Chapter Three

With Faramir away at war again, I began haunting about Minas Tirith's library rather often, but I did not find Gandalf there again. I also frequented the royal museum, though it was hard for me to resist breaking open the glass case that held the Ruby Blade and fleeing with it. The guards at the doors would have it quickly back, though, I knew. In the museum it was labeled as 'Blade of Unknown Origin, featuring rubies on the hilt.' I would often stare at it for long periods of time, or as long as I could without arousing suspicion from the guards.

Time passed. In two years I only saw Faramir three times, and the third and final time was to be my undoing. Before he even returned home, I had heard the gossip about the plight he had suffered. He had finally been stationed to lead his own mission, to defend Osgilith. But Denethor had underestimated the enemy, and had left too few men in Faramir's garrison, sending even Boromir on another mission. The city had fallen under Faramir's command, but when Boromir's troops had returned to assist them, it was reclaimed. I knew how this would appear to Denethor, though the mistake had always been his own. I expected Faramir to be upset upon returning, as I knew how much his father's scorn could hurt him. What I did not expect was the complete unraveling that occurred.

When the troops marched victoriously back into Minas Tirith, all the citizens and the full court cheered them home. I watched Boromir and Faramir pass me into the main hall, and both offered me small smiles, Faramir's a bit shakier than Boromir's. I wanted to throw my arms around both of them, and to kiss Faramir until I lost my breath. It had been almost a year since he had last been home. Just the sight of his battle worn face brought tears to my eyes.

After a short medals ceremony, and a speech by Denethor that glorified Boromir's deeds, leaving Faramir's out, he invited the citizens and members of the court to a royal party that was to be thrown that evening. There was much cheering, and I politely clapped as well, though the idea of a party was not particularly wonderful to me, as I knew it would delay my time alone with Faramir. When the men were sent to relax in their homes before the party in their honor, I decided to sneak into Faramir's room so that I could see him before the stuffy festivities began.

When I reached Faramir's door, I knocked lightly. I heard him inside, bits of his armor dropping off onto the floor. The door cracked a bit, and his face poked out to greet me. I kissed him instantly on the nose.

“ You shouldn't be so bold,” he said, pulling me inside.

“ I hardly care,” I said, gluing myself to him when he had shut the door. “ I haven't seen you in almost a year!” I tipped my face up to him and kissed him, but stopped when he didn't seem to respond.

“ What is wrong?” I asked, hurt and embarrassed, stepping away. “ Don't you know me anymore?” I asked in a small voice, betraying my fears.

“ Oh, Lydia,” he said, walking to me and kissing my face, smoothing my hair. There was so much sadness in his eyes that I almost feared he would tell me Denethor planned to execute him. “ Please do not reflect these feelings on yourself – it is only . . . my father,” he said, predictably. I nodded.

“ The royal guard took him to Osgilith this morning,” I said grimly. “ I had thought he might – well.”

“ I failed him,” Faramir said plainly, walking from me. My heart dropped to my feet, as a burning rage at Denethor's treatment of his son flew through me.

“ You did not!” I insisted. “ The people here know of the circumstances – they do not share your father's irrational prejudice. They know that you did not have enough men. I'm sure even Boromir acknowledges the fact that he was not the sole hero.”

“ He does,” Faramir said, still looking at the floor. “ He tried to explain it to my father, but he would not even listen to Boromir on this matter. I think that even if I razed Mordor to the ground single handedly father would find a reason to hate me for it.”

“ Then do not bother yourself with it,” I said, though I knew it wasn't that easy.

“ I cannot help it,” Faramir said, sitting on his bed. I knelt on the floor in front of him, looking up into his face.

“ I know,” I said, reaching up to touch his cheek. He leaned into my hand, shutting his eyes.

“ I had nearly forgotten your touch,” he said, his voice reverent, hushed. I stroked his hair, smoothing it behind his ears, kissed his closed eyes.

“ I shall remind you,” I whispered hotly, my body settling between his legs.

“ Lydia,” he said, opening his eyes, putting his hands on my waist. “ I cannot stay. Boromir is being sent to Rivendell. I have to return and maintain the battlements at Osgilith.”

“ Osgilith is not very far,” I said weakly, after a pause wherein I tried to bite the pain of this terrible news away. “ Perhaps . . .,” I began, but let the sentiment die. I knew that every day would be filled with work at Osgilith, keeping and rebuilding the city.

