The Shining Path of Peace – Linda Hoyland.
"Forgiving is rediscovering the shining path of peace that at first you thought others took away when they betrayed you. ~Dodinsky.
PG for mention of character death and minor violence.
Disclaimer: These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
With thanks to Raksha, Deandra, and Virtuella for editorial assistance and thanks to Dreamflower for suggesting the title.
Written for the Teitho "Betrayal and Forgiveness" contest where it was placed first.
Ill chosen words can lead to conflict and shatter the peace that Aragorn and Faramir hold dear.
The shadows were starting to lengthen, but the day was still warm. Aragorn and his Steward sat beneath an oak in the gardens engrossed in a discussion concerning the nature of the Simarils. Their wives had already gone inside to put the younger children to bed before dressing for the evening meal. Elbeth and Elestelle were out for the day, visiting Lady Adiva and her children. Eldarion and Elboron were playing on the nearby lawns.
"I'm tired of hearing about your boring uncle!" Eldarion suddenly yelled.
"My uncle wasn't boring! He saved the Hobbits from Caradhras and from the Orcs in Moria! He died a hero!" shouted Elboron. "He was the greatest captain of Gondor ever!"
"What about Captain Thorongil?"
"Uncle Boromir was a better swordsman than he was!"
"My father said your precious Uncle was a traitor!"
"My uncle wasn't a traitor! He was a great hero!" yelled Elboron. "Take it back!"
"I won't. Are you calling my father a liar? Aghh!" There was a resounding thud and Eldarion yelped with pain.
The Simarils forgotten, the two fathers leapt to their feet and ran in the direction of the commotion. They waved aside the guards who had also come running. They found Eldarion rubbing his hand against a scratched and bloodied nose while Elboron prepared to swing another punch.
Faramir grabbed hold of his son. "Elboron, what is the meaning of this?" he said sternly. "Why did you strike Eldarion?"
"Eldarion said bad things about Uncle Boromir!" said Elboron, his young face flushed with anger.
"Only because he would not stop boasting," said Eldarion.
"I have told you not to fight with boys younger than yourself," said Aragorn. "Are you much hurt?" He was already examining Eldarion's bloodied face.
"Father, I didn't hit him back. I wouldn't hit a little boy. No, I'm not much hurt; it is just a bloody nose."
"Your nose is not broken," Aragorn pronounced after a careful examination. "You need to apply a cold compress to stop it swelling. I am most disappointed in your conduct, Eldarion. You should not slander Lord Boromir's memory."
"But I heard you say he betrayed Frodo," Eldarion protested. "I didn't make it up."
"We will talk about that later. You are to eat in your rooms tonight, rather than joining us for dinner," said Aragorn sternly. "I will decide how you should be punished later." Aragorn marched the two boys inside. Faramir lingered in the garden, a grim expression in his usually gentle eyes.
Aragorn, Arwen and Éowyn were frowning as they picked at their dinner an hour or so later. The baked trout was delicious and perfectly cooked, but their minds were not on their meal. Not only were they concerned about their sons' behaviour, but also that Faramir had failed to appear for the meal.
"He sent his apologies to Lady Arwen and begged to be excused," said Éowyn.
"Did he give no other reason?" asked Aragorn. "I cannot understand it at all. He was especially looking forward to this evening's meal. I told him we were serving his favourite dish; freshly caught trout. Maybe he is unwell? He seemed in perfect health and spirits but an hour ago, though. I will go and see how he fares after the meal."
"He said he desired to be alone," said Éowyn. "His expression was like a thundercloud! I can only think he is distressed over the boys' conduct."
"Have you decided what you are going to do?" asked Arwen.
"I thought making Elboron apologise and miss going riding for the rest of our stay," said Éowyn. She nibbled a piece of trout.
"That sounds an apt punishment," said Aragorn. "Does Faramir agree?"
Éowyn looked uncomfortable. "He said he intended to have a serious talk with Elboron about how violence was wrong, other than on the battlefield in defence of an honourable cause. He did not even seem enthusiastic when I suggested that Elboron ought to apologise to Eldarion for injuring him."
