A/N: This is a companion piece to “MettarŽ” and is a gift-fic to my beloved twin sister (and beta-reader!) for the 2006 holiday season.
A/N2: 1 Jan 2008: Awarded 2007 Middle-Earth Fanfiction Awards (MEFA) Honorable Mention for Races: Men, Gondor. Thanks for the nomination and the reviews!
A Wish for YestarŽ
While the other Commanders waited in little conversational groups for the Steward and the civilian lords of the land to return to the Council Chamber after the mid-day meal, Faramir sat on the window sill of one of the casements that looked to the northeast, and stared out through the breath-warmed aperture he’d made on the frosted glass, towards North Ithilien. He wondered how his Rangers were faring; if they had received the gifts he’d sent and the hard-won supplies he’d managed to coax from the Quartermaster the week before. He hoped that they had cause to celebrate this longest night of the year, and wished that he were there with them in their privations rather than feeling beleaguered and useless as he had over the last week’s interminable council sessions.
The sound of the door guards going to attention drew him away from the frost-rimed window, and he returned to the long table. He stood behind his chair as his father progressed into the room, followed by the flock of civilian lords in their rich robes that contrasted so with the battle-worn uniforms that he and the other commanders present wore as a reminder that the war was not in the future, but was being fought even now, far from the warm and lighted halls of the well-to-do by soldiers who shivered in the cold and suffered hunger and danger for the sake of Gondor and her people.
He met his father’s grey eyes as Denethor paused a moment before seating himself in the Steward’s chair. He bowed his head to the Steward in respect. The older man’s stern mien did not visibly change as he sat down, and Faramir moved to seat himself, wishing that it was his brother here at the table instead of where ever he was in the north and west lands. It had been six months since the Captain-General had left for the legendary Imladris, and Faramir missed him with a pain that cut to the heart.
As he sat down, he noted which of the civilian lords did not wait for his precedence, sitting down a bare heartbeat after the Stewart, but couldn’t help feeling a bit bitter. As usual, I count for nothing to most of them, not being Boromir. However, his uncle, Imrahil of Dol Amroth, and the military commanders all had remained pointedly standing until Faramir had settled.
He felt a hand come to rest on his left shoulder and he turned his head to face his uncle’s sympathetic grey eyes.
“I’d thought to converse with you over the midday meal,” the prince said quietly as Faramir neatened the stack of parchment in front of him and placed his daybook next to it.
Faramir tilted his head towards his uncle in apology. “I was negotiating for more frequent supply runs to the Refuge. The Quartermaster is more amenable when he is well fed.”
“Ah, understandable. But you will rescue me from having to listen to Morthond’s complaints at the feast tonight? He is more than enough to steal one’s appetite!”
Faramir’s lips quirked into a wry smile. He’d been the unwilling ear to the Lord of the Morthond Vale’s whining about his constant dissatisfaction with life on more than one occasion, and could utterly empathize with his uncle. “Aye, uncle. I will,” he murmured and then turned to face his father as the Steward tapped the White Rod on the table, signifying the beginning of the afternoon session.
All private conversations died, and Faramir put on his ‘listening face’ as Denethor stated, “Pelargir is our next concern. Commander,” he invited the officer in charge of protecting the port city to speak.
The Ranger Captain sat back in his chair, absently folding a sheet of parchment in his fingers as Pelargir went on about the need to address the risks that his city faced from the notorious Corsairs of Umbar.
The parchment crackled as he automatically put pressure on two points of the construction which he’d folded without even realizing it, drawing his--and his father’s--attention. Faramir stared down at the paper boat he held in his hands and closed his eyes for a moment as his heart broke again. Where are you brother? You should be here, not I. You should be the one to lighten Father’s load, while he will not allow me to shoulder even the smallest part of it. You should be here to glare down these cosseted lords who forget that their peace is bought with the blood and pain and deaths of men of lesser status but far more honour.