“ Perhaps,” Faramir echoed sadly, kissing me. “ Why do you come to me?” he asked, hooking a finger into my bodice, making the skin there flush red. “ You torture yourself with this love,” he said, low and full of longing.

“ I cannot change who I love,” I told him, pulling a lace on my bodice loose.

“ Do not do that,” he said, putting his palm flat over the loosened bodice, pressing it closed.

“ Why not?” I asked, my voice trembling with the sting of rejection.

Faramir opened his mouth to explain his reasoning, but couldn't seem to find the words. He moved his hand and let the bodice fall open, revealing my corset, and the upper slope of my breasts.

“ Lydia,” he said, his forehead pressed to mine, his hands caressing me.

“ I have wanted you,” I said. My eyes fluttered closed and goosebumps rose along my skin at his ghost of a touch. “ I feel I have become an old woman already, wanting you.”

He laughed. “ You are hardly old,” he said, touching my face. Our eyes met.

“ No,” I said. “ But I feel time slipping too quickly away, as if I were.” He swallowed, understanding what I meant. I didn't dare to ask how long he would be in Minas Tirith before he had to return to Osgilith.

Faramir moved a shaking hand to my corset, undoing the fastenings there. My breath came quickly as they popped open, and I was terrified, though I had longed for this. Outside we could still hear the scrape of boots and the happy calls of the returning soldiers, too close.

When my corset hung open, Faramir lifted me up onto the bed and laid me down on my back. He climbed unto the bed and leaned beside me, his back toward the door as if he was sheltering me from all that laid outside. He put a hand up under my dress, and then under the skirts beneath, and I held my breath until he found my trembling stomach. He left a hot, heavy hand there and leaned down to kiss me.

“ I have dreamed of this,” he said, and I only smiled up at him in return, having completely lost my voice. He took his hand out from beneath my dress and gingerly pulled back my corset, then leaned down to kiss the space between my breasts. I let out an enormous, silent breath of anxious pleasure, and ran my hand through his hair as his light kisses carefully traced their way up along my right breast.

Suddenly the door to his room opened, and we jerked in terror, me pulling my corset shut and sinking behind him on the bed.

“ Faramir,” a familiar and happy voice boomed, and I recognized that it was Boromir's.

“ Oh,” Boromir said when he saw what was going on. I kept my eyes shut, praying that he couldn't tell it was me on the bed and knowing that he could. “ Sorry!” Boromir offered as he shut the door.

“ I must go,” I said, flying out of the bed as soon as he was gone. My hands were shaking, and I felt so humiliated that I wanted to cry, though I didn't know why I should. I choked down a silent sob as I re-fastened my corset.

“ Lydia,” Faramir said, standing behind me and placing his hands on my waist. “ I'm sorry if he embarrassed you, but you know he won't cause trouble for us.”

“ I, I'm sure he won't,” I said, trying to re-tie my bodice with shaking hands. “ It's just that – I – now I feel --,”

“ You're right,” Faramir said, swallowing his disappointment and turning me to face him. He cupped my chin in his hand and tilted my face up to his. “ We will wait until we are married,” he said, and at this, I lost my composure.

“ Oh, Faramir!” I said in a sob, bursting into tears and falling against him. I was so tired of the far off promise of marriage. I was so tired of the false hope.

“ Shhh,” he said, kissing my forehead. “ Do not weep. We will be together tonight at the party, and later we will meet on your balcony.” I looked up at him and nodded, but a sadness spread through me. All he could promise were those two things, a night's worth of meetings. After that, uncertainty reigned.

The party that night was particularly splendid, as the reclamation of Osgilith was a major victory for Gondor. The royal ballroom and all of the streets of the city had been decorated that afternoon, and Minas Tirith was alight with streaming banners, laughter and music.

I entered the ballroom with announcement along with Ywavine and Wendym. Denethor, who was greeting all of the courtly guests, welcomed us. He told Ywavine and I that we were looking beautiful that evening – something that he told every female guest, certainly – and we moved off while Wendym. joined the crowd of men who were talking with the steward.

“ You are the loveliest girl here,” Ywavine told me, and I smiled and rolled my eyes.

“ If I am lovely it is only because of the dress you have made me,” I told her, giving a little twirl in it.

“ It did turn out nicely,” she said proudly. I turned from her and surveyed the ball room, searching for Faramir. Boromir was in the middle of the dance floor, and from my vantage point I could only surmise that several girls who stood around him were arguing over who had the next dance with him. I grinned to myself at the scene.

