Dūrlin began the new day as he did each and every day; upon rising, he went to his lord's chambers to see if Boromir had by chance returned in the night. He sighed, as he sighed every day, when once again he was met with silence and darkness, and the echo of an empty room.
He swallowed his disappointment, and continued about his duties for the day, such as they were. There were still things he could do, duties he could perform in service to the household, in spite of Boromir being long away. Faramir had need of him now and again, on those times when he was in the City, and there were a few small tasks to be done quietly on behalf of Denethor, though the Steward insisted he needed no attendant, keeping himself private and looking to his own needs. The days were long for a personal attendant with few men to serve, but he filled them as best he could, while he waited for his lord to return.
The darkness of Boromir's chambers as he entered always caused Dūrlin a moment of doubt and distress, before his natural optimism reasserted itself. A man of cheerful nature, Dūrlin tried to remain ever hopeful about the future -- but even he was beginning to fear the delayed return of Boromir, and what it might bode. He dared not allow his thoughts to turn too far in that direction, for he did not wish to think of the loss to Gondor, and to himself, should he be bereft of the lord he had attended for so many years.
The room was cold, for no fire had been lit in the grate since Boromir had departed the previous summer. Skirting the bed that jutted out into the center of the room, Dūrlin walked to the casement, and pulling back the heavy curtains that sheltered the window, unlatched the carved shutter to let in the crisp early morning air. It was easier to imagine his lord's imminent return when there was light and a fresh breeze circulating throughout the chamber.
The shutter's hinge gave out a faint grating noise as the shutter swung open, and he smiled at the sound, remembering the unexpected trouble the hinge had caused him when it had frozen open one day, until he had figured out how to repair it. It still made a sound as the hinge mechanism turned, but it opened smoothly and stayed open without swinging free. Boromir had claimed to like that sound, saying it reminded him of the ingenuity of Dūrlin, his man of many talents.
Dūrlin smiled again as his thoughts turned to the memory of that last day with Boromir -- a memory that came to him every time he heard the squeak of the opening casement...
"If you would stop hovering over me while I worked, my lord, I could see what I was about with this broken buckle. You are standing in my light. My eyes are not as sharp as they once were, and the light here is poor enough without you blocking it. I know you are eager to be off on your journey, but your impatience will not help me work faster."
Boromir laughed and stepped back, but still watched closely as Dūrlin worked on the buckle of Boromir's sword belt. The catch had been pushed through to the wrong side so that it did not latch properly; Dūrlin was attempting to coax the catch back through the loop of the buckle with a small tool.
"I swear you can repair anything you put your hand to," commented Boromir with a shake of his head, as the catch suddenly slipped into place. "Whether it be the broken catch on a buckle, a rent seam, or the workings of the hinge on the window shutter, you and your tool can fix the problem in no time! You are indeed a useful man to have at my side, in spite of your disrespectful manner!"
Dūrlin smiled as he handed Boromir the repaired belt and watched him strap it on.
"If I am so useful to you, then take me with you," he said.
Boromir frowned, suddenly serious.
"No, Dūrlin," he replied firmly. "I go alone for a reason -- to spare others of the dangers of the journey. You know that."
"Yes, I know, my lord," responded Dūrlin with a sigh. "But I do not like the thought of you going alone. It is not wise, nor is it fitting that the Prince of the City should travel unattended."
"Do you doubt my ability to take care of myself?" Boromir demanded.
"Of course not! But I doubt your wisdom in going alone."
Boromir laughed and clapped a friendly hand to Dūrlin's shoulder.
"You speak your mind, and I honor you for that. Never hesitate to speak plainly with me, Dūrlin."
"I will not -- though you never listen."
"I listen," replied Boromir with a faint smile. "I listen, and then I go my own way."
Dūrlin turned away with an answering smile, and lifting Boromir's heavy cloak from the bed, held it out to him.
"I have a favor to ask you, Dūrlin," said Boromir as he took the cloak and arranged it about his shoulders. "Faramir's man has asked leave to join him in Ithilien to fight as a Ranger, and leave has been granted. This means that Faramir shall be without his attendant whenever he is here in the City. Are you willing to attend him as he has need?"
