Written for the LOTR Community Yule Exchange Challenge particularly for Linaewen. Beta by Gail, with thanks!
It was cold as Boromir emerged from the cutting of the way from the Seventh Level of Minas Tirith onto the main road through the Sixth Circle and turned south toward the gate to the Fifth Circle. He pulled his cloak tighter about him and wished he’d followed his tutor’s advice and worn the heavy knitted gloves he’d been given by Faramir’s nurse rather than the leather ones he’d chosen. Ah, but it was so cold today! But with Mettarë approaching as swiftly as it was he had no choice but to go out today, for he’d not have another chance before the arrival of the first guests, at which time he’d have to be present to do proper honor to them.
He paused, surprised. Only his brother and father called him simply Boromir usually. Oh, his uncles Húrin and Imrahil would do so, as would his cousins and those of his Lord Father’s closest advisors who were most influential in his Council. But even the sons of great lords tended to address him as young Lord or, in very few cases, as Master Boromir. Who had the temerity to use his given name as if he were family?
He peered back over his shoulder, and immediately the cold breeze flowing down Mindolluin blew a lock of hair across his eyes. He impatiently brushed it away and saw that Mithrandir was approaching from behind. He must have just entered the city the previous evening or early this morning, Boromir thought. His personal guard started to move to intercept the Grey Wizard, but Boromir waved him back to his customary place ten paces behind his charge. He knew that his father distrusted the motivations and secret intentions of both Mithrandir and Curunír, but he had no quarrel with the former. Curunír, however, was quite a different matter. The two times he had been in the White Wizard’s company had been—well, it had been extraordinarily uncomfortable, as if his value as a pawn in some game Boromir did not quite understand was being evaluated. He’d felt a good deal of relief when at last Curunír returned his piercing gaze to meet his father’s eyes, although to go from the center of the Wizard’s intent focus to being dismissed as if he was no longer of any interest at all had been disconcerting, even insulting, although the boy had held his temper well enough at the time. And the way Curunír had looked at Faramir had caused the younger child to freeze in sheer terror, leading Boromir to shake with fury. Had it been the White Wizard behind him today, Boromir would have readily allowed Vortigern to intervene.
However, it was not Curunír now, but Mithrandir, and Mithrandir always spoke to both of Denethor’s sons with courtesy and open friendliness. That Faramir liked the Grey Wizard increased Boromir’s tendency to accept Mithrandir’s company. Mithrandir would listen to the young boy respectfully and answer his questions as if they were as important as those their father might ask, which also favorably impressed Faramir’s older brother. Boromir knew that Faramir hero worshiped him; but the older boy secretly admired his younger brother at least as much. In spite of how young he was, Faramir understood other people far better than did Boromir, and his advice on how to approach someone on almost any question the older boy had found well worth listening to. Like their Lord Father, Faramir could tell whether or not those speaking to him were being honest or trying to hide something, whether they could be trusted or if they were scoundrels. Boromir so wished he were similarly gifted!
The youth gestured for the Grey Wizard to join him, ignoring Vortigern’s expression of concern, and waited for Mithrandir to do so before recommencing his journey to the lower circles of the White City.
“And where is it you are bound, Denethorion?”
Boromir shrugged. “To find a gift for my little brother,” he said. “It is Mettarë in a few days, and I do not wish for him to do without until the new year is well commenced. Did you just arrive?”
Mithrandir gave a wry smile. “Only a few hours ago. I have seen your Lord Father, but he has told me he cannot speak further with me until after the general audience tomorrow morning. As for your proposed gift for Faramir, have you decided what it is you wish to give him?”
The boy felt his own lips purse. “Oh, but I had it all chosen. There is a weapons smith who has a forge in the Fourth Circle who often supplies the lords of the realm, even on occasion my Lord Father, in spite of him coming from Far Harad. His work is exquisite, and when I was there two sennights past he had a long knife I felt would be perfect as a sword for Faramir.”
“A sword, for a boy as young as your brother?”
