexity and force, Faramir’s mind became duller and vaguer, as though he were drugged or spellbound. And he liked it this way: it was easier not to think, to give all of himself over to the music.

When Orophin finished, Faramir only gazed at him hazily and said nothing, and so for a time they sat and sipped the wine, passing the one goblet they had back and forth.

Then eventually Faramir shifted in his seat.



“May I ask you an awkward question?”

Orophin smiled at him encouragingly, and Faramir went on. “Whenever I am close to you, I can’t help but notice you… how to put this…? You smell like a meadow in bloom. Do you… use some kind of oil on yourself?”

Orophin narrowed his eyes faintly and gave the Man a broad grin. “Why? Does it irritate you?”

“No, no. I didn’t mean to offend you, please don’t think that. ‘Tis merely that I find it rather unusual, so I could not resist asking.”

Orophin nodded and pursed back a smile. Then he laughed softly and said with a twinkle in his eye, “I don’t use anything. ‘Tmust be my natural scent.”

Really? I would have never thought…Oh, I am sorry, I am not being tactful here,” Faramir trailed off, growing progressively embarrassed, and pressed is fingertips to his forehead. He should not have drunk all that wine, then he would not have been ridiculing himself so…

Orophin, however, seemed amused, if anything. “Don’t fret, I don’t mind you asking me things like this. As a matter of fact, I am glad that you did, for I had been entirely unaware it was prominent enough to be noticed.”

“But it is,” Faramir countered with a chuckle. Again, he felt more drunk than he would have liked to be, but he could hardly do anything about it. “Actually, I think I smelled you long before I actually saw you for the first time. It is not my imagination, is it? You did come to sit before me back when I only just arrived to Ithilien, on that dark night…?”

“So I did,” Orophin confirmed with a strange new smile, slow and indulging. “And it was, if you wish to know, because of your arrival that I got to meet all your Rangers face to face.”

“How is that?”

“Well,” Orophin shrugged vaguely, as though about to recount some inexplicable foolishness on his behalf, “I just could not bring myself to ‘borrow’ things from your camp anymore. Not after I saw you and the cold shoulder they all were giving you. So… I just went to steal from the Orcs instead – and they, apparently, had smelled me out, too. And that’s how it all came about,” he waved his hand, “the chase and all that followed.”

“I see…”

“And now, may I put forward an awkward question of my own?”

“Certainly,” Faramir invited with a broad smile.

“That time you spoke of, when I came to watch you – is it just my imagination, or did you grow hard looking back at me?”

Faramir stared at him agape, entirely at a loss for words.

“Well, I…” he managed after a long moment of eloquent silence. “Yes, I am afraid I did. Although, to tell the truth, I did not become fully aware of it until after you were gone – besides, I didn’t know it was that… noticeable, given it was so dark, and I had my blanket wrapped around me…” he trailed off, struck by a sudden thought. “Oh, no, was it that plain in my face?”

Orophin smiled coyly. “Nay, it wasn’t ‘noticeable’, and it wasn’t ‘plain’. I didn’t see anything, but I sure sensed it.”

“Oh…” Faramir frowned, uncertain what the Elf was driving at. “Well, I… I still cannot understand why it happened, and, truly, you must excuse it. I realise just what an impression it gives, but please rest assured –”

“But I don’t want to excuse it,” Orophin murmured softly, leaning in to him, “I’d much rather take it as a compliment.”

His hand lay on Faramir’s shoulder in a very intimate way, and when the Man turned his confused gaze towards it, the Elf leant in some more and warmly pressed his lips against Faramir’s.

Chapter 13. Happiness

In a flash, Faramir’s clarity of mind was back.

With a sharp gasp he jolted away and stared at his friend in bewilderment. Many things he understood in that moment, some of which of course he should have understood long ago – and yet could not make sense of any of it… How could this be happening…?

“Orophin, no! We shouldn’t be doing this!” He uttered desperately, putting his hands up in front of his chest in a gesture of warning.

The Elf seemed entirely unfazed as he tilted his fair head to the side and smiled thoughtfully. “We shouldn’t – or you don’t want to?”


“Really?” the Elf raised his brow. “You have never thought of this?”

Faramir laughed awkwardly. “Well, I wouldn’t be entirely frank if I said no. I do deem you very lovely, after all, so of course the notion has occurred to me… But only as an idle thought, Orophin! I had never intended –”

Orophin snorted softly. “Oh, please!” He looked at Faramir in unconcealed disappointment. “Faramir, I wasn’t born yesterday, I know the signs when I see them, don’t act like you –” but he saw the distress his words caused, and softened. “Well, perhaps you do not see it yourself – but I do: you like me, you truly do. It just,” he spread his hands, “shows.”

Faramir breathed out heavily. “Orophin, I am serious. We cannot do this. It is no matter what I would or would not: these… these things are not allowed in my society.” Growing increasingly uncomfortable to remain sitting so close to his friend, he stood up and took a step back, to put some sobering distance between them. “So let us just drop it, shall we?” He was feeling progressively hot and overwhelmed, as though what wine he had drunk had by some magic turned into stronger spirits in his belly, and was swiftly unraveling him. “I…” Faramir turned away and brought his hand to his forehead. “Goodness, I…”

“They are not allowed in mine either,” the Elf said casually, addressing his back.

Faramir turned around sharply, his gaze ablaze with exasperation. “Please don’t compare,” he said sternly. “You don’t know what you are talking about. Such a liaison – a single night with a man – could destroy your entire life. Even if people just think you’ve had such a night, that would be enough.”

Orophin jerked his chin up, his lightheartedness evaporating. “Trust me, my prudent friend, I know exactly what I am talking about.”

For a moment Faramir gazed at him mutely, then recognition lit up the Man’s face. “So that is why you had to leave your land…?”

“Technically, yes,” Orophin replied frankly, looking him square in the face.

“I am truly sorry to learn this,” Faramir said sincerely. “But all the more reason not to set on the same path again, Orophin. I am serious, this sort of thing is granted very little tolerance here. It might jeopardise everything you’ve managed to obtain here, I –”

Orophin tilted his head to the side. “Will you get in serious trouble because of this?”

Faramir puffed his cheeks. “To be honest… I don’t know. But I am quite certain that you would, in one way or another. Orophin, please, let us be reasonable. You have told me yourself that you enjoy your life here – in any case, I am sure it is by far better than what you had out in the wild all on your own, with no one to even talk to. Would you truly wish to throw it all away for – for what, exactly? What could I offer you, even if I would? A stealthy tryst once in a few months? Is that how little you value yourself?” The young man saw his speech was failing to achieve even a fraction of the desired effect, and his expression grew stern once again. “I see I am not likely to get you to change your mind – fair enough. In that case I shall tell you this: whatever your attitude, I for one am not inclined to ruin your happiness with my own hands. It was I who brought you here in the first place, and I feel responsible for your well-being. And –”

“Happiness?” Orophin gave a curt laugh of disbelief. “Faramir, do you genuinely believe there actually is something to ruin? Do not take me wrong, I mean no disrespect to you or Lord Denethor. My existence is indeed made safe and comfortable: I am fed, and clothed, and given a bed to sleep in, and I even have an occupation to make me feel of some use – for all of which I am profoundly grateful, but…” he spread his arms, showing Faramir his empty hands. “I am sorry to come across as hard to please, but if you truly care about my happiness, and not merely use it as an excuse to get me out of your face, you have to understand that this is not enough,” he shook his head sadly. “I wish it were, but it is not. You know well enough how my heart aches to go to the fair woods over the River – and lately so much so that I am beginning to feel akin to a captive in this city of washed-out stone, where there are only a handful of trees, and the fairest of those is dead. The people here are strangers to me, and so I am to them. They may look at me in wonder and smile, and children may follow me in the street, but that is no different from how they would treat a horse with a second head growing out of its rear – and if they knew I would seek the passion of another man, they would likely throw rocks, too.”

The sternness had left Faramir’s features, and he now stood with deepest distress darkening his clear gaze. Pity came to overrule apprehension in him, and slowly he approached his friend and laid his hand on Orophin’s shoulder. “I am sorry it has turned out this way. It had seemed to me my father would indeed send you to Ithilien when you healed.”

“It is not your fault, I never said that,” the Elf replied quietly. “Yet it is already more than obvious that he is not sending me anywhere,” he looked up at Faramir with his faintly green eyes, and there was great gravity in his gaze. “So it would not be a spoonful of exaggeration on my behalf to say that if there is a source of joy in my days, it is seeing you. When I’m with you, I cease to recognise myself. When first you spoke to me, Faramir, I deemed myself too proud to even talk back to you, I was spiteful and hateful – and now look where I’ve come: I’m offering you myself, you say no, and yet I offer again and feel no shame… Every time you came to see me, to be with me, a part of the woe that haunted my step would fall away and dissolve, until one day I discovered the past no longer has its roots in me. And when I look upon you, I do not wish to return to the life my people live, one of sorrowful reminiscences of what had been and equally sorrowful dreams of what might have been if only fate had turned otherwise. I no longer wish to overlook the joy that is possible, that is here, in the now, there for me to see if only I would open my eyes – and you, Faramir, are all the joy that I need. Never before had I met one who would look beyond my appearance – and look with true interest and not idle curiosity, one who would rather give to me than take from me, and not smile at me when I’m blithe to then wave me away at the first sign of trouble; one who would put my safety before his pleasure… And the sheer way you look at me, with this warm clear light in your eyes…” Orophin laughed softly. “Nay, don’t blush, ‘tis true – I ever see it when you gaze upon me! Tell me, Faramir, do you truly, in the depths of your fëa, believe that it would be wrong to love me?” He rose to stand face to face with the Man.

“But Orophin, I do love you,” Faramir replied with a strain in his voice. “You are dear to me in very many ways, and your beauty moves my heart, and…” he brought his hands to his chest and clenched his fists emphatically. “And all the more so I want to do right by you! You are so pure, so fine… Can’t I just love you,” he looked at the Elf pleadingly, “chastely?”

“Chastely,” the other reiterated with cutting irony. “By Elbereth, you seem to hold celibacy for some ultimate virtue.”

Faramir lowered his face and pursed his lips. “Orophin, believe me, this is not easy for me. But yes, among the values I’ve been brought up to claim, a prominent place is given to that of abstaining from…” he closed his eyes, finding it incredibly difficult to speak on the matter directly, “from intimate contacts of the sort you are offering me now. Your kiss was one thing, and that I could return – but I know that is not all you would desire, and I just can’t… I don’t have it in me, I…”

“Good heavens, Faramir, this is indeed what you want to tell yourself,” Orophin shook his head, his features assuming a hard contemptuous expression. “Everything about your make, your bearing screams such raw, staggering sensuality only a dead man would fail to feel it – but for you it is more convenient to persuade yourself to remain oblivious of it. And I had taken you for someone with enough wit and daring to look just a little bit beyond the notion of what some conventional dullard would have done in your place.” The Elf pursed his lips and raised his brows in bitter disillusionment, then lifted his hands in a placating gesture and said in a highly official manner, “I am sorry, I was mistaken in my assumptions. I reckon it’d be better I leave now and spare us the awkwardness.”

“Wait…!” Faramir called after him only moments later, and the helplessness and despair in his voice caught at the Elf.

“I don’t need your pity,” Orophin spoke drily, turning back to him to give the Man an icy glare. “I know you are kind, and not a man to rejoice in spurning another, but if you can’t find it in yourself to accept what I wish to share with you, then at least do me a favour and don’t pity me.”

“I don’t mean… to pity you,” Faramir replied with effort, his voice having gone into a feat of disobedience. Orophin raised a brow and studied him apprehensively, saying nothing.

The young man inhaled deeply and closed his eyes for a moment before trying to continue. “Perhaps I am not as daring or clever as you thought me to be,” he said wearily, “but at least I have enough sense and honesty to acknowledge the verity of a truth when it is thrust in my face like so.” Again the Elf said nothing, and only stood watching him, and slowly Faramir came up to him. “Orophin, I do want you to be happy,” he said quietly but with great feeling. He raised his hand as though to touch the Elf on the face, hesitated for a moment, then gently brushed his fingertips down Orophin’s cheek before adding in barely a whisper, “and I do want… to be with you…”

A sharp gasp escaped him when Orophin stepped up to him so that their bodies touched shoulder to shoulder, chest to chest, thigh to thigh – but he did not step away and, lowering his face, murmured weakly, “I only ask… don’t rush me…”

He inhaled deeply and a shiver ran through him when Orophin embraced him and lowered his head to the Man’s shoulder. Faramir’s own arms remained hanging by his sides, and only his fingers twitched with a faint impulse of what he was not exactly certain. He shut his eyes, sighed and voluntarily surrendered his perception to the many sensations demanding entrance – he was doing this, he may as well live the experience through.

And soon he knew that what trepidation was holding him in a clinch came exclusively from his mind, for all other aspects of his being found nothing whatsoever unsettling about his friend’s embrace. Faramir felt again the living warmth that passed right into his body, to his very marrow, soothing and unbracing all his tissues, effortlessly and naturally making all tension leave him. Like water accurately and seamlessly fills all space provided to it, so this warmth sought out all the voids in him, all the places of worry and ache, and smoothly suffused them with its calming glow.

The world outside was dark and cold, and for what Faramir knew of it mostly hostile, and here there was a chance to find a small harbour of companionship and affection, to spend the night in peace, and gladness, and tenderness.

He sighed and bowed his head to rest it side to side against Orophin’s, the Elf’s soft hair cushioning his cheek, and raised his hands to lightly place them on the other’s waist. Orophin felt exceptionally svelte and firm in his hold, full of life and energy, and Faramir very acutely perceived the subtle movement the Elf made in response to his touch, shifting closer and arching a little, the muscles of his sides and abdomen flexing under Faramir’s fingers and palms. It surprised Faramir how intense it already felt, even this little contact, how it filled him with wonder, and made him imagine just how hot and smooth Orophin’s body would feel without the insulation of his garments.

From then on there was no retreat back into thinking that theirs was a purely conventional friendship, for Faramir’s were not a friend’s thoughts. He felt only relief at finally arriving at this conclusion, for now there was no longer any need to watch and analyse himself.

And so they stood for a long, long while – not moving, not saying anything, only shifting a little closer still, breathing on the other’s scent, getting accustomed to the feel of the other’s body in their arms.

At last Orophin pulled back a little, and looked at Faramir with a private hazy gaze that made everything inside him flutter and contract. Then Orophin’s eyes trailed lower to Faramir’s lips, and he brought his hand to touch his fingertips to the Man’s cheek and the corner of his mouth.

Knowing what was to come next, Faramir closed his eyes and allowed it to happen.

Chapter 14. Elven Magic

It was gentle. And soft. And so very warm. And it was so very easy to reciprocate.

He was kissing another man.

Faramir had always envisioned this moment – if ever it were to happen to him – in highly dramatic terms: a moment truth, a moment of fateful irreversibility aptly accompanied by an abrupt descent of darkness, and buffeting winds, and lightning flashes of divine revelation, and thunderous rumblings of doom. It turned out to be nothing of the sort. He was still Faramir, his usual self, standing in the everyday settings of his bedroom, and nothing in his life had shattered or overturned.

He liked how it felt when their lips touched, and pressed together, and slid against and caught at each other. He liked the soft subtle sounds of the kiss, liked the sensation of the Elf’s breath on his face, liked it when after some minutes Orophin lifted his hands to place a lovesome intimate hold on his face, the Elf’s palms on Faramir’s jaw, his fingers on the Man’s neck.

To his own surprise, Faramir even liked it when he felt a brief brush of supple moist heat on his lower lip. It took him a moment to figure out it must have been Orophin’s tongue that touched him thus, and he grinned mentally to himself, thinking how very much indeed he must be attracted to the Elf, if he did not mind this accidental contact of the latter’s tongue with his mouth. But presently it happened again, and Faramir understood Orophin was doing this on purpose.

Had the concept been described to him in theory, Faramir would have most probably found it odd and far too feral, and rather repelling at that. This was not a practice he had ever witnessed anybody engage in, nor one he had even heard mention of. What modest practical experience he had in the field had not prepared the young man for as much as the possibility of such a thing.

Yet now he felt titillated and intrigued more than anything else – and he thought, seeing as he was kissing an Elf, he might as well kiss him the elven way.

So when next Orophin prodded his lips in this manner, Faramir opened up to him and showed he wanted the contact to linger. He sighed into their kiss and strengthened his grip on the Elf’s waist as Orophin licked along the inner side of his upper lip, then teased the highly sensitive spot at the corner of his mouth and moved back over the man’s lower lip.

It excited Faramir so much more than touching only lips to lips, the warmth in his belly swiftly developing into a full-blown heat, and a powerful urge came to him to in turn taste the other’s mouth.

He meant only to touch Orophin’s lips – but bumped into his tongue instead. The sharpness of his body’s reaction to this light impact robbed Faramir of breath, and he gasped and averted his face a bit, too shaken to realise he had gathered fistfuls of the other’s tunic.

Orophin let out a gentle hum of amusement against his mouth, and with his lips Faramir felt the Elf smile. He saw then it endeared his friend that he knew so little in these matters, and the notion reassured him.

So he pulled Orophin yet closer to himself, wrapping his arms around the other’s middle, and tried again.

Their tongues touched ever so lightly, then once more, this time a little bolder. Faramir tilted his head to the side, and licked between Orophin’s lips. He felt the Elf smile again, and then do the same to him, slowly, teasingly.

And so it went on, gradually gathering in daring, and Faramir noted how something in him just as gradually changed. He recognised this to be the Elven magic working on him, or else one operating according to the same laws. The passion and wonder awakening in him were not brought upon him from without, were not imposed onto him or proffered to him in some deceptively comely package – they bred from within him, came from the depths of his self. There was no deceit here, no vice.

The circumstances of Faramir’s life had brought him to view sensuality as cause of little else but perpetual misfortune, humiliation and shame, and therefore in itself a thing obscene and repugnant, bawdy and uncouth, all lowly urges and unsightly actions.

He could not use his current experience to generalise, but this much Faramir could tell: what passion came to be born between him and Orophin did not clash with the tenderness and deep affection he felt for the Elf. There was desire in it, carnal erotic desire, but nothing about it was lewd, putrid or unnatural. He could embrace it with a clear conscience and fear naught.

And the last trace of doubtful unease that still resided in him left. No, Boromir’s kiss would have never been like this. Boromir would have never kissed him so smoothly, so tenderly, so artfully… It would have never felt so uncomplicated… No, he was not seeking Boromir in this kiss, this had nothing to do with his brother.

Faramir opened wider, let in deeper, and welcomed the suddenly swift escalation of ardour, let it wash through him in full-bodied waves. His cock twitched, nodded – and snapped to full arousal just as Orophin pushed his tongue forcefully past the young man’s teeth all the way into his mouth. Faramir pushed it out so that he in turn could claim his friend’s mouth. Orophin hummed in enjoyment, and kissed him even deeper.

Feeling he was beginning to reel, Faramir drew back a little and stared at the other dazedly.

“Good Valar…!” he murmured breathlessly. “This feels so good…”

“It is going to feel even better,” Orophin promised playfully. But along with playfulness there was a new note in his voice, low and husky, and it made Faramir’s veins flood with such heat his clothes began to feel like a bother.

Orophin pulled the Man in again to resume the kiss, and pressed his hips against Faramir’s, so that the Ranger knew the Elf had a hardness to match his own. There was a new hunger to his passion, but it did not frighten Faramir, for it was a hunger to bestow rather than to take away, and it was contagious.

Orophin’s hands slid down first to Faramir’s neck, then his chest, where the Elf’s fingers sought out the Man’s aroused nipples and took to gently massaging and pinching them through the fabric of Faramir’s tunic. Faramir gasped, and jerked forth against Orophin’s body, and as he tilted his head back and to the side, Orophin leant in and kissed him moistly and sensuously on the throat.

“Orophin, I… What…? I…” Faramir panted senselessly, grabbing at the Elf’s back in an unconscious effort to bring him even closer. The fire threatening to break loose in his own body befuddled the young man and made him suspect that what remained of his ability to predict his own behaviour would soon abandon him. He was already fully erect – how was it possible for his desire to jump to yet another height…?

Before he knew it his belt fell to the floor with a clank – and he rejoiced in the liberating sensation of the first little layer being shed off him.

Orophin’s fingers were at his collar, easing it open – then his tunic together with the undershirt was dragged off over his head, and Faramir only obediently lifted his arms to facilitate it. It made him tremble to realise how naked he already was, and although he had previously been before the Elf in a state of total undress, this time it was something altogether different, there was meaning to his nakedness, there was purpose…

He gathered the other in his embrace once more, and this time not only held him, but roamed his hands over Orophin’s body, no longer concerned with appearing too curious or rash. He felt the firm lean curves of the Elf’s arms and chest, the strength and flexibility of his back, the intoxicating way his figure narrowed down to the hips. Faramir buried his hands in Orophin’s hair as he grabbed the Elf on the back of the head to hold him fast as he brought upon him a kiss that went as deep as was only feasible.

He needed more. He did not know what exactly was supposed to be done, for when it came to intimacy with a man, Faramir had always focused on telling himself he would never do it and never even wish to rather than stop and imagine the various arrangements to be acted out between two lovers made alike of body. But he knew he needed more, direly needed it, whatever it was. All his initial anxiety that they would go too fast for his comfort had turned into the direct opposite of itself, and now it seemed to the young Ranger they could never get done fast enough.

“Orophin…” he mumbled against the other’s lips. He pushed his hips forth, pressing his rigid loins to the Elf’s, and his want made him even bolder with his hands, and his palms slid down to cup Orophin on the buttocks.

The sensation of the taut well-developed muscles under his hands made Faramir suck his teeth, for it called on some primal instinct in him, one he desperately wished to follow.