"Faramir loved his brother very much," said Aragorn. "No doubt he perceives him as defending his family honour. I have no idea what came over Eldarion to accuse Boromir of being a traitor. And to claim that the idea came from me too! I think I should have a word with Elboron as well as Eldarion to ensure that there is no misunderstanding."
"An excellent idea," said Éowyn. "He venerates the memory of Boromir, as a brave hero he can admire, all the more so after what happened to Lord Denethor."
"What has Faramir told him concerning Boromir's death?" asked Aragorn.
"Simply that he died bravely in battle. He intends to tell him the full story when he is a little older. It is a difficult subject for Faramir. He did Elbeth the truth about her father but he rarely speaks of Boromir's death unless he must."
"I have told the full story only to Faramir, Gandalf, Frodo, Sam, and my lady," said Aragorn. "Now it seems that the time has come for our sons to know too."
"Maybe it would be best if you were to tell him," said Éowyn. "After all, you were with Boromir when he died."
"I will speak to Elboron as soon as we have finished the meal," said Aragorn. "Then I will talk to Eldarion before bedtime. I have thought of an especially cruel punishment for him. Do not look so alarmed, vanimelda, you should know me better than that. I have decided he shall study Quenya verbs for an extra hour a day until he has learned better manners."
Arwen and Éowyn both laughed. "I will call for dessert now," said Arwen. "This dish is made of exotic fruits imported from Harad. I thought we could see how we liked it first at a private dinner before considering serving it at a state banquet."
Aragorn decided he would formally summon Elboron to his study to emphasise the gravity of the talk he intended to have with the boy. As soon as the tentative knock came at the door, he bade Elboron enter in a stern tone of voice.
The boy stood in front of his desk shuffling his feet nervously.
"I believe you have something to say to me?"
"Mother said to tell you that I'm sorry I hit the heir to the throne."
"But are you sorry you hit Eldarion? It matters not whether he is the heir to the Reunited Kingdom or a scullery boy. You should never strike the first blow."
"I'm sorry that Eldarion's nose bled, but he told horrible lies about my Uncle Boromir." Elboron's tone was indignant.
Aragorn's tone softened. "I fear there was some truth in what Eldarion said, though your uncle was no traitor." He rose from behind his desk and went over to a couch. He beckoned Elboron to come and sit beside him. "You know the story of Sauron's evil magic Ring, do you not?" he asked, once Elboron was seated.
"Of course I do, Sire. Every boy knows how the brave Hobbits, Frodo and Sam, destroyed it and saved all of Middle-earth. Uncle Boromir went on the quest to destroy the Ring as did you, Sire."
"You know your history well, Elboron, but did you also know just how terrible a thing the Ring was? There were few who could resist the magic contained within it. Your father was one of those few. Your Uncle Boromir was not as strong of will as your sire; and the Ring had exerted its evil force upon his mind for many weeks. He found it hard to understand why we had decided to destroy it rather than use its magic to save Middle-earth .The Ring tormented and tempted him until one day he tried to take it from Frodo by force, to bear it in the defence of Gondor that he loved so dearly. Frodo fortunately managed to escape and your uncle was filled with sorrow for what he had done. Just afterwards, we were attacked. He died bravely fighting to try to save Merry and Pippin and slew a great number of his enemies. The Uruk Hai shot him with many arrows. I came upon him just before he died. He was so sorry that he had tried to take the Ring. I told him to be at peace. "
Elboron said nothing but stared wide-eyed at the King. "So Uncle Boromir did do a bad thing?" he said at last.
"Yes, he did," Aragorn said softly. "But which of us has not at some time done something we should not have done? I forgave your uncle, as did Frodo. Do not think any the less of your Uncle Boromir because the Ring tempted him beyond endurance. Your Uncle swore no oath to the Ringbearer, but the Ring caused your Uncle Boromir to betray the trust that Frodo had placed in him."
Elboron again lapsed into silence for several moments before saying, "Why did my father not tell me about Uncle Boromir's death?"
"He did not yet deem you old enough to understand."
"I'm eight," said Elboron. "I'm almost grown up."
"So you are," said Aragorn. "Grown up enough to tell Eldarion in the morning that you are sorry you hit him and old enough to know in future not to strike the first blow. Not only is it wrong to strike someone, other than in self- defence , but also next time you could provoke a bigger boy into hurting you badly."