Boromir stiffened somewhat. “He’s as old as I was when I received my first sword, which was also really a long knife. He is almost nine summers now.”
The conversation paused as they went through the gate into the Sixth Circle and headed down the steep way toward the area where the finer homes and better shops could be found and beyond them to the gate to the Fourth Circle. Only once they’d cleared the gate and were separated from others heading toward the lower city did the Wizard continue the conversation. “So, if you had determined to purchase such a weapon for him, what has happened to make you decide to search anew for a gift for Faramir? Did your Lord Father forbid you to give him such a thing?”
“Forbid me? Hardly!” Boromir was unaware of the sour expression his face had taken on. “Nay, he thought it a fine idea—so fine he took it for his own! In fact he would do it even better than I could, for he has decided to provide Faramir with livery in keeping with that worn by those who guard the Citadel itself, even having a light mail crafted of silver wire for him to wear under the uniform shirt and tabard. He has put the best of the seamstresses for the Citadel to the making of the uniform, and the armorers to crafting a helm for him.”
“Even a helm? Dear heavens! It does sound as if your father is intent on doing it up properly. Does he have the black boots on order as well?”
After a moment of silence Mithrandir asked, “Will Faramir be glad of such a gift, do you think?”
Boromir nodded, although without a good deal of enthusiasm. “Oh, yes, he will like it well enough, considering the thought put into it and how much care is being given to making it as perfect as possible. Although,” he continued more slowly and thoughtfully, “he would like it better were it to resemble the uniforms worn by those who guard the White Tree. He would love to offer that service, I think.”
“So,” the Wizard said, “your father has chosen to give Faramir the sword you had thought to give him, then?”
The youth shook his head. “No. There is another sword smith in the Fourth Circle who fashions swords for young gentlemen made after the pattern of those issued to those who serve in the Guard of the Citadel, and our Lord Father has commissioned from him a sword to match the uniform and proper to Faramir’s size. I understand he has many mostly prepared to which he needs to do little save to apply a badge to the sheath and to inscribe the blade.”
“Then, if the sword from your father is different from the one that you would choose for your brother, then there is no reason you cannot give him a second sword, is there?”
Again Boromir shook his head. “I would not do that. I would not put him into a position in which he might unwittingly anger our father.”
“I do not understand, Boromir.”
Boromir stopped walking and looked up earnestly into the Wizard’s dark eyes. “Can you not? Think, Mithrandir! My father and I each give Faramir a sword, but his comes with the uniform. Faramir is pleased, but he wishes to do honor to both of us. He cannot wear two swords at once, so he seeks to honor our father by wearing the uniform, and me by wearing the sword I have given him. How do you think our Lord Father will respond to that?”
Mithrandir took a deep breath. “I can see the difficulty, Boromir. Indeed you know his nature well. Even though he knows that Faramir will only wish to show both of you how much he appreciates your separate gifts, still your father will feel slighted should he see that Faramir may possibly prefer your choice in blades to his.”
“And when he feels slighted or his pride is hurt our father—well, he can be difficult.”
The Wizard’s mouth was fixed in a wry, humorless smile as he indicated his understanding of the situation. At last he asked, “And have you thought what kind of gift you should give your brother instead of a sword?”
“Is that not why I am going out this day, in hopes of finding the perfect gift for Faramir?” the youth asked, feeling exasperated.
The Wizard’s face was now contrite. “I do beg your pardon, young Lord,” he said. “Tell me this—what do you believe your brother would most like to receive as a gift?”
Boromir didn’t even have to think on that. “A book.”
Mithrandir’s eyebrows rose inquiringly. “A book? Ah, but there are many, many kinds of books in this world. What kind of book would he appreciate most?”
“Almost any kind of book,” Boromir replied, shrugging. “Save he would not like a picture book intended for small children.” He thought on it, and added, almost sadly, “But Father would not want for it to be merely a book of tales. He believes that a book must teach something.”
The Wizard gave a sigh at that. “I can easily imagine that,” he said, his tone particularly dry. “So, we must find something that will be a balance between something that your father would approve of and something that Faramir would definitely like. That may take a bit of thinking.”
