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Breathe - By fileg

Did you remember to…

It was the last thing he heard as the cold dark closed over his head and the swirling water embraced him and tried to carry him away in its arms, making his body part of the eddy and flow of the river.

Fighting for breath, he struggled to right himself, finding no bottom, no purchase. He was not given to panic, usually keeping a calm heart and a cool head in times of danger… but someone had forgotten to tell his lungs, and they screamed and felt like they would burst.

And then his brother's voice, his brother's hands supporting him, sunlight and air. "Did you remember to breathe?" the voice teased, laughing to cover its own moment of anxiety.

"Don't be so smug, Faramir," he sputtered miserably, shaking water out of his eyes and nose, "I didn't have time to remember anything."

The older boy was just turned sixteen and liked to think of himself as a man. He had been taking the opportunity to lord it over the younger as he sat proudly on his birthday present, a frisky grey gelding the same steely color as their eyes. A very noble picture he made, too -- until the ill--timed and unlucky bee sting that sent Fanya bucking forward, tumbling him into the bend of the river where his little brother had been happily -- and idly -- paddling about in the water.

A long quick dive brought Faramir to his brother's aid, and he grasped the strong shoulders and pushed for the surface. They floundered together the few strokes it took for them to be able to stand. Measuring the short distance with his eyes only embarrassed the older again.

The younger was eleven, still a colt, all long leg and arm. He admired the strength that rippled over his brother's frame, wanted badly to match it, but even with daily sword practice he still felt that it would never come. He was learning instead to look for his own skills, the things that made him feel a glow of secret pride. Swimming and the bow were two things he could excel at even if he never muscled up like Boromir.

They stood laughing, holding each other's shoulders, shaking their long wet hair back from their faces.

"I'm sorry it took me so long to come to your aid. I had forgotten you can't swim." There was still a part of Faramir that believed his brother could do anything.

The older growled to cover his humiliation. "When would I have time to learn such a frivolous pleasure? Swimming is not a soldier's skill."

"It is in Dol Amroth!" laughed Faramir, who was newly returned from a stay with his uncle. "It will be in Ithilien, I am sure! It would have helped you today, Boromir." He looked at his older brother with barely concealed concern. "You should put down your sword sometimes -- you are too single--minded!"

"Me!" Boromir nearly slipped from his brother's grip on the slick river stones as he startled at the comment. "You are the one who always has his nose in a book!"

"Maybe, but I read about many different things. I feel like the whole world comes pouring off the page into my dreams. I will never be tired of wanting to know."

He shook his dark head. "There is more to life than war, brother. And more to you than the sword." They looked at each other for a moment, seeing as only brothers can see, into each other's hearts. Then they grinned and slapped each other's arms companionably.

"Come on," said Boromir, "I am freezing. Fanya has my cloak, that should be dry." They slipped an arm around each other's shoulders and supported each other up the slippery bank as they, unthinking, did in all things.

"Faramir," the older asked quietly as he stripped off his wet clothes, "would you have time to teach me to swim? It seems like a useful skill."

"If you can make the time in your schedule, I would be happy to."



It was the last thing he heard as the cold dark closed over his head and the swirling water embraced him and tried to carry him away in its arms, making his body part of the eddy and flow of the river.

He struck out for the surface, his strong arms knowing with unconscious grace how to handle the dance and battle that was water unbound. He was a fine strong swimmer, but tonight he would need all his skill.

As he shook the water from his streaming eyes, he tried to orient himself in the dark pools of the night river. Debris from the bridge bobbed along with him, or jutted dangerously out of the water, or hid treacherously below the oily gleam. On the eastern shore, he could see the many small fires that consumed the city that had once been Gondor's jewel, the citadel of the stars.

He looked around in panic, and felt two strong hands take his shoulders from behind. "Did you remember to breathe?" his brother's voice coughed next to his ear.

"Of course I did, Faramir," he sputtered, watching his brother's raven hair float on the inky water. "Swimming is a soldier's skill."

They slipped an arm around each other's shoulders, and supported each other up the bank, as they did in all things.

Part Two: Every Breath
[February, 3019]

The March nights were still cold and, though wounded, Ithilien reached with longing for spring.

The captain was all but invisible in the gloom, his dark--dappled cloak a pattern of moonlight through leaves, his dark hair a shadow in the gathering of shadows that haunted this place. He might have been a tumbled pile of stones that vaguely resembled a man. Only his eyes, silvered in the grey dark, spoke of his presence -- and even they seemed a reflection of stars on dark swirling water. He scanned the great river for any sign of movement, any hint of danger. He perched and waited, restless, the Raven of Ithilien, feeling that he was watching for death.