“Oro…” he did not finish, for Orophin swiftly bent over him to bring his mouth to Faramir’s chest, and the kiss he planted on the Man’s left nipple robbed Faramir of breath. Faramir arched against him as Orophin’s tongue and lips played on him, first one nipple, then the other – then, beyond all expectations, the navel…

Then Orophin was up again, claiming Faramir’s mouth once more.

But Faramir averted his face and, slamming the Elf against himself, pressed his face to the side of Orophin’s head and murmured raggedly into his hair, greedily suffocating on his redolent scent, “Orophin… Valar… please, I don’t know, but please…”

Orophin laughed with a soft sparkling laugh and gently pushed him towards the alcoved bed. “Don’t you fret, Faramir, I know what to do.”

From that point everything happened incredibly swiftly.

Without remembering walking there, Faramir sat on the edge of his bed, Orophin straddling his lap, so pleasantly heavy and strong atop him, although at once lithe and graceful. The Elf was grinding his hidden erection against Faramir’s naked abdomen, their mouths locked in an unending kiss, hands busy everywhere.

Then Faramir felt a brief breath of cool against his intimate flesh when the Elf nimbly undid the front of his trousers to let his desire out. In another instant the shiver-inducing freshness was gone, for Orophin’s fingers confidently closed around his length, safely cradling it in the heat of their grasp.

Faramir no longer had enough coordination to do anything, even kiss, so he only wrapped his arms tight around the Elf’s back and pressed his face against his friend’s throat as that hand moved on him. It was so acute, so wondrous, the pleasure resonating through his whole being, knocking all conscious thought out of his head.

This joy was uncontainable, it overfilled him, put incredible pressure on him, threatened to make his tissues burst. Faramir strained against it, yearning to prolong the elation – but it slipped from the control of his will, and broke free. With a hoarse faltering gasp he bucked his hips up at Orophin, and spent.

Faramir sat trembling, rendered senseless by the all-encompassing state of relief and mellow serenity that had at once overtaken him. He still held on tight to the figure above him, for it felt to the young man to be the sole source of all the good that had just happened to him and that was still happening, surrounding him with fondness, and safety, and sweet loving joy. In that particular moment Faramir did not define him as Orophin, his Elven friend, a blond youth from Lórien, and so forth – it was of no importance who he was or what he was called, for he felt like the closest, most kindred being Faramir had ever known.

“How young you are,” Orophin murmured in great affection and a bit of amusement against the top of his head, and ran the palm that had been lying on Faramir’s shoulder over the young man’s charcoal-black hair.

This gentle endearment was enough to pop the bubble of daze surrounding Faramir, and the dreamy fog dissolved from his mind.

The young man blinked himself back to reality, and lifted his face to gaze a little hazily at the Elf.

Orophin smiled down at him – and Faramir smiled back. No pang of regret came with the conscious realisation of what had been done: he was so glad Orophin was here, with him, in his arms…

Still looking him in the eyes, the Elf gave Faramir’s manhood a light teasing squeeze, and Faramir gasped in surprise, having been up to then rather unaware that Orophin was still holding him.

They both looked down at Faramir’s arousal, and the Man saw the ample evidence of his pleasure hanging from the tip of his flushed quavering erection in a heavy elastic drop of murky white.

He gasped again, suddenly mortified with embarrassment at the crude unsightliness of it, quite certain it had irrevocably ruined the moment – and frantically grabbed for the edge of the coverlet to clean himself with.

“Wait,” Orophin murmured softly, planting his hand on Faramir’s arm and staying him. “Let me take care of this for you.”

Faramir breathed out uneasily, willing himself to calm down, and with a nod of consent motioned for Orophin to do as he would.

“Truly,” the Elf mused, sliding from his lap to kneel on the floor before him, and running his hands over the Man’s thighs, “you should not get upset over this. It is the most precious thing your body can produce, more precious even than your very blood. Besides, don’t forget you and I are made alike: my body expresses joy in like manner, so nothing about you could appall me.”

Faramir only chewed on his lip, looking down at the Elf whose face was now so close to his manhood. It was reassuring that at least Orophin understood the cause of his distress, but he wished so much more that his friend would first ‘take care’ of it, and then say all the nice calming words.

“I can wipe you with my hair, if you like,” Orophin offered casually, gathering a handful of his tresses and looking up at the Man in eager expectation.

Faramir coughed in amazement.

“Goodness, no!” he exclaimed round-eyed. “Your hair is gorgeous, don’t soil it thus!”

The Elf snorted in amusement, as though in truth he had expected no other answer. “Fine, fine, I won’t.”

Then, before Faramir could perceive what he was up to, he swiftly leant in and picked up the full slick drop into his mouth, and without halting proceeded to wrap his lips over the tip of Faramir’s erection and slide down his shaft.

Faramir cried out, and thrust at him involuntarily, for despite his satisfied state, his arousal had not yet dissipated, and its tip was highly sensitive.

Orophin hummed a chuckle and went on to slowly slide up and down the tender length, gently sucking on it and twirling his skillful tongue around it as he spread the Man’s own cream all over it. Faramir’s breathing once more became heavy, and he tilted his head back and closed his eyes. He had not known such fine, delicate pleasure before. It had not occurred to him to ever keep touching himself after he had worked off his tension – and now that there was no pressuring goal of achieving release, he could relax completely and bask in the sensations.

All too soon for his liking he went soft, and eventually Orophin let go of his manhood. For a couple delicious moments the Elf remained on his knees, tenderly licking and sucking on Faramir’s balls, then moved up to kiss the Man’s abdomen and up to his chest.

When Orophin climbed atop him once again to straddle his hips, Faramir discovered the Elf had lost the lower half of his attire, although the Man could not recall that happening. Faramir smiled, enjoying the contrast between how modest the Elf still looked, what with his tunic covering his hips and concealing the evidence of his desire, and how utterly shameless he felt to the touch when Faramir slid his hands up beneath the rim of his shirt, cupping his firm boyish behind. Orophin laughed under his breath, a laugh of mirth and delight, and pushed forth at him, rocking not only with his hips but as though with his whole body.

Faramir knew that if he would he could now in turn access the Elf’s very desire, for it too was merely hidden from view by his tunic, but perfectly available to touch, and Faramir felt the hardness, rising perfectly upwards, caress against his stomach and chest with its full length as Orophin subtly moved on top of him.

He had never touched another’s sex with his hand, let alone held someone else’s erection, and the prospect filled Faramir both with naughty exhilarated curiosity and faint trepidation. Had Orophin not stroked him first, he would have perhaps never dared, deeming it far too private a thing, too much of an intrusion. But he knew that along with being private, it was also a highly pleasurable thing, and of course he wanted to bring his friend to the heights he had recently been to himself.

Slowly he moved his hold from the Elf’s buttocks to his hips, then slid one hand even further towards his front.

As Faramir’s fingers painted a light probing stroke up the underside of the Elf’s smooth warm arousal, Orophin leant out of the kiss to look down in the Man’s face. His grey-green eyes had suddenly grown exceptionally hazy, his full lips were parted, and he seemed on the whole quite overwhelmed and even intoxicated. Faramir paused, his palm resting motionless against the other’s length, and for a long quiet moment they held still, not moving, not making a sound, only looking into each other’s eyes, the sheer contact so intense nothing else was necessary.

Then the Elf smiled at him, very gently, not so much with his lips as rather with his eyes. It was a content, peaceful, encouraging smile. The smile of a very close friend rather than of a lusty lover. And it was this smile that served as the final irrefutable confirmation to Faramir that what they were doing was not only not wrong – it was right, for both of them were doing it for the right reasons.

Carefully he wrapped his fingers around Orophin’s hardness. It responded, twitching in his grasp – and in that moment Faramir suddenly wanted to look unto it, to watch it grow redder and longer as he worked on it. But for now, he decided, he would let everything stay as it was. It felt powerfully erotic to touch without being able to see, and it was more apposite to the mood of tender, cautious and unhurried exploration that had returned to the young man once his own need had been temporarily satisfied.

Faramir pumped gently, slowly. He knew it would feel more intense for Orophin if he were to do it harder, to squeeze the Elf’s cock proprietarily, and rub it quickly, and even jerk at it from time to time – and he knew Orophin would perhaps even want this, but Faramir did not wish to make his friend rush to completion like he himself had been unable to help rushing.

Only when the Elf began to pant and bite his lip, and push needily into Faramir’s hand, did the Man judge it was time to move a little forward.

He let go of Orophin’s erection, and slowly slid his palms down the Elf’s bare thighs, then up again to slip beneath his shirt and caress his hips and flanks.

“I wish to see all of you,” he said softly.

Orophin grinned, undid the cords at his collar, and raised his arms accommodatingly – and Faramir pulled his tunic off and threw it to the farther corner of the bed. The Elf inhaled deeply, and arched with his whole body towards the man in a seductive gesture of supplication, inviting and offering – but his expression remained wholly serious and intent, and he looked searchingly into Faramir’s face, obviously keen to see the Man’s reaction to his nakedness.

Faramir trailed his eyes down the Elf’s form, then slowly up again. He had seen this body before, yet now that his friend was aroused, it had become altogether different, and although in his mind Faramir knew it ought to seem familiar, it did not.

At last he turned his gaze to Orophin’s face and smiled. “You are so beautiful.”

He was not merely beautiful – he was beautiful in the way that was easy for Faramir to desire. The young Ranger doubted he could have ever embraced or even accepted in himself a sexual yearning for a full-grown mortal man – a man with breadth and bulk, with thick powerful thighs and sturdy sinewy forearms, with coarse dark hair on his breast and abdomen, dense stubble on his cheeks and a deep chesty voice. A man who would be a little clumsy in his rough overbearing passion, who would grunt and breathe raspingly, and perhaps even swear in his moment of pleasure, who would smell bitingly of lust and sweat. He knew such men were often enviably popular among women – but Faramir was not a woman, and he did not want to desire a man the way a woman would.

He did not wish to be overwhelmed, dominated, tamed – he yearned to be on a par, to rejoice in the similarity of make, in being able to take the same road to joy. He was hungry and curious for the strength and confidence of another, but did not want brutality or brashness.

He did not wish to see any femininity in his lover either, nor excessive timidity or submissiveness – he only wanted the other’s masculinity to be of a comely and graceful variety, to awake in him not only carnal urges, but admiration and wonder.

The Elf was perfect.

Faramir ran his hands over Orophin’s shoulders and chest, then, recalling how good it had felt when Orophin did it to him, leant forth to flick his tongue at the other’s nipples and lightly suck on them. The Elf let out a quiet moan and rocked his pelvis at Faramir, pushing his arousal to the Man’s abdomen.

“Orophin…?” Faramir murmured without lifting his face to look at the Elf, and licked at his nipple again.


“Do you want…” Faramir began hesitantly, marvelling at his own boldness, “do you want me to do that thing for you that you did for me… with your mouth?”

“If you would…” the Elf replied undemandingly.

Faramir nodded in confirmation that indeed he would, and Orophin slid off him to assume a more convenient position. He stood a little to the side of Faramir and put one foot on the mattress, thus not only bringing his erection almost level with the Man’s face, but also spreading his legs for full access to all his sensitive places. He stood quiet and expectant as Faramir shifted closer, and stroked the Elf slowly up the legs and over the hips, and studied his taut manhood up-close.

It looked such a good, fine thing. It was very clean, and hale, and virile. It was full of nothing but potent creative energy which it yearned to share through sharing pleasure, and so in that moment it seemed to Faramir utterly inconceivable that one might be repelled by the sight of it.

Faramir liked how artfully it was made, even in its engorged state appearing so comely to the eye. There was harmony of shape and proportion in it, and the pale gold hue of the curls surrounding its base, much lighter in colour than the hair on Orophin’s head, communicated a strange degree of innocence to it. This was not an arousal that would remind Faramir of some other man’s sex, for in Gondor he had only chanced to see those accompanied by lush heavy blackness.

He liked the scent too: heady and penetrating, but not too strong or pungent. It was not a scent Faramir would want to shut out from his senses – on the contrary, there was an enticing underlying note to it, subtle and elusive, that made the young man inhale more and more.

He knew then that he wanted to take his mouth to the Elf not only for the sake of the latter’s indulgence, but for his own enjoyment as well. This was the essence of Orophin’s masculinity, and in treating it with well-measured ardour, in appreciating both its strength and utmost delicacy he would pay homage to his own male nature.

And so he set to it, very tentatively at first, the touches of his lips and tongue ever so light and probing. He took the time to observe the taste, to appreciate the different textures…

Faramir had worried he would not know what to do, how exactly to go about delivering this service, but quickly discovered everything happened naturally, easily. The language of the body left no space for misinterpretation, no cause for doubt, and soon he knew where and how exactly Orophin liked to have his manhood kissed, and sucked, and licked, and what other things Faramir could do to it with his mouth. And then the young man remembered his tongue and lips were not the only tools at his disposal – he had a pair of hands too, which up to then had been keeping an idle grip on the Elf’s hips.

So the young man took to kneading his flexed buttocks, and carefully massaging his balls, slowly pulling on them up and down, and stroking with his fingers that part of the length that did not comfortably fit into his mouth.

Orophin was sighing expressively, and deep humming moans rose in his throat, and his hands were saying a wordless thank you through the way they caressed the Man’s shoulders and neck – all this was enough for Faramir to know he was on the right path. Yet still he wanted to see the ultimate proof in the Elf’s face and, his lips wrapped around Orophin’s cock, Faramir looked up.

Orophin was watching him as though deep in thought, his eyes alight with appreciation and something deeper.

He said something to Faramir, but Faramir could not understand, for the Elf had spoken in his native Silvan tongue, apparently reserving it for the most sacred things. And Faramir knew that what he said was something exceptionally good, and that was enough for the young man.

Perhaps he had grown a little too engrossed in his ministrations, for Orophin was beginning to strain against him, obviously doing his best to withhold from thrusting forth – and then a few drops of his seed leaked onto the Man’s tongue.

Faramir gasped in shock, and instinctively drew away. He would not say that the taste was unpleasant per se – it was simply more than he could take, at least for now. In his elated enthusiasm he had quite forgotten that if he were to do his job well, he would get a mouthful of the other’s concentrated essence, and he realised now he was not quite prepared for this.

“A little too much, hm?” Orophin chuckled in amusement, and reached to stroke him on the jaw and neck in a gentle supportive gesture.

Faramir grinned weakly.

“But I do want to pleasure you,” he said resolutely, leaning in again – but Orophin stayed him.

“There’s no need to step over yourself,” he said. “Many ways there are for you to pleasure me. Undress and lie down, and I shall show you.”

And so Faramir shed his already lowered leggings, pulled back the coverlet and reclined expectantly – while in the meantime Orophin returned to the table where they had supped, and took the bottle of green glass half-full with olive oil, and brought it to put on the floor by the bed.

“What is that for?” Faramir asked with interest.

“You shall soon find out,” Orophin murmured promisingly, as he climbed in to lie by the Man’s side.

Chapter 15. True Nature

The young captain’s bed was quite spacious for one man, but two it could only house comfortably if they lay snugly together – luckily, this was not an issue.

The two rested on their sides, front to front, their noses almost touching.

“Is there anything in particular you would want of me?” Orophin murmured coyly, beginning to rock his rigid need against the Man’s newly swelling loins.

Faramir grinned back. “Mm, I don’t know… This?” he took the Elf on the face and pressed a deep hot kiss into his mouth.

Orophin responded readily, and they kissed thoroughly and without haste.

“I see,” the Elf conceded when they broke apart at last. “How about now?” He flipped over to lie on his side again, but this time with his back to Faramir’s front.

He pressed himself hard to Faramir, as though trying to blend together with him. When Faramir put his hand on the Elf’s hip and kissed him on the exposed curve of his neck, Orophin began to arch and subtly move against the Man’s body, as though waves were passing through him, waves originating in his pelvis.

The change in the arrangement did indeed evoke a very different reaction in Faramir. He quite clearly sensed a shift in power, more control passing to him when Orophin assumed this exposed position – Faramir perceived that a freedom he could not yet comprehend was given to him, and new horisons were made accessible to him. And the sensation of the Elf’s rump grinding at him as though in invitation called again on that same instinct that had awoken in Faramir when first he had laid his palms on his friend’s athletic backside. The way the cleft between Orophin’s buttocks so warmly and cosily cradled his hardening length would be enough to rob Faramir of all peace of mind – but this rhythm Orophin was proposing that he pick up… It darkened Faramir’s vision, and made his heart as though expand and become heavy in his chest, and heat rush to his face and neck – and, most prominently, in less than a minute it made his cock snap to full readiness.

Orophin apparently felt the latter development, for he hummed in unconcealed smugness, and asked again, “So, what about now?”

“Now…” Faramir tried to reply, but his voice faltered, and he swallowed with difficulty. “Now, Orophin, I… I don’t… You…”

“’Tis all right,” the Elf turned over his shoulder to give Faramir a quick kiss on the lips. “Just lie with me and touch me however you would, anywhere you like.”

This was a suggestion easy to follow. At first Faramir tried to focus on his friend’s front, as he thought he ought to: he ran his hands everywhere, and tweaked the Elf’ nipples, and played with his erection – but, although Orophin clearly enjoyed all of this, Faramir could not help but feel that he was tarrying while he was supposed to go elsewhere.

And eventually he let his unphrased desires guide him, and moved his hand to caress the Elf on his side: his shoulder, and flank, and thigh – then his back. And along Orophin’s back Faramir’s hand was drawn irresistibly downwards, until it came to cup the curve of the Elf’s bottom. It aroused great lust in Faramir to knead and squeeze this firm roundly shaped flesh, and quite without meaning to he even gave it a pinch and a light slap. It only made Orophin chuckle – but Faramir himself it made suck his teeth and almost groan, such burning pressure these actions for some reason brought on his loins.

This pressure made him seek for something else, for something more – and as the private crease of the Elf’s backside lured and beckoned to him with a vague promise of a hidden treasure to be discovered, Faramir soon found himself probing gently beneath the muscular curve to slide his fingers between his friend’s legs.

Orophin sighed loudly and arched at him as Faramir came to feel him on the underside, searchingly caressing the smooth sensitive skin of his perineum and upper thighs.

Faramir sighed also when he moved his hand backwards a bit and found a faint dent in the line between Orophin’s buttocks. It felt tender and uneven to the touch, and the young man had enough reason left in his mind to understand this dent, although very small, was special, for it had the ability to yield to him. The Ranger’s cock had given a twitch of deprivation when the pad of Faramir’s finger had brushed against this potential entrance, and Faramir knew he would not manage to pull his hand away until he explored it properly.

“Wait a moment,” Orophin called to him gently, and took Faramir’s hand and brought it to his lips. He pulled the man’s index finger into his mouth, and licked at it lavishly – and the sensation of the smooth delicate heat on his skin made Faramir gasp with desire.

“Now go ahead,” Orophin allowed dreamily when he had made sure Faramir’s finger was as wet as only he could make it.

It felt to Faramir as though the Elf had actually welcomed him in, so easily he slipped inside. Going further in, however, obviously required some patient and careful work, for he felt great resistance, and was afraid of causing hurt.

“Take it out,” Orophin whispered without turning to the young man. “Now back in,” a deep sigh, “good…” then, “a little deeper – now take out.” Faramir could tell he was smiling. “Play with me, Faramir. Make me relax.”

Approaching it as a game was indeed helpful, it allowed Faramir be far less forceful than his need demanded. He could not explain it to himself why it felt so vital to him to penetrate his friend’s body as deep as only he could, while it was obviously for Orophin’s benefit they were doing this – but nevertheless it brought him immense gratification and excitement to work his way into Orophin’s private heat. The Elf felt at once very tautly, compactly resistant on the inside – and surpassingly fragile and vulnerable. Faramir could only ideate what depths of trust it required to let one’s body be handled thus by another – and even taking into account everything that had passed between him and Orophin, the young man was far from certain he would have succeeded had they tried to switch places.

No, he liked his role in their play perfectly well.

“Mm, you feel so tight,” he breathed out hazily against the Elf’s neck when he had worked himself in to the knuckle, and only marveled at how it excited him to utter something indecent like that.

“Just imagine… how good it is going to feel to put your cock in there…” Orophin slurred back with a grin audible in his voice.

What?” Faramir’s eyes shot wide open, and he jerked his hand away, making Orophin gasp in discomfort. “I couldn’t possibly do that!” the young man exclaimed with unappealable certitude, in his shock abruptly forgetting his need and the throbbing erection that embodied it.

“Oh, goodness…” Orophin swiftly turned over to face him, a frown of exasperation upon the Elf’s brow. “Why ever not? It seemed to me you liked touching me there, so…? Or do you deem it unclean to actually penetrate me with your manhood?”

“What? No,” Faramir shook his head, frowning also. “No, you are lovely, and of course my body yearns for something like this – but I just can’t.”

“But why not, if we both want it? Is this your dratted propriety raising up its head again?”

“Orophin, for Valar’s sake, be reasonable. You felt so strait around just one finger of mine – and to put all of this into you…” Faramir looked down at his arousal. “In all frankness, I just don’t think a man’s body was meant to be used like so.”

“Oh?” Orophin curved his brow. “And who are you to judge that?” he asked drily. “Or has Eru Ilúvatar himself paid you a visit to explicate how exactly he had meant for his children to love each other, and why he has given men the means to experience joy this way, both the giver and the taker?”

He paused emphatically, as though veritably expecting Faramir to say something in answer – and Faramir did.

“From what I know of Eru, although that is admittedly little, I would say he did not wish for his children to suffer, and least of all to inflict suffering upon one another in the name of love and joy,” he spoke quietly but with great conviction.

Orophin stared at the young man wordlessly for a long moment, and it seemed to Faramir the Elf might kiss him in response – or else start crying.

“Is this what stops you?” Orophin asked in barely a whisper, still gazing incredulously into Faramir’s eyes. “The prospect of hurting me?”