“ Boromir is quite popular tonight,” I said, pointing out the spectacle to Ywavine. She laughed.

“ He would make a fine husband,” she said, surprising me. I knitted my brows, giving her a look.

“ Please do not tell me you are shopping for my husband,” I said, never having even thought to fear arranged marriage, which was custom among Gondor's nobles. “ I am much too young, and these times hardly call for match making.”

“ Lydia, you are almost twenty years old,” Ywavine said. “ You will marry soon, whether there is war in the world or not. We cannot let the evil we fight against change what we hold dear in our lives.”

My heart was racing. I had never told her about Faramir's proposal, thinking that my marriage was far from her mind.

“ What about him?” I asked, finding Faramir leaning against the wall on the other side of the room, and pointing him out.

“ Would Faramir be a suitable husband?” I asked, my voice shaking with fear of her answer.

“ Lydia,” Ywavine said. “ I know that you care for Faramir. And he is a fine man. But if you were to marry him, life might become harder for you in Minas Tirith.”

“ Why do you say this?” I asked, taken aback.

“ He is not in the steward's favor,” Ywavine said, her voice low. “ You know that. To marry Boromir would be far more advantageous.”

“ I cannot have this conversation with you,” I said, walking away from her, infuriated. I could not believe she had been thinking this way about my possible marriage partners.

As I crossed the dance floor, Boromir caught my arm. He was grinning, and from his gait I understood that he had been drinking in celebration. Remembering the scene he had walked in on earlier, I could barely meet his eyes for embarrassment.

“ Lydia,” he said, smiling. “ Please have a dance with me, and save me from this fray.” He glanced, clearly wanting to show off, back at a throng of giggling women who stood waiting for the next dance.

“ Not now, Boromir,” I said, yanking my arm from his grip. I knew anyone who saw me treat the hero of the hour this way would be appalled, but my head was still spinning from Ywavine's words, and I did not care. I pushed my way through the rest of the dancers until I came to Faramir, who still leaned against the wall, staring into a cup of beer that he held. I was breathless when I reached him.

“ Faramir,” I said, and he looked up.

“ I am sorry,” he said, shaking his head. “ I was lost in thought.”

“ I am afraid some plotting is going on,” I said, my hands trembling in terror. Faramir frowned, and pulled himself from the wall. I could see that he wanted to touch me, but we both knew that he should not, unless we danced.

“ Come,” he said, leading me to the ballroom floor. Once there, I took his hand, placing the other on his shoulder, and his free hand went to my waist. We danced as closely as we could to the quick paced, joyful music.

“ What is the matter?” he asked, leaning down to whisper.

“ It was something Ywavine said,” I whispered, glancing at Boromir as he danced with a blond girl who was just as inebriated as he was. “ Something about my taking a husband. She seems to have some idea that it will be your brother.”

Faramir lost the steps of the dance when he heard this, but then quickly laughed it off.

“ It is folly,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “ Only idle talk.” As soon as he said this, I felt my fears lift a bit.

“ You are right,” I said, letting out my breath. “ I'm sure it was nothing.” I didn't want to tell him about my second fear, about Ywavine's opposition to the one marriage partner I was interested in discussing: him. I decided not to worry about it, and tried to forget marriage altogether as Faramir and I danced.

“ Would you like to stop and have a drink?” Faramir asked me after several dances.

“ Yes,” I answered, nothing sounding more appealing that drowning my worries in wine. Faramir left to get us the drinks, and when he did, Boromir came up behind me and tapped my shoulder. I turned to him, and felt guilty for pushing him away earlier.

“ Lydia,” he said. “ I hope you are not angry with me because of what happened this afternoon.”

“ It was nothing,” I said quickly, not wanting to talk about it.

“ Good,” Boromir said with a smile. “ Will you have a dance with me, then?”

I turned to see if Faramir was returning with the drinks, but he was no where in sight.

“ I will,” I said, turning back to Boromir, hoping that we could forget what he had seen earlier. He smiled and took my hands, and we moved onto the dance floor.

The dance we moved to was a merry one, and because Boromir was drunk and I was a poor dancer in general, our steps were sloppy, twirls clumsy. We could not help but laugh at ourselves as we stumbled through the movements, and the happy attitude of the party was so infectious that I found myself really beginning to have fun. I would later regret this carefree moment, as I think it played a part in sealing my fate. When the dance ended, everyone clapped, and as I looked around the ballroom I saw the eyes of Denethor and Wendym. on us. A tiny seed of doubt grew in me then, and I began to worry, until I saw a smiling Faramir come through the crowd with our drinks. As soon as I saw his face, happy for a moment despite all that had been placed upon him, I believed again what he had insisted. It was only folly.

