Heart of Darkness by Linda Hoyland
I make no money from this story. All familiar characters belong to Tolkien.
Summary - Old wounds are reopened for Aragorn and Faramir.
With grateful thanks to Raksha and Deandra.
“It is an outrage, sire!” The plump merchant’s double chin wobbled in indignation.
“I cannot see why, Master Finfarin. The homeless shelter is nowhere near your property.”
“That my taxes are to be spent on the lazy and feckless is a disgrace!” Finfarin continued.
Aragorn’s eyes gleamed dangerously, forcing the merchant to look away. “I would remind you, Master Finfarin, that hard times may come upon anyone.”
“They are drunkards and idlers!” the merchant protested.
“Many who are now homeless fought for Gondor during the war against Sauron. Some cannot endure the things that they saw and seek now to numb their minds with liquor.” Aragorn’s tone was like ice. “If you too had fought for Gondor, you too would know and would understand.”
“I had to look after my business and see my old mother safe to Lossarnach.”
“Quite so, now I have no more time to waste on this matter. Good day, Master Finfarin.” Aragorn’s tone brokered no further argument. The merchant bowed low and retreated, the light gleaming on the rich silks and velvet of his clothing.
Aragorn sighed and turned to Faramir, who was hearing petitions with him that morning. “I know a King must listen to all his subjects, and I like to know what troubles them, but some truly try my patience. They have little knowledge and even less understanding of the issues they bring before me.”
“At least not all the merchants are not like him,” said Faramir. “Many have offered food and clothing to the homeless. Maybe the next petitioner will have some matter of import.”
A herald announced the next petitioner and Aragorn turned his attention to the middle- aged man who had hesitantly entered the hall.
“Boron son of Calmacil,” announced the herald.
Faramir looked up at the sound of the name as if it had some import and frowned as if trying to recall something, but Aragorn had no chance to speak to him.”
“Draw near, Boron, and tell me how I might help you,” said Aragorn.
Boron slowly approached with dragging footsteps. He bowed low and knelt before the King. He was of medium height, with short greying hair. “My lord, I thank you for seeing me,” he said. “ I come before you as my father died a few weeks ago.”
“I am sorry to hear of your loss,” said Aragorn. He waited for Boron to continue, but when the man said nothing further he broke the silence. “How might I be of help to you, Master Boron?”
“My sire was sorely troubled during his final illness,” said Boron. “I had to promise I would ask for an audience with you before he could rest easy. I hope you will not be angry with me.”
“You may speak freely,” said Aragorn. “I hope my wrath falls only on those who truly deserve it.”
Boron cleared his throat. “My father was chief scribe to Lord Denethor,” he began. “He was advanced in years and came to live with me and my family when the old Steward died.”
“I recall Calmacil well,” said Faramir, his frown replaced with a smile. “He was my sire’s most trusted scribe. It saddens me to hear of his death.”
Boron smiled wanly at Faramir and shuffled his feet. Aragorn gestured for him to continue. “My father told him that the day Lord Denethor died, he sent for him. Lord Denethor dictated several letters. They were delivered to their recipients once the fighting was over, all save one that is.” Boron reached inside his tunic and took out a sealed letter. “That letter was for you, sire. My father knew what was in it, you see, my lord, and he feared if he gave it to you, you’d have his head for certain!”
Aragorn reached out to take the letter, but Boron seemed loth to relinquish it from his grasp.
“Please don’t be angry with me, my lord King, I’m but a poor weaver with five children to support, not that my father approved of my trade what with him being a scribe to the Steward, but I weave a fine cloth and-“
“It is an honourable profession, my friend,” said Aragorn, gently but firmly prising the letter from Boron’s grasp. “I assure you I would never punish a man for his father’s actions.”
“My father was an honest man, sire. He only kept this because he was afraid.”
“You, too, are an honest man, Boron,” said Aragorn. He smiled. “I shall see that you are rewarded for your honesty. You may leave us now.”
Murmuring thanks and further apologies, Boron bowed low again and hastened from the hall.
Aragorn turned the letter over in his hand. He recognised the seal of Gondor’s Ruling Stewards, familiar to him from the time he had spent in Ecthelion’s service. Why had Denethor written him a letter just before his death and what had it contained that had so frightened Master Calmacil? He glanced towards the herald, who caught his gaze.
“There are no further petitioners today, my lord,” said the man. “Master Boron was the first to arrive, but he hung back and kept letting others take his place until there were none here save he.”
“Thank you,” said Aragorn. “I shall retire to my chambers now. You may have the rest of the day to spend as you please.” He rose from the ornate chair in which he sat to hear petitions. He only used the throne on state occasions as it was difficult to hear what nervous subjects were saying from its lofty heights. Faramir, who had sat in a less ornate chair at his side, rose to his feet too. The Steward looked troubled. Aragorn wished that Arwen had been hearing petitions with him that day instead. It had obviously come as a shock to the Steward to learn of the letter from his father. Aragorn would have preferred to tell Faramir about it in his own time, but it was not to be. He turned to his Steward. “I shall read this letter in my study. Will you accompany me?”
“Would you not prefer to read it alone?”
Aragorn shook his head. “It is only fitting you read what may well have been your father’s last letter, that is, if you wish to.”
“However unpleasant the contents might be, knowing the truth cannot be worse than speculating what the letter might contain.”
