Dūrlin hesitated in the hall outside Faramir's room, a laden tray of food upon his arm. The door to the chamber was open, and Faramir's gear was visible upon the bed where he had seemingly cast it aside -- but there was no sign of Faramir.
Where has he gone? Dūrlin wondered. Was he not planning to return directly to his chamber? Perhaps he had other matters to attend to before taking his rest, however unlikely that might seem...
He stood irresolute for a moment, then on an impulse, he set the tray down upon a table beside the doorway, and stepped across the hall to Boromir's chamber.
Faramir was there, sitting upon the edge of the bed, his head between his hands. He did not seem to notice Dūrlin's entrance, for he did not stir or look up. Dūrlin moved quietly to the grate, and picking up the flint and steel that was set upon the mantel, he struck a spark to the tinder that was laid ready. Firelight filled the room and drove away the shadows and the dampness of disuse.
"Almost a year it has been since this room felt the warmth of a fire. It is high time!"
Faramir lifted his head and looked towards the hearth. As the flames consumed the tinder and light grew in the room, an object upon the mantelpiece caught the firelight and drew his attention. Rising, Faramir approached the mantel and stood before it in amazement and awe.
"What is this?" he exclaimed, reaching forth a trembling hand. "Boromir's Horn? But how came it to be whole once more?"
Dūrlin smiled as Faramir lifted the horn carefully and tenderly, as if he were afraid it would break in his hands.
"As you will see, if you look closely, it is not truly whole, only mended," Dūrlin said apologetically. "I have a talent with such things, so I thought I would try my hand at undoing some of the damage. It is an imperfect job, for it will not stand up to any use."
"So you say," said Faramir, smiling at Dūrlin's self-deprecating air. "Nevertheless, it is well done, and it pleases me. Imperfect though your work may be, yet it eases the heart to see the Horn whole once more, instead of in pieces! Looking at it now, one can almost pretend it had never come to harm. I see you have succeeded in cleansing it, as well. The..."
Faramir faltered, but then pressed on with what he had been about to say.
"The stain is scarcely visible, even when one holds it close to the fire."
"Aye," replied Dūrlin. "Such a stain cannot wholly be washed away. But it can be lightened enough that it will not be so noticeable. One day, it will be seen as a mark of the Horn's character, rather than a stain that the eye avoids."
Faramir sighed heavily. "I wish that day were here now!"
"As do I!" agreed Dūrlin fervently. "And no doubt your father feels the same. As it is, he can no longer bear the sight of the Horn cloven and bloodied, and so he has given it into my hand, to put away out of sight."
"Ah!" Faramir said thoughtfully. "I wondered how it came to be here. But it is fitting."
Faramir replaced the mended Horn carefully at the center of the mantelpiece. Turning away from the fire, he began to wander slowly about the room, gently touching an ornament here, longingly fingering a wall hanging there.
"Why do you not stay the night here in this chamber, Faramir?" suggested Dūrlin suddenly. "It is ready for use, for I have kept it prepared for the day when Boromir will return."
"And now that day will never come!" Faramir lamented.
Dūrlin shook his head.
"I am not so certain of that, Faramir," he answered. "We have seen dire signs that point to tragedy, yes -- but are they proof he is lost? It may be so... and yet, it may not! I think -- I think I shall choose to hope for his return awhile longer."
"You have ever been one to be hopeful in the face of dismay and discouragement, Dūrlin. I do not know if I can follow you in this, however. As I said to the Halfling, Frodo, it is long since we had any hope -- and it is hard to begin again."
"Yes," answered Dūrlin slowly. "It is difficult to sustain hope when it is dark outside, and one is weary and sore at heart. If you cannot manage such hope now, do not fret. I have enough hope for the both of us! Even so, perhaps you will find it not so hard to begin again as you think. However, even the most hopeful heart quails in the face of hunger, and you must indeed be hungry after your difficult day!"
Turning, Dūrlin left the room; he was gone but a moment, and when he returned, he was bearing the salver of food he had left in the hall.
"Here is food to strengthen your body, and drink to ease your spirit. And after you have eaten, here is a bed, ready for you, and a warm fire laid. Stay here in Boromir's chamber this night; he will not mind!"
"He may!" replied Faramir sadly, his voice full of pain. "He might mind very much, if he knew how I misused him to gain the confidence of the Halfling!"
Dūrlin's response was to gently steer Faramir to a chair by the curtained window and urge him to sit. Drawing a small table close with one hand, he set down the tray of food.
"You are my charge while you are in the City, Faramir," he said as he poured wine and set the cup at Faramir's right hand. "I will do all I can to ease your stay here, however long or brief it may be. You are much disheartened by your father's mood, weary in mind as well as in body, and worn by your brush with evil before the Gate."