Faramir grinned wearily. “Not only hurting – damaging you. That place is so tiny and delicate, and I am not exactly sparingly endowed –wouldn’t I disfigure you?”

“So that’s the problem.” Orophin laughed with great relief – and merriment. He then took the rather bewildered Faramir on the face and leant in very close to him to murmur practically against his lips, “Not if you are patient and careful, you won’t disfigure me. Believe me, Faramir, I know what I am getting into, I’ve been there before. I shall love it, and thank you for it, and there shall be no damage at all – not even pain.”

Faramir heaved a long troubled sigh and pursed his lips, indicating he was rather doubtful still.

Orophin laughed again. “Ah, how could I not fall for you indeed? Worrying for me like this…” he kissed the Man on the mouth with a quick teasing kiss, and his eyes were like twinkling stars when he looked at Faramir again. “Back when I first saw you in Ithilien, before I even learnt your name, deep within my heart I already knew this would happen between us one day – and now I see my heart has chosen well. You would become closer than a brother to me if we do this, and that is what I wish,” he kissed Faramir again, this time far more tenderly – then a mischievous spark lit up in his eyes. “Now then, let us get some more spit on your fingers and put them where they ought to go, mm?”

He slung his leg over Faramir’s hip and kissed the Man passionately on the mouth as Faramir returned to his quest, albeit still with a good measure of well-meaning reluctance.

But in time the young man saw his friend had not been exaggerating, for Faramir now had two fingers fully sheathed in him, and apparently it brought Orophin nothing but thrill and even greater lust. He rocked his hips to meet Faramir’s hand, and when Faramir had gone into him to the knuckles, asked that the Man stop sliding in and out and only stroke and massage him on the inside.

When Faramir did, the Elf soon began to pant in earnest, and moan softly, his cheeks blushed bright, his lips even brighter, eyes closed tight. His inner muscles started to contract and relax convulsively around Faramir’s fingers, and now that the young man knew where they were heading, he wondered what it would do to him to feel the same rapturous grip around his erection – and moaned also.

“Orophin,” he breathed against the other’s throat, bowing to kiss it hungrily. Orophin threw his head back and arched to him – and when Faramir curled his fingers up against the front wall of his passage yet again, the Elf whimpered helplessly.

“Orophin…!” Faramir felt an unappeasable urgency overtake him, his manhood twitching and throbbing, blood pounding in it. “Orophin… are you ready?”

“Get the oil,” the other panted thickly in reply.

Faramir nodded dazedly, let out a ragged breath – and brought himself to let go of his friend’s heated lithesome body, and climb over him to fetch the bottle from the floor.

Orophin turned to rest on his back and propped himself up on his elbows.

“Now, calm down a little,” he said when Faramir proffered him the vessel. The Elf’s chest was heaving, his eyes dark and dilated, face glowing with inner heat, but his voice sounded clear, and there was unmistakable lucidity in his gaze. “’Tis no good to rush now – I would gladly have you take me wildly and without restraint, but I haven’t been breached for so long… If we are gentle the first go, we’ll be able to make love many more times tonight.”

“I never meant to be rough with you,” Faramir assured him earnestly, but the Elf only grinned.

“That’s what you think now,” he said.

He motioned for Faramir to sit upright opposite him, with legs parted, and assumed the same position between the Man’s spread thighs, putting his legs over Faramir’s hips and behind him.

“Rest at ease and relax,” Orophin said in a playfully authoritative way, “I shall take care of everything.”

Faramir did as the Elf asked, but curved his brow nonetheless. “I thought I was the one to do the taking.”

“You shall do all the taking you want, my dear Faramir – in due course. I have no doubt in your ability to swive all sense out of me, and so I’ll let you, only wait a little more.”

Orophin poured the subtly green oil onto his palms, and slid them up and down Faramir’s rigid erection, coating it well, then put some more between his own legs.

“Now,” Orophin smiled lazily, “come to me.”

When Faramir moved as close to the Elf as he only could, Orophin took him around the base of his cock and proceeded to carefully guide him in, the Elf’s lips pursed and brow furrowed in concentration. They shifted, and tilted their hips, and when the right alignment was achieved, Orophin took a big deep breath and, holding Faramir firmly in place, began to sink onto him.

As soon as the tip of his erection was enveloped by the constraining heat, Faramir shut his eyes and lolled his head back.

“Aren’t you going to look?” Orophin asked mischievously, pausing in his progress.

Faramir swallowed, nodded, and gazed at him again.

“This… is incredible,” he whispered vaguely.

Orophin tilted his head to the side and laughed. “We haven’t even started. Brace yourself: we’ll need your endurance.”

It already felt to Faramir like a major test of his endurance to merely hold still while Orophin brought their bodies together. Faramir had felt his friend’s nimble fingers around his erection, and so his moist skillful mouth, had had the Elf’s buttocks and arousal grind against it – but this form of love he was just beginning to experience surpassed by far all the others… The hard burning ring sliding lower and lower onto his length, followed by such delicate, yielding pliancy that enveloped him seamlessly like a finest scabbard…

The Elf sighed and gasped softly, and bit his lip, and arched his back, and to watch him was a great delight in itself. And Faramir chose to rather look him in the face than trail his eyes below, for first there was the sight of Orophin’s engorged manhood swelling with lust and trembling impatiently as its owner’s body was being filled up with another hardness – and a little lower than that Faramir could indeed see himself gradually disappearing into Orophin, and he doubted this was a sight he could withstand for long.

At last he was all in, and Orophin let his lover grow used to the sensation, and remained still for a couple of minutes, his gaze resting thoughtfully on Faramir’s flushed face.

“Move with me,” he said then, and began to rock at the young man ever so subtly.

Aside from the penetration itself only their hips and thighs were in contact as they sat each leaning back slightly, hands planted on the mattress behind them to give lever for pushing. This upright position was very helpful for keeping consciousness and awareness, for it required concentration and precision rather than blind power and passion, and Faramir was grateful for that. His lust had given way to a more complex, reflective passion, and he wished to savour this depth of communication, nothing being voiced yet somehow so much being said.

For a long time they moved in an exceptionally slow and mild rhythm, pushing together, then holding for a long breath, then pulling slightly apart to then come together again.

As gradually they began to pick up speed, Faramir’s need grew sharper, and he began to burn for more contact, to feel the heat and strength of Orophin’s body with his chest, and his belly, and his arms, to melt against his lips once again, to inhale the full measure of his sweet heady fragrance, to have that long shining hair fall about him like a cloak.

“I wish to hold you,” he said, reaching to pull the Elf in.

“Aye, hold me,” Orophin whispered indulgingly, and wrapped his arms around Faramir’s neck, shifting forward to be somewhat atop and above the Man, riding him only through the exertion of his legs and lower body. Faramir himself could hardly continue pushing without the support of his arms, his hips pinned to the bed by Orophin’s weight, but that made little difference to him. He let the Elf make use of what heat and strength of his own Faramir had to offer, the strength securely cradled within Orophin’s svelte agile body. The young man wished it would last forever like this, so beautiful this arrangement seemed to him, so harmonious, so inoppressively delightful, hugging each other with both arms and legs, so compactly fitting around and into each other…

But Orophin was pushing harder and harder, his need apparently sharpening also – and eventually tipped Faramir over with his assault, so that the Man lay back onto the sheets, and Orophin remained straddling him.

Faramir looked up at the Elf moving atop him, his shape seeming veritably aglow with light as the hearth cast its warm glow on him from behind, creating a soft halo around his figure. The expression of pleasure and joy on his face rendered him ravishing beyond belief, and he looked so lost in his delight as though he had quite forgotten about everything around him.

Faramir could now thrust into him at ease, and so he did, taking his lover by the hips – and Orophin began to shudder and groan, his brow furrowing as though in distress. This change in his handsome face strangely made him seem even fairer, and also even more alluring in a vulnerably sensual way. And watching him like this, and feeling the perpetual joint movement of their bodies made the young Ranger think back on how the evening had begun, how unthinkable this development would have appeared a mere hour ago… And now everything was happening so easily and naturally, as though off its own accord, as though it had always been meant to be so, as though it could never have been otherwise…

As Orophin bowed forth to lean with his hands on Faramir’s chest, the Elf’s hair tickled the side of the Man’s face, and Faramir raised his hands to run his fingers through the swaying locks. The young man was getting lost in Orophin’s beauty, and sensed that he was, and it filled him with amazement and elation. He knew then that this was the sort of lovemaking he had always wanted but did not dare even envisage – the point was not that Orophin was a boy, the point was that loving him was a clear and stainless blessing, for even when his features were ruled by passion, he was still the gentle and graceful youth so dear to Faramir’s heart.

Faramir still thought so when Orophin’s arms gave out and he fell flat onto the Man, and came to rock Faramir’s whole body with his exertions, his swollen rigid sex as though trying to rub a hole in the man’s abdomen. Faramir still thought so when Orophin’s need escalated to a nearly hysterical degree, making him drive against Faramir with frantic greed, the Elf’s breath coming out in strained plangent moans. They were so loud and piteous Faramir would have thought his friend was in pain, were it not for the rapt uprising note in Orophin’s voice.

Faramir could no longer keep up with the fierce tempo Orophin was setting and, fearing to distune it, lay still and only held his lover firmly by the buttocks, letting him do all the work. In any case, the young man was quite overpowered by what was happening to the other, and was so engrossed in Orophin’s tempestous pleasure he quite forgot to think about his own interest.

Suddenly Orophin jerked against him and screamed piercingly, the scream dying into a hoarse grunt – then once more. His body stiffened with a powerful spasm, he gasped desperately for breath, then arched and cried again, all the while digging his fingers into Faramir’s shoulders.

For a few more seconds he clutched Faramir violently, shaking all over as convulsions rode through him – then abruptly went quiet and lay limp atop the Man, only his legs quavering faintly and barely audible sniffing noises rising in his throat.

Faramir exhaled heavily, delirious and winded as though a storm had just raked through him, and held still, only hugging the Elf tightly. Orophin’s sunny locks were strewn all around, even over Faramir’s eyes, lips and his damp forehead, but the Man hardly noticed. He could not believe his arousal had endured the mind-shattering treatment Orophin’s muscles had given it when the Elf climaxed – but here it was, hot and peppy within its sublime shelter.

“Oh… Orophin…” Faramir whispered against the hot skin of the other’s throat, and felt a pulsing vein with his lips.

Orophin hummed contentedly, then tilted his face to kiss the Man on the lips.

“Don’t stop,” he whispered back.

“But…” Faramir looked at him with hazy, confused eyes, “you have finished…”

“Don’t stop,” the Elf repeated. “You are burning – go ahead and satisfy yourself into me.”

Faramir closed his eyes momentarily, and let out a slow ragged breath, doing his best to control himself and not make any sudden movement that might hurt his relaxed lover, still impaled to the hilt on his shaft.

“All right,” Faramir whispered with some difficulty, and licked his lips. “But may I turn you over first?”

Orophin chuckled. “Do whatever you want with me.”

Faramir held him close around the back and hips, and smoothly rolled both of them over so that the contact of their bodies did not break for a second. He then hooked his arms under his lover’s knees, so Orophin could fully relax beneath him and still the Elf’s legs would be pulled up to his chest in a manner convenient for the Man. Faramir sighed as he settled deeper into the other’s embrace, finding comfortable support for his weight and sinking still further into Orophin’s wide-open body. The Man kissed him slowly and thoroughly for quite some moments before finally beginning to rock into him.

Seeing as Orophin had grown so indolent and mellow from his release, Faramir meant to be gentle and undemanding – and for a couple minutes actually succeeded. He did not notice when exactly his body slipped out of his control, but after that extremely little was in his power.

Orophin began to moan beneath him again as Faramir rammed repeatedly into that sensitive area inside him. The Elf’s hands were feverish over the Man’s body, caressing his front, and back, and arms, and Orophin mumbled senselessly in his own tongue. Seeing him so undone and exposed, and feeling the Elf’s limp unassuming manhood with the bottom of his abdomen only whipped Faramir on, and the man’s hips became positively wild. It felt so good to be on top, to be so snugly, lovingly received, to be able to put all of himself into this without any restraint…

He could hardly breathe for the strain, and his heart was beating painfully, but all Faramir could feel was the joy and power of his motion, and the warmth and softness of Orophin’s lips on his throat aptly repeated by the warmth and softness with which the Elf held his desire…

Then, sudden as a strike from behind, pleasure overcame him. It raised him to its crest just as he exploded into Orophin, and for several wildly ecstatic moments Faramir rode on its waves in breathless rapture – and then it pulled him under into senseless blissful darkness, swiftly undoing his consciousness, and he remembered little more as he closed his eyes and settled against his lover’s heated welcoming body.

Chapter 16. A Better Lover

When Faramir began his return to wakefulness, he did not know whether it was fifteen minutes or three hours later – and cared little. Without opening his eyes he could tell the room had grown noticeably darker, only one or two candles still burning and the fire having apparently died out. The frosty wind could be heard soughing homelessly outside and scraping at the walls of stone, imploring to be let in – but in the chamber it was still warm, so very warm…

The man decided not to wake just yet and snuggled sleepily to the pillow with a sigh of contented laziness. It did not escape his attention, however, that the pillow was not supposed to be there.

Faramir was lying on his front as their lovemaking had left him, only Orophin had crawled out from under him while he slept, and from what Faramir could feel, was now sitting by his side. But that did not change the fact that the lovers’ previous arrangement had brought Faramir to face away from the headboard, and if anything, the cushion was supposed to be under his feet, not his cheek. So Orophin had put it there, to make his rest comfortable – and for some reason this little gesture of mindfulness seemed to Faramir the nicest thing anyone had done for him in ages, and he swelled with warmth and felt incredibly fortunate to be where he was with whom he was.

The young man shifted towards the Elf and murmured something incoherent, and Orophin laughed under his breath and reached to stroke him on the back of the head.

The Elf then leant in to him, and first Faramir felt the silky mass of Orophin’s hair fall in loops and coils over his back, and shoulder, and arm – and then a soft modest kiss was pressed to his cheek.

Faramir smiled, and felt Orophin smile against his skin in return.

The last time the young captain had had someone sit next to him quietly and welcome him from his sleep had been back in his pre-adolescent days, and Faramir had quite forgotten what a profound and simple happiness it flooded him with. If only he could wake up like this every time…

The Elf’s gentle fingers brushed a stray lock off Faramir’s forehead, and Orophin kissed him as demurely on the temple – then on the ear, a tad bit more playfully, tickling it with his breath and catching the soft lap with his lips.

In that moment Faramir suddenly thought of how his manhood, which was for now as sleepy as his mind, was trapped under his own body, and also wondered as to the state of Orophin’s sex.

The kisses did not stop, and it seemed to Faramir his lover meant to slowly paint him over with them, not overlooking a single spot as he went over the side of Faramir’s throat, to the back of his neck, to his shoulders and then gradually lower. As he moved over him, the Elf’s mane trailed weightlessly over the young man’s body, making his skin tingle and become alive as it swept him as though with many a thousand threads of the finest silk.

The further down Orophin descended, the less and less unassuming his touch became, until he took to sucking on the sides of Faramir’s waist and dragging his tongue up and down the Man’s spine. Faramir wondered groggily how it was he could grow progressively aroused of body while remaining so drowsy of wit. On the other hand, though, he had little need of his wit at the present…

When Orophin’s mouth reached the small of his back, the Elf’s hands planting a sure hold on his hips, Faramir no longer felt content to remain flat on his belly, merely receiving the attention. So he raised himself up a little, and moved in response to Orophin’s touch, showing how he appreciated it, how he wanted the other to continue with whatever he was up to.

He did not feel at all surprised when Orophin nudged him to part his thighs – which Faramir readily did – and then proceeded to caress Faramir’s buttocks, gradually moving to probe underneath and in between them. The young man felt fire beginning to trickle into his belly again, to come to reside in his lower abdomen and between the legs.

It was a highly pleasant sensation, and Faramir allowed the ministrations without a single second thought, especially as Orophin’s mouth swiftly followed, planting light pecks on his skin, then more seductive kisses, and then even biting at him teasingly.

All this brought Faramir to arch up towards him some more, and plant his knees further apart – and Orophin’s hand slid to the privacy between his legs, the Elf’s fingers brushing along the Man’s perineum.

Faramir had in no way expected the sensation to be so intense. He gasped, and grabbed at the sheets, and his cock instantly filled with blood to the brim.

The young man sighed heavily, and turned his head to rest with his forehead against the pillow, his features no longer relaxed or untroubled.

Orophin blew a breath of hot air at the line where Faramir’s buttocks came together, and the young man shivered uncontrollably.

“Come, Faramir,” the Elf whispered to him, “open a little more, and I’ll make you happy.”

Were Faramir any less aroused – or any more alert – he would have been startled to feel the hot moistness of a tongue trail right down the cleft of his behind, would have thought this was not something that he, as a man, would want to be done to him. But as it were, he only moved to accommodate the touch, to provide the other better access.

He hissed and gave a faint jerk when Orophin licked over his most defenseless spot – but Orophin did not tarry and passed lower still, as though heedless of Faramir’s reaction to his touch. He soon returned, however, but again only for a brief brush. With his palms he ceaselessly caressed Faramir’s buttocks up and down and in circular motions, and massaged them in earnest, but with his mouth he was more than a little facetious, obviously knowing what desire he was instilling in his lover, and obviously pretending to be unaware of it.

But when the Elf finally took pity on the young man and went on to apply all his artful skill to this forbidden place, it proved little better for Faramir’s peace. He began to squirm and pant helplessly, and his cock took to throbbing with ache as Orophin’s tongue flicked, and lashed, and laved, and picked at him. Faramir could feel his own flesh grow so nonchalant and full of desire to be touched – in not exactly a gentle way – that he would not have been taken much by surprise if Orophin’s tongue had actually slipped into him.

But it did not. Many a time it as though made to, and almost did, yet still that sweetly maddening touch remained explicitly on the outside of Faramir’s body…

And in addition to that Orophin reached over the Man’s thigh and began to fleetingly brush his fingertips along Faramir’s length.

“Orophin… Uhh… Orophin, please…”

“Please what?” the Elf asked casually, hardly halting in his ministering.

“I… uh…” Faramir lolled his face against the pillow. “Do something… please…!”

“Aren’t I already doing plenty…?”



“Shame on you. Playing me like so,” Faramir could not help but grin.

“Nay, not playing – only teasing. And you like it.”

It was true. Faramir did. And he pushed himself back at the Elf’s face, desperately yearning for more stimulation, although had someone told him he were capable of such shameless neediness, he would have only laughed in response.

Just as when he had taken Orophin into his mouth he had not thought about the conclusion of the act, now he did not think where they were going with the Elf easing him open.

But wherever Orophin intended to go, he apparently deemed it proper to first attend to the other’s exigent need, and so he straightened up behind Faramir, and grabbed him decisively around the cock. His own rigid length came to be pressed to Faramir’s left buttock, electrifyingly close to his unprotected entrance.

Orophin’s hand polished him skillfully and masterfully, and what with his degree of excitement, within a minute Faramir sucked his teeth and came with a shudder.

Breathing heavily as he rested his forehead on his fists, Faramir felt the Elf gather up his newly delivered essence – to then massage it in between the Man’s buttocks, right over his unbreached opening.

Faramir could now fully relate to what Orophin had meant when saying, ‘do whatever you want with me’. Faramir was so sated, so at peace with himself, so full of warmth and gratitude for the one with whom he had just experienced pleasure, that he indeed only wished to entrust himself to the other’s devices and rest while his lover in turn found pleasure at his body.

And thus, closing his eyes, Faramir arched his hips even further up, spreading himself for the other’s convenience. He did not think in any specific terms of what he was offering or what he wanted to be done to him – for the moment this was not his concern but Orophin’s.

The Elf pulled away briefly, and when his touch returned, Faramir sensed how moist and slippery his hands were, and concluded it was for the oil, which indeed was presently applied to all his intimate regions in great abundance.

It felt extremely welcome to have those knowing hands slide between his buttocks and legs with such silky slickness, and he pushed himself back into their touch. He heard Orophin chuckle in approval – then the Elf took him firmly by the hips, and pulled their bodies closer. He was now fully aligned with Faramir so his manhood did not prod against either of the Man’s buttocks but went directly between them, rising perfectly upwards along the cleft of Faramir’s backside.

A shudder of pleasant trepidation ran through Faramir’s mellow body when the steely hardness began to slide up and down against him. He moaned vaguely, although not so much for the pleasure itself, as rather for the lust-evoking intensity of the touch. It did not frighten him to feel such potent power next to his most sensitive and vulnerable places, although neither did he yearn for the contact to become more dramatic and invasive: he liked it perfectly well just as it was, arousing and exhilarating in its unhurried playfulness.

Then Orophin changed the angle, moving his manhood to be not against but beneath Faramir in such a way that the length of his erection was pressing up along the space between Faramir’s buttocks and perineum, while the tip rested just behind the Man’s balls. It felt very comfortable for Faramir, very intimate, and as he had grown even more languid than before, the young man relaxed even further and lowered his shoulders and chest onto the mattress. Only his belly and hips remained up, and it felt to him that it was only for Orophin’s hold on him and the Elf’s cock supporting him from underneath that he did not slump flat on his front.

He sighed and smiled as Orophin began to move rhythmically against him, first only sliding back and forth lightly and leisurely – then beginning to noticeably increase the strength of going forward, changing the idle rocking into purposeful thrusts. His motions thus acquired a passionate, demanding quality, and that excited and thrilled Faramir so that he strove to drive himself back at the Elf.

“Easy,” Orophin murmured to him, then when words failed, grasped him harder on the hips and held him in place. “Easy, Faramir… Let me, all right?” He reached down with one hand and gently cupped the Man’s balls from behind and underneath. “We wouldn’t want to hurt this, would we?” The Elf pushed forth with his pelvis just a little more to demonstrate that too much eagerness would cause his hardness to stab against the soft fullness of Faramir’s sack. “We have all night ahead of us, don’t worry,” Orophin promised soothingly, resuming his hold on the Man’s body and once more beginning to grind himself against him. “If you want it harder, we’ll do it harder – when your fire returns.”