“ You two drew the eyes of everyone in the room,” he said, laughing, handing me my cup of wine.

“ Do not tell me that!” I cried, embarrassed, and drank. Boromir laughed.

“ Attention!” Denethor called, quieting the party's laughter and talk. “ Dinner will now be served, so let us move to the dining room.”

We sat down to a proper feast, the table lined with the usual nobles dressed in all of their finest clothes and jewelry, the men wearing their medals from war. Boromir sat beside his father, and the two talked and laughed throughout the meal. I couldn't help but notice, sitting farther down the table beside Faramir, that his eyes wandered often to his father and brother. I could sense his silent envy, and I put my hand over his under the table. He smiled over at me, and shocked me by placing a tiny kiss on my forehead.

“ Faramir!” I sputtered, looking around to see if anyone had noticed. There was no sign that they had – they were all busy with their own plates and conversations.

“ I am sorry,” he said, squeezing my hand under the table. “ I have had too much to drink, I think.”

“ Someday we will be free not to hide such gestures,” I said sadly. Even as I said it I could only picture such freedom for the two of us outside of Gondor and far from the rule of Denethor.

When the dessert plates were taken away, Denethor stood at the end of the table to make a speech. I settled into my chair, accustomed to ignoring the nobles' long speeches about the glory of Gondor and the necessity of war.

“ Friends,” Denethor said, smiling down the table. “ Family,” he added, touching Boromir's shoulder. Faramir shifted, unacknowledged, beside me.

“ Today is a proud day indeed,” Denethor said. “ We have Osgilith, our stronghold on the river, under Gondor's control once again.” There was a pause, and everyone at the table clapped.

“ And we have Boromir to thank for that,” Denethor said proudly, smiling down at his eldest son.

“ I did not do it single handedly father,” Boromir said, prompting the rest of us to laugh lightly.

“ You did not, that is true,” Denethor said with a smile, “ But it was your leadership that brought us to victory. I am so proud of you, my son. I have no doubt that you will rule Gondor wisely when you inherit my position.” There was another pause, and more clapping. Boromir and Denethor both seemed to glow with pride. I wanted to share their happiness, but I could not, because I knew what it was doing to Faramir.

“ The festivities tonight were in honor of all of Gondor's soldiers who did their duties,” Denethor said, looking again down the table. “ But I should like to reward Boromir with something additional, as he was so key in the reclamation of Osgilith.”

I wanted to scream as he spoke, and I got the sense that even Boromir was getting a little aggravated with his father's overestimation of his part in the recapturing of the city. He took a long drink from his cup of beer.

“ Boromir, I give to you the granting of marriage,” Denethor said, and the table came alive with excited whispering. I froze in my seat. “ Marriage,” Denethor continued, “ Which brought me so much happiness in the short time I was allowed with your mother.” I could feel Faramir tense at my side, and Denethor actually glanced down the table at him subconsciously as he spoke.

“ Lord Wendym. and I have discussed it,” Denethor said, and my heart shattered. “ We have decided that you shall have the hand of a girl whose life you saved. A girl, now a woman, whom I think we all noticed your feelings for on the ballroom floor tonight.” The charmed laughter around the table sounded like the cackling of a pack of goblins as I sat sweating in my seat. I could not move my head to look at Faramir or Boromir. I wanted to run from the room, but was sure that I would faint if I stood.

“ Boromir, to you, with the blessing of Lord Wendym. and Lady Ywavine, I give the hand of Lydia of Erandis,” Denethor said, and there was another pause for clapping, which sounded like cracking thunder against the pounding of my head. I looked up, finally, at Denethor in disbelief.

“ May your marriage represent a pledge to keep all of Gondor safe, as Boromir once saved you,” Denethor said, raising his cup to me. The rest of the table, except for Faramir, Boromir and I, raised their cups in congratulations. I looked at Boromir, who appeared to be as shocked as I was, and as silently distraught.

“ Boromir must leave for Rivendell shortly, for an important mission that will bring victory to Gondor once more, I am certain,” Denethor said, his words sounding alien and far away. “ So, we will have the wedding in two days. I should hope to see all of you there. As for tonight's celebration, I am afraid it has come to an end. I wish you all a good night, and I thank you for attending.”