Dūrlin handed Faramir a plate of bread, cheese and cold meat, then proceeded to slice fruit onto a second plate and set it beside the cup of wine.
"Eat now and refresh yourself," Dūrlin enjoined. "And while you eat, gather your thoughts, then tell me all that happened to cause you so much doubt and regret."
Faramir meekly obeyed. By the time he had eaten the last bite and drunk the last drop under Dūrlin's watchful and compassionate eye, the tension in his shoulders had eased and his eyes had brightened, though the look on his face remained somber and thoughtful.
"I am indeed weary, Dūrlin" he said ruefully. "I doubt not that I shall be wearier still, before the end of things. Not long ago I told Mablung that my shoulders are broad enough to carry the load of Boromir's duties as well as my own, without begrudging it. And that is the truth. I do not regret my increased responsibility nor the hard choices I face. But the load is often heavy, and I miss being able to share it with my brother."
Faramir turned towards the east-facing window, and though it was shuttered and curtained, he gazed at it as if he were looking through and out upon the walls of the City, and beyond to the Anduin and the shadowed forests of Ithilien.
"I thought my heart was settled and resigned to the loss of him," he sighed. "But a chance meeting in Ithilien showed me it was not so. Chance, I say; but I doubt it was mere chance that led me to that meeting with two who had actually traveled with Boromir and could speak of what had befallen him at the end. But alas, they would not speak, and I was denied the answers for which my heart ached!"
Rising, he paced slowly in front of his chair, deep thought, as if trying to recall the details of his meeting with Frodo and Sam.
"I cannot remember ever being in such a difficult position!" he exclaimed, shaking his head. "A fierce battle against unnumbered foes would have seemed simple and straightforward by contrast. Yet this was a battle of another sort; I was caught between great urgency and a fear of delay, a desperate need for information and news of Boromir, and the necessity of dealing with the courteous but firm distrust of one who knew all the answers I sought but would not share them!"
Faramir stopped in the middle of the room, and stood silent, lost in thought. Dūrlin quietly cleared away the remains of the meal while he waited for Faramir to continue.
"You heard the tale of how I met the Halflings, did you not, Dūrlin?" Faramir asked after a short time.
"Yes," replied Dūrlin. "I rather suspect that it was not the whole tale, however."
"Indeed it was not," answered Faramir with a slight smile. "When I gave my report to my father, I spoke only of the facts of that meeting and gave few details of that which led to my decision to allow Frodo to continue his journey. It was better so, I deemed, though my father might think otherwise. And for that reason, I also said nothing of how difficult it was to gather the information I needed to come to that choice."
"One does indeed need knowledge in order to choose wisely," Dūrlin said thoughtfully. "But if the knowledge is not forthcoming, the choices are made with difficulty."
"In truth, that was the way of it," Faramir said, nodding. "Frodo did not trust me. He was courteous and well-spoken in answer to my queries, but I was not satisfied with many of those answers. It was obvious he was not telling all he knew and was holding back vital information. For the sake and safety of Gondor, I had to know why he traveled in Ithilien, what his part had been in the company that had also included Boromir, and what, if anything, did he have to do with the dream and the prophetic words that took Boromir away from us to seek for answers in the far north. But more than that, even, I was desperate to know what had happened to Boromir and why this Halfling was so reluctant to speak of him.
"For indeed, he was reluctant. It irked me that he was holding back, and I could not let that pass. He named himself Boromir's friend, but he did so with hesitation, and I fear that hesitation made me hard and grim for a time, and distrustful of him. Why would he hesitate, unless he had something to do with Boromir's death? Might he even have been responsible in some way? Treachery can be found anywhere, and is no stranger to even the most fair-seeming individual."
Faramir paused, then shook his head.
"But I soon realized it could not be so," he continued. "As obvious as it was that he was not being forthright with me, it was also very clear to me that he was holding back for honorable reasons. Something about his journey was of such import that it could not be shared freely with others. I had some idea of what it might have been, but even when I pressed him with my guesses, he held firm in his silence. Perhaps he would have been reluctant to share his purpose with me even if the matter of Boromir did not stand between us -- but it did, very much so. And for that reason, he did not trust me.
"He was shaken when he learned that Boromir was lost -- yet rather than speak freely after hearing the news, he became even more reticent. Even though I shared with him my vision of Boromir in the midst of battle, bloodied and bruised, his Horn cloven and his body pierced with black arrows -- even then, he would not speak of what had been between them when they parted."
Dūrlin sighed heavily, and laid a cautionary hand on Faramir's arm.