And Faramir relaxed – and soon was rewarded, for Orophin changed the mode again. Angling his motions differently, he came to thrust not so much along Faramir, as rather upwards at him. The Elf’s cock indeed came dangerously close to the other’s vulnerable parts, but he did not miss once. Instead, he directed all his efforts towards a spot shortly behind Faramir’s balls, to whence the young man’s inner source of pleasure could be reached from without.

Faramir let out a startled gasp – then a heavy helpless groan.

This was not a sensation he had known before, and it was phenomenal.

He had already spent three times in the course of the night, and his arousal was getting slow to return, but oh how Faramir wished it would hurry up and carry him to such magnificent release…

But Orophin had other plans. He gently nudged Faramir to lie fully on his front, which Faramir did quite eagerly for feeling rather dizzy and overwhelmed.

The Elf then cradled his arousal between the other’s buttocks, not even threatening entrance, and pushed against him with ever-increasing speed.

Orophin sucked his teeth, straining hard against Faramir’s back – then convulsed and cried out curtly. Faramir felt the Elf’s seed once pour over his skin, and shivered with delight as he visualised the sight.

But his own need was now hot, and as soon as Orophin slid off him, Faramir turned over and pulled the Elf closer. Orophin was trembling faintly, and gave Faramir a weary but very happy smile.

“You are such a tease,” Faramir murmured fondly, “promised to give me something harder – and now here I am all burning for it, but your fire is gone.”

“’Tis not,” the Elf replied. “And you are going to claim me now, as you’ve done before. My good Faramir, don’t think I’d ever meant to tame you – I don’t treckon you are the sort. Teasing you is indeed as far as one should go.”

He turned and snuggled to Faramir so that the Man lay spooning him tightly from behind – and Faramir only chuckled in agreement.

He slickened himself up and gently slipped into his lover from behind, and wrapped both arms around Orophin’s middle, and lay with his face buried in the other’s hair. When Faramir began to move it was very light and tender, as though he were trying to rock the Elf to sleep rather than get him screaming. And for a while it indeed felt so to Faramir himself, for despite his present fire, he had already been satisfied several times, and his need was no longer desperate or burdensome. The finale could wait, for now he loved the process well enough.

In due time Orophin began to move back against him and moan gently, and when Faramir lowered his hand he felt his friend had grown hard.

And at that point their passion swiftly changed texture. Once again in Faramir arose the urge to be fully on top, to cover Orophin with his body, to bask in his eager capitulation. And so Faramir began to push harder, and gnawed at the curve of the other’s neck, and ran his palm proprietarily over the Elf’s chest, and belly, and in between his legs. This soon ceased to suffice, and then Faramir turned the unresisting Elf altogether over, and shifted atop him, pinning him down to the bed with his weight and spreading him further open with his legs.

Orophin’s eyes shut tight and mouth open with uninterrupting groans and gasps, he arched his buttocks up at Faramir, inviting him to be more forceful.

And Faramir snatched the invitation zealously. His fists clenched and teeth gritted, he let nature work its merciless course on both of them, and pounded into Orophin with all the output of his warrior’s body.

The Elf was soon sobbing beneath him, twisting the sheets in his hands and vainly straining to reciprocate at least a fraction of Faramir’s onslaught.

Then Faramir saw an additional way for him to claim the other, and leant in to shove his tongue into the Elf’s exquisitely shaped ear.

Orophin bucked, gasped, and let out a hoarse ragged cry as his body went into a seizure of ecstasy. And this time Faramir followed, the Man’s cock exploding with a shower of stars as Orophin crushed it in his delight.

Only seconds later Faramir pulled out: he felt vigorous and enraptured from his triumphant completion, and burnt to give the other a little more pleasure. So he swiftly climbed off Orophin, and flipped the panting delirious Elf over, and dove onto him to swallow up his moist manhood, and suck on it with fervent reverence. At first Orophin heaved and strained up at him, watching Faramir with dark shining eyes, then fell back and only gasped occasionally, his body quite exhausted with pleasure.

And eventually Faramir let him go, planting one last gentle kiss on his thigh.

“Come here,” he murmured heartily, siding up to the Elf and gathering him into a close protective embrace.

In the course of the evening Faramir had already thought many a time that they had become staggeringly close, and that the affection he felt for Orophin was unsurpassable. But only now, when neither of them was in need, and both were sated, and Orophin rested against him so blushed and blissfully undone, so off his guard, did Faramir’s heart literally contract for him.

The man kissed the Elf’s forehead, closed his eyes, and was happy.

After many untroubled minutes of speechless repose, Orophin stirred.

“This… this whole night is a miracle,” he said with a sigh of deep fulfillment. “And your passion… I had always thought it would be good, but this… Faramir, you were spectacular, I’ve never been satisfied like this.”

Faramir grinned in response, but Orophin did not like his reaction.

“Do not grin like that,” he chided in serious irritation. “I would not say such a thing if it were not true.”

“Don’t be offended,” Faramir said soothingly, and kissed his brow again. “I am glad you have enjoyed it, but there is no need to say our intimacy is the best you’ve had. You seem so experienced to me, and you’ve probably had very learned partners, whereas I do not know anything…”

Orophin looked at him affectionately. “You know enough,” he said earnestly, “or else you learn swiftly. The one I knew in Lόrien had many a technique at his disposal, but he never put his fëa in it like you do. What is far more important is that your passion is sincere and unguarded – you even spend your seed on me.”

Faramir let out a snort of surprise. “Is it possible not to?”

“So it is, at least for my folk – but I don’t reckon it would work any differently for your kind. ’Tis deemed better for the masculine health not to pour forth every time one finds pleasure, if that chances to happen often.”

“Nay,” Faramir laughed, “I wouldn’t want to withhold myself, as long as you don’t mind it.” He could not explain why it was so, but the knowledge that Orophin had drunk of him, and had received him between the legs brought Faramir a sense of great fruition and pride.

But then he grew thoughtful and grave, and after a few minutes called gently, “Orophin?”


“May I ask you…? This lover you had in your Elven wood – did you love him?”

“No,” Orophin replied with surprising conviction. “I used to think that I did, before I met you. You’ve put things into perspective for me. You, Faramir, are a man I could in due course come to truly love, with all of myself, whereas he…” the Elf made a vague gesture and snorted ironically. “Oh, I don’t know, I’ve never spoken to anyone of this…”

“Do you want to tell me?”

Orophin tilted his head to look up at Faramir. “Would you mind…? I mean…”

“Nay,” Faramir caressed his shoulder gently. “If you want to talk of it, then do. I don’t reckon anything about your tale could cause me pain, aside from that of learning your sorrow, and that I would gladly experience if it should bring you comfort.”

Orophin settled against him, his cheek on the Man’s breast, his gaze distant and ruminative.

“’Tis strange,” he began slowly. “Not so long ago my whole existence seemed to revolve around him, but now… It does not rouse anything at all in me to intentionally recall how it had been, as though everything has burnt over and there are only ashes now.” Orophin lay quiet for a while, then went on, “But I reckon it’d be better I recount it one last time nonetheless – I have no notion how many times I have turned this over in my head already, although much less often as of late – I want it out of me for good. I have told you before of the fair Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel, and now I shall speak some more.”

Chapter 17. The Pond and the Pebble

“When I served in Lórien, I was not of a rank high enough to report directly to the Lord and the Lady – that is how we say it, but in truth ’tis the Lady who rules the land – so I saw them seldom, and only from afar,” Orophin said. “And then one day when I had no duty, she chanced to walk upon me in the woods. She looked upon me, and smiled as though she liked what she saw, and I was glad in return, for I took it to mean she liked me. She stood and talked to me for a while, asking after me and the work I did, but mostly simply watching me, gazing into my eyes so that it felt to me she read my whole heart through them. Then a ray of Anor fell upon me through amid the branches and leaves, and played on me, and she said I had beautiful hair. It made me blush fiercely that she should compliment me like so, and she smiled again.

“And since that day I was often called to the royal talan to deliver reports and run errands. Ever the Lord Celeborn would be there also, sitting by her side, and the Lady Galadriel would draw his attention to me, and praise me before him as though inviting him to share the enjoyment she found in my presence – and often she would leave us alone for a time. And he began to look at me, look in the way that made me burn with a fire I had not known before, one that would not leave me even after I walked out of sight of him – and so I concluded it must be love I encountered at last. To the naïve self-assured youth without any sense whatsoever that I was back then it seemed only fitting that if another male were to ever stir my heart, it should be a tall magnificent lord like him, as beautiful as he was handsome, reserved of words, but oh so keen of gaze.

“For a long time I honestly believed it would be naught more than a hopeless dreamy infatuation on my behalf – what did I have on her? I never allowed that one with such a sublime wife would trouble himself with taking a lover also, and a boy, too. There were the glances, yes – or, more accurately, there were stares – but I had never thought it would go any further than that…

“Then one day he went on a hunt into the deeps of the wood, and I was among the many who accompanied him. He seemed to have grown greatly passionate about the chase, and moved so swiftly all the retinue was left well behind, and only I had followed sufficiently close to see his shape through the trees. Then he stopped, as though the game had thrown him off, and I ran out into the clearing, saying we had lost everyone else.

“He turned to me, and just gazed upon me. And all breath left me, and I stood still. Lord Celeborn may oft forgo exercising it in his official position, but his will is strong and masterful – and just that one look from him was enough for me to know that it would happen, now.

“It was early spring, that time the mellyrn shed their goldened robes to bloom and sprout new greenth in their place. And he came to me, and undressed me, and took me right there on the yellow carpet of fallen leaves.

“From then on he would oft lie with me – never at night, which I had greatly longed for, but never in haste, either. He took the time to teach me how to satisfy him best, and it always amused him when I too found pleasure. He would talk with me afterwards, or rather he would talk to me, muse aloud about many a wondrous thing, and I would lie silently by his side and only marvel at the intricacy of the world, my imagination rising to heights unforeseen.

“I was happy – I think…

“Being with him took me out of myself, beyond what I had known before, beyond what I had been. It made me feel as though I was truly special, to have been chosen out of all the other Elves by one like him, and it began to seem to me like I had always deserved it, and was now getting what was practically owed to me by fate. And it was so liberating to open to him, to entrust myself – I had never wanted that before, had always judged I was perfectly strong enough on my own, and I was generally quite proud too, but… It exhilarated me to surrender myself to him and cast my pride away, for in doing so I saw a strange promise that my life would become like it had never been, that there would come to be wonders, and glory, and surpassing bliss in it.

“Mind you, I had been perfectly content up to then – the life I had led was like any other, not particularly remarkable, but it had never occurred to me to be displeased with it. But when he took me to him, something was set loose in me, and I allowed myself to drown in him, and naught but him would occupy my thought, naught else would matter…” Orophin was speaking with great detachment and also a note of wonder in his voice, as though the story he relayed was of someone other than himself.

“We weren’t very discreet – I thought it was fine: he never spoke to me of peril and risk, like you did. I was never fool enough to actually think that if ever it came to it he would choose me over her – or over the woods, to be precise. He was a bit like a cat in that respect: always attached to the place more than anything else… Nor would have I truly wished for him to abandon his home for my sake… To be frank, I don’t think that I did give the matter any actual thought – it was easier not to dwell on it, to simply take every day as it came. After all, I was quite head over heels by then…

“Besides, I was growing to be under the impression the Lady knew everything, or at least knew that sooner or later it would have happened. And she treated me in no way like one treats a rival they fear or a bother they condemn. She was very pleasant and as though a little expectant with me, and she ever watched him watch me, and did not seem displeased – so I began to think that perhaps the Lord and the Lady had some agreement between themselves: who’s to know what goes on between a husband and wife? And for those who had lived in marriage for a time uncounted even by Elven terms – certainly they would know each other’s hearts…?

“And she certainly did know his, or else wished to test that she did, although sometimes it seems to me she tempted him with me simply for the sake of tempting him, just to see what he would do – I mean, there was no upside, was there? And it was certainly not a very kind act on her behalf… But then again, she is not a kindly lady, although neither is she specifically unkind. If anything, the Lady is given to detaching herself: she is of the sort who like to throw a pebble into a still pond and then stand and observe the circles ripple its surface. And as for the pebble – what do they care for it?

“Aye, she lets things run their course, for even if what she saw pass unspoken between Lord Celeborn and I alarmed her, she had chosen not to interfere. At least not until it was too late to change anything concerning me.

“Too late had I realised that I had landed myself right in the middle of quite a complicated family situation. And when it’s ‘family’ as in ‘the ruling family’, it never bodes good, does it?” he sighed ironically. “Perhaps something in their balance had shifted, or else she had indeed not known that he was intimate with me – but somehow one day all of Lόrien came to know, and of course the guilty party had to pay. Like I said, our society is not lenient towards unions between two males – and you do understand that my case had some aggravating circumstances…

“I was stripped and publicly flogged, and my brothers stood there with their heads bowed in shame, and would not meet my eyes – then my hair was cut off at the nape and I was cast out from within sight of Lórien with naught else but the set of garments you had seen when you met me, my bow, a quiver of arrows, and a dagger. It was quite generous to let me keep the weapons…” This part Orophin related very casually, as though something to have been expected all along, and he did not seem to notice how Faramir gasped in consternation and tensed up at his words.

“At first I wandered about without aim, vacant and numb, for I was as though stunned, unable to digest what had happened: that this was it, that my life would never, ever be as before.

“Then gradually I settled into a state of perpetual misery and rancour.

“What hurt the most was his bearing throughout the scandal: he had been completely unfazed. I could understand it that I received no protection from him, for in her wrath the Lady is not to be tamed. I could even understand it that he allowed all the responsibility to be officially allocated to me, to let it be said I had seduced him – it was not very decent on his behalf, perhaps, but it was an understandable thing to do. I would have even understood it if it were to turn out that he had played me for the sake of some twisted enjoyment. What simply shattered my mind was that he did not give a hoot. There was nothing at all: no sympathy, no contrition or regret, it did not even irk him to part with an intimate partner to whom he had grown accustomed.

“He let me be disposed of and did not raise a brow – because I did not matter to him.

“For so long I could not comprehend how it could be so. Of course I had never deluded myself into thinking I was the most important person in his life, and however unintentionally I had played a part in bringing affliction upon him – but to throw me away so, as though I was not only expendable, but worthless… Even a torn sock you would not discard without trying to mend it first, but this…”

Faramir thought the Elf might cry, for his voice had become unsteady, and he sounded as though he were still at a loss as to the logic of his former lord’s behaviour – but he did not cry, and only pressed himself closer into the Man’s arms and lay quiet and very still for a long time. Faramir did not urge him on, and said nothing at all, only holding him and breathing in the same rhythm with him.

“I know I have no blame to place on him,” Orophin began slowly again, his tone shedding its previous heaviness, “he had done nothing to deceive me. He had allowed me to pleasure him, and to tarry afterwards and lie in quiet tenderness with him – and I had taken it to signify I meant something to him. But he had never promised me anything, never spoken of feelings that were not there – we never talked of him and I in the context of a relationship, had placed no term on what he and I were doing, how we ought to be defined in the eyes of each other. I suppose that if ever he had given it any thought at all, our standing would have been the same as without the sex: he was the lord, and I was a subject. But this had not occurred to me until much, much later – for to me we were lovers. Not of equal status, of course, but lovers nonetheless… Foolish, huh…? But it is hard not to have it grow on you when you let someone take you time after time, again and again. You develop a sensation of such strong, profound connection to him that it becomes physically impossible to conceive that in truth you are there only for the pleasure of his body and diversion of his mind.

“It is easy to look at it all from the rational point of view now, when my hair is long again, and I have a man like you near – for, as I’ve said, you put everything into perspective. You are kind, and sincere, and you care. It sounds so trivial, and perhaps I had my wings broken and can no longer rise up above the trivial, but as I see it now, that much is already more than enough. But back then…”

Orophin shifted in Faramir’s embrace, nestling to him and nuzzling the man’s chest with his cheek.

“Do you know, I was so angry with him – for betraying me, and with myself – for being blind, and stupid,” the Elf observed thoughtfully. “And so I wandered for many a season, alternating between feeling sorry for myself for being so hideously wronged – and deprecating myself, saying into my own ears that I got only what was my due: I had made a reckless thoughtless gamble and lost not only what love I had thus gained, but my whole way of living, which there would be no returning to for me. But worst of all I deprecated myself for missing him, for I desired to hate him but could not…

“It wore me out, and dulled my consciousness, and at times I would lie down on the ground wherever I had chanced to stray, and let the days pass me by, trees shedding their leaves on me, and snow shrouding me, and then melting into water through my garments. If there was anything I wished for in those times it was that I had the Gift of Ilúvatar and were mortal. Then I could have faded and passed away, for all that had been dear to me was gone and I saw no point in lingering, and my existence seemed but a burden and a joke to me.

“And then I came upon Ithilien, and for a while forgot all that troubled me, for in it I found an echo of my former home, of the life I used to have before – and was comforted. As you know, I met the Orcs shortly after. Ironically, they gave me purpose. At first I only wished to stay in the groves – and to prove to myself I was worth something, that I could manage without… without anyone, actually. My spite gave me great strength, and I feared naught, for it did not occur to me they might try to take me captive – and death cast no dread over me.

“But one cannot sustain on spite alone indefinitely, and at some point I began to fantasise… I had nothing ahead of me, so my thought turned backwards, and I began imagining… It sounds ridiculous when I say it aloud, but… I thought, if only I could clear this fair forest then perhaps…”

He sighed heavily, and for the first time throughout his narration raw, wistful sadness came through in his voice. “I thought, somehow he would know of it, and then…”

“Go ahead,” Faramir murmured to him gently, and trailed his hand over the Elf’s hair in a soothing reassuring caress.

“And then he would see how good I was, and change his mind about me…” Orophin said quietly, and again lay silent for a time. Then he raised himself up decisively and looked hard into Faramir’s face. “But that all changed – or at least began to change – when you came along. I became even fiercer in my pursuits regarding those foul creatures, for suddenly there was a glint of hope for me that something new and good still lay in wait for me.”

“Orophin,” Faramir said gently, and reached to caress him on the face – but the Elf suddenly grew embarrassed.

“Perhaps I shouldn’t have told you all this,” he said quietly, hiding his face on Faramir’s chest once more. “Now you probably deem me needy and troublesome, if not altogether mad, and regret getting involved…”

Faramir smiled and ran his fingers through Orophin’s hair. “No… What you tell me indeed does breed sorrow in me,” and foreboding, he did not add. “But if you want to know what I think of your actions, I shall tell you this. First of all, I knew from the start you had something gnawing at your heart – and that had not stopped me then, and even less would it stop me now when I know the details. As for your project in Ithilien… Well, a little rash, a little desperate – yes, but definitely not mad, and in no way pathetic – or did you say ‘needy’? If anything, I have to respect your fighting spirit, Orophin – and be grateful for your confidence in me: I don’t suppose this story was easy to tell…”

Orophin chuckled. “Nay, it was far better than I had feared. Like I said, those days are passed – and let us not speak of this any longer, for all is well now.”

He propped himself up to look at the Man again, and although the Elf’s gaze was grave and full of tenderness, the kiss he proceeded to bestow upon Faramir’s eager mouth was full of ardour and zest.

“In that case,” Faramir murmured after they had kissed their full, and turned them to lie on their sides, “would you mind making love to me one more time? ‘Tis impossible to lie with you like so and not begin to burn anew.” He eased his leg between the Elf’s thighs in a foxily suggestive manner.

Orophin laughed merrily, and kissed him on the nose. “I certainly would not mind! Oh, I would not…”

Chapter 18. Family Honour

A recurrent demanding sound nagged and nagged at his hearing, forcing him to surface out of his slumber. Faramir felt saturated and warm, his head filled with lazy grogginess, and he did not wish to wake up – but the sound would not stop.

The young man stirred, and awoke enough to identify the disturbance as an importunate knocking on the door.

Then his mind registered the insistent words accompanying it.

“Faramir, look, I understand you’re not up yet, but I do need to talk to you.” Another knock. “The messenger came for me in the middle of the night, says it’s urgent and I have to see Father right away, but…” Knock-knock-thud. “I truly can’t miss this chance to get you in private. Please, we have to talk, it can’t go on like this!” Thud-thud-bang. “Faramir, are you awake? I’m sorry, but I just could not stop thinking –”

Faramir blinked his eyes open, and saw it was just the beginning of morning, barely light outside – and also saw his older brother, who had apparently run out of patience to wait for an answer and now stood in the doorway, all clad in travelling gear and armour. Boromir’s face was intense, brow furrowed, eyes bright with both great wariness and great determination.

“Faramir…” he began very softly, and despite his warrior attire looked strangely helpless and insecure as he took a hesitant step inside.

“Brother? What…?” Faramir made to sit up – and could not, for there was a great weight on his front, one he had not been aware of before. He looked down in confusion, and in that very moment Orophin raised his head off the Man’s chest to frown in sleepy incomprehension and murmur something in his native tongue. The blanket covering the two of them slid down as the Elf propped himself up on his elbow, and the tousled gold of his hair, so rich and dark of colour in the pre-morning gloom, fell in heavy loops over his naked shoulders and Faramir’s bare breast. The young man was somewhat surprised to observe he had an arm around the Elf’s waist, and to sense Orophin’s leg was slung over his thigh…

And in that second Faramir finally awoke. Everything fell into place: what had happened the previous night, and what was happening now.

He gasped and turned to his brother, who had now also become aware of Faramir’s company.

For one long moment Boromir stared at them with a completely blank expression, his mind apparently refusing to take in the sight before his eyes. Then he jolted, as though slapped, and went very pale.

