The Coursing Match

by Varda

'You will lose this wager, Boromir' said Faramir to his brother with a smile.
'Never! My hound is the better of the two, Black Hawk never loses! You will
be the poorer today...' and Boromir spurred his great black charger on across
the grasslands of the river plain to where the huntsmen waited for the princes of
Gondor to signal the start of the coursing.

Faramir sighed and urged his bay mare after his brother. Boromir always had to
win. Faramir was used to his brother's headstrong ways and was not annoyed
by them, and yet...
Always, he had to win. Especially when their father was watching.

Faramir did not care. For him it was enough to be away from the duties and the
confines of the tower and the city and breath the free air of the sweet
grasslands. And he had not had time to give his gentle mare Rua a good run out
of the stables for many days. Whistling he put her to the canter and drew up to
Boromir.

'Your dog is all legs and no brains, Boromir. Trust you to pick something
showy'
Boromir roared with laughter.
'You mean I chose my greyhound to match my horse, both black?' Faramir
nodded vigorously. Boromir laughed again.
'I might not be the scholar Gandalf has schooled you to be but even I am not
that stupid, brother'. He reined in his horse closer to that of Faramir and said in
a low voice, so that the huntsmen coming behind would not hear;
'I chose him because he is a winner, and I am only interested in winning'

Faramir looked at his brother and for a moment there was hurt in his eyes. The
argument that they had had over Faramir's dream and the errand to Rivendell
was still fresh in Faramir's mind. He had never resisted Boromir before but this
time he had argued, and in their father's presence.
'Boromir, the dream came first to me, the errand, whatever it may bring, should
come to me too...'
'No! I am the eldest, it is mine by right'
'But the dream!'
'It came to me too, Faramir. Perhaps it will come to everyone! But it matters
not'
Boromir had stood in front of Faramir and said.
'The errand is mine. I claim it and will suffer no-one else to have it'.
Faramir said nothing, but behind them he saw his father's eyes gleam with
satisfaction. Foreboding , like a black cloud, came over him, but he knew
neither his father nor Boromir would listen. He gave in.

'Winning, Faramir' said Boromir, with that same gleam of satisfaction.
'And today your Grey Lady will lose to my Black Hawk. Prepare to hand over
your money!'

They drew up where the huntsmen and beaters were gathered, looking out over
the windblown plain. Venturing even this short distance from the city was ever
more dangerous, so the only spectators at the hunt were armed noblemen of
Gondor. No ladies or townsfolk risked encountering an orc foray and the river,
with all its perils, lay beneath a thin morning mist. As they watched the summer
sun rose above the peaks of the White Mountains and Boromir called
'Come, let us begin!'

Denethor, a king in all but name, kept hawks and hounds as his forefathers had,
although the chance to hunt, and even the desire had long faded as war
encroached on Minas Tirith and the Steward had confined himself more and
more to his narrow high tower.

Those huntsmen and kennelmen too old to go to war kept the bloodlines true
and in the way of men in love with the chase found ways to inform the
Steward's sons that there was a litter from their best greyhound dam to be
inspected.

Denethor one day wondered where his sons were, and the guards gave him
blank looks, but Faramir and Boromir were crouched in deep wheat straw
arguing over the puppies.

A sturdy, jet-black dog puppy made its way unconcernedly across its
littermates to lick Boromir's hand.
'This is the one for me!' said Boromir, taking it up 'The leader of the pack!'
Faramir studied the rest. The dam was the fastest ever known, Luas, the Swift,
and in the litter was a pup just like her. Faramir picked her up. She was unafraid
of him, chewing his fingers and peering up into his eyes. Faramir stroked her
and held her up.
'This one is the winner!'
'Winner!' said Boromir 'You could not pick a winner, in dogs or men'.
Faramir put the puppy down. He was not smiling.
'Sometimes you go too far, Boromir' His brother laughed.
'Some must lead, and others follow, little brother'.
'Very well' said Faramir coldly, for once moved to anger. 'We will see, when
the time comes, which was the better choice. Yours or mine'
Boromir still smiled.
'Yes, we will see....' He said grimly. There was no sport for Boromir;
everything was as serious as war.