"I missed little of what was said -- or left unsaid -- between you and your father this evening," he said gravely. "Nor did I miss that which passed between my lord Denethor and Mithrandir in the argument which followed. So I know there is a tale to be told of Boromir and the Halfling, Frodo. Speak freely, Faramir, of your thoughts and fears, but do not tell me what it is that lay between them. I shall be patient, and trust that Boromir himself can tell it me. For now, let it be enough that I know that there was something that caused distance to grow between them, at least for a time."
"I will gladly refrain from speaking of it, then," said Faramir gratefully. "If your hope cheats you and Boromir does not return to tell the tale, then I shall speak of it another time. For now, it is difficult enough remembering that one so kind and understanding as Frodo could feel antipathy towards Boromir the Bold, prince of the White City and honored by all!"
He paused for a moment, his brow knit.
"Frodo's sorrow over the news of Boromir's fall was great, nonetheless, and I could tell he was afraid. Afraid, yet still determined to do the task that was laid upon him. He begged me to put aside my doubt of him for the sake of his quest and to let him go. I knew him to be true, then, and I doubted him no longer -- but alas! I could not simply let him go for that reason alone. For Gondor's safety, for my promise to my father to deal sternly with strangers in the land, and yes, for the sake of Boromir -- I had to know more before making such a decision. I could not judge the matter justly without knowing what it was that kept Frodo silent on the matter of Boromir and Frodo's own quest, for what if that silence could mean danger for my people? No, I had to know more."
Faramir began to pace the room once more.
"I knew that somehow I must win Frodo's trust," he explained to Dūrlin. "Certainly he did not feel safe enough in my presence to speak freely of that which I needed to know -- whether because of my relationship with Boromir or because his quest was so secret. Or both! I suspected that his reluctance to speak of his purpose was bound up in the reserve he felt for Boromir; I thought that if I could learn more of what had passed between them, then perhaps I might learn something of the other matter.
"And so... and so, I spoke to him of my brother. At every opportunity, I brought the conversation around to Boromir. Frodo must have dearly wished for peace on that subject! But how could I stay away from it, even as I strove to discover the other secrets he was keeping from me? To learn more of Boromir was what I wanted most in the world -- and to have that, I had to speak of him myself, in spite of Frodo's reluctance!"
Faramir stopped pacing suddenly, and looked at Dūrlin keenly and with doubt in his eyes.
"But not all my words were of praise for Boromir," he said sadly. "And that is what gives me pause now as I look back upon my conversations with Frodo. Did I speak only of that which was harsh and none that was good? Did I present Boromir in a starker light than is my wont in order to set myself against him as more trustworthy?
"When Frodo and I spoke of fell weapons that give advantage in battle and sure victory over the Dark Lord, did I speak of Boromir's valor and his dauntless courage in the face of danger? No, I spoke only of his pride and his rashness, and his desire for that glory which is attained in great victory. When we spoke of the riddling dream and of Isildur's Bane, of mighty heirlooms and the strife they bring among confederates, did I speak of Boromir's loyalty in friendship, and his selfless devotion to those for whom he is responsible -- even unto death? No, instead I confirmed only that he was the kind of man who would contend for his own way, particularly if it had to do with the safety of Gondor and her people.
"And when we spoke of kings, did I recall for Frodo Boromir's long years of dedicated and fearless service to the kingdom as Captain-general and heir to the Steward, to preserve our borders and keep our people safe? No, I recalled only that it displeased him that his father was not king, and that it irked him that the king did not return."
Faramir shook his head sorrowfully, and opened his mouth to continue, but Dūrlin spoke first.
"Yes," he said thoughtfully. "I remember well how that matter bothered him. It was a fair question for a young man to be asking when learning the rule of his city and his people; a question that many another Steward has no doubt asked himself over the long years! Leave it to Boromir the Bold to voice the question which was secret in everyone's heart! But he asked as much on his father's behalf as on his own, it seemed to me -- jealous as any young man would be for his father to have the full honor he thought was deserved. Difficult it was, too, for him to feel forgotten by the one who returned not. If there was a king in the world, why did he not come? They were hard matters for a young one to dwell upon, but unavoidable for the heir to the Steward's Chair -- and his brother. At least Boromir strove to learn, as he grew, what it was to be royal through good service to his people, though his house did not have the name of king."
"Yes," sighed Faramir. "At least he learned that -- but I said nothing of such lessons to Frodo. Instead I went so far as to suggest that Boromir might see a returning king as a rival! As perhaps he would, though that does not necessarily mean he would not still honor him..."
Faramir sighed again.