"Of course," answered Dūrlin with a bow. "It would be a pleasure and an honor."
"Good, very good," nodded Boromir. "It pleases me to think that he will have a man such as you ready to serve him at need. Look after him well, and I shall be grateful. My father, too, if you will. He has spurned the services of a manservant for some time now, but if there is aught you might do for him..."
"Rest easy, my lord -- it shall be done." Dūrlin hesitated, then spoke quickly the question that had been on his mind. "When do you expect to return, my lord?"
"I do not know," replied Boromir with a shake of his head. "My road is dark before me. But I will come as soon as I may, for I fear being away too long. War is coming to Gondor, and I shall be needed here."
Boromir turned to go, then with a swirl of his cloak, he turned back. Laying a hand on Dūrlin's arm, he looked earnestly into his face.
"Look after them, Dūrlin," Boromir said. "Look after my father and my brother. See to it -- if there be any way -- try to see that they are not too hard on one another. I do what I can to bridge the gap between them, but it is widening -- and with me not here, I cannot say what will happen. My father will expect much from Faramir, and he will give it willingly -- even if it breaks him. But I do not want it to come to that. You know much, you see much of what goes on in this household -- do what you can for them."
Dūrlin gripped Boromir's hand and kissed it reverently.
"You have my word, my lord Boromir," he said solemnly. "I shall look after them in your stead, until your safe return. Farewell!"
...With a sigh, and a twinge of regret for his return to the present, Dūrlin stepped away from the casement and turned to leave. He paused to straighten and smooth the coverlet on the bed, but nothing else was out of place; all was ready for Boromir's return, whenever that might be.
Returning from the butteries with a bowl of dried fruit as an offering for the Steward, Dūrlin was surprised to see Faramir crossing the Hall and climbing the stair to the upper levels of the Tower. He had heard no word of his coming, nor was his return expected. He wondered if something was amiss; the look on Faramir's face confirmed his fears. Even in the dimness of the Hall, Dūrlin could see the grim set of Faramir's chin, and the purposeful stride which bespoke ill tidings...
"Look after them, Dūrlin; look after my father and my brother." The memory of his promise spurred him forward and he followed quickly after Faramir.
He followed at a distance, unable to catch him up, yet unwilling to call out after him. He did not clearly know why he was so determined to follow, rather than wait to be sent for -- he only knew he wanted to be at hand, should he be needed. And ever at the back of his mind was the thought that Faramir's news might have something to do with Boromir and the reason for his delayed return.
Dūrlin was surprised to see Faramir turn in at Boromir's door, and even more surprised, upon approaching, to recognize the deep murmurring voice of Denethor inside. Setting down the bowl of fruit upon a table in the hallway, he reached out to the door; then paused, hesitating, his hand upon the latch. No, it would be better to wait outside, until he was needed. If the news required privacy, he would give it, and be patient.
But the door was not tightly latched and it swung open silently under his hand. Swiftly he stepped in to catch the door and pull it closed once more -- but not before he had seen Faramir sitting beside his father upon the bed. They sat with their backs to him, but their bowed shoulders and drooping heads spoke eloquently of sorrow and a great burden of grief.
Faramir turned slightly, but only to reach into the pouch at his side. He removed something which he laid upon the lap of Denethor, where it was clasped by a tense and shaking hand. Dūrlin's heart seemed to stop and leap into his throat at the sight, for the object that Denethor now clutched so tightly was the cloven half of Boromir's horn -- a sign of ill omen that his worst fears had been realized.
As Dūrlin fled the room and closed the door silently behind him, the sound of Faramir's sorrow-filled voice followed after him:
"Boromir has fallen, and he will not return..."
Dūrlin leaned his head against the hard wooden frame of the door to Boromir's chambers, and covered his mouth with his hand so as not to cry out. He had held out hope for so long, knowing his lord well -- how he seemed able to cheat fate, and escape death, though he constantly placed himself in harm's way, with little thought for his own safety. Indestructible, he had called himself, and it seemed to be true. But no man was indestructible -- not even Boromir the Bold.
He is dead, thought Dūrlin, as despair swallowed him. What will become of us now?