Boromir could feel his insides tighten. “But I don’t wish to give him only a book,” he pointed out. “I’d wanted to give him a blade. He has always wanted to do what I do, and as I am busy learning how to be a soldier he wishes to stand beside me. And that long knife would have pleased him very much! It has a running horse upon the grip, and it is so beautifully crafted and balanced!”
“He likes running horses?”
“Oh, yes. You see, since he started taking riding lessons he has come to love the ponies and the horses. He spends almost as much time in the stables in the Sixth Circle now as he does in the archives, and the horses and ponies love him dearly. He has them all eating out of the palm of his hand, and not even the stallions will misbehave if he is nearby. He is now eager to travel to Rohan, for he wishes to see the horses there running free across the green fields of the horse runs. He would run with them were it allowed, I trow.”
Mithrandir was nodding, smiling slightly as if he were seeing the younger of Denethor’s two sons running amongst Théoden’s Royal Herd, there in his mind’s eye, and found it a delightful scene. Then he cocked his head and asked, “Which do you think Faramir would prefer, the sword his father has commissioned for him or the one you had thought to choose?”
“Oh, the one I chose. I do not mean he would not appreciate the other one, but—well, it is—it is cold. And considering some of the swords that smith makes that others my age have received, I doubt that it will prove to be particularly well balanced. They are not intended for true use, this smith’s swords, but for show.”
“So, as weapons they look proper, but the feel of them is artificial?” the Wizard asked.
“Artificial?” asked Boromir, unsure what the word meant.
“Not what they are intended to look like. Not real. Not alive.”
The boy smiled. How well that described the swords he’d seen come out of that smith’s shop! “You are right, Mithrandir—not alive! But the smith from Far Harad—his weapons are things of beauty but true to their purpose. I have a dagger he wrought, and it fits my hand as if it grew there, as well as drawing the eye.”
“Ah! So he makes daggers as well as swords and long knives, does he?”
Boromir nodded, saying, “Yes. He does all edged weapons and even some tools such as scissors.” Then he paused with realization. “I could purchase a dagger for him! Father has not ordered a dagger, too, and many of the Guards of the Citadel wear daggers of their own choice as well as their swords. It would be perfect! And then,” he added, “I ought to have enough coin left over to find him a book as well. Would you help me pick out a proper book for him?”
Once the Wizard agreed to do so, they turned to go down to the gate to the Fourth Circle. As they walked Mithrandir asked, “So, Faramir is to have an appropriately sized helmet as well, is he? What kind of sea bird is to provide the wings, then? A full-sized gull or albatross would have wings far too large for the helm for a child.”
Boromir frowned. This was a matter that he’d not wanted to even think about. “Father decided a bird from the city should provide the wings rather than a sea bird,” he admitted, trying to keep his anger out of his voice. “Not many of the smaller sea birds come close to Minas Tirith, after all. So he’s chosen a raven’s wings rather than those of a sea bird. He says it would be appropriate for one who serves in the Guard of the Citadel.”
The Wizard, obviously surprised both by the choice and by the youth’s response, asked, “The wings of a raven? Why those of a raven, of all creatures?”
Again Boromir gave an elaborate shrug. “It was a happenchance is all,” he answered. He took a deep breath, not wishing to say more on the subject, but he found he couldn’t continue to avoid Mithrandir’s eyes, so at last he explained, “It started a few months ago when we had a few soldiers who came into the White City on rotation from the garrison on Cair Andros. One was originally from the Morthond Vale deep in the Ered Nimrais, the White Mountains. Haerborn’s father had long been in service to Lord Angborn there, and Haerborn decided to look further afield for his own service. So, he joined the army for the nation, and eventually was stationed on Cair Andros. One time while they were on a patrol along the west side of Anduin, they ranged close to the roots of the Hithglaer, the Misty Mountains, when a drenching storm hit. They found a shallow cave where they took shelter, but the rain continued on until the mountainside above them became unstable and there was a rockfall. Only Haerborn had any experience with unstable ground, so he crawled out to see if it was safe for the others to come out, too. He found that a large tree from high up the slope had been felled by the rockfall, and in it was a raven’s nest. Only one of the nestlings had survived, so he took it to raise as a companion.
