Ten Thousand Years will not Suffice

by Agape4Rivendell

31  32  33  34  35  36  37  38  39  40 
Parts 31 - 40

25. 
Third Age - 3017 


31.

When next he awoke, Boromir found that the pain in his gut far outweighed the pain in his head. He kept as still as possible, waiting for his senses to tell him where he was, who he was with, and what was happening. He knew he must still be in the cave for he could feel the cold floor under his back. He could remember nothing after he began hacking at the Orcs with his sword. He did not have long to wait.

“Fresh meat. That’s what he is, fresh meat and ya’ll not be touchin’ him till I says. We head further up the mountain as soon as night falls. The others have all been cut and put in sacks; we’ll have enough meat to last for a week or more. Then, we kill this one. If’n ya have a problem with that, then stick yer head in Isengard’s fires.” A harsh laugh, the same one he had heard when first he was surrounded, burst forth. Boromir decided he did not like that laugh nor its owner.

None noted that he was awake. If he could have, he would have smiled. It was a trick Faramir and he had honed over long years of practice. They had been taught, and well, how to keep their stomach muscles loose, how to breath little sips of air from the corner of their mouths, how to keep their eyes rolled up so that none could see any errant movement. They had sorely tried and many times startled their nannies.

The pain, now, was almost more than he could bear; he found it more and more difficult to ‘play possum.’ He wondered how deep the wound to his stomach was, how serious it was, and if the Orcs had used poisoned weapons. ‘Not if they plan on eating me. Though I doubt their poison would harm them. And if they wait till nightfall, I’ll have bled out by then and will definitely not be fresh meat.’

There was a stirring in the cave, a rustling of cloth, and suddenly all grew quiet. ‘They sleep,’ he marveled. He opened his eyes to tiny slits and looked around the best he could without actually moving. There were six of the beasts lying about the cave. He wondered how many might be in the back chamber and then almost gave himself away as he realized Guilin would be naught but bones. The sob caught in his throat and he almost choked. He closed his eyes, but too late.

“So ya think ya’ve got me fooled, do ya?” The cruel voice laughed low. “I knew ya’d been awake all this time. Thinkin’ ya might be able ta escape?” A low rumble turned into dreadful coughing as the creature tried to stifle its laughter.

Boromir opened his eyes and looked full upon the face of his enemy. Never, in all the long years that he had fought Orcs, never had he spoken with one. His skin prickled at the thought, but somehow he had to keep himself alive, hoping against hope that someone would rescue him. He could not possibly escape on his own. And the creature knew it and reveled in that fact.

‘How do I act? Do I speak? Do I give him homage?’ The question was moot as the evil thing kicked Boromir hard and slammed the breath from him. Blackness engulfed him once again.

~*~

Vaguely, he remembered a tale his father had told him about being captured by Wildmen near this very same forest. Boromir tried to focus on the tale, anything to keep his mind off the searing pain in his gut, the feel of blood running down his side, and the fearful pain that lit his chest every time he tried to breath. ‘Ribs broken, probably.’

“I see you,” the hideous voice whispered, then broke into another foul laugh.

Was the filthy thing watching him constantly? Did it not sleep? Boromir’s mouth felt like death warmed over. It was dry and foul. He wanted desperately to ask for water, but instinct told him that if he did, he would be mocked and ridiculed, and water would not be forthcoming anyhow, more likely a swift kick. He tried to swallow and a moan escaped him. He swore every curse known to him, under his breath, for the show of weakness.

“I suppose ya want water?” The creature waited, and when there was no reply, it hissed and kicked Boromir again. Darkness fell.

~*~

He felt himself being pulled up. His head hurt, but that pain was o’er ridden by the fire in his gut. His legs were wobbly and prickled. He had lost feeling in them sometime during the day and could not stand. The foul creature that tormented him grabbed him by the hair and pulled his head back. “If ya don’t walk, I will cut off yer fingers one by one. Then, I will eat each one before yer very eyes. And then I will cut out yer tongue and then yer ears. Ya can imagine where I will go from there.”

Boromir grabbed the beast’s arm and pulled himself up. He took a step, and then another as he willed himself to walk. The Orc laughed and pushed him towards the opening of the cave; it was almost night. Boromir’s head hit the side of the cave as he was shoved through to the outside. He crumpled to the ground.

~*~

“Faramir, you came,” the words hardly sounded intelligible, but he could tell from the gleam in his brother’s eyes that Faramir had heard and understood. Boromir shuddered in relief.

“As soon as I heard, I was on my horse. None could keep me from you.”

Boromir sighed. Faramir was here with him. A tear escaped his eye and he tried to brush it away, but his arm would not obey him.

Faramir leaned closer. “Be still. You are sorely wounded.”

Letting out the breath that he had unconsciously pulled in when the pain shot through his gut, Boromir tried to calm, tried to obey his brother. “I…” He found he could no longer speak.

“Say naught, brother. Rest.”