Faramir opened his mouth to say something – and faltered, for the unguarded emotion that came to reveal itself in his brother’s steel-grey eyes rendered him mute. It was not the appalled stupefaction of a man finding his kin in bed with an inappropriate lover – it was something altogether different…

Faramir then came to acutely wonder why Boromir was here in his bedroom in the first place, and recalled the strange things Boromir had said when pounding on his door – and for the change in his brother’s face knew that Boromir perceived the direction of his thought. And all too late Faramir registered the expression his own features had assumed, and it was not that of awkward embarrassment at having been caught with another male in his arms. With a cold empty sensation spreading in his belly, came the realisation that, among other things, he had shown his older brother what should never be allowed to come through in such circumstances.


It all had happened too fast, Faramir had had no time to control his reactions – and now there was no taking it back. Everything had been said without a word being spoken.

Boromir’s face went hard and stiff, as though a sudden seizure had gripped his muscles – and so dangerous and unpredictable he looked in that moment that Faramir felt Orophin press himself back into their embrace, as though in search of shelter.

For a second it seemed to Faramir this little gesture of trusting intimacy on his lover’s behalf would tip Boromir over the edge and send him right into some violent outburst. But instead the older man only threw the Elf a murderous look of undiluted ice-cold hatred, turned around sharply and in another instant was gone.

When his chest began to quaver with tension, Faramir let his breath out in a slow ragged sigh – and then his stupor lifted.

With a muttered curse he rolled out of bed, grabbed his undershirt and hastily pulled it on over his head on his way to the door, tripping over his boots and nearly falling with yet another curse.

“Wait!” Orophin’s urgent appeal caught him, and Faramir pulled up short.

In his moment of urgency and despair he had completely forgotten about the Elf… But urgent as his business indeed was, how could he leave him now – leave him like this, leave him after everything that had passed between them…? And yet how could he not run after Boromir, what with the all-consuming anguish his brother was now in, how could he not strive to soothe him, to explain somehow…?

In great hopelessness the young man lifted his eyes to the sky he could not see, and bit his lip to hold back a groan of powerless frustration.

He swallowed hard and slowly turned back to the Elf.

“Orophin, I…” he began contritely, spreading his arms in a gesture of defeat.

“You are going to run after him now? In a state like this?” Orophin asked doubtfully. He was sitting upright amid the crumpled bedclothes, naked save for the blanket covering his lower body, his voluminous mane in disarray, hanging messily over his shoulders and chest. But there was no fear, or distress, or fluster in his fair face, only great sadness – and also lucid, quick-witted concern for his friend.

Faramir was not certain whether it was his own state of more than partial undress, or Boromir’s state of barely contained fury Orophin was referring to, but in whichever case he had a point hard to argue with.

“No,” Faramir said heavily, and at once his haste deflated. “You are right, there is no point in rushing now,” he added in great weariness.

Quickly he walked back to the bed and, putting one knee on the mattress, leant in to bring the Elf to his chest and hold him tightly. “Oh, Orophin,” he whispered into the other’s sweet-smelling hair. “I am so sorry…”

“Don’t be,” Orophin replied quietly, and pulled back a little to smile up into the Man’s face. He raised his hand and stroked Faramir on the cheek. “I regret nothing – if only that I had waited so long.”

The first place the young captain headed in search of his brother was Boromir’s chambers. As opposed to Faramir’s remotely placed room, the heir’s were next door to the Steward’s – and if Boromir had indeed gone to see Father like he had said he was requested to, then this would be the most likely part of the palace to find him.

And indeed just as Faramir entered the tall arched corridor, he saw the warrior exit their lord’s quarters and head for his own.


Faramir had called loudly, but Boromir did not even pause in his step, let alone throw a glance over the shoulder.


It was quite obvious the older man was intent on retiring to his quarters and bolting the lock, and then there would be no talking to him at all.

For a second Faramir considered letting him be, giving him some more time to come to terms with this new knowledge – except that Faramir knew his brother, and knew that coming to terms would be the last thing Boromir would manage, and least of all on his own. It was not likely, however, that anything Faramir could now say to him would be of much help – and were Faramir some ten years older, perhaps he would have stood back. But he was only twenty, and to stay the impulse of his heart, and find patience and prudence in the face of his brother’s outrage and suffering, both of which had come about through Faramir’s own actions, was quite outside the young man’s power.

And there was one more thing. There still remained a thread of the hope that maybe, just maybe he had misinterpreted everything, that Boromir was angered and scandalised in no other way than any older brother in his place would have been. Well, perhaps a little more than most – but he was a very passionate man, after all.

This hope direly needed confirmation.

So Faramir pursed his lips resolutely, and caught up with his brother at a run.

“Boromir, come –”

Boromir swung round with the swift precision of the fine warrior that he was. The force of the punch threw Faramir against the wall.

“You stay away from me!” Boromir bellowed not so much lividly as rather desperately. “Else I don’t know what I would do to you!”

Staring at Boromir round-eyed, Faramir leant all his weight against the cool stone behind, and raised his hand to feel the side of his face. His jaw miraculously seemed to still be in one piece, but he could hardly feel it for the pain.

“Goodness… Boromir…” he panted breathlessly, and smacked his lips, for speaking made him realise he had blood in his mouth.

“Oh, no, don’t tell me your jaw got dislocated,” Boromir said with a mockingly sympathetic expression, and Faramir saw what a great effort it had cost him to tame his rage into sarcasm. “What a pity, now you won’t be able to suck your little friend off, will you? Or if you want, I could punch you on the other side too – for symmetry – maybe that’ll set it right?”

Despite his clenched fists Faramir could tell the man was not going to hit him again, yet the words themselves made him wince.

“Bo… Boromir, please…” he could barely speak, one side of his face utterly disobeying him. “I un… understand you are shocked, but –”

“Aye, but more than I truly ought to. And to think of it, what a cretin I’d made of myself…” Boromir mused with a bitter smirk. “Do you know, when Father said you were a little loose in this department,” he made a wavering gesture with his hand, “I wouldn’t believe him, I wore myself blue in the face denying it, defending you, saying you were not like that.”

“Loose…?” Faramir repeated blankly.

“Aye,” Boromir confirmed with an unkind grin. “He told me all about how half of Dol Amroth had had their way with you. I honestly didn’t think you were that sort of person – but now, well…” he spread his arms, as though the proof to the otherwise was there for all to see.

Faramir gazed at him incredulously, and before he could find anything to reply, Boromir went on, his voice rising again. “But you are not in Dol Amroth anymore, and I see no one has explained you the difference. You can’t just go and bloody fuck everyone you like around here! You bespatter the whole family with such conduct,” the heir stepped closer and, grabbing Faramir by the collar, yanked him forth. With a distance of only a few inches between their eyes, Boromir growled quietly into his face, “You are the Steward’s son, Faramir – you have to control yourself…”

Faramir held his breath staring into his brother’s eyes with nothing but wistful sadness, and suddenly both Boromir’s tone and expression softened. “Because if you can’t,” he said, “it shall be taken care of for you, and not in a manner you would enjoy – believe me, I’ve learnt the hard way.”

Faramir made to say something, but immediately Boromir shut himself up again, his venom returning with doubled force.

“Looks like you might be getting a bruise,” he said with a nod to Faramir’s face where he had hit him. “But not to worry, perhaps it’ll come to match the ones on your neck. You’ll be all set then,” he let go of the younger man and stepped back, as though suddenly disgusted to touch him. “My goodness, he has actually kissed you there… Why am I even talking to you…? Ugh, just to imagine all this… what you’ve… You even smell of him! Where else did he kiss you, Faramir…?” A faintly delirious look had come into Boromir’s eyes, and he shook his head, as if trying to banish the images from his inner vision.

And even though he knew he should not, Faramir could not help but ask quietly, “And why… would you want to imagine something like that?”

His brother gaped at him speechlessly, and Faramir wondered if Boromir would bash him again after all.

“Because…! Because…!” All of a sudden Boromir as though could not get enough breath into his lungs. “Because you’re a damned bleeding idiot, that’s why!!” Bright red in the face, he threw his hands up, his fingers spread in irascible eloquence. “What do you want from me?!!” Boromir shouted at the top of his voice, sounding rather on the verge of going hysterical. “Why do you come running after me – now?! I’m ashamed to have you for a brother! Have you not thought of us, what a disgrace you’re bringing upon the family?! How can you so easily trade your honour for a night with some… some creepy stranger?! You –”

But then something caught at Faramir’s side vision, and distracted him. He turned his face, and saw Denethor standing only a few yards away from them, the man’s arms crossed over his chest, a thoughtful expression on his face, his hard eyes dark and bright.

“All right, Boromir, ‘tis enough already,” the Steward cut in drily when Boromir caught sight of him too and momentarily faltered in his outburst. “Pray wrap up your farcical ‘jealous lover’ act: not only is it profoundly embarrassing, you might be overheard by the servants. Besides, I wouldn’t deem you in a position to shame your brother, given our family’s good name would have hardly been at the top of your own list of concerns had you chanced to find him alone this morning. And hardly would have you shamed him had he chosen to trade his honour for a night with a close kin – would’ve you, Boromir?”

Boromir only glared at their father – his nostrils flared, his fists clenched white at the knuckles, but he remained very still and said nothing.

Faramir stared at his brother wordlessly, still, still harbouring a forlorn hope.

Boromir, please! You can’t just acknowledge this! Please, object! Shout, scream, go purple in the face, tell him how wrong he is, deny everything!

But Boromir did not. Instead he did what never had Faramir seen him do: he let an open insult pass unanswered, and simply averted his gaze from their father’s. He looked at Faramir instead, and the heir’s fair proud face contorted momentarily, as though he were in acute pain, or else would cry for his shame.

He then gave a curt official nod, turned about-face and left. He did not go to his rooms – the man’s back straight and his head high, he walked all the way down the long, long corridor that hollowly echoed his footsteps – to finally disappear around the corner, as though it were his desire to altogether walk out of his father’s and brother’s lives.

“Now, you,” the Steward turned to his younger son, “come with me. A word is obviously in order.”

“Well, Faramir, I take it all my points have just been proven to you – they have certainly been proven to me,” Denethor announced casually once the two men were well out of earshot in the Steward’s private chambers. “And I believe you owe me an apology.”

“An apology…?” Faramir repeated breathlessly.

“Oh, yes,” Denethor confirmed with a pleasant smile. “Do you not remember? Your earlier reproach concerning my lack of trust in my own sons. Well, I believe I had bestowed plenty of trust upon you. The way you chose to deal with the trespasser, for instance. It was, admittedly, quite noble and grand on your behalf – although extremely impractical and perilous, too. Yet had I critisised your actions? No. What next? This handsome amiable tramp saves your live – and you see that as reason enough to welcome him into your home with open arms. Very well, had I said a word of objection to that?” Denethor spread his hands, raising his brows. “Now then, he gets a just little too amiable, and soon enough you share your sheets with him. Why, I deem that is taking it a little too far, I truly do. Given the sort of man you are, I understand you had indeed made the only choice you could have – which is absolutely not to say that it in any way whatsoever excuses you. But naturally, since you are my son – and you know to what lengths I go for the sake of my children’s well-being – and since, judging by his howling and wauling, it is your genteel friend who had been the lady in your nightly encounter, I am willing to overlook this little slip on your behalf, assuming you shall abstain from making the like of it again. Don’t you see how much faith I have in you?”

Faramir pressed his lips, and closed his eyes for a moment. His face was exceptionally stern, yet when he spoke, his words came even and calm. “Yes, Father, I do apologise.”

Denethor inclined his head in a polite gesture of gratitude. “Good.” He took a deep contented breath and turned to the window.

The Steward stood quiet for so long Faramir deemed he was expected to go, which he did – and only when the young man nearly reached the exit did his father’s voice catch him and make him stop dead in his tracks.

“The boy has to leave at his earliest convenience, of course – I wager you understand that,” Denethor said in a most casual manner, as though making an observation on an utterly self-evident matter. “I do not wish to have him anywhere within my realm.” When Faramir failed to say anything in reply, he added propitiously, “You may tell him yourself, if you wish.”

“But where would he go, my lord?” Faramir asked quietly, without turning.

“Perhaps he should have thought of that beforehand – or you should have, seeing as you have appointed yourself his benefactor.”

Faramir swallowed hard, then nodded, as though in obedience to an order. “Very well, my lord, I shall speak to him.”

When the young man was already by the door and grasped the handle, Denethor spoke once more.

“I know this is not the end, Faramir.”

“End, Father?” Faramir repeated frowning, so weary and sick at heart he could not at once grasp what Denethor was speaking about.

“Yes – of our little predicament. ‘Tis but an intermission, and you shall see as much in due time – and so shall Boromir. You are too gentle of heart to ever turn from him, to ever scorn him for anything he does: even now you feel sorry for him more than anything else. And he shall come around, too – not for a while yet, but he shall, for as winds blow in full circles, so shall his heart return to its paths. Like I’ve told you before: he shan’t stand to be denied what he wants, and he is a man loyal to his desires – even if they are not loyal to him. It was a little cruel of you, of course, to choose someone so unlike him: had there been the remotest resemblance between him and your nightly companion, Boromir could have told himself it was him you craved, him you tried to find a substitute for. Now he is denied even that little consolation, which naturally is all for the best, yet nevertheless time will blunt his pain and cool his wrath, for my Boromir is not the sort of man to nurse a hurt forever. It would have been simpler if he were – but don’t you forget that neither am I a man to let my vigilance be dulled. It may not be in my power to show him that which is not there – but I am certainly well capable of showing the right part of what is there at the right point in time, and usually that proves to be perfectly enough.”

Faramir was shaking with rage and did not know what he would have liked more – to growl or to scream. But both of these desires he swallowed down and asked very drily, “Is that all, my father? May I go now?”

“Why, you certainly may,” Denethor agreed with what seemed to his incredulous son to actually be a note of amusement. “In fact, you may altogether leave and return to your post in Ithilien: I believe you have already had enough of a vacation for the time. Besides, I’ve heard the men have grown quite fond of you – why deny them the joy of your company?”


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50 Comment(s)

Wow, December, I did hope that my request would go to you, I know you write so well… but I never expected to get an eighteen-chapter story! And how will I find the time to read it all, now?

Well, thank you so much, I’m sure I’ll love it, and I’ll start reading at once; but you might have to wait a bit for a full commentary…

Nerey Camille    Sunday 19 December 2010, 13:50    #

Ha! I never expected to write an eighteen-chapter story either, lol. It just happened to me, like writing always does :) I do indeed hope you like it, and I’m so flattered to have you say you wanted it to be me (blush).

December    Sunday 19 December 2010, 13:56    #

Well, first chapter finished. I love the idea of Boromir being insecure and disconcerted for once and seemingly making a fool of himself in front of his younger brother and his father (and his men). I love also how he’s outraged to discover that “his” seat is occupied by a “stranger”. Haha.
In fact, so far you would almost think Faramir is the eldest and favourite child, the one who is sent to right his brother’s mess chuckle. But it is more ambiguous than that. Difficult to make out Denethor’s feelings or intentions. He seems to think that Boromir will manage better than Faramir with the trolls; on the other hand, changing assignments like that just after Boromir comes and says he can’t deal with the situation in Ithilien, really comes across as a disavowal. And then of course there’s the situation Faramir is going to find himself in; to his father he may be just sent to deal with a thief (something less dangerous than trolls), but to the men here’s an upstart coming to replace the captain that they trust and admire, and precisely when the situation is too bad for even said captain to manage it…
Well, there’s too much confusion on my mind, I think I’ll just go on to next chapter…

Nerey Camille    Sunday 19 December 2010, 14:22    #

Well, well, well, second chapter finished. I must say, I am very intrigued by this strange beast, and Faramir’s reaction to it; I guess there will be some fun as I keep reading. The circumstances in which Faramir takes command of the Ithilien Rangers are perfect; were I Faramir, I would have been sincere with the men (was funny to read what he wanted to say since it was about exactly what I was thinking), but well, maybe I underestimate the rank gap and what expectations it creates about an officer’s behaviour.
Faramir showing anxiety when arriving at the camp? Come on! He may have been anxious, but really, showing it? This is not the Faramir I know, but well, every story is different and I will wait till the end to judge him :-).
By the way, it seems just so plausible that he would be able to deal with a strange mystery that has his brother bluffed… (and me too, so far, by the way).
Well, I guess I’m more intrigued than before, maybe, so let’s get on with the next chapter…
By the way, I wonder: what are those “reasons of his own” that drew Faramir to shun “the sensual side of life”? His reactions seem quite quick on that side… I hope we learn about that mystery later in the story.

Nerey Camille    Sunday 19 December 2010, 15:13    #

Nerey, thanks for such generous comments, I’m so thrilled the story is getting you involved!
As for the way Faramir is, and some of his conduct – I liked it that you asked for him to be young, because at 20 he can’t possibly be as we know him at 37, and it’s interesting to explore how he would behave in this or that situation. And maybe something of what you learn later in the story might explain how he came to be the man we meet in Ithilien in the time of thr War…
Again, thanks for your response!!

December    Sunday 19 December 2010, 15:21    #

Hi again, December!
Now I LOVED this chapter. Sent me shivering. This is the Faramir I dreamt of; calmly stepping forward in the face of death, just because he trusts his own assumptions. I also love his “style” with the Rangers: prudence does pay, doesn’t it? Although Boromir might do the same work in half the time, Boromir does lose many men. And “Nothing particular happened, we’ve been killing orcs slowly and steadily with no losses” does sound better to me than “we fought a grand battle against a force thrice our own and won, though of course we lost half our men in it, couldn’t be avoided”.
I love also how he gets on with the Rangers, that they are too mature to be petty to Faramir, and that he is flexible enough to allow them not to call him “Captain” (I guess also he would prefer to earn the title than just force it out of them). And not trying to imitate Boromir was a wise choice. He is just himself, not what anyone would want him to be. I loved the idea that “he does what he can, but would not have the men thinking that he is going out of his way”.

What else? About chapter 2, Faramir seems to understand more than I do about Denethor’s motives; I hope those are made clear later.

Oh, and the end of the third chapter just shows a master’s hand. To end the chapter at that moment of intolerable suspense… (savour the sensation for a few seconds before going on to next chapter)

You know, this Faramir that steps out in the clearing reminds me of two films I have seen, both with Gregory Peck (one of my favourite actors of all times): Twelve o’clock high and The Big Country. In the first, general Savage takes command of a group of pilot fighters during Second World War, who loved their captain and resent being led by this newcomer. He, like Faramir, also decides that it’s no use to try to “enter a popularity contest” with his predecessor.
In The Big Country, a sailor settles into the West, and everyone expects him to prove his manhood and bravery in various ways, which he refuses to do. However, when two families are ready to fight to death over a girl being held hostage by one of them, he steps forward, unarmed, to rescue her through dialog. And when one of the leaders (obviously eager for battle) points a gun at him and threatens to shoot him down
if he does not stay out of it, he just moves forward, daring the man to shoot and prove that the girl is but an excuse to fight a personal war… So in the end, he shows he’s no coward, he just doesn’t feel the need to prove his worth ceaselessly and to everyone…
That is to say, your Faramir is on a pair with some of the greatest cinema heroes of all times… :-)
And by the way, he also reminds me of another of my heroes (also embodied by Gregory Peck on the screen), Captain Hornblower. He’s a British Navy officer during Napoleon’s wars, and he’s more sharp than most of his colleagues, so he always finds intelligent ways to deal with situations with as little loss of men as possible, though at need he is as resolute and brave as Faramir is… and he shares many other traits with him, not least a fair amount of personal insecurity… to everyone but him absolutely groundless:-)

Nerey Camille    Sunday 19 December 2010, 16:39    #

Beautiful chapter as well… seems Faramir finds it easier to be sincere with this elf than with his men.
You transmitted very well the elf’s feelings: strung as Faramir’s men must have been, weary of hiding, ready to fight for his life and even more for his dignity as he puts it. Now I wonder (or not) what he meant by “I did not tread on property that didn’t want to be treaded on”. And another question remains: why did he decide to stop stealing arrows from the Rangers, precisely when Faramir arrived? Again, I do make some assumptions… let’s see if they are correct.
I can see Boromir’s face when he learns that the horrible beast was just a stray elf and that Faramir brought him down from the tree merely by going there and talking to him… and the men, what will they think now? They can no longer say it was a coward’s action, since Faramir did risk his life to reach this agreement… and did so serenely…

Nerey Camille    Sunday 19 December 2010, 17:12    #

Chapter 5: haha, I love the idea of the men thinking that Faramir can see further and understand more than they do… which of course is true and, again, reminds me of Hornblower (I love to compare different heroes to one another).
You did a very good job of that misunderstanding, it was great and so credible (poor Orophin, elves are wary indeed, aren’t they?). Still, I love hunting for the small clues you let fall here and there: what was the exact relationship between Orophin and “his lord”?
And now, what will happen with Denethor? What will he do? Though I have a feeling that something might happen to delay them as they travel to the White City…

Nerey Camille    Sunday 19 December 2010, 17:52    #

Well, I did not expect that… but it was sweet, Orophin risking his life to save Faramir who was ready to risk his life to save the other two…
Now Denethor seems to have something on his mind, and Faramir is too troubled or weary to notice it… how will everything turn out? And why did Orophin leave Lórien? Unless the Lady was jealous of him having an affair with the Lord, I can’t see… but I have a feeling that that would be to simple an explanation, and that the truth is elsewhere… let’s see if chapter 7 tells us something about it.