“When he came here to Minas Tirith it was about the time Father decided that Faramir needed a personal guard of his own, so two of those newer soldiers within the city were chosen for the duty, one of them Haerborn. Faramir and Haerborn came to enjoy one another’s company, and Faramir loved to listen to the stories Haerborn told him, both traditional stories told in the Morthond Vale and the tales of his adventures when he was growing up and while he was in the army. So he learned of Morwing, Haerborn’s raven.
“On the day that Father decided he would have the livery made for Faramir, he was discussing what they should use for the wings for the helm with his personal clerk when they saw, outside the window, Haerborn crossing the grounds with Morwing, whom he was bringing to visit with my brother. The moment he saw the raven, Father was certain he’d found the source of the proper wings for Faramir’s helm, and he sent his clerk out to fetch the soldier with the raven in to speak with him. He told Haerborn he wished to purchase his raven from him for Faramir’s sake, and Haerborn thought he meant to give the bird to my brother as a companion. He hated to lose the bird himself, but for Faramir’s sake he would do so, for he had come to love him. So he agreed, only learning after the deal was struck and my father had paid him what he asked for the raven that it was only for its wings that Father wanted the bird. But, by then it was too late to change his mind, for the clerk had taken the bird away to the kitchens to have its head struck off!
“Haerborn is heartsick at the loss of his companion for such a reason, and he has asked to be sent to the garrison in Osgiliath. Faramir thinks that Haerborn is angry with him for some reason he won’t tell, and he, too, is heartsick. And when he learns the source of the wings on his new helm he will be most angry on Haerborn’s account, but won’t be able to do anything to make it up to Haerborn for Haerborn is to leave tonight, or so my personal guard tells me.”
For the first time since he started reciting this story, Boromir looked again toward the Wizard’s face. He found it suffused with equal parts dismay and suppressed fury. Mithrandir strode forward, striking the butt of his staff hard against the pavement, his eyes blazing with wrath before he leaned down to mutter into the boy’s ear, pitched only for Boromir to hear, “For all of your Lord Father’s much vaunted wisdom and ability to sift hearts to find the truth, too often he misses the heart’s message. And this time,” he added, his voice harsh with anger, “he hasn’t shown the wisdom of a drunken Hobbit on his way home from a harvest festival, mistaking his neighbor’s ass for a milch goat and thinking to slake his growing thirst with a drink from the creature’s supposed teat and receiving a mouthful of piss instead!”
Boromir had no understanding for most of what Mithrandir had said, but was highly impressed and hoped he could remember it all to repeat one day to Vortigern, who he felt would appreciate the sentiments even if neither of them had any idea at all as to what a hobbit might prove to be!
They didn’t speak again until they were well into the Fourth Circle and nearing the area where those who wrought weapons had their forges, not far from the potters’ district. At last Boromir pointed out the forge they wanted, and led the way into the shop attached to the forge.
The smith was tall, with the heavily developed chest and shoulders of his calling, his skin dark as ironwood, his white teeth flashing as he smiled to greet the Steward’s son, asking if he’d come for the long knife he’d chosen.
“No, for my father has also chosen to give him a weapon for the festival,” Boromir said, still unhappy to have to forego purchasing the blade for his brother. “But if we might examine the daggers you have that would be appropriate for a boy Faramir’s age, we would be most grateful.”
“Ah, it is too bad that you cannot purchase for your brother the knife you had first thought to give into his hands, but I can understand. But a dagger—oh, yes! Yes, that would suit quite well for a young Man already gifted with a suitable sword by his father, no?”