"I won't do it again, Sire, I promise."
"Then go now to your father and mother and accept whatever punishment they decide for you."
Yes, Sire, they are really angry with me."
"That is because you let them down today with your behaviour, but they will forgive you now that you are sorry for what you did." Aragorn smiled and lightly patted the boy on the shoulder. "Off you go!"
"Thank you, Sire." Elboron thankfully scuttled away.
Aragorn sat for a few moments lost in memories. Often he wondered how matters might have turned out had Boromir lived. Would Denethor's heir have accepted his claim to Gondor's throne and worked alongside him as Steward as comfortably as Faramir did? He and Boromir had respected each other, but that respect had never advanced into the friendship he shared with the others of the Fellowship. Would Denethor still be alive if his beloved older son had not fallen? There were so many things that might have turned out differently. Aragorn shook his head. It was pointless to dwell on what might have been. Far better to trust that the Higher Powers had allowed everything to happen as it was meant to. He could not wish for a better Steward or more devoted friend than Faramir. He could only hope that eventually their sons might become as good friends as their sires were.
Aragorn roused himself from his reverie and bade a servant tell Eldarion to come to his father's study.
Aragorn's son and heir had washed his face and changed into clean clothing. A swollen and bruised nose was the only evidence that remained of the day's events. Unlike Elboron, Eldarion did not shuffle his feet, but he looked uneasy and bore a shamefaced expression.
Before Aragorn could speak, Eldarion said, "Ada, I'm sorry. I should know better than to argue with little boys."
"You should know better than to insult anyone's dead kinfolk," Aragorn said sternly. "Would you have folk think that your mother and I taught you no manners? What manner of a king will you make if you do not display courtesy to all? When you wear the silver crown, you will encounter many who will seek to provoke you. You must learn to ignore them, or respond with a soft answer. Otherwise the land could be forever at war!"
"You have both always taught me to be polite to everyone, Sire," Eldarion replied. "It was just that Elboron provoked me beyond endurance claiming that Lord Boromir was a greater swordsman than you are. I could not suffer him to think you a lesser man than a traitor!"
"Lord Boromir was no traitor and I do not want to ever hear you say that again, Eldarion." Aragorn said sternly.
"But he betrayed Frodo's trust and tried to take the Ring for himself!" Eldarion protested.
"He did," Aragorn replied. "That does not make Boromir a traitor, though, because of one evil act which he bitterly regretted. Tell me, Eldarion, what you think of our forebear, Isildur?"
"He was a great hero who saved a fruit from the White Tree," said Eldarion, his eyes shining. "His noble deed has always been one of my favourite stories."
"This is the same Isildur who refused to destroy the One Ring when he had the chance. Much sorrow could have been avoided had he done so."
"Isildur made one mistake, which he later repented of, but he was still a great hero!" Eldarion protested. "You told me that no man could long resist the power of the Ring."
"And so it was with Boromir," Aragorn said gravely. "Do you understand now what I am trying to tell you?"
Eldarion thought for a long moment before nodding. "Yes, I think so."
"I found such matters hard to understand when I was but twelve years old too," said Aragorn. "There are few who have ever lived who have not made grave mistakes nor faced temptation. If a good man repents of his folly, he should be forgiven and his memory honoured. If Elboron should annoy you in future, just walk away from him and remember he is younger than you are."
"I will, Sire and I'm sorry. Naneth was distressed about my bloodied nose and it grieves me to upset her."
"Tomorrow, I want you to apologise to Elboron for insulting his uncle's memory. Then I want you to spend an extra hour a day improving your Quenya until I am certain you have learnt your lesson."
Eldarion looked utterly downcast at this news, but simply replied. "Yes, Ada. I want you to be proud of me."
Aragorn kissed his son's brow. "I am proud of you, ion nîn," he said. "We all do foolish things on occasion. Go to bed now. I will see you at breakfast."
As soon as Eldarion closed the door behind him, Aragorn heaved a deep sigh of relief. Boyish fights caused a great deal of trouble, but at least they were easily resolved. It seemed that Faramir was much distressed by his son's conduct, but no child could be expected to always behave perfectly. Once the boys apologised to each other on the morrow, all would surely be quickly forgotten and forgiven.