Nerey Camille    Sunday 19 December 2010, 18:12    #

Hm. This is disquieting. Clearly Denethor is up to something, and intends to use Orophin in some way, and Orophin has been left alone with Denethor for three months… what may have happened in such a length of time? What will Faramir find upon his returning?
This reads like a mystery/suspense novel… I so want to race ahead and have a swift look at the last chapters…

Nerey Camille    Sunday 19 December 2010, 18:30    #

Well, well, well… so much is made clear… why Faramir (and not Boromir) was sent away, why the brothers can’t see each other, and (I think) why Orophin is valuable to Denethor. I guess the Lord of the City wants to use the elf in some way to solve this strange situation between the brothers… Now, in which way? He obviously creates a situation where Faramir’s breath should be taken away with the elf’s loveliness (the song episode), but how does that help? It is like witnessing a chess game and trying to understand the opponent’s moves…
Now, Denethor’s feelings are clear. He has similar feelings for his two sons; whether he loves them or not is still to be seen, but he doesn’t despise or dislike Faramir more than he does Boromir. And it seems as though his feelings won’t influence in the least his decisions, anyway. So what really matters to him is that Boromir is the heir and will be favoured for that reason, regardless of his worth and his brother’s. But he does say that Faramir is up to leading the Rangers. Denethor going out of his way to give Faramir a compliment… and I love also the blunt way in which he explains his motives, and his opinion of Faramir’s “foolishness”… On to next chapter! (you’ll have a lot of work reading this, but it’s only fair).

Nerey Camille    Sunday 19 December 2010, 19:01    #

Wow, wow, wow! Again, Nerey, thanks for your wonderful comments! I love the serious analysis going here.

About Denethor’s view of his sons. It always seemed to me Denethor was not the ‘unconditional love’ kind of father, and simply ‘loved’ more the son who to him was simpler to predict (aka control), who wasn’t too much of a free thinker, and was less like Denethor himself (because, frankly, I think Denethor has some self-esteem issues, given how he had resented that his own father had once chosen Thorongil over him). It always struck me how in the book he said that he would have rather it were Faramir who died instead of Boromir because Boromir was loyal to Denethor, and not some wizard’s pupil. He didn’t say that he loved Boromir more, if I remember correctly… And apparently he did see Faramir’s merit, for Faramir was after Captain of the Rangers, and their job was the most perilous…

I’m not saying he did not love his boys at all, but I think that love was hidden so deep beneath all his taska and purposes that it did not come out unless something horrible happened.

December    Sunday 19 December 2010, 19:25    #

Mmm… I very much enjoyed the uncomfortable talk between the two brothers. Clearly Faramir has been shaken by what his father has told him, whereas Boromir refused to believe whatever Denethor said… It would be so like Faramir to be caught in a personal dilemma because he’s used to trusting people’s truthfulness and wisdom, so he can’t just wave aside what Denethor says even though it is against what he himself wants to believe of Boromir… yep, always hard to find out that people can voice contradictory ideas and you’ll have to choose between them, however much you want to believe everybody… and it is clear that Boromir is attracted to Faramir, and as for Faramir… I guess he’s attracted to Boromir as well, but he also is to Orophin, so… well, knowing you I suppose a Mir pairing in the end can be reasonably expected… although maybe with Orophin coming in at some point…
By the way, I was surprised that Boromir, rash as he is, could stand this ten-year separation without trying to see Faramir en cachette… now you’ve provided the answer. :-)

Nerey Camille    Sunday 19 December 2010, 19:33    #

“Denethor has some self-esteem issues”, I laughed out loud at that. I guess you’re right. I never thought much about him, but your analysis makes sense to me. If I remember right, he never says that he loves Boromir better, but Gandalf says so, and I doubt his bitterness at Boromir’s death could be just due to political reasons; after all, he must have realised that Boromir would be no great ruler (he lacks the subtlety and sharp intelligence of Denethor and Faramir), for all that he was a good warrior.
I have just re-read some parts of the book, and indeed you have a point; there’s nothing in Denethor’s words that cannot be attributed to grief over Boromir’s death and fear about the Ring falling into the Enemy’s hands… nothing except Faramir’s reactions, which seem to indicate that he is used to being despised by his father…

Nerey Camille    Sunday 19 December 2010, 19:53    #

You know, I don’t mean to demonise Denethor, or to say he has no heart at all: I do, after all, feel a great sympathy for him. He did have a hard life, and many temptations, and given his proud calculating character, little good could have come out of that.

And I believe he did love his family, to the best of his ability that is. Let’s not forget that he loved Finduilas above all – apparently loved her so well she went into severe depression and died… Naturally it hurt him to lose his sons, like it would any normal man – but still I don’t think he loved the boys as people, on a personal level, but rather for what joy they could bring him, for how they could make him proud. And as for what Gandalf said, I think he meant mostly that Denethor overindulged his eldest in some aspects, letting Boromir grow up believing he was the centre of the universe and had a right to everything… That’s an approach that all too often backfires, and results not so much from love, as from the parent’s egoism and reluctance to see faults in his own offspring. I think a truly loving father would have rather tried to teach Boromir some healthy humbleness…

And, also, I think in Faramir, who had his own heart and mind to guide his decisions, Denethor saw a potential rival, and that is hardly something an authoritative lord like him could take well to, right?

I agree, Faramir is certainly used to being treated with coldness and often scorn, for even though Denethor needed him for practical reasons and acknowledged his worth as captain, still the Steward was obviously never kindly and cuddly with him…

December    Sunday 19 December 2010, 20:45    #

My, what cruel Denethor! And poor Boromir! And Orophin!!! :( :(

It was a wonderful reading, but what cruel and short end! My my…

I liked the way Denethor speaks a lot, still. (Because, truly, he is an interesting character. Even if this cold-hearted man we see here does not go quite in the direction I think him to be… But this worked very well in this story!)

Thanks for the story!

elektra121    Monday 20 December 2010, 15:12    #

elektra, thank you very much for reading and commenting!

Would you care to elaborate on Denethor? What direction do you think to be his? I find it extremely interesting to discuss him.

And, well, he prioritises propriety, and dignity, and honour over the desires of his sons’ hearts – but on the other hand, how many parents in his place would have taken a different position…? Perhaps he even thinks he’s acting in their own best interest…

December    Monday 20 December 2010, 15:24    #

Yes, highly possible he thinks he does.
I’ve always thought him to be as good a father as he can be, given his position and nature – even if most think otherwise. I’m sure he really loves both his sons as his children and the children of his dear wife and as the men they are.
But he knew few ways to let them know when they grew up in a society such as Gondor and him being the ruling steward – and perhaps Denethor himself is a man quite good at reading but not so good at showing feelings.

I imagine him to very strictly devide his life into the “official” and the “private” part – never meant to touch each other; like I’m sure many people in times not so long ago did, as I am told. If he is steward he is steward, there is no possibility to show any personal affection for any human being, be it son or wife or not. A son has no more worth than any other captain – he is a useful pawn, nothing more. A wife is a bearer of sons, nothing more.
In private though, when there is no-one around to see and hear it may be possible to show to a child that it is loved, even if it is in giving only the most expensive and valuable gifts, the finest clothing, the best teachers, the finest food; or in being strict. It may be possible to be a man that loves his family, but only behind closed doors. Perhaps ist may be possible to show to a wife how much you adore and desire and love her, but only in the darkness of night.

And of course, he had a heavy weight upon his shoulders and must have been very lonely. There may have been very little “private” Denethor left in “The return of the King”.

Not so easy to say in English… ;)

elektra121    Monday 20 December 2010, 16:16    #

Hey again, elektra – and thanks for your response! Yeah, for me it too would perhaps be easier to say it all in Russian, but oh well :)

You know, I’ve been thinking on this subject since yesterday… And I guess maybe my definition of love, or at least parental love, is a little too strict, at least when it comes to fathers. I’ve always deemed conditional love to not be really love… But it’s true men are more given to it than women, and more often try to be ‘objective’ towards their children, don’t you think? And with Denethor it’s very clear that his affection is allocated to his children in direct proportion to how each of them makes him proud. Like in the Book it said that he loved Boromir, but Faramir displeased him. You see what I mean? Displeasure is not the opposite of love. Your kid may make you mad like 200 times a day, and do really stupid things, and even things you deem wrong and horrible, but if you love them, it won’t make you love them less…

Of course love is a very complex thing, and not something we always understand even in ourselves, and it’s even harder to speak of someone else. If Denethor himself thought he loved his sons, and that what he did was for their ultimate good, does that qualify? You would think so, but on the other hand, for ex., there are so many men who tell you they love you more than life itself, and would do anything for you, and even believe it themselves – but all their actions speak otherwise. Maybe it is that they love to the best of their ability, and that ability is just not very big… And so for Denethor – I totally agree that he wanted and tried to be a good father. Question is, what was his idea of ‘a good father’, and how much did he succeed in his attempts?

And of course it did not help that, as you say, he was a very ‘official’ man. Like when he said ‘like a good lord, I spend even my own sons in battle,’ it sent chills down my spine – but he thinks it’s only fair, that they indeed should be treated like other captains. Although I have a feeling that if Aragorn were in his place, he would have gone to battle himself. And Theoden too, when his evil enchantment lifted, rode to war himself and didn’t just send Eomer…

And of course what warmth Denethor had towards the boys he did not very expressively show. Like in this story, he never told little Faramir that he was afraid for him, and that it hurt him to send him away, and that he was sorry for punishing him for something the boy had no conscious fault in…

All that said, may I ask how you think Denethor would have acted if put in a situation described in this story?

December    Monday 20 December 2010, 17:33    #

Dear elektra, answering your other message.

1st of all, cosidering your suggestion re writing a 1st time Faramir/Eowyn – that topic shall be explored in the story I’m writing for iris’ challenge – not very explicitly, perhaps, but all the same :) I’m glad you’re interested, all the more stimulus to get me back to work on that tale.

Now, back to Denethor.

I must say I find your view of him very refreshing – especially since, like you yourself say, it rather differs from the popular opinion. Now that you’ve told me a bit about your family, it’s beginning to seem to me that what we focus on in Denethor’s character is somehow connected to our own fathers. Like that lovely example you gave of your father and raspberries – you pick up a similar thing in Denethor, with him letting Faramir eat first and then talk. (For ex, I had never paid much mind to that instance, if anything, it seemed to me Denethor was being ironic when he told his son to go and have a good rest…). It’s obviously much easier for you than for me to allow that Denethor could be loving in a reserved way, under all his status-imposed decorum. I very much do envy you for being able to see so much good in him. My own family experience has led me to be far more skeptical towards the parenting merits of proud, masterful, unsentimental men like Denethor. So I guess with these differences it’s best to acknowledge we won’t be able to fully agree on him, each of us having a different filter to look at him through. I of course very much hope that I’m too hard on him, and he’s nicer than I think.

May I ask, why do you think he’s equally proud of both his sons? In the book I’ve mostly managed to find evidence as to the otherwise: he scorns Faramir for his connection with Gandalf, and for trying to look kind and gracious in the eyes of their people, and for using his own brain to think with. I didn’t really get the impression Denethor viewed him as the man he himself would have wanted to be like, or that as an authoritative lord he approved of Faramir’s propensity to think for himself.

As for what Denethor felt in this story, whether it be when sending Faramir away, or ridiculing Boromir’s feelings for him – we’ll never know, will we? ;-p Sometimes I like to write just from one POV, like in ‘Casualties of War’ – then you can only interpret other characters’ actions through the eyes of the narrating character. We can speculate, though… Personally, I don’t think nothing inside Denethor moved when he sent his 11 y.o. away for nothing, or when he humiliated his older son in the bathroom, naked and wet as poor Boromir was. I don’t think the man was in any way monster enough to get a kick out of being the one to cause his own sons suffering. But he thought it had to be done (like later he thought he had to burn Faramir…), as the smaller of the evils he had to choose between – so he did it.

Once again I’m coming to think what else Denethor could have done. Ignoring the situation or telling Boromir it was wrong – would that have stopped Boromir? I suspect the boy already knew his feelings were not something to be entirely proud of, given he did not act on the reactions of his body while Faramir was still too young to understand anything. But as time went by – what would have happened? And I think Denethor, being much older and far more cynical than Boromir, didn’t believe that all that much time would have to go by – or that a 16 y.o. boy could be a paragon of self-restraint when it comes to sexual urges… From the book I got the impression Denethor was a man who liked to keep everything under control, and would not have allowed such a risky situation to just take its course… Perhaps a gentler man would have first had a quiet earnest talk with his sons – and perhaps not, given what he feared would happen between them was indeed against all the morals of Gondor, and enough to freak out even the kindest father.

Maybe sending Faramir away was indeed partly out of desire to be a good father, aka do what’s best for his children, even when his heart perhaps didn’t want to part with his son. Personally, I think that love can sometimes get quite in the way of being a good parent, like for ex. Denethor spoiling Boromir in the first place with all his fatherly pride. I don’t believe that loving a child always results in being a good parent to them – or that to be a good parent one necessarily has to love the child…

December    Tuesday 21 December 2010, 11:28    #

Hu, quite a lot of questions and things to think of…
And, you may be right with the filter thing – my opinions have ever been very idealistic ones… think only the best of others and only doubt it until there is proof you must be wrong.

The food thing, still, seems to me of highly symbolic character. From what I know of heroic epic writing (which Tolkien was inspired by) gestures are of great importance and sometimes be more of a clue than the words. For example I remember a chapter in an epic that titled “How he did not rise before her/did not greet her”. Nothing more – and everything about the whole situation and both characters (and of course the very gory ending of the story) is said.
Rereading the scene with Faramir, Denethor, Pippin and Gandalf, it definitely has a lot of “show-don’t-tell”: Faramir sitting on a “low chair at his father’s left hand” – it shows F. to be of lower rank and no-one that is authorized to advise his father in any matter (advisors would have sit right-hand). But the possibility remains left is chosen for some other reason: left is where the heart is. It could be saying there is some kind of affection between lord and captain here – if not, they could have sit face-to-face for a report. Faramir gets white bread and wine – which is valuable food and thus shows how this captain is valued. Gandalf sits “removed a little” – this is about Faramir and Denethor, not him. When F. begins to speak of halflings, Gandalf “grips the arms of his chair” and Denethor confirms he has understood what is going on with a silent nod. From then on, F. does NOT look to his father – clearly there is some kind of uneasiness about the matter. (F. knows his decision will not please Denethor.) Gandalf’s hands begin to tremble – that shows to Pippin he really worries. And so on and on.
Denethor speaks about Gandalf having “Faramir’s heart in his keeping” – really: this sounds very much like jealousy on Denethors behalf.
When Faramir takes his leave, he swayes and his father commends on his fast and far ride, “under shadows of evil in the air”. (I believe that to be some kind of praise, small as it is.) Faramir wishes to not ponder that unpleasant incident, and his father grants him the favour and tells him to go and rest. I don’t see irony in that.

About the equality of proudness: you may be right entirely… there is no real proof of my opinion in that matter. May be wishful/idealistic thinking again. But I somehow sense Denethor likes his son to want to follow suit of the kings of old. He is way too much a lover of nobleness and dignity himself to not being proud of that wish.
It always occured to me both could be alike in not so few aspects… and that may be one of the causes they don’t get along all too well – like it is not seldom, if a parent and a child are too much alike…

To question of how Denethor is supposed to react to such threatening situation like in this story… honestly, as I said – I don’t know.

Oh boy sigh – maybe Denethor is a coldhearted bastard with no heart whatsoever and I a romantic fool…

But I like to see him as a sad, embittered man, that still has some of the best in him only he makes some fatal errors.

elektra121    Tuesday 21 December 2010, 18:11    #

Regarding your reply of 12/19 – “It always struck me how in the book he said that he would have rather it were Faramir who died instead of Boromir because Boromir was loyal to Denethor, and not some wizard’s pupil.”

The book does NOT say that. The implication is that it would have been better if Boromir had been in Ithilien instead of Faramir – then the Ring would have been brought to him.

alcardilme    Wednesday 22 December 2010, 2:38    #

Alcardilme, thanks for joining in :)
Aye, ‘tis true, the Book never says so directly – so of course it can be said that it doesn’t say so at all. Personally, though, I always saw that message very clearly between the lines.
Right before that part in the conversation, Denethor says that such gentle choices as Faramir made re the Ring can be punished with death – and Faramir says, so be it. And that gets Denethor flaring, because he thinks they all are going to die because of what Faramir did – so here follows that line about the wizard’s pupil. And then Faramir too loses his cool and reminds Denethor it was Denethor himself who had sent Boromir away (aka to his death – which Denethor picks up in the next line). So the subject of death is there all the time, and Denethor’s words about them being exchanged instantly set Faramir thinking that at the time of their conversation Boromir is dead… So still I personally get the impression that even if this was not what Denethor meant, it was quite certainly what Faramir perceived… After all, it seems to me his later desire to go on a desperate pointless mission just to prove his worth to Denethor would be more grounded by thinking Denethor would have liked him dead instead of Boromir, than merely that Boromir had chanced to be in his place in Ithilien.
But, like I said, that’s not what’s written in the Book explicitly, and the subject is pretty much open to interpretaion.

elektra, hi again!
Well, re ‘idealism’, it seemed to me the book itself quite promotes the idea of thinking the best of people (even when they already show themselves as pretty hopeless). It always impressed me how Gandalf, being so it seems Nienna’s pupil, always wanted to give everyone yet another chance, trusting in their good nature: Gollum, Theoden, Denethor, Saruman – even with Pippin he’s very patient, although Pippin always lands poor Gandalf in a mess :) It does prove however, that only those kind by heart, who were tricked by enchantment or simply have too much curiosity for their own good, make it thorugh – whereas both Denethor and Saruman cosistently push away all the hope he’s offering them. But, he keeps trying, till the very end…
As for whether Denethor is a cold-hearted bastard or a lonely embittered man – well, I would certainly not call him a bastard :) Actually, I think his heart is very hot – he just doesn’t show it in the way Boromir did (we’ve talked of this before :) ). Really, I think he’s lonely and embittered more than anything else – very embittered. And also oppressed by Sauron, aka suspicious, apprehensive and generally worn out. Plus he’s proud, and masterful, and scornful. And again – very lonely. I can’t imagine him having any kind of a relationship after his wife’s death, even some platonic bond with a nice kind lady who would warm his heart a little…
And what you say about him being jealous of Faramir – I very much believe he is indeed. What father wouldn’t be jeallous if his son valued someone else’s opinion higher than his, especially since Denethor had never liked Gandalf in the 1st place? And, to think of it, I believe he may have had quite a bit of jealousy concerning his sons’ love for each other. It says Boromir was much beloved by him, and says there was great love between Boromri and Faramir – I didn’t see anything about Boromir having much love for his father… Boromri wasn’t a particularly sensitive man, so perhaps he wasn’t aware of how tough Denethor’s whole life was, nor thought much of what Denethor felt for him, likely took it for granted.
It indeed seems Denethor would have found much more support and understanding in Faramir had he turned to his younger son – but oh well… This is indeed ironic and very very sad.
Again, thanks for reading and the discussion!

December    Wednesday 22 December 2010, 8:14    #

My, my – poor Denethor! :(
I agree he never would have even thought of any relationship after his wife’s death. I’m pretty much sure he had seen that as betrayal.
I think “lonely”, “worn out”, “embittered” are the best words to describe him.

And yes, I personally too believe Denethor does not have meant he wanted for Faramir to die instead of Boromir. But maybe – it could be what Faramir perceived.

As to Gandalf: wow, amazing how opinions differ! I have NEVER liked Gandalf much – not even in the “Hobbit”. (In my opinion Wormtongue’s “lathspell” is a very to-the-point name… aside from it’s linguistic beauty ;) ) I’ve always thought not so less of Gandal’s dislike for Denethor is caused by the fact that Denethor is one of the very few men that could be equal to him in some parts (strategy, thinking for himself) and thus dangerous or annoying.

Really, interesting men. I remeber very few fanfictions that ponder those facts mentioned above… – sad as it is; but those few that do tends to be very good ones.

elektra121    Wednesday 22 December 2010, 9:36    #

Hi December,

I totally agree with this, must remember to keep it in mind for future stories:
“And what you say about him being jealous of Faramir – I very much believe he is indeed. What father wouldn’t be jeallous if his son valued someone else’s opinion higher than his, especially since Denethor had never liked Gandalf in the 1st place? And, to think of it, I believe he may have had quite a bit of jealousy concerning his sons’ love for each other. It says Boromir was much beloved by him, and says there was great love between Boromri and Faramir – I didn’t see anything about Boromir having much love for his father… Boromri wasn’t a particularly sensitive man, so perhaps he wasn’t aware of how tough Denethor’s whole life was, nor thought much of what Denethor felt for him, likely took it for granted.
It indeed seems Denethor would have found much more support and understanding in Faramir had he turned to his younger son – but oh well… This is indeed ironic and very very sad.”
Apart from this, I’ve been very busy these last few days, but here I am to finish reading the story (though I couldn’t resist to peep at the end the other day) and comment it.
And it’s cool that there’s such a debate about Denethor, because I am meditating a challenge about him!

Nerey Camille    Wednesday 22 December 2010, 19:27    #

Well, chapter 10. Love the humour between Orophin and Faramir. So many sentences worth being remembered, especially the idea that such a man as Faramir would always have people around ready to risk their lives for him.