Boromir turned to look at Faramir. The sweet face beamed down at him, the ebony hair lay loose about his face, the hands held him and squeezed. Tighter and tighter until Boromir raised an eyebrow in concern. He heard a laugh and his skin prickled. Faramir’s gentle face grew longer, wider, grew into a hideous caricature of the beloved face. It was the Orc!

“Faramir!” he cried in distress. ‘The beast has Faramir.’ He cried out in fury, “I will save you, little brother.” He reached for his sword and found it was not there. Blood covered his hand. He looked up to where Faramir had been just a moment before and saw him lying on the ground next to him, his face still serene, but his stomach split wide open. He screamed, “No! Faramir! No! I will save you. I will save you.” But nothing came from his mouth; instead, it filled with the coppery taste of blood. His own. He was dying. ‘Better to die at Faramir’s side than to live without him. To live knowing I let him die for me.’ He sobbed.

~*~

“Does he live?”

“I do not know. I will not give up though. Bring the torch a little closer. Boromir? Boromir!”

“He is dead. There is no movement.”

“I tell you we will hope. Is the leech come yet?”

“She should be here any moment. ‘Tis a good thing we keep one at this outpost. If he lives, he would not survive to Edoras.”

Éomer closed his eyes, lifted his heart to Béma and thought simply, ‘Do not let him die.’

Boromir cried out in agony. Éomer gasped and took the beloved hand and held it. “Boromir. It is I, Éomer. I have come to help. Hold on a little longer.”

Tears spilled from the closed eyes. Boromir’s hold on his hand was tenuous at best. “I want you to remember who you are. Boromir, famed Captain-general of Gondor, my friend. Do you remember the times we went riding together, when your family came to Edoras? Do you remember the times we would cut through the streets and alleyways of Minas Tirith in search of the perfect pint?”

The tears flowed. “Boromir. I know you can hear me. I need you to hang on. Think of anything but the pain.” He took a deep breath. “Think of Faramir. He needs you. You know he does.” The hand tightened and Boromir’s face turned into a deep grimace. ‘What is wrong with Faramir,’ the Rohir wondered, ‘that the mention of him should bring such agony of mind? Oh! Béma, I pray Faramir was not here. Was not part of this company.’ Frantically he looked about, but there was no sign of any other, only the half-eaten corpse in the other chamber. ‘Too short for Faramir,’ Éomer shuddered.

“Ah!” A thought struck him. “Think of your betrothal, Boromir. I hear it is soon. You will be happy; I know it. You will grow fat and lazy as she feeds you good foods, takes care of all your needs, loves and cherishes you.” The Rohir choked. “Boromir. You will return to Minas Tirith soon and to your father. He waits for your report.”

Éomer bowed his head in grief. The leech entered the cave and stopped. “My lord,” she strode purposefully towards the Marshal. “Where is your wound?”

“It is Boromir who is injured. Here,” and Éomer pointed to the blood-stained tunic. “It is deep.”

She moved the tunic to the side and wondered aloud where the shirt was, but immediately began to pull the skin apart to see how deep the cut was. “Deep, but I have seen worse. He still lives and that is a good thing. Are we safe here?” she asked, looking about at the dead carcasses of Orcs lying about.

Éomer motioned and his men began to clear the cave out.

“I suppose it would be too much to ask to move him to a quiet, undisturbed corner? This dust will infect the wound.”

“There is a chamber further back. Do you think it wise to move him?

“We must. Orcs carry foul diseases with them. Their bodies have infected the floor here. Move him we must.”

Éomer nodded and four of his éored picked Boromir up and easily moved him to the back chamber. The fire was started again and the room quickly warmed.

“I will need hot water and lots of it.” She knelt next to the stricken man and opened a large pouch. Éomer could smell the medicaments and herbs. “Go away now. I will take care of him. If I need you, I will call.”

Night turned into day and still Boromir seemed as if dead. Éomer sent riders to Amon Anwar; by noon a rider of Gondor came. The White Tree was emblazoned upon the man’s livery. Éomer kept his hand on his sword. He had no idea what would transpire here. This rider’s captain lay near death and in the presence of Rohirrim. There was no longer the open trust of a few year’s back; there was dissension and Éomer knew his life and the lives of his men hung in the balance with the words he was about to utter.

He stepped up and saluted the Gondorian. “Orcs attacked your captain’s company. None but Boromir survived. He was alive, but barely, when we found him. My healer is with him now.”

“Will he live?”

“She believes he will.”

“What was he doing here? I had no report of him coming to Amon Anwar.”

“He came to the Mering to meet with me, as far as I can discern. I… I was not at the camp when he arrived so he left.”

“I must notify the Steward.”

“Boromir left a company at the Mering. When I returned from Edoras, I was told of Boromir’s visit and left to follow him. We found the remains of a battle near the Firien, then followed tracks and discovered this cave and Boromir. The Orcs were holding him as captive.” He saw the man shudder and quickly continued. “We overcame them and released Boromir, but he was already grievous wounded. I sent a rider back to Boromir’s company at the Mering. A rider was dispatched to Minas Tirith.”

