Throughout Faramir's report and the ensuing angry discussion, Dûrlin had remained silent and unobtrusive in the background, stepping forward only to refill goblets with wine. Nevertheless, his keen eye had taken note of every glance and expression on the faces of those in the room, and he had missed no word which was spoken -- nor those which remained unspoken, yet still palpable in the air and obvious to one who knew well the moods and tones of voice of those he served.
But when the argument had suddenly included mention of Boromir, Dûrlin had stepped forward to listen more attentively, not caring if anyone thought him out of order for doing so. He was responsible to serve and care for each member of the Steward's household, but he was Boromir's man first and foremost, and that which concerned Boromir concerned him.
What he had heard of his lord only deepened his already keen sorrow.
"...in desperate hours gentleness may be repaid with death,""But not with your death only, Lord Faramir: with the death also of your father, and of all your people, whom it is your part to protect now that Boromir is gone."
"Do you wish then that our places had been exchanged?"
"Yes, I wish that indeed. For Boromir was loyal to me and no wizard's pupil. He would have remembered his father's need, and would not have squandered what fortune gave. He would have brought me a mighty gift."
"I would ask you, my father, to remember why it was that I, not he, was in Ithilien. On one occasion at least your counsel has prevailed, not long ago. It was the Lord of the City that gave the errand to him."
"Stir not the bitterness in the cup that I mixed for myself! Have I not tasted it now many nights upon my tongue foreboding that worse yet lay in the dregs? As now indeed I find. Would it were not so! Would that this thing had come to me!"
Dûrlin wondered again what this thing was that Denethor so feared and yet so desired, and that Faramir seemingly had let go when he could have had it in his possession. Whatever it was, it would seem it had held some influence over Boromir, as well...
"Comfort yourself!" Gandalf had interjected. "In no case would Boromir have brought it to you. He is dead, and died well; may he sleep in peace! Yet you deceive yourself. He would have stretched out his hand to this thing, and taking it he would have fallen. He would have kept it for his own, and when he returned you would not have known your son."
Denethor had spoken softly in reply.
"You found Boromir less apt to your hand, did you not? But I who was his father say that he would have brought it to me..." **
Dûrlin was grateful for the wizard's defense of his lord, and though he was not yet quite convinced that Boromir was actually dead and gone, he was soothed by the thought that whatever had confronted him in that hard time, he had done well in the end. But Dûrlin's heart ached for Denethor and Faramir, for it seemed to him that a rift was growing between father and son. It widened with every passing moment, while he stood by, powerless to stop it.
"Look after them, Dûrlin," Boromir had said to him, before leaving upon the quest from which he had not yet returned. "Look after my father and my brother... 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."
Alas! thought Dûrlin sorrowfully. I gave you my word, Boromir, that I would look after them in your stead. But that promise grows harder to keep. There is indeed a gap separating them now, and it is suddenly wide and deep. I wonder how such a chasm can be crossed? I fear this new sorrow which lies between them is beyond my ability to heal or repair. Yet I must try for your sake, while you are not here. For your sake -- and for my own. I cannot bear to see these two so at odds! Despite their differences of temperament, there is still love between them. I only hope this current trouble will not bury that love too deep...
Sudden tears filled Dûrlin's eyes, and he turned away so that no one would see them.
Ah, Boromir! he silently cried. What has befallen you upon the journey you undertook, that they should speak of you so? What is this fearsome thing that, if you had taken it, would have changed you in such a manner? I am not certain I wish to know, for I fear it is terrible!
"Alas for my brother!" he heard Faramir say, as if echoing Dûrlin's own thoughts.
Mastering his emotion, Dûrlin turned back to his duty, in time to see Faramir rise. Even as he asked for leave to go, Faramir swayed, leaning wearily against his father's chair.
"You are weary, I see," said Denethor. "You have ridden fast and far, and under shadows of evil in the air, I am told."
"Let us not speak of that!"