He started as he felt the boat lift from his fingers, and opened his eyes to see his father, under the cover of the table’s edge, flatten it out carefully and slip it up inside his undersleeve. He stared at the Steward for a moment, feeling his ears go hot with embarrassment, and then dropped his eyes. He pulled together his composure and turned his attention back to the discussion at hand, making himself take notes and resisting the urge to make caricatures of the council members who were most obstructionist. You’d be drawing rude pictures in your daybook of those whose interest is in their own comfort and profit rather than the good of the land. Boromir, you should be home this night of all nights.
- - - - -
The Steward finally adjourned the session, wryly announcing that the next would open two mornings hence. “So that all will have time to recover from their YestarrŽ celebrations,” he pointed out, and got to his feet, allowing the others to depart to prepare for the night’s feasting.
Faramir acknowledged his uncle’s reminder about keeping him company during the meal, and went back to the west-facing window. The place he had cleared had covered over again with frost as the remains of the shortest day of the year faded into a grey and salmon sunset, and he breathed upon it once more to clear the pane.
He whirled, startled, as his father quietly said his name behind his left ear.
“Peace, child. I would ask something of you.”
“I will do whatever is thy will, sire.” Faramir bowed his head to the Steward.
“This is not an official duty, my son.” Denethor reached out and, in a rare display of tactile affection, brushed the knuckles of his right hand along Faramir’s cheek bone. “Perhaps I might join with you this night in observing the old traditions?” He held out the little paper boat in his left hand. “I have the perfect candle in my study for it.”
Faramir felt his breath catch as he realized what his father was asking. It had been years since the Steward had walked down to Anduin with his family to set the wishes for the coming year afloat in the river, to carry them to the Valar. Boromir had presided at the ceremony, almost always with Faramir at his side, for at least the last ten years; riding like mad to get back to the city from whatever posting he was assigned in time to lead the procession of families to the banks of the river near the Harlond quays.
Faramir smiled and placed his hands carefully around the boat, holding his father’s fingers in place around the parchment as the older man sought to turn it over to the Ranger. “I would be honoured, Father, to share my wish for the new year with you. Will you hold the boat until it is time to go down to the river? Boromir would always carry it, even though I always made it.”
Denethor smiled. “He is the best swordsman on Arda, I swear; but I think he put up the price of parchment because of all his fumbled attempts to make these over the years.”
Faramir laughed out loud, and the Steward chuckled, and Imrahil, awaiting his brother-by-law and his nephew near the council chamber’s doors, delighted to hear it.
- - - - -
Faramir shivered a bit despite his warm blue cloak; and wondered that his father seemed unaffected by the colder than usual weather as they finished the three-mile walk from the City Gates to the Harlond Quays. He carried a closed lantern to use to light the candle that was mounted on the parchment boat that Denethor carried. It would not do to risk a firelighter not catching the wick this night.
“My old bones move far slower than they did when you and your brother were small and dragging your mother and I along this same road,” Denethor ruefully admitted.
“Boromir always beat us to the river,” Faramir remembered. “Even when I could outrun him,” he suddenly confided, “I always let him win that race.” It somehow comforted him that he’d done that one thing to make his brother happy—even though he knew by his adulthood that Boromir had always known that it was an allowed win.
“I wonder how he is spending this night?” The Steward looked up at the cloud tattered sky and searched for the Swordsman. “Ah, it is almost time.” He held out the boat towards Faramir who lit the wick from the lantern and began to step back.
“No, son.” Denethor caught Faramir’s sleeve. “Make your wish and send it to the Valar with me. I know that we both wish the same thing.”
Faramir blinked hard to keep back bittersweet tears, and nodded, handing off the lantern to one of the Citadel Guardsmen who had accompanied the Steward. “Yes, Father. I know that we do.”
Together, the Steward and his younger son waded into the icy cold water of the Anduin and set the parchment boat into the current, and sent their wishes for their beloved son and brother to the Valar as the First Day of the New Year began.