Nerey Camille    Wednesday 22 December 2010, 19:47    #

Oh noes, you’ve peeped at the end! Next time I’m writing something for you, I’ll publish it chapter by chapter ;-p But seriously, that’s how I wrote it: first 9 chapters, then the end, then what’s in between. And you’re reading it just like that :) I wonder, though, how it’s going to go down now that you know the finale…
Yes, Denethor… It’s funny, this was meant to be a story about Faramir and the Rangers (and a ship), but somehow most of the debate is around Denethor… The more I think of it, the more I feel bad for him in this story. Everyone
else’s pain is quite obvious, but he comes across as such a villain, you really have to make an effort to sympathise with him.
And Orophin… Well, he thinks of Faramir better than Faramir thinks of himself…
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the rest of this!

elektra, wow, you’re always bringing new perspective. We’ve already discussed Faramir, Denethor and Gandalf with you, and on all them, it seems to me, you have a rather untypical point of view. (Not to mention the ‘noble stupid Aragorn’ from your other letter :D) So fun talking to you!
It didn’t surprise me much Gandalf wasn’t all uber-friendly with Denethor, given Denethor’s as impolite with him as propriety only allows… And indeed, Denethor has quite a will to match his – that silent battle of stares between them, ooh, sparks fly… Although I was rather under the impression it was not so much Denethor himself Gandald didn’t like, but rather what of Sauron’s influence came through in his conduct. Like I said, it seemed to me Gandalf was an extremely forgiving person…
And I very much like your cues about meal scenes. Indeed, in most traditional cultures taking food is full of symbolism. Like I read that in the early Slavic culture breaking bread with someone was an equivalent of calling them your allies, because you could not assault them without your honour; and a maiden who ate from the same cut of food with a man could not marry him, because they were like siblings after that…

December    Wednesday 22 December 2010, 19:55    #

Chapter 11… Yes, Faramir admiring his naked friend and having Elven sweets made for him and accepting one from Orophin’s hand into his lips, but of course there’s no attraction at all between them… Poor naive Faramir, no wonder he’s spent years avoiding sex, otherwise he wouldn’t be so confident… And clearly if Faramir is not consciously attracted, Orophin’s feelings are another matter…

I only peeped, I promise… so I know the end roughly but not how it comes about. And by the way, I’ve been wanting to ask you about the ship. I meant a boat, did you understand that or did you think I meant a relationSHIP?
Don’t worry about the story being about Denethor, it’s wonderful. And after all, mine ended up being Gríma’s story, much more than Faramir’s.

Nerey Camille    Wednesday 22 December 2010, 20:05    #

“Do not worry, I can fancy it”, what a beautiful line.
Then Faramir interpreting Orophin’s touch as mere curiosity towards his hair (I mean, honestly!).
Then confidences (aaaah, we know in the end why Orophin stopped stealing arrows), then awkward questions, and then… sure enough, the situation evolves here! What will Faramir’s next reaction be? To attribute the kiss to curiosity as to how men taste?

By the way, I agree with you about Gandalf, I also don’t have the impression that he really dislikes Denethor, just as I don’t really think he dislikes Saruman or Gollum. But I guess he’s annoyed at Denethor’s folly because it means danger, just as he is every time Pippin messes up.

It’s funny I’m reading the story in the same order you wrote it!

Nerey Camille    Wednesday 22 December 2010, 20:25    #

Ah, but you see, Nerey, the way my imagination works, it’s far easier for me to fit an Elf and a lovesick Boromir into Ithilien than a boat. When it comes to boats, I’m a Hobbit, aka all I know about them is that they swim (wait that’s not right) sail. So yes, since in the writing world the word has multiple meaning, I chose to see it to denote romance… So, no ‘bonus points’ for me, I guess? ;)

December    Wednesday 22 December 2010, 20:27    #

Chapter 13. I love how Faramir quickly goes from “we can’t do this” to “I could return your kisses, but not give you the intimate contact you want” to “I do want to be with you, just don’t rush me” meaning what, meaning “don’t rape me at once and do talk me into it for a few more minutes before we actually set to it like mad”?
I’m sorry, this might sound a bit harsh, but it’s really good-natured. It’s just that Faramir’s reactions are so funny after all his “there’s absolutely nothing going between us” self-talk. And why do I get the feeling that Orophin is a very innocent-looking, diabolically sly person who’s playing drama to persuade Faramir to yield?

Nerey Camille    Wednesday 22 December 2010, 20:42    #

“all I know about them is that they swim“, LOL. Yeah, you “chose” to see it that way… well, no bonus points then, you nasty shipper.

Nerey Camille    Wednesday 22 December 2010, 20:45    #

No worries, I’m not offended, lol. It is kind of funny when you think about it, and I’m glad you see it that way too. It’s like ‘let’s be at least a little decent about it, I like to see myself as a good boy’.
Seriosuly, I’ve been there, when you can’t even conceive that the person you’re with could possibly be making a pass at you, and you come up with these idiotic explanations… It seems to stupid when you look back on it afterwards xD
Again, I’m glad you’re enjoying!
And Orophin… Orophin is an Elf. That pretty much says it all, I guess.

December    Wednesday 22 December 2010, 20:48    #

Chapter 14. Oh, this is hilarious! Faramir never heard of a kiss? Faramir thinking it’s “the elven way”? Oh heavens. I love his “well, seeing as I’m already doing what I shouldn’t, let’s do it thoroughly” self-arguments. And the boy is so innocent, yet he had already imagined himself kissing another man… hrrrmmpf.
Faramir’s reactions being due to “Elven magic”, LOL. And he’s sure about it, too (“recognised”)! That one was great, December. Ah my, what next? (I’m commenting even while I read, otherwise I forget things).
Nah, Boromir wouldn’t have kissed him in this way… love for Boromir wouldn’t have been pure… sure we believe you, Faramir (what was that great experience of yours that allows you to speak with such certainty, by the way?).
Proceeding… wiping it with his hair?! Never heard of that anywhere… and I thought it was not easy to shock me!
“Faramir discovered the Elf had lost the lower half of his attire, although the Man could not recall that happening”, laughing again.
And that is such a beautiful moment, Orophin smiling to Faramir “not so much with his lips as with his eyes”. I can picture the Elf here… but “they were doing it for the right reasons”? I’m waiting to see Faramir explain that to Denethor!! Which right reasons? Ah, I think this whole chapter is not so much about Faramir discovering carnal pleasures as about how he incredibly manages to delude himself, even when it seems altogether impossible.

Nerey Camille    Wednesday 22 December 2010, 21:32    #

Actually, I don’t think Faramir is necessarily wrong in his assumptions; it’s just the fact that he feels so certain about things he wouldn’t have dreamt of five minutes before, and at the same time he’s so inexperienced that you just know he’s going to think differently in another five minutes… but for him it’s The Truth.
Aaaaah… chapter 15. So endearing, Orophin asking Faramir what he’d like to do and Faramir kissing him, like it’s the most exciting thing he can think of… you marvellously managed to make him seem incredibly young… it’s wonderful… and Orophin’s “I see”, as in “I see I’m going to have to take matters into my own hands, else we’ll still be kissing in a year hence”.
Very insightful, I think, to have Faramir in the “penetrating” role, at first at least…
Beautiful image of Orophin riding Faramir in the light of the hearth…
Can’t believe Faramir is still analyzing Orophin’s beauty and the meaning of their lovemaking… doesn’t the man ever stop thinking?
Very powerful, the moment when Faramir witnesses Orophin’s pleasure…
Funny, too, how Faramir’s desire to love a man “equal” to him contrast with his obvious enjoyment (not only sexual but intellectual) of “power” over his lover… while at the same time starting all this out of desire to be nice…

Nerey Camille    Wednesday 22 December 2010, 22:28    #

Chapter 16… I thought they would switch roles on this one, but no… later maybe? Still a bit unsettled by Faramir’s obvious liking for domination.
Aaaah, confessions… remember I thought that Orophin might have been Celeborn’s lover? Well, now we’ll see if I was mistaken…

Nerey Camille    Wednesday 22 December 2010, 22:53    #

Chapter 17… such an image of the Lady and the Lord? What happened between them, I wonder?
Anyway, very poignant image of Orophin lying under snow and leaves… of course a human could not do it, but an elf… what a sad picture of his state of mind!

Nerey Camille    Wednesday 22 December 2010, 23:08    #

Oh, goodness, this chapter was absolutely brilliant, from beginning to end.

Boromir finding out, his pain. “Everything had been said without a word being spoken.”, that sentence is so strong, really… wow.

Then Denethor’s words, how he accuses Boromir of desiring Faramir and he doesn’t deny it; and poor Faramir is finally forced to accept the truth of it.

Then Denethor’s demand for an apology: brilliant! How he makes a fool of Faramir, beats him hands down, proves him wrong in everything and thereby justifies all of his actions of the previous years. It is to Faramir’s credit that he takes the defeat in a mature and dignified way, even the fact that Orophin must leave at once.
Oh, it was such a brilliant story, the end is truly sparkling. And everything fits so well… I wonder, how did you build it? I mean, how did you imagine this story starting from my request?

Anyway, thank you so very much for such a long story, that matches my request perfectly (even though you managed to insert a few more things of your own, which was very funny: I didn’t expect Faramir to have a love story, but it was definitely your right as long as you could fit it into the original plot, which you did). There are so many things: a study of Denethor’s character, a very interesting analysis of Faramir’s character (his goodness and where it can lead him), a wonderful portrait of him as an intelligent young captain and a completely idiotic young adolescent, an interesting portrait of the Lord and Lady of Lórien, as well as of the Ithilien Rangers and a distressed Elf; a very good picture of Boromir, and many, many other things: humor of many sorts, romance, sex, mystery, political games, human contact… Wow. Still, I guess what amazes me most is the fact that you managed to produce such a large quantity of well-written, well-thought text in a few weeks. I am absolutely impressed. Thanks again, so much!

Nerey Camille    Wednesday 22 December 2010, 23:39    #

Great story. I was ‘uncomfortable’ with Denethor – but he was clearly a man of strength and will. He was said to be able to read men’s minds. Boy! Did he know his sons??? Got chills reading this. Very well done.

alcardilme    Saturday 25 December 2010, 3:52    #

Gosh, Alcardilme, if you only knew how uncomfortable I myself was with Denethor. The man’s already been overdemonised plenty, but… well… the circumstances of this story don’t exactly give him much chance to show himself in a good light… Although still, I believe he’s been ‘nicer’ throughout the whole situation than someone else in his place might have been: he’d plotted a lot, yes, but he did not actually force anybody to do anything, did he? And he ‘set up’ Faramir with a rather nice boy too, one who would obviously treat F with patience and mindfulness, not to mention skill… One might say D was unnecessarily cruel with Orophin, but then again – why the heck should he care for Orophin in the first place, let alone after Orophin ‘seduces’ his son? And by the way, he’s been softer on Orophin than the Elf’s own people had been to him for a similar offense, don’t you think…?

Anyway, I appreciate your tolerance towards his depiction in this work – I know this is a sensitive subject for you, and I hope this matter did not taint the rest of the story for you. Writing D is always tricky: he’s a controversial character, and whatever you do, he’ll either seem too soft to some readers or too harsh to others, or both…

Thank you for reading and commenting!

Nerey, my, if I had one, I’d give you a big shiny ‘honoured reader’ badge or something :) Put together, yours is the most detailed, attentive review I’ve ever had on anything I wrote, including academic theses. Many of the things you said made me smile, or think some more on the events in my own work – and I’m very, very happy that you, as the initiator of the story, are happy with the result.

Now I’ll do my best to reply to your points.
First of all, I love your in-depth analysis of Faramir’s personality, reasoning and actions. He’s a very troubled young man here, and in some aspects younger than his age – and it so pleases me how you’ve taken time to point out all the contradictions and discrepancies about his conduct, many of which he is not aware of himself! Yes, I can certainly see how his first intimate experience could make an observer smile or even laugh in places…

I’m also very impressed by your comparison of F to film characters. I’m ashamed to say I’m no big connoisseur of the works you bring up, but I very much like the parallels you describe :)

Mm, why does it unsettle you F’s dominating? Is it that something in the story had initially led you to expect differently from him, or something else…? And to think of it, maybe he would not have been so much so if he didn’t actually suppress it in himself so much… Although, on the other hand – whether he likes to see himself in such terms or not – F’s a young hale male with all that follows…

As for all the things he doesn’t know – never underestimate people’s capability for sexual ignorance, especially when voluntarily self-inflicted! xD After all, he’d kind of lived under a rock in that sense for the previous ten years…

And that Faramir had thought about kissing men – funny enough, perhaps Denethor himself pushed him in that direction. What with all the ‘I just know you would so sleep with your brother’, it’s kind of hard to keep one’s imagination from visualising it just a bit, isn’t it? ;)

Celeborn and Galadriel, now… Ah, I could hazard any number of guesses what happened between the two, from the obvious to the more O_o But Orophin never learns, and so won’t we ;-p In any case, the truth would have hardly comforted him.

Oh, the plot built itself from your request quite on its own; I can elaborate on this if you like… You know, after I finish making a story, I always like to stop and wonder how someone else would have handled this request/challenge… But with me, stories often take their own course, I don’t even get all that much of a say in who does what xD

December    Saturday 25 December 2010, 15:05    #

Hi December!

Thank you for saying this was the lognest review you ever got, I thought it was the least I could do! Faramir dominating unsettles me because I believe him to be the perfect character, and to me that includes the ability to consider his sexual partners as his equals… truly, and not fantasizing about “I’m the master here, yeah”… especially as I have known hale young men who wouldn’t react like that (I hope).
Why yes, in the book it always seemed to me that he treated Éowyn in a most feminist way, praising her courage, underlining the fact that she won renown on her own (as opposed to “by marrying a renowned man” as she seemed to wish) and asking for her permission (instead of her brother’s or his king’s, for that matter) to marry her. That attitude of his is one of the main reasons why I prefer him to Aragorn (need I to state again the King’s views on such matters?) so yes, it unsettles me that he should see penetration as an act of power rather than of love. He doesn’t strike me as the sort of man that likes power (the Ring is proof of that, isn’t it?). But then… maybe at the time he was a bit young and foolish.

Oh please, DO elaborate on how your stories build themselves on their own (and this one in particular). I’d love to know more!
My own stories are more like a game of chess, I mean I tend to choose the path that I instinctively or rationally feel to be the most efficient. And each choice is partially determined by the ones I have already made. There are parts where I just create (mostly when there are not too many things already defined to take into account), but a lot of it is just about testing each path and choosing the one that rings truer or leaves more possibilities open.

Nerey Camille    Monday 27 December 2010, 14:39    #

Hey, Nerey! Thanks for this comment!

Hm, I have a feeling there’s a bit of a misunderstanding here regarding the ‘dominance’ thing. So that I know without ambiguity what we are speaking about, may I please ask, exactly what do you see in this story as showing Faramir as ‘fantasising about being the master’ and as ‘seeing penetration as an act of power rather than love’?

December    Monday 27 December 2010, 16:32    #

Hi December,

I think it is mostly the following extracts (chapter 17) along with the fact that you use words like “defenseless” and “vulnerable” for the lover that is penetrated and “to claim” or “to take” for the act of penetration. To me, that gives the act a symbolic meaning of domination and possession, which Faramir clearly acknowledges and enjoys.
“Once again in Faramir arose the urge to be fully on top, to cover Orophin with his body, to bask in his eager capitulation. And so Faramir began to push harder, and gnawed at the curve of the other’s neck, and ran his palm proprietarily over the Elf’s chest, and belly, and in between his legs. This soon ceased to suffice, and then Faramir turned the unresisting Elf altogether over, and shifted atop him, pinning him down to the bed with his weight and spreading him further open with his legs.

He could not explain why it was so, but the knowledge that Orophin had drunk of him, and had received him between the legs brought Faramir a sense of great fruition and pride.

There are also a couple of moments in chapter 16, when F thinks it would be difficult for him to switch places, like OK, this is love and I trust you, but all the same I wouldn’t want to have done to me what I’m doing to you, wouldn’t want to be the “vulnerable” one. And when he wonders “why it felt so vital to him to penetrate his friend’s body as deep as only he could, while it was obviously for Orophin’s benefit they were doing this”.

It’s as if F, even without any previous experience, instinctively senses that what they are doing has a meaning – namely, that one of the lovers (himself) is symbolically dominating the other (Orophin). That Faramir should adopt such an interpretation of sexual intercourse is what unsettles me.

But then, I have had extensive training on such issues, and therefore my sensitivity and quickness to drawn conclusions are unusually high.

Nerey Camille    Monday 27 December 2010, 21:37    #

Again, thanks for the comment!

Training? My, that sure makes me curious ;)

Ok, so first of all, let me assure you I too would be most disconcerted with a Faramir who fantasises about being somebody’s master – I don’t think it would be in his character. Nor would I like it if for him the sole point of sex was ‘conquering’ someone else.

Anyway, to me all his sentiments you quote above seem evoked more than anything else by the role F was at that time playing in their lovemaking – i.e. it was what he felt at the moment, under the influence of what part he was performing in their arrangement. He fully enjoys it when he’s on top – and he equally enjoys it when later he’s letting Orophin access him from behind and do anything to him. (Yes, in chapter 16 he’s nervous about switching – I’d attribute it to him being very inexperienced and also afraid of his man-liking side: he’d probably had it put into his head that for a man yielding is ‘disgracing’ – not entirely easy to let go of such stereotypes. By the time Orophin starts treating him from behind, F has quite forgotten about those worries…) To me, personally, there is nothing wrong if during the actual act the ‘active’ lover feels a little possessive, like he’s claiming – it’s only natural, the very position puts him in physical control. That he feels this way during sex does not necessarily mean he would like to dominate and posses the other in the non-sexual side of their relationship.

Actually, I myself was quite under the impression that if anything, it was Orophin who was the dominating partner. Yes, he played the ‘recepient’ role in the actual penetration, but apart from that he had totally led Faramir through the whole experience: from the point of initiating it to determining when F should be mild and gentle – and when he should break wild and make Orophin scream. F quite likely would have ‘submitted’ to him when they were in the position convenient for doing so – it was O who had chosen to do otherwise. How would you interpret that? :)

Now, to your question re building the story.

You speak about choosing paths – I don’t know, perhaps I do that also, although then it must be on some deeply subconscious level.
For me, it always seems like there is only one path for the story to take, and I just have to let it grow into it, if you know what I mean, sort of let it come to me. When I write, I never ‘think up’ or ‘create’ – things rather ‘occur’ to me, so to say.
If anything, I only have to know from which directions not to expect the inspiration. For ex, like I told you re the boat – sailing’s not my strong side, so I didn’t even glance in that direction. I also know detailed action scenes, where you describe what sort of strikes the warrior made, and where the enemies came from, etc. – those are not my strength either, so I didn’t ask the Muse to send me one of those either. And I know I need a romantic line for inspiration to come – it’s like a bait for my Muse :) I also know the Muse works super-hard when there’s more than one pairing, therefore giving space for some intrigue and suspense.

So that led me to the place where F had to be ‘cleared’ before his men through something not based on slaying 200 Orcs single-handedly or carrying out some superb strategic move – and also that a lot of love had to be fitted into the tale somehow, or else it just would not work. Perhaps that’s choosing a path, I don’t know – or just being realistic about one’s abilities :)

And from this point, like I said, the thing just grew.
You said no romance between F and his men – so Boromir comes in.
Why would F be appointed Captain when there’s Boromir already there – Denethor’s plotting something + something unusual had to happen.
Why does everyone have such a distorted opinion of Faramir – Faramir was away for a very long time under some strange circumstances.
Why was F away and could this somehow be connected to D replacing Boromir with him – family scandal. (Yay, me was in the mood for scandal this time)
What is the unusual thing that happens in Ithilien that would also give a love line and let Faramir show his worth – why, it’s a stray Elf, agressive but frightened, being chased by a bunch of Orcs.
What’s the Elf doing in Ithilien – he had to leave Lorien.
Why did he have to leave Lorien and what does any of it have to do with Faramir – etc. etc.

None of this I had rationally decided – it just made sense that things should be this way and no other… It’s like, when one block is set down, immediately there is space for another.
The only problem with this approach, it usually yields lengthy results, whether you wanted them or not. But I’m quite icapable of writing my stuff any other way, so that means my stories, for better or worse, turn out the size they turn out :)

December    Monday 27 December 2010, 23:27    #

Hi December!

Thank you so much for your explanations. Yes, I agree that it was really Orophin who was in charge; and I guess Faramir had been taught that to play the recipient role was unmanly and disgracing, but I suppose I expected him to abandon such notions as soon as he was making love… Anyway. I can tell you more about my “training” by mail.