Lately his dreams left him wakeful, mind racing, thinking it best not to waste a precious second he might regret tomorrow. Instead of sleeping he would walk among his men, study their faces, and try to remember how to breathe -- tasting every breath, in and out. Sleep might come all too soon.

He had been watching the full moon dance on the black water for some time before he remembered there should be only a pale gleam tonight. Something flickered like foxfire in the stream. He stepped through the reeds and waded into the swirling current, mesmerized, powerless, yet unable to feel alarmed.

It proved to be a sleek grey boat with a prow that reared like the neck of a stallion as it turned and came toward him. Inside, it was full of clear bright water, brighter than moonlight, yet casting no light into the surrounding dark.

In the boat lay the Blade of Gondor, and he was broken.

Faramir's heart hammered at the sight. He raised his hand to touch the familiar face, but was unable to defy the unearthly light. Among the wounds, above his brother's heart he could see the rent where an arrow had delivered its deadly sting.

"Boromir!" he whispered. "I heard your call. Did you fall so close -- so close to home? One long dive and I might have reached you."

A great sadness stretched its hand toward the captain's heart; he felt the touch of the icy fingers, but to his surprise it did not clench its cruel fist. He understood that Boromir was dead, yet looking into the light he was drawn to the peace and beauty that transfigured the warrior's face. His brother smiled as though his closed eyes focused now only upon the stars.

There had been a time when his hands had the power to pull his brother back from Anduin's grasp. She had released him for only a little while -- yet it had been time enough for his brother to learn to be at ease in the water. Boromir no longer needed his aid.

His brother, who he had feared would live his life only for war, had somehow found peace. Now he had come to share the knowledge of his final gift.

Too soon, the river called again for what was hers, and the little boat moved back into the current of the stream. The cold brightness closed over his brother and embraced him, held him in the silver circle of its arms, making his body part of the eddy and flow of the river.

Faramir watched the light as it was swallowed up by distance and darkness, leaving him once more a shadow in the gloom, hoping that peace was a gift he would someday share.

"Don't forget to breathe," he whispered.

As his brother slipped away, he turned and scrambled up the bank, grasping at reeds to support himself.


Part Three: Peace Like A River
[February 3020]

As I rode up river from the Osgiliath garrison to the place where I had watched the water a year ago, I found myself grateful a hundred times for the comfort of the big grey horse who asked no questions, but bore me steadily on.

I had not known when I set out how hard this was going to prove to be. Thankfully, in the end it was not as hard as I had feared. As I rode, my anxiety seemed to fall away, and the woods of Ithilien, bursting into unfettered bloom for the first time in my lifetime, lifted my spirit to blossom as well. I began to feel more secure about the ritual I had envisioned, as though a sense of peace flowed into me from the river where I had discovered him at peace at last.

I found the outcropping where I had been accustomed to perch, and spread my cloak about me, mantling, watching blackbirds sing in the reeds. Anduin, too, sang a new song, a song of reconstruction, a song of restoration. There was still a descant of watchfulness, and a quiet undertone of pain, but the river had become a healer and was doing her best to wash us clean of what we had endured… and of what we had brought upon ourselves.

I settled against the rock, took up my tablet and began to sketch.

I started with the basic designs for the building of my new home in Emyn Arnen. I sketched the designs that Gimli had created for the new gates of the White City. I added a small profile of the ranger who was now king, wearing the ceremonial seabird wings and smiling. One after another, pictures flowed onto the page. They seemed so small, these drawings -- and then so big somehow... must be the insecurity of the artist.

Last of all, I drew the tower at sunset, with the white banner of the stewards flying once more, and above it the black banner with the white tree and the stars -- just as they had flown together three days ago when the city remembered him as their own.

It was getting dark now, and I took the small candle I had brought, lit it, and set it upon the rock. I took up my small brush and began to write down the side of the page. Tonight, he belonged only to me.

I wrote of peace and change; I wrote of family and friends, news from home and the lands where he had traveled. I wrote of my sorrow at our separation, and of my fearful joy when I saw the serenity on his beautiful face. I admitted to my envy that night, and affirmed that I had found my own path now.

I told him at the end that we missed him, and ended with my love, and a small post--script that had Merry and Pippin known what I was going to do this night, they would certainly have sent theirs, as they remembered him often and fondly.

Then I sat and watched the river dance away toward the sea until the stars began to flourish overhead. I waited for the swordsman to rise, and when I could see his golden belt above the water, I rose as well.

Leaning on the rocks, I folded the letter point to point, then over and down, smiling as I fashioned it into a little boat. I flattened its center, and setting the candle within, I waded into the stream and let it go.

I knew it would not reach the place where his boat had gone, but it would last long enough to carry its flickering light away down the river and around the bend toward Osgiliath. That was enough for me, for now. Anduin would do the rest.

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