Faramir felt keenly the injustice of Boromir's words. He was a leader of men,
just as his brother was, and his men would follow him into a dragon's mouth.
Gandalf had shown him there were more important things than winning.

Skylarks were rising from the summer meadows. The smell of freedom on the
wind exhilarated the two men after the confines of the walled city. Despite their
secrecy a small crowd of nobles and warriors had gathered, as glad to see the
princes of Gondor together as to see the hunt. Boromir wore his hooded black
cloak with the rich embroidery. His great black shield with the silver boss was
slung on his back and he swept the horizon with his keen grey eyes. Beside him
his younger brother wore a red cloak cast back, like Boromir's, to leave his
sword hilt free. His fair face was pale in the morning cold and his long tawny
hair stirred in the breeze. Boromir was laughing but Faramir looked worried and
distracted.

The judge, on his white horse, bowed to the princes and motioned the huntsmen
to bring forward the hounds, which had been carried out from the city on the
saddle bows of the men to save their strength. Boromir's, Seabhac Dubh,
looked every way in fierce anticipation of the hunt. Faramir's, Liath, Grey Lady,
waited calmly as the huntsmen removed their jewelled collars and put on the red
and white bands. Her coat was white with silver brindle markings, like a
mountainside dappled with melting snow.

Beaters walked afar through the wet grass and soon hares started up and ran
this way and that. The huntsmen held the dogs, watching for the signal, then the
judge let go the scarf and they let slip the hounds and away they went, swifter
than the wind, overtaking the skylarks, the black and the grey, merging in a blur
of dappled light and dark.

Cries of encouragement rose from the crowd. Boromir stood up in the stirrups
to get a better view. The hare, aware of her pursuers, fled straight then jinked to
the side and back again. Boromir's dog brushed against Liath and knocked her
off her course. She fell behind. Faramir groaned to himself. But Seabhac
bounded forward rashly, seeking to bowl over the hare, which sensed him
coming and jinked again, and the greyhound lurched against open air and was
flung headlong onto the dewy grass. Liath ran past him and stretched out in
pursuit of the hare, but she had a headstart now and was away, and even swift
Liath could not catch her, but she went first over the mark.

Faramir heaved a sigh of relief. He would not admit it to these men, but he
never felt greater delight than when the hare escaped. And Liath had won!

The judge bowed to the princes and held up Faramir's colours. Faramir bowed
in acknowledgment of the applause and turned to Boromir. His brother,
laughing, pulled out a purse of black velvet embroidered with silver and placed
it in Faramir's outstretched hand. 'Well done, little brother. Your dog is the
better after all!' He was generous and good natured in defeat. Faramir thought
with a pang of sadness that his beloved brother was never more noble than
when he had been beaten.

Great black hounds poured down the forest slope, baying. Beyond them in the
trees a great stag wavered in and out of the slanting winter sunlight then turned
to confront his pursuers.
'Whose hounds are these?' thought Faramir 'and where are the huntsmen?' The
hounds bared great tusks and Faramir recoiled with horror; these were no
hounds, they were a great swarm of orcs.

Suddenly unable to move Faramir looked about wildly. Where was he? These
were no woods of Gondor. But the orcs seemed not to see him, but to be bent
on their quarry, and Faramir looked and it was no stag but his brother, Boromir,
at bay below him in the sunlit woods.

All about him were orcs, snarling and baying, but he kept them away with his
long bright sword. Faramir wanted more than life itself to help him but could not
move. As he watched the orcs, tired of the slaughter, drew off and Faramir
saw, between him and his brother, a great orc, clad in dark armour and bearing
the sign of a white hand, draw a bow stronger than a crossbow and shoot
Boromir. Faramir saw with horrified eyes the shaft sink into his side and his
brother fall to his knees.

Faramir woke screaming and looked about wildly; he was in his room in the
citadel. Dawn was creeping through the window, spreading a grey light over the
floor. From somewhere below in the city came the sound of a dog howling. No,
it was not a dog, but a greyhound, it was their strange almost human wail.
Faramir sat up, he was shaking. It was only a dream. But he knew it was not
only a dream. Looking down he saw lying on the floor, how it had been cast
there he could not tell, the black velvet purse he had won from Boromir. The
gold coins were scattered on the flags. Faramir rose and went out without
picking them up.