Thank you so much for this voyage into your head, it helps me understand both how you built the story and how you usually work… As you may have found out, my way is not so different; I also have these ideas building themselves one upon another, often at a madly quick rate, and it can yield very lengthy tales too. The main difference, I think (though maybe you do it too, though you don’t mention it here), is that when I have several possible lines I resort to reason and instinct in order to choose the one that will work best. And also that I have a strong liking for new experiences, so I often choose lines that will require me to expand my abilities… for instance, I don’t know much about combat either, but if I thought a fighting scene would work well in a story, I’d do the necessary research to write it, ant take it as a learning, rather than change the whole line… the only problem with this approach is that it can get very tiresome some times… :-)

Nerey Camille    Thursday 30 December 2010, 16:22    #

Yes, do write about that in your next mail! :)

Mm, I guess it might have been interesting to see how Faramir’s understanding of intimacy and his views on ‘roles’ would have evolved given due time. Who knows what he would have come to, had Orophin stayed…? I agree with you, F does show himself from quite polar angles, and this might raise questions. But gah, we’ll never know now :E

Well, re the journey into my head (oh, don’t I love how you put it), that’s just how it works for me concerning this specific format, aka predecided line for the story and time constraints: I just let the sotry write itself and don’t interfere with it, because otherwise it might easily take forever.
But apart from that, I too love new experiences (in fact, I’m currently considering picking myself up and relocating to the opposite end of the earth (again) – but that’s irrelevant to the discussion…), but I consciously choose to forgo embarking on any wholly novel paths when working with strict deadlines. I did do quite a bit of research for this story, actually, and tackled some topics I’d never before set upon: doing Man/Elf, and dealing with a situation where Denethor is actually aware something is going on between his sons, and Faramir not being eager to throw himself at Boromir… But still, I prefer to stick to the generally familiar ground: it’s like when entertaining, it’s safer to cook a dish you’ve made before, you know what I mean? After all, the main point, I think, is to produce a good-quality story in five-weeks’ time – artistic development is a good thing, but I allow only as much of it as won’t interfere with the main goal of the whole exercise. I could have, of course, started writing about ships – and you would not have seen the story till next summer ;-p That’s to say, rest assured that for ‘freer’ projects, such as the one you might be aware of ;) I’m willing to be as adventurous as you like :)

And I very much like how you keep several lines open and consider all of them, it certainly leaves space for many possibilities – and isn’t that fun? :D

December    Friday 31 December 2010, 9:52    #

Ух! Ну вот и я в теме.
Должна признаться тебе, December, что я читала твое произведение три дня, и у меня было очень большое желание комментировать по главам. Однако взглянув на полосу комментариев )))))) (дорогая, да тут, блин, одних комментариев на 18 глав!!!!! Я вознамерилась уж прочитать их, дабы не повторяться, однако вовремя остановилась… Неужели ты думаешь, что у меня хватит терпения прочитать все написанное тебе и все твои ответы? Ну уж нет! И если я кое-где в своем отзыве повторю позицию и вопросы других участников, пожалуйста, не отсылай меня читать комменты и будь терпелива. В конце концов, моего терпения ведь хватило!:))))))))))…. Так о чем это я? Ах да, когда я взглянула на полосу комментариев и увидела, что Nerey Camile итак прокомментировала каждую главу, и наши с ней мнения, кажется, не слишком расходятся, я решила, что права я была, решив прочитать историю полностью и уже потом написать комментарий… Так, это было мое небольшое предисловие :)))

Теперь к твоему произведению… ЭТО БЫЛО СУПЕР!!!!!!! Хотя, впрочем, нет. Супер – слишком сухое слово, чтобы выразить полностью мое восхищение твоей историей. И не столько историей, сколько, скорее всего тобой. Но сначала об истории. Хочу выделить три момента, которые мне безусловно непререкаемо понравились:

1. Денэтор :))))))))))))))) Я помню, когда мы с тобой задевали его в наших обсуждениях, ты не раз повторяла, что для тебя он является одним из самых интересных персонажей. Однако признаюсь, что несмотря на то, что он мне тоже всегда нравился и моя позиция относительно его отношения к сыновьям всегда совпадала с твоей, однако же я никогда не принимала этого героя близко к сердцу. Твоя же история позволила мне увидеть твою позицию как бы изнутри. Увидеть, понять и принять. И, надо сказать, именно из-за того, как ты описала его здесь, Денэтор стал мне не только понятнее, но, как-то, роднее, что ли. Я им просто восхищена. О, не могу тебе описать, как меня всегда завораживала эта способность некоторых людей к острой проницательности, пониманию людских сердец, мотивов их поступков, их внутренних побуждений и конфликтов. И то, что Денэтор обладал этой способностью, причем способностью с такой полнотой понимать своих сыновей, возвысило его в моих глазах стократно. Мне нравится также, как он говорит со своими сыновьями в твоей истории, как он относится к ним, какая мудрость звучит в его словах. Мне нравится то уважение, с которым он относится к Фарамиру, та отеческая насмешка, с которой он разговаривает с Боромиром, и то преклонение, которое оба сына выказывают своему отцу. Ох, много хочется сказать, но меня уже и так понесло… С такими успехами я никогда не дойду до следующих понравившихся мне пунктов. Так что..

2.Отношения Фарамир-Боромир. Ну, для тебя уж точно не секрет, то эта пара для меня единственная и неповторимая, и я готова читать о них абсолютно все. Но что я вдруг вижу у тебя?! Что Боромир, как мы действительно с тобой обсуждали, снова одолеваем внутренними конфликтами и желаниями, связанными с любовными переживаниями, касающимися своего брата, но Фарамир…!!! Что Фарамир? О, читая твою историю, я с ужасом осознавала, что Фарамир боялся, что Боромир мог испытывать к нему подобные чувства. Он напрягся, когда Боромир держал его за руку, почувствовал огромное облегчение, когда Боромир не предпринял никаких шагов сближения с ним, и мысленно умолял его опровергнуть слова отца в последней сцене. December, неужели ты сделала это специально?! Боже, мне напоминает это какую-то историю, которую я читала ранее, где Фарамир безмерно страдал от того, что видел в глазах Боромира чувства к нему, которых там быть не должно было. Неужели ты писала об этом же?! О, как ты могла!!!!! …….Но в любовной главе между эльфом и Фарамиром я вдруг вижу абзац, который ставит меня в полной тупик. Фарамир вдруг думает, что Боромир бы никогда не целовал его с такой нежностью и искусностью, как это делает эльф… Что это? No, he was not seeking Boromir in this kiss, this had nothing to do with his brother – он не искал Боромира в этом поцелуе, но он думал о нем?! Выходит, Боромир занимал немалую часть его мыслей… И у меня вдруг сложилось впечатление, что Фарамир больше отрицал в себе небратские чувства к брату, чем не имел их. Скажи, считаешь ли ты свою историю законченной? Должна признаться, что мне показалось, что конец оказался слишком многообещающим, чтобы закрыть тему на такой ноте. Однако же, пойду дальше…

3.Эльф. И я очень злая и не буду упоминать его имя. Но он мне, честно сказать, понравился. Открою тебе секрет: когда я читала о чем-то, что бродит и ворует стрелы, я думала, что это черные призраки, но все вдруг проявилось в гораздо лучшем свете. Эльф хорош, и история его до боли душераздирающая, но мне он понравился, как нечто, что утерло нос гордому Боромиру. Смешно, но когда я прочитала последнюю сцену ревности, я с удовлетворением подумала, что ты отомстила красавцу сполна… ибо я вдруг совершенно не в тему вспомнила историю Shining one. В общем, сцена с ударом была очень сильной. И, как и часто бывает со мной в таких случаях, мне очень хотелось, чтобы после удара Боромир заключал Фарамира в свои объятия и рассказал ему о своей любви. И Фарамир, конечно, смягчился бы, забыл бы про своего эльфа и отдался своему брату… Эх, пустые фантазии. Но на деле же Боромир, вдруг, оказался неожиданно жесток и сказал вдруг слова, которые я от него ну никак не ожидала. Но что только не скажешь в порыве ревности и боли, не так ли? В общем, потрясающая сцена! Но конец, пойми, сложно назвать концом. История с эльфом осталась незаконченной, история с Боромиром только началась – ведь им еще жить да жить вместе… Вот как это понимать, а?

Это были идеи, мне больше всего понравившиеся. Признаюсь, что чтение на английском существенно снизило мое удовольствие от прочтения твоего рассказа и я в который раз спрашиваю тебя, когда ты начнешь публиковать на русском?! И есть ли этот рассказ на русском вообще? Если есть, то, может быть, ты скинешь мне его на почту? Но если и нет, я все же хочу выделить наиболее удавшиеся моменты, на мой взгляд:

“Yes,” Orophin nodded, putting his cup down. “That word… ‘tis not a good word – ‘invisible’,” he winced as he said it. “It carries a highly negative meaning, perfidious, unwholesome; and we do not use it unless to suggest something of the sort. We say ‘hidden’ and even ‘unseen’, but that is different. A thing can be unseen, and still be – that is how our capes work, they merely cover and blend in, they do not make something disappear. I… I really am not certain how to best explain this: it may seem like a subtle nuance to you, but the difference is tremendous. Invisibility is not natural, Faramir. Some things are not seen by design, and never shall be: like wind, like song; others have a hidden side to them that shows itself to some and does not to others – but things that can alternate in a blink,” raised his hand and clicked his fingers emphatically, “Faramir, it just goes against the order of the world. There are various… planes, levels of existence, and everything under the heavens is allocated its proper place. When an object is made invisible – where do you think it goes?”
Очень красиво описано! Очень вдумчиво. Ты знаешь, я, наверное, никогда не смогла бы вместить столь глубокую мысль в такое короткое предложение. Ты – просто неподражаема!

It filled the listener with pinching longing for the spring that was forever gone, yet at once it shone with the promise of another spring to return in its place, year after year, age after age, eternally. It was at once a lament for the fragile, fleeting grace of all living things – and a hymn to life’s immortal nature, its uninterruptible continuity, its power, glory and resplendence.
Просто слов нет, как красиво ты пишешь! Мне показалось, что я сама услышала эту песню и сердце мое наполнилось ожиданием чего-то прекрасного и нереального.

Denethor folded his arms and looked ahead of himself. “Men, my son, are weak – and foolish,” he said slowly. “And the more foolish they are, the less they realise their weakness. Oh yes, do not look surprised, each of you two is quite a fool, in his own way. Your brother, Faramir, cannot possibly deny himself anything he desires, nor does he think that he ought. And as for you – ah, you have always been prone to these,” Это одна из фраз Денэтора, которой я восхищаюсь несказанно. Дорогая моя, ну откуда в тебе такая мудрость?

Boromir inclined his head, and briefly pressed his nose to the side of Faramir’s neck, taking a deep breath of the younger’s scent. For one delirious sickening moment it seemed to Faramir the older man would proceed to actually kiss his skin, and he shivered – but Boromir drew back and looked at him appraisingly. Ммм, одна из сцен, от которых я не могла оторваться. О Боже, как хотелось мне, чтобы опасения Фарамира были не напрасны!:))))))

This was not a place where one would head in search of joy – this was a place to be alone with one’s sorrow. Просто сильное и красивое место.

Тебе еще не надоел мой комментарий? Еще одно место, которое меня очаровало:
And then, just as he was about to make his presence known, the air moved above the city of Minas Tirith, and wind came. It stirred the leaves and ruffled the grass ever so lightly at first, naught more but a playful loving caress and a gentle sigh – to then abruptly switch to potent passion, which it exerted with overwhelming speed and force, throwing itself at the slender trees and making them strain and groan as it bowed their branches and tousled their foliage.

Дорогая, ты самый непредсказуемый, самый совершенный и потрясающий автор из всех, кого я знала! У тебя словарный запас больше, чем у любого носителя языка, и я не раз заглядывала в словарь, чтобы посмотреть новое слово! Твои идеи просто невероятны! Ты, реально, замечательный автор и верь мне, я не игнорирую тебя и не избегаю. Я хочу и буду и дальше читать то, что ты пишешь, просто в последние недели у меня совсем нет времени. Но посмотри, я прочитала твое произведение и прочитаю все остальное, как только смогу. Разве после всего того, что я здесь увидела, у меня хватит силы воли нt заглянуть сюда вновь и не посмотреть, что написала моя December? :)))))) Спасибо тебе за твой труд!

Кстати, ты получила мое письмо?

— Anastasiya    Monday 10 January 2011, 5:56    #

Настасья, драгоценная, спасибо за такую чудесную рецензию!

3 дня читала? Мм, как приятно))

Повторы меня ничуть не смущают: мне интересно знать мнение каждого конкретного читателя, и то, что кто-то это уже когда-то говорил, вовсе не значит, что мне не захочется ещё раз это услышать)) Но вот только комменты читать опасно – а вдруг на спойлер натолкнёшься? ;) А так, если есть ещё что сказать конкретно по главам – ой, я только за, вперёд! Терпения читать комменты у меня больше, чем чего-либо))))

Дэнетор… Дэнетор, да, получился тут у нас в центре обсуждения, хотя это и не было моей целью) Я рада, что у тебя от него осталось такое впечатление! А то мне уже стало стыдно, каким я его злодейским злодеем тут показала – ан нет, всё зависит от читателя, как интерпретировать образ. А вообще, мне всегда казалось, что в его отношениях с сыновьями главное отнюдь не хлестание по щекам и беспочвенные оскорбления, а именно очень чёткое понимание того, что происходит у них в головах и прочих местах. Да, он, конечно, всё это очень по-своему понимает… Но что тут сделаешь, человек такой, и время такое, да и вообще – вот уж не знаю, что другой отец сделал бы на его месте.

По поводу Фарамир/Боромир. Ох, тяжёлая тема. Меня тянет смотреть на их возможную любовь с разных углов. В некоторых историях всё обоюдно и они ждут не дождутся, когда же можно будет наконец друг на друга прыгнуть – а в некоторых… Мой муз требует разнообразия! Мне очень нравится твой анализ по этой части. Боится – да, это, пожалуй, самое точное определение. А когда человек боится, трудно ведь что-либо сказать с полной уверенностью, да? Я не пыталась тут вывести некое окончательное заключение: хочет он Боромира или нет, любит его небратской любовью или нет, отказал бы ему или нет и т.п. Просто рассказала, как он на всё это смотрел во время развития событий истории. Конечно, это всё очень сложно и противоречиво. Он и так-то не мог понять, что же всё-таки происходит, а тут ещё вся эта история с Орофином, и вмешательство отца… В общем, как тебе нравится, так и понимай :)))))

Считаю ли законченной? Я скажу так: я считаю эту историю рассказанной. Больше мне рассказывать нечего. То есть понятно, что впереди еще 15 лет жизни Боромира, и, как и говорит Дэнетор, много ещё чего может произойти, но… Всё же основные векторы развития событий, я думаю, тут уже заложены, равно как и векторы динамики отношений между братьями. Первый куплет спет, и мелодия уже заложена. Случится ли между ними объяснение и божественный секс – это уж не мне судить, как-никак, это не мной придуманный мир, и за героев я уж точно ничего не решаю. Мне нравится дать некий простор фантазии читателя, чтобы было желание “додумать” возможные варианты их будущего. Если у тебя таковой вариант имеется – можешь рассказать, мне несказанно любопытно))

А эльф. Ну а что про него ещё писать? Эта история про Фарамира, и Орофин из неё вынужден выйти. Что уж там с ним будет потом, на это Фарамир вряд ли может как-то повлиять. А почему, кстати, ты злая относительно него??

На русском нет, этого рассказа нет, и вряд ли будет. Свои вещи мне очень тяжело переводить. Для меня английский, это как ткань в клетку, а русский – цветочный узор. У языка совсем другая пластика, другие законы передачи смысла и чувств… И потом, я к русскому тексту настолько более требовательна, могу сама себя съесть))) Да и переводить сцену секса я тоже не очень-то знаю как. В общем я рада, что ты хочешь читать меня на Великом и Могучем, и для этого я на нём и буду писать, сразу))

Спасибо за разбор по цитатам, очень приятно! С песней рада, что тебя задело) В книге очень много музыки, и мне всегда хотелось сохранить это ощущение, но вот только написать песню на уровне с Толкиеном я не буду даже пытаться, поскольку есть всё-таки вещи заветные) А написать плохенькую песенку – какой в этом смысл? Так что я просто описываю музыку, в силу своих возможностей))

Ещё раз, спасибо тебе наиогромнейшее за отзыв! Чем больше, тем лучше)))

Не, письмо не получала…

December    Thursday 13 January 2011, 16:07    #

Сделала злодеем Денэтора? В смысле, кто-то тебе говорил в комменте, что он получился у тебя злодеем? Да уж, тогда что можно сказать о тех многочисленных историях, которые мы стобой постоянно обсуждаем и где он совсем не такой лояльный:)))). Не, ну правда, какой же он у тебя злодей? Наоборот, он просто душка. Видимо, мнения о злодействе у нас с кем-то очень различаются.

Что бы другой отец сделал бы на его месте? Ну, настоящий злодей, по моему сугубо личному мнению, избил бы своего к великому несчастью родившегося второго сына и отослал бы куда-нибудь подальше из страны:)))) Так что еще раз повторяю: до злодея твоему Денэтору о-очень далеко.

Фарамир-Боромир: только что я написала коммент к твоей русской истории, а теперь, вновь перечитав твою фразу к этой истории: “Я не пыталась тут вывести некое окончательное заключение: хочет он Боромира или нет, любит его небратской любовью или нет, отказал бы ему или нет и т.п.”, улыбаюсь задумчивой улыбкой… Ты написала там: “Пальцы Фарамира у Боромира между ягодиц, губы Боромира у Фарамира по шее. Сдавленный, полупьяный вздох, прижатая к груди ладонь: подожди… Широкая довольная улыбка: ну, пóлно, ты же всегда знал, что так будет.”, и у меня в голове пронеслась явная связь между тем, что могло бы быть в продолжении “Морских узлов” в вообржении Арагорна и тем, что, на мой взгляд, ожидалось бы, в конце концов, здесь:)))) Ты сама дала волю воображению читателя:). Как видишь, мое воображение работает, а главные мысли твоих историй так или иначе объединяют друг друга (или дополняют).

Что касается того, что ты ничего не решаешь за героев и это не тобой придуманный мир:)))), ну полно, дорогая! Ты постоянно мне это повторяешь, и мне постоянно хочется сказать: зачем эта комедия? Да, во мне эти твои слова всегда вызыают улыбку, но мы ведь обе понимаем, что все, что написано автором, не важно, на бумаге ли, на компе ли или просто в воображении, – это все отражение внутреннего мира самого автора. Ты никогда не напишешь то, что не заложено у тебя внутри, ровно как никогда не скажешь даже в порыве гнева того, что не было у тебя в душе. Вот поэтому, я никогда не буду продолжать твою историю – она твоя история. И если ты считаешь, что написать здесь больше нечего, значит все, что будет написано кем-либо в продолжении, уже будет лишь отражением внутреннего мира другого человека, а мне приятней читать мысли самого автора произведения. И я не хочу упоминать здесь Толкиена – фик, все же, существует совершенно отдельно и самостоятельно, и все, что ты написала в Семейный играх – это только твое произведение.

— Anastasiya    Wednesday 19 January 2011, 6:18    #

Настя, спасибо за коммент!

А, моя дорогая, ты считаешь, я кокетничаю? ;) Вовсе нет. Ты ведь сама говоришь: приходит из внутреннего мира. Причём же тут решения? Оно же само приходит. И да, я тебе это много раз повторяю, потому что для меня так оно и есть. Я как бы смотрю в голове кино и с него записываю на бумагу сценарий – я его не выдумываю. Для меня мои истории, знаешь, как такие маленькие белые птички. Я склеиваю их из перышек – и с какого-то момента они начинают жить уже своей жизнью, мне остаётся только доклеить перышки на уже заранее определённое место. А потом они улетают. И если я через несколько месяцев их перечитываю, они уже воспринимаются мной, как и любая другая работа, а не как что-то “моё”, принадлежащее мне. И да, я всё-таки упрямо привязываю свои работы к Толкиену. Да, мне могут 1000 раз сказать, что Толкиен бы нас всех, бесстыжих слэшеров, убил бы кочергой за такое святотатственное обращение с его персонажами. И да, ни в одной из тех его работ, что на сегодняшний день я прочла, не было указаний на однополую любовь – про секс в деталях я уж молчу. И всё же, всё же, в моём личном понимании всё это каким-то образом вписывается в мир Арды. Люди в ней в общем-то такие же, как и в нашей реальности, поэтому мне не кажется преувеличением допустить, что среди прочего там точно так же встречаются мужчины и женщины, которых тянет к представителям своего же пола. Так что для меня описание в фике однополой любви вовсе не ставит этот фик в категорию запредельной фантазии.

И вообще, для меня все фанфики по ВК делятся на 2 группы: которые я воспринимаю как органичную часть мира Толкиена, и именно такие я и люблю читать и хочу писать – и на те, которые нет. Здесь влияют и атмосфера, и поведение и героев, и много ещё что. Бывает ведь, история сама по себе отличная – но всё же это уже что-то совсем другое, отдельно стоящее, и не возникает чувства родства с оригиналом. Да, это, безусловно, ограничивает творческую свободу: но ведь таков формат, мы сами делаем выбор писать в эту вселенную, могли и ориджинал сочинить, где делай что хочешь, никто тебе не указ. И мир этот действительно придуман не нами: мы каждый раз это пишем в дисклеймере, и это ведь не пустые слова.

Говоришь, мои работы перекликаются? Да, это так, я уж и сама об этом думала… Это, пожалуй, неизбежно, ведь пишу я про одних и тех же людей в контексте романтических отношений, и хоть и пейрю их по-разному, всё равно, сделать так, чтобы ни одна из моих историй не была похожа на другую, я не могу.

И ещё, знаешь, я тут обнаружила тенденцию: у меня проблема со счатливыми концами. Меня тянет писать “настоящие” истории, как могло бы быть на самом деле – а глазированный happy end после первой ночи любви мной не воспринимается, как реальность. Ведь даже если наконец-то наши герои переспали и даже признались друг другу в любви – это же вовсе не конец, это только начало. И надо ещё посмотреть, что они через 5 лет друг о друге будут думать. И вулканический секс ещё вовсе не означает, что они уживутся вместе, что в перерывах между постелью им будет интересно друг с другом. Поэтому, наверное, я так и люблю Ф/Б – с ними легче поверить, что они подходят друг к другу, как 2 половинки, потому что у них и так очень близкие отношения, и внутреннее родство и т.п.

Спасибо за добрые слова про Дэнетора! Ох, и противоречивый персонаж)))

December    Wednesday 19 January 2011, 10:38    #

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About the Author


Greetings, fellow fan, and welcome!

What to expect to find here: All the stories are based on Book-verse for looks and personalities, although you will often find the canon bent (hehe) in terms of events. Please prepare for an unhurried, often bitter-sweet read with lots of sexual tension.

A bit about me for those interested: feisty redhead headquartered in New Zealand. Living in a wooden house in the old forest not far from the sea – probably goes some way to explain why I write what I do. Other than reading and writing, my passions are music, visual arts, travel, gardening, dance, horses, acrobatics, medieval martial arts, jewellery making, banter, and above all chocolate.

Was introduced to Tolkien at the tender age of six, was never the same since.

Always keen to collaborate with all ye good folke in the fandom. Feel free to get in touch if you’re looking for a beta reader, too. Please, also, if you’re one of the dudes in the fandom, I would really really appreciate if you could please take a moment to share a bit of your perspective on how authentically my stories portray relationships between men.

Also, if you’re looking to visit New Zealand, happy to offer a bed and breakfast (second breakfast negotiable).