"And that is how I spoke of Boromir with Frodo over the course of our time together. Almost he trusted me, several times. Almost Frodo spoke out... But something stopped him every time. Partly it was fear to say too much, a reluctance to compromise his errand, or to put me at risk with knowledge of it. No doubt much of his mistrust was fear for my safety lest the thing that had come between him and Boromir afflict me as well! But alas! It was also surely a fear of opening himself to me, Boromir's kin, and finding me to be untrue...
"In the end, it was the other who trusted me first -- Frodo's companion, Sam. He spoke heedlessly and let matters slip that he had not intended, but I think it was because he felt safe with me and he was willing to take the chance, even if unconsciously so. Frodo could not take it on his own, for his sense of responsibility was too great. It was well that Sam slipped, for I was able to make my choice then, the more easily because of all I had gleaned from our conversations about Boromir and because of vows I had taken to remain staunch and undeterred.
"Thus I made my choice, and gave them the aid they needed, though it has set my father against me. What would Boromir say of it all, I wonder? Do you think he would honor my choice, and my means of making it? Or would he feel I had misused him to no purpose? And did I fall into that which I swore I would never do -- not to snare even an orc in a falsehood? Was I false in presenting Boromir in a stark light, in order to win the trust of the Halflings?"
"Ah, Faramir!" replied Dūrlin sorrowfully. "Do not think that clear decisions made in the daytime change at the coming of night when doubts grow strong due to weariness and care. You do not need me to tell you that you are doubting yourself for no reason, do you? You are indeed weary, and have much on your mind -- sufficient cause to begin regretting a choice made, though it be a right one and the best choice imaginable. Fear not! Your wisdom has not failed, nor has your knowledge of your brother and his esteem for you. Ever he has urged you to act as you see fit, and he trusts you to do so, for he knows your heart is gentle and generous, and full of wisdom. Do not allow any fear of his displeasure to cloud your way forward -- it is a fear that is false, and has no basis in truth.
"Nor are you false, because you have spoken truth in this way to achieve what you needed in order to make a hard choice. These are hard times, when folk who would naturally trust one another are held apart because of fear. I say it again -- you have done well, and your heart has led you truly. I think this Frodo who now calls you friend would say the same to you, and whatever lies between him and Boromir, he will go forward now more at peace, having known you and discerned in you an unshakable love for your brother. This is something which is most evident to all who come to know you, and speaks louder than any words you might say. Boromir also knows this well, and his confidence in your love and respect cannot be shaken."
"You comfort me, Dūrlin!" Faramir said, and at last his smile was free of doubt and care. "Not only with your sensible words of assurance, but also by the way you speak of Boromir as if he were alive and present. Would that your faith in his living might somehow make it true! You are right, of course. It is foolish of me to doubt my own actions and choices, even for a moment -- and even more, to doubt my brother's reception of them. No matter how often he would complain of my choices when they were other than his, nevertheless he respected my wisdom in making them, and had confidence in the decisions that resulted. I can do no less than he; and so I shall continue to trust myself now, as I did in the light of day."
Dūrlin nodded, but still did not seem wholly satisfied.
"I am content that you will trust yourself," he replied, "for there is little reason to do otherwise. All you have done today was well done and honorable! But now, will you do as I suggest, and set aside all your fears, to sleep? You are in sore need of rest. As your father suggested, tomorrow's need will be stern, more so than even than today, perhaps!"
"Ah, Dūrlin!" Faramir grinned fondly. "Ever you are urging us to take more food or get more rest. It is your answer to everything! The Dark Lord will not be defeated by food or by slumber, will he?"
Dūrlin chuckled but did not back down.
"Perhaps not," he replied. "But a little food restores the body's strength, and casting away worry in sleep restores the heart to renewed vigor, and even hope. Thus will the war be won by the leader who obeys his own need for renewal, and who does not squander his strength with thoughts of gaining more time for the day of need by neglecting himself."
"I do have need of such renewals, I know," admitted Faramir. "Tomorrow's need will indeed be stern, and I will meet it better if I rest. Thank you for your great wisdom, Dūrlin, which remains firm and true in the face of my stubbornness!"
"That firmness has been well-honed these past years, through practice with you two!" Dūrlin laughed. "Yes, you are stubborn, and Boromir more so! But I am right, in this at least, and that will win out over stubbornness in the end."
Moving to the bedside, Dūrlin pulled down the coverlet and patted the pillow until it was invitingly plump and soft.
"Take your rest here in peace and in the knowledge of a day well-spent and in decisions well-made. I shall call you early, so that you may prepare yourself for the morning's Council session. If you have any need of me in the night, do not hesitate to call for me; I am here at your service."
"I do not doubt it in the least!" said Faramir gratefully. "I shall surely call upon you, if there be need. Good night to you, Dūrlin! And thank you!"