I dared not look at Faramir. I could see his hand on the table, clutching his cup of beer, and his knuckles were white.

I don't remember standing, but all at once I was, and I was surrounded by the young ladies of the court, who were gushing over me and telling me how lucky I was. By the time I came to my senses I looked back to the table, and saw that Faramir had gone. Boromir was standing, dumbfounded, at the other end of the room, being congratulated by a group of men.

“ Excuse me ladies,” Ywavine said, pushing through the group of girls and taking my arm. “ The bride to be must get back to her home now, it is late, and she is very tired. Do not overwhelm her!”

I let Ywavine lead me back to our house, take me inside, and bring me to my room without speaking. She did not try to talk to me, either. At last, when I was sitting on my bed, and she standing in a square of light from the open door, I looked up at her and spoke.

“ How could you?” I asked her, my voice tiny, lost.

“ You will thank us someday,” she said, her tone a cold one that I did not recognize. “ You are a refugee, after all. To secure a marriage to the heir to the stewardship – you should be grateful!”

I said nothing, only stared up at her. It seemed to make her uncomfortable, and she turned and left the room, closing the door behind her. I sat, unmoving on the bed. I could not weep, I could not even think. In a few days I would marry Boromir. The very notion seemed ludicrous.

The hours passed. I heard Wendym. come home, and saw the last of the light in the house go out from under my bedroom door. I waited, and looked out the window at the moon. It was almost time to meet Faramir on the balcony. Would he still come? I wasn't sure if I even wanted him to. I wasn't sure I could look at him without throwing myself off of the balcony in despair.

When the hour came, I stepped out onto the balcony, under the night sky. To my surprise, Faramir was already there. He was leaning on the stone railing, looking out over the land of Gondor. I walked to him without a word. I put my hands on his waist, leaned onto his back, squeezed his midsection, and pinched my eyes closed against his shirt.

Faramir took my hands from his waist, and pulled them apart, lifted them off. He stepped away from me.

“ Faramir,” I cried, the tears coming at last.

“ Do not tempt me,” he said, his voice empty. “ You belong to my brother now.”

“ No!” I shouted, grabbing his arm. “ Do not say that! We can still defy them. This is not my choice. This method of marriage is madness! We will leave Gondor,” I said, rambling. “ We could leave tonight.”

“ I cannot,” Faramir said. “ I cannot support you. I have nothing outside of Gondor. And,” he added, slaying me. “ I will not betray my father.”

“ But he has betrayed YOU!” I screamed, no longer caring if we were caught. He stepped to me quickly and put his hand over my mouth.

“ Do not say that,” he said, biting back tears, holding me fast. “ Do not say that!”

I reached up and ripped his hand from my mouth.

“ He knows that you love me,” I said, furious. “ Everyone does. This is not Boromir's reward. It is your punishment!”

“ It is both,” Faramir said, understanding more than I gave him credit for. “ And we have both earned it.”

“ That is madness,” I said, crying. “ That is your father's madness.”

Faramir collapsed onto the floor of the balcony, then, his head falling into his hands. I dropped down and wrapped my arms around him, crying onto his shoulder.

“ There is nothing we can do,” he said, trembling with rage and sadness.

“ Yes,” I said, shaking him. “ Yes, there is! We can leave. We will find some way to survive, Faramir. We can finally be together!”

“ No,” he said, standing. “ I will not flee from my duty.”

I stayed on the floor, sobbing. There was no answer. He was right. There was nothing we could do.

Nothing WE could do.

“ Then I will leave,” I said, crying. “ I cannot marry someone I do not love.”

“ Please,” Faramir said, bending down to me. “ You cannot leave alone. You would perish. I could not bear it.”

“ Could you bear to see me as your brother's wife?” I asked, and he looked away from me.

“ If that is how I must see you, yes,” he said, “ As long as I can see you.”

He brought his lips to mine, then, and kissed me tenderly.

“ This must be the last time we meet,” he whispered, his bottom lip brushing mine as he spoke. “ I will not betray my brother.”

All I could do was cry, and kiss him. I thought then that it would be our last kiss, and it felt sweet and horrible on my lips.

It would not be the last time we kissed. Not the last time we embraced. Nor would it be the last time we cried, the last time we felt such terrible pain. We would be together again, but only after we had both been changed by immeasurable hardship.