In moments a tray of daggers lay before them, and then a second. But it was not until he laid a fourth tray before them that Boromir felt his heart stir with the excitement the long knife with the horse upon its pommel had given him. “That one!” he said, pointing to one on which a tree that looked much like the dead White Tree before the Citadel was carefully worked into the grips of the pommel and flaring into the hilts. It had a green stone set into the center of the tree’s trunk, and a moonstone at the end of the grip. And onto the blade was etched a beautiful depiction of the Moon. “He will like this one!”
Mithrandir leaned down over the youth’s shoulder, smiling in approval. “Indeed, Boromir son of Denethor, I do believe you have indeed found the perfect blade for your brother to carry. Well chosen!”
When they returned to the Fifth Circle Boromir led the way to a bookstore, and soon he and the Wizard were looking intently at those volumes the merchant had on display. The lost Morwing still on his mind, Boromir thought to ask if he had anything about ravens, to which the bookseller indicated he did indeed have such a thing. He went into a back room and returned with an overlarge volume entitled The Ravens of Erebor. “It comes from the northeast, from a land named Dale,” he said, “and it is beautifully illustrated.”
He opened it to display one of the illustrations, which showed a raven apparently in conversation with a broad, muscular individual in strange armor and with an exotic padded helm of a fascinating design upon his head, his beard elaborately braided. Boromir leaned forward to better decipher the elaborate calligraphy. “Thror leaned forward to speak with Grawk. ‘Go forth to the Iron Hills, my friend, and summon my son Thrain back home to the festival I will throw at the time of the next full moon. And I pray that he brings with him word that there he has indeed found the bride he sought.’
“He will love this!” Boromir said, delighted.
“Oh, but I do believe you are right there, child,” Mithrandir said with a sigh of satisfaction.
It was a mark of how pleased he was in the results of his quest to find the perfect gifts for his brother that Boromir did not feel slighted by the term of endearment the Wizard had used.
Faramir indeed proved overwhelmed by the gifts he received for Mettarë. He ran his finger again and again over the embroidery of the White Tree upon the tabard and on the sheath for his new long knife. His happiness only receded when he examined the helm for his new livery and he saw that it was a raven’s wings that decorated it. He looked up to catch his brother’s eye. “Morwing?” he asked. He looked back. “Now I understand,” he said softly, with no further explanation to his father as he set the helm by to take up the first box from his brother.
“Oh!” he exclaimed in a thrilled whisper as he lifted out the dagger and removed it from the rather plain yet exquisitely wrought sheath that came with it. “Oh, but it is beautiful!”
“Let me see,” said their father, who took it to examine it at length. “Oh, but yes, it is a thing of beauty, this dagger. And it is indeed a true dagger at that,” he said, pulling his thumb away from the blade to show he’d managed to inadvertently draw blood from it. “You will need to be most careful with it. This is definitely not a toy, Faramir.”
“Oh, but I know how to treat a fine blade, Father,” the boy said dismissively, his attention on the second gift from his brother. He removed the fine silk with which Boromir had wrapped it to reveal the book, and his eyes shone with great pleasure, which brightened as he opened it at random to show a picture of a raven in flight over distant forests and hills, a shining river in the background. “Oh, Boromir!”
He sat for several minutes searching the picture with eager eyes before he remembered himself. “I must go and try on my new livery,” he said as he rose and reluctantly set the book upon a nearby low table. “I shall wear both the sword and the dagger with it. Thank you both so!” So saying, he threw his arms about Boromir with a close, warm hug, then let go to bow to his father before hugging him also. “Thank you, Father, for so thoughtful a gift,” he said, and Boromir could not hear any hint of sarcasm in his brother’s voice.
As Faramir went out, his arms laden with the livery and his two new blades, Denethor turned to his older son and said proudly, “Indeed, my faithful jewel of a son, you have chosen for your brother the perfect gift. Well done, Boromir!”
Boromir sensed he was not speaking of the book.
Faramir indeed chose to wear his new livery frequently after that, although the shirt had proved rather tight across his chest and had to be soon replaced. But his brother noted that he never donned the helm, saying it was far too fine to be worn every day. Only Boromir knew the real reason Faramir would not wear it.