“Wise words, mellon nîn.”
In contrast to the vast splendour of the throne room, Aragorn’s study was warm and cosy. A cheerful fire burned in the grate. At Aragorn’s command, a servant brought wine. Aragorn poured out a glass for Faramir and one for himself. He then settled on the couch opposite his desk and sprawled out his long legs. He gestured for Faramir to sit beside him.
He held up the letter for a moment before breaking the seal and starting to read.
“Thorongil, or Aragorn, or whoever you call yourself nowadays. I know you are on your way to seize what is rightfully mine. The City burns even as I compose this letter, nothing will await you here save dust and ashes, a fine kingdom for you to rule over!
I know you expect me to bend the knee and fawn over you, even as my poor sire did in his dotage – never will I yield to the last of a ragged line bereft of dignity! Far sooner would I die. Better to burn as the heathen kings of old than to fall to the enemy.
Gondor is falling, falling to darkness and you will soon fall with her. You who were spawned and reared in the Northern wastes, you know nothing of ruling a proud kingdom that has endured and prospered long after Arnor fell.
You could not fool every man as you fooled my poor sire in his dotage. Why did you steal his love from me? Was it not enough for you that your men loved you? You stole my father’s love then you broke his heart by slinking away like a thief in the night.”
Aragorn paused and took a deep breath then took a sip of wine from his goblet. Beside him, Faramir sat as if turned to stone. After a few moments, Aragorn continued reading,
“You would never have stolen my Boromir’s love as you stole my sire’s. It was indeed a fortuitous chance for you that my son fell when he did. The Halfling did not see Boromir’s final moments. Was was son indeed slain by Orcs, Thorongil, or did he perish by your hand to clear your path to the throne?
The line of the Stewards has ended. Faramir still draws breath, but the dark fire consumes him from within. He shall accompany me in death. None shall ever take him from me! The Enemy shall not despoil his body. Let him perish as a true son of mine and not as a Wizard’s pupil, doomed to dote upon an upstart would- be king.
We serve the line of Anárion, not Isildur. My longsire soon sent the would be king Arvedui packing back to the northern wastelands where he belonged. Would that my sire had done the same to you, Thorongil!Or, better still, that you had perished on the docks of Umbar. I have no doubt that if you had given up your life to a Corsair blade, my Boromir would not have lost his.
Come then, make your long overdue return to the City you once forsook. Claim this kingdom of ashes burn with it!
I go now to join my longfathers,
Denethor, son of Ecthelion, the last Steward of Gondor.”
Aragorn silently handed the letter to Faramir. There was a long silence then at last the King spoke. “I always wondered what Denethor truly thought of me after all those years,” he said dryly. “Now I know.” Then his voice dropped almost to a whisper.” Alas, but I did break Ecthelion’s heart, which I bitterly regret. I loved your grand sire almost as a father, Faramir, but I never sought to come between him and your father.” Aragorn buried his face in his hands for a few moments. Then he looked up. “I felt I had no choice but to leave. I suspected he might offer me the crown, which could have led to civil war.”
“You could only do what you believed to be best,” said Faramir. “If only my father had been more reasonable. How could he say such things?” He continued to peruse the letter silently for a few moments.
“He had lost his mind,” said Aragorn. “Not that he thought any better of me when he was sane. It grieves me though, that he thought I played some part in Boromir’s death. He was heavily outnumbered by the enemy. Alas, that I came upon him too late to save him. When he died, all I could think of was the fair babe I recall being proudly held in your father’s arms.”
“I am glad you were with my brother when he drew his final breaths,” said Faramir. “The handwriting shows my sire’s state of mind. His signature was usually far clearer than this. Well I recall it on the letters he sent while I was in Ithilien with my men, as well as Master Calmacil’s hand. Parts of this letter are far from Calmacil’s usual neat penmanship. I am glad that he, at least, survived the war and lived to be ripe in years. As for my father, I believe he had lost all will to live when Boromir died. He loved him very much. He gave one half of his heart to my mother, I believe and the other half to Boromir. Once Boromir was gone, his heart broke asunder.”
“You suffered the loss of those you held dearest too, ion nin, but you live and thrive, the Valar be praised!”
“You called me back from the darkness. I met you, my King, and father of my heart. Then soon afterwards I met my Éowyn. Hope returned together with my strength. Those days were dark, but they brought me joy as well as sorrow.” Faramir handed the letter back to Aragorn.
Aragorn took back the parchment and read it again. “I will lock this away in the archives,” he said.
Faramir looked anxious. “What if future generations should come to believe my father’s ramblings? Would it not be better to burn it?”
“I hope the knowledge that those who come after me have of my reign will come from my deeds,” said Aragorn. “I am simply sorry that you had to have old griefs rekindled today.”
“Often I wondered what thoughts were in my father’s mind ere he died,” said Faramir. “Better to know the truth than to imagine what drove him to such despair.”
“Had Denethor lived, I would have treated him with all courtesy and honour,” said Aragorn. He squeezed Faramir’s shoulder. “My friend, let us leave the ghosts of the past behind. We cannot know what the future holds. I do know, though, that my lady awaits us. Come and break bread with us in the clear light of the sun.”
A/n. Denethor's state of mind is further explored in Kingdom of Ashes.” This story was written for the Teitho “Knowledge” contest where it was placed first.