"Then we will not," said Denethor. "Go now and rest as you may. Tomorrow's need will be sterner." **
Dûrlin was dismayed to see that though Denethor's words were no longer angry and he spoke fairly to Faramir, he still held himself stiffly aloof. The Steward was putting distance between himself and his son, and that did not bode well. It would be up to Dûrlin, then, to temper the stark sternness with some warmth.
As Faramir passed on his way from the chamber, he turned and smiled at Dûrlin, and for all his weariness and sorrow over his father's mood, the smile was warm and open. Dûrlin seized his opportunity and spoke, taking care that the others heard his words, as well.
"Rest well, my lord Faramir," he said, returning Faramir's smile. "Let no shadow of fear or strife cloud your heart! The words of hope your father has spoken so recently are ones I would repeat, for they are on my heart as well: '...let all who fight the Enemy in their fashion be at one, and keep hope while they may.' Let us truly be at one, and keep our hope alive."
"...and after hope still the hardihood to die free," added Denethor softly. "Yes, Dûrlin, let us keep hope while we may -- until that day when hope is gone and the time to die free has come."
The sharing of news between the Men of Gondor and the Rohirrim scouts lasted well into the night, for there was much to tell on both sides. Boromir spoke long about his journey north after leaving Rohan, of the time spent with Surefoot, and how they had come to be separated. He spoke, too, of his journey to Rivendell and his subsequent return to Gondor, sharing as much as he felt free to tell of the quest and how he had come to this place, wounded and on foot.
Eadric in turn did his best to answer Boromir's many questions concerning Rohan and Gondor, though he had little enough knowledge of details beyond that which he needed to know as a scout. His latest news of Rohan was days old. Word from Éomer had come of victory at great cost at Helm's Deep, and of the mustering of the Rohirrim, but beyond that he knew little more.
Boromir was grateful for any piece of news, no matter how incomplete, particularly the report Eadric shared of the observations he and his fellow scouts had made during their passage through Anórien. That the land had been entirely emptied of people -- even the scattered herdsmen and husbandmen who dwelt there -- told him something of the state of affairs in Gondor. War was imminent, and his people were being gathered to places of safety.
"So, there was no sign of any enemy in the land?" Boromir asked, watching Eadric's face thoughtfully.
"No sign, my lord," Eadric confirmed. "But I fear that will change any day now. You say your goal is to attain the Road at the beacon hill of Nardol? That is the straight way from here, but it may no longer be safe by the time you reach it."
"Alas, we can go no faster on foot with me wounded; and even if we come to the Road in safety, we would still have the journey to the City before us. I fear I cannot reach her in time! At this pace, we will find the way barred by the Enemy."
Eadric was silent for a time, lost in thought. Leaning suddenly towards Thrydwulf, he conferred with him in a low voice before turning back to Boromir.
"I have a suggestion, lord, if you are willing to hear it."
"Of course, you have but to speak," answered Boromir eagerly.
"Horses would ease your journey greatly. So my suggestion is this: I will send one of my scouts to the nearest waypost along the Road where horses are kept for your Gondorian errand riders. He will bring back horses for you and your men. Once you are mounted, you should ride with all haste to the Road -- but not towards Mundberg. Ride to meet the Rohirrim along the way, and join your numbers to ours. Théoden King will welcome you, and arm you for your further protection. Thus, you may ride in safety and in a timely manner to your City, with an army at your back and allies to support you."
Boromir drew in a great breath, and let it out slowly.
"Your suggestion is a sound one," he replied with a relieved smile. "More than sound! It is excellent, and answers our need well. I thank you, Eadric -- not only for your help, but for the encouraging news you bear. It heartens me greatly to know of Théoden's riding to our aid."
Eadric waved Boromir's thanks aside.
"It is my pleasure to serve you, lord, in any way I can."
"Pleasure or no, it is well done," Boromir replied firmly. "Now, my friends, we should go to our rest. Tomorrow's need will be stern enough without meeting it weary from lack of sleep!"
** The words spoken concerning Boromir, and Denethor's words to Faramir as he asks leave to go are all quoted directly from The Return of the King, from the chapter entitled, "The Siege of Gondor."