by Sasjah Miller

The day before the tournament the Steward of Gondor called his two sons to his private chambers where he was enjoying his usual late meal.

The two brothers arrived, shy as always in the presence of their forbidding father, but Denethor smiled at them fondly, offering them an apple and bade them to sit at his feet.

He looked down at his two sons and affectionately ruffled his eldest son's hair, tousling the blonde mane messing it up even more than usual.

"And, my boy, are you ready to defend your title tomorrow in the sword fighting games? You won so beautifully last year, I would feel sad to see you lose the title to some lowborn soldier's son, useful as they may be."

Boromir looked up at his father, and grinned. "I will do you proud, my Lord. I have practiced four hours a day for the past months and the Valar providing I will win the tournament again, for the glory of Gondor."

He glanced sideways at his little brother, who looked up with shining eyes, clearly wanting to speak.

"And so will Faramir, my Lord. He is the best archer there is, he has even bested boys at least five years older in friendly contest and he is glad to be able to enter the tournament at last this year. Don't you, Faramir?"

Faramir nodded mutely, looking up at his father, whose face had suddenly darkened.

"Pah, archery. The least of all martial arts. I have no particular love for those who stand safely on the turrets of our proud city and fire their arrows at their enemies from a great distance while our proud foot soldiers and horsemen ride out to meet their foes in the flesh. So like you, Faramir, to take up such a devious craft and excel in it by nature."

Boromir looked stricken by the sudden change in his father's mood and sought to redress the balance once more.

"But Father, you told us once that you were saved from certain death by the aim of Thorongil, who shot the enemy who nearly killed you with a well placed arrow from the other side of the battle field and that you didn't know how to thank him for it? Doesn't that prove that archers have their use and are worthy of the same praise as swordsmen?"

But Denethor made a derogatory sound, as if to will the memory of such a shameful rescue away.

"It meant nothing, a steady hand and a keen eye was all there was to it. Thorongil would have shown his true quality if he had taken up his sword and come to me to deliver me in person from my assailant."

The boys fell silent, sensing that this was an old wound that did not need to be reopened by them, and that they better try to leave their father's rooms as soon as possible, so he would not take out their foul mood on them, and on Faramir in particular.

Boromir bowed his head, rising on one knee, and spoke, "May we bid you goodnight, my Lord, so we may both prepare for our tournament tomorrow? Faramir, after all, is only ten years old and his first tournament will cost him, so he needs his sleep."

Denethor spat. "Why do you always protect him, Boromir? There is no need, there are people enough to protect the little boy from harm and overly strenuous exercise. Who urged him to take up archery in stead of the honest sword, like you did, my boy? The wizard, perhaps? It would be just like him to do so. Keep his favourite pupil out of harm's way so he could corrupt his mind even more. Yes, Faramir should be off to bed, but not because he will be entering his first archery contest tomorrow. If he enters the tournament it will be in the sword fighting competitions, or not at all."

"But Father!" the boys started to protest, but fell silent as they saw the look of barely hidden glee on their sire's face.

"Silence!" he said. "I will hear no more of it. Swords or nothing, Faramir, and since you are too young to enter the sword fighting competition and as you clearly have only practiced archery, you will be your brother's aide tomorrow. It is important that he should win the contest and you will help him prepare for it. If he fails, I will hold you accountable for his failure."

The stricken boys looked at each other, knowing that nothing could be done about it. Their father had spoken and it was their lot to obey.

"Now, off to bed with you, Boromir, you have a long day ahead of you, and you need to be prepared. Faramir, go to the weapons room and polish your brother's armor until the White Tree gleams so he can wear it with pride tomorrow."

The audience over, the boys retreated from their father's room and huddled together in the corridor, whispering about the unfair treatment their sire had given Faramir.

Boromir pulled his little brother close, who wept silently from the unfairness of it all.

"I'm so sorry, Faramir," Boromir whispered, "I don't know why he hates archers so much, but there's nothing to be done about this year. We will get through tomorrow together, and after that I will teach you sword fighting so we can enter the tournament together next year. And together we will make our father proud. Dry your tears, little brother, I /know/ you are the best archer there is, and I'm sure that you will become as good a swordsman as I am. I promise you that. Now, let's go to the weapons room and polish that armor until it blinks as brightly as the sun. You didn't think I'd let you do that all by yourself, didn't you?

Faramir looked up into his brother's face, his eyes still glistening as took Boromir's hand and walked with him towards the weapons room. "No, I knew you wouldn't, Bori. Your're the best brother a boy could ever have. And next year, next year, I will beat you in the sword fight. You can count on it."

The End