The next morning, the boys exchanged somewhat awkward apologies in front of their parents. After the sunshine of the day before, the weather had turned chill and a thin drizzle was falling, so there would be no playing outside that day. Within the hour, the boys were happily engrossed in a complex game with their toy soldiers, which were divided into two opposing armies, each trying to outwit the other with complicated battle manoeuvres. Aragorn, who was supposed to be in his study concentrating on state papers, found himself lingering in the solar instead and watching the boys' game. He noticed Eldarion was playing using battle moves he himself had been taught at Rivendell, while Elboron was using some strategies that Aragorn recalled from his days as Captain Thorongil. The King wondered if Faramir had played similar games with his brother and looked around the room for his Steward, but Faramir was nowhere to be found.
Faramir had joined the others for breakfast, but his expression was grim and he had said very little. He announced that he and his family would to return to Ithilien after the noonday meal. Éowyn had looked taken aback at these tidings. There was clearly something amiss with Faramir. The Steward was not himself at all. Aragorn decided to go in search of him. He did not have to look very hard as Faramir was in the rain- drenched garden, pacing the lawn like a caged beast.
"Is something wrong?" Aragorn enquired. "You are shunning my company and I sense that you are veiling your thoughts from me."
"I am well enough," Faramir said shortly.
"You are clearly not yourself, my friend," said Aragorn. "Why not come inside out of the rain and join the boys? They are devising battle plans with their toy soldiers. I was wondering if you used to play that game with Boromir."
Something inside Faramir suddenly appeared to snap. "Do not mention my brother's name!" he cried. "Since you betray and dishonour his memory in such a fashion, I would rather that you did not speak of him at all!"
Aragorn gazed dumbfounded at his usually even- tempered Steward. At last, he said, "I do not know what you mean. I have always respected Boromir's memory."
"Small respect you show him in calling him a traitor!" Faramir retorted. "How many others now speak of him thus?"
"I did no such thing. You should know me better than that."
"I heard it from Eldarion's own lips, as did you. I trusted you when you promised that Boromir's name would remain untarnished."
"And so it has. Before I spoke to our sons last night, I have spoken of what passed between him and Frodo to none, save the others in the Fellowship, yourself, and my lady." Aragorn's puzzled expression suddenly cleared. "Ah that is what Eldarion must have overheard. I was talking to Arwen the other night about how the Enemy's Ring wrought its wiles upon us all. I told her how it was an evil magic indeed that had caused Boromir to betray Frodo's trust. I then went on to tell her how it tried to tempt me too to abandon my duty."
"You were tempted by it?" Faramir sounded incredulous.
Aragorn nodded gravely. "I was only able to resist as Master Elrond had warned me of its power since my youth. I am sorry, my friend. The conversation was not meant for Eldarion's ears. I meant no disrespect to your brother."
Faramir's shoulders suddenly slumped. "It is I who should apologise. I should not have spoken to you, thus. Boromir was weak and unable to resist temptation. I so desired that Elboron should have at least one kinsman he could admire after how his grandsire deserted his post and met a most ignominious end."
Aragorn placed a comforting hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Elboron has many kin to admire, not least yourself and Éowyn. His great grandsire, Ecthelion, was a great man of wisdom; his grandmother was the gentlest and fairest of ladies and his uncle was a noble and courageous man. Then what finer example could there be than Imrahil, a wise and just prince? Why not stay here in Minas Tirith for a few more days and show Elboron some of the buildings your illustrious forebears constructed here?
Faramir laughed. "Elboron would think I had not forgiven him for fighting if I made him look at ancient buildings."
"Just stay a while longer then so our families can simply enjoy each other's company. Then I at least will be forgiven!"
"We will stay gladly," said Faramir. "None save a fool forgoes the company of friends. Or so Boromir used to say."
"A wise saying of your brother's that we would do well to act upon," said Aragorn. "I remember him sharing some of his sayings with the Hobbits."
Their thoughts again in harmony the two men walked side by side along the path engrossed in conversation. Overhead, the sun finally broke through the clouds and illuminated them with its rays.