The man sighed and Éomer realized the Gondorian was glad that he did not have to be the one to send a rider. Such dreadful news for the Steward would not be well-received.

“The garrison at Amon Anwar is too small. He should be moved back to the City. Yet, is he able?”

“I think not. He began to bleed further when we moved him a short distance to the back chamber of this cave.”

“May I see him?”

“Of course,” Éomer said, surprised at the diffidence in the request. “Come with me.”

Éomer bent to enter the chamber and the Gondorian followed him. He heard the man take in a sharp breath. Boromir’s face was covered with the black blood of Orcs, probably from the battle, and his tunic, laid to the side, was drenched with his own blood. The wound gaped open, wide and ugly, while Boromir’s sides were purpling into nasty bruises. “Kicked a number of times, I think,” Éomer explained.

The Gondorian clenched his fists. “You spoke of a company of men with Boromir. Where are they now? Why did they do nothing to protect him?” Anger flared in the man’s eyes and Éomer pulled him back into the outer room.

“They are all dead. We found sacks with their remains… we found them dead. There was one in the other room with Boromir, but he is… dead too.”

The man nodded, walked to the entrance, and hurried outside. Éomer heard the retching and left the man alone.

“Faramir,” the voice was weak.

Éomer ran to Boromir’s side, but his friend was still unconscious. ‘I must find out if Faramir was part of this sortie. If he was, Béma help us. I will then have to search the sacks.’ His stomach roiled at the thought. “Send a rider to the Mering. Ask the Gondorian captain if Lord Faramir was with Captain-general Boromir.” One of his men saluted and left.

Éomer slumped to the floor; this was turning more hideous than ever. If only his sentry had used common sense and had been civil to Boromir. He knew, from the accounts he had heard when he reached his camp, that things had gone horribly wrong. Boromir had been affronted and left. Obviously, Boromir planned on returning when he found that Éomer himself had returned. Théoden’s orders were firm, yet this was the son of Denethor! He swore under his breath. His men milled about waiting for their Marshal to calm.

“Forgive me,” the Gondorian said in embarrassment as he reentered the cave.

Éomer waived the apology aside. “None needed. Will you send a patrol to see if there are more Orcs about the area?”

“I have already ordered it. My men left the outpost as I was riding here. Your rider told me of the attack. Hence the swiftness of my arrival. I am grateful.”

“This should never have happened. Did you know of Orcs in the area?”

The man paused and Éomer wondered at the rift that was slowly building between Rohan and Gondor.

“We did not. I wondered if Rohan knew.”

“There has always been Orc activity upon these foothills, but I knew of naught in recent days. I just returned from a sortie to the Emyn Muil. There, we fought and slew every Orc we found.”

“I am sorry for the hesitation. I have heard rumours that Rohan…”

“That Rohan does not abide by its oath?”

The man blushed this time and for that, Éomer was glad. “This is something that must be stopped. I know my men are at fault also, but we both cover this border: you on the Gondorian side and my men on the Rohirric side. We must cooperate.” He wanted to add ‘whether our leaders cooperate or no,’ but he didn’t. “Have you orders to keep silent?”

The captain drew in a firm breath. “We do not! If we had heard, we would have sent a rider to your outpost.” The unspoken rebuke hung in the air.

“Then you have Rohan’s gratitude. What is your name?”

“Mardil. Captain of Amon Anwar. And yours?”

This time, Éomer blushed. “I am sorry. I am Éomer, Marshal of the Riddermark. I thought you knew else I would have introduced myself. I am humbled by your trust, answering my questions without reservation.”

“The Rohirrim are our allies. Is there aught I should have done?”

“Nay. And I will make sure your Captain-general knows of your sense of duty. I am proud to call you ally.”

Mardil smiled. “As am I.”

~*~

Morning came and with it, a deep sense of urgency. No Orcs had been found; the Gondorians had come to the cave and reported to Mardil. This did nothing to lighten the mood of all present. Boromir was failing. Though the wound was not poisoned, he had lost a large amount of blood.

Mardil sat next to Éomer. “I think we must move him to Minas Tirith else he die.”

“I agree but the ride will probably kill him.” Éomer clenched his fists in anguish. “Gondor… Nay! Rohan cannot afford to lose such a warrior as he.”

“The longer we wait, the worse it will be. I can have two companies here within an hour. That should be enough.”

“I will come with you. I must… The Steward will want a full report and I am duty-bound to give one.”

“I will accompany you.” Mardil left the cave and Éomer heard him shouting orders. Within moments, the Gondorian patrol was gone.

Éomer called his own aide over and commanded him to bring Boromir’s company from the Mering.

Mardil stopped him. “If relations are as bad as they seem at the Mering, I will go with your errand-rider and bring the company back myself. I do not think they will obey you.”

Éomer nodded. “I will have Boromir ready. You should be back by noon?”

“We should, barring any further attacks.”

“I will, with your permission, send out two companies into Gondor, along the West Road, and have them scout before us.”

“Aye. My outpost will be close to depleted with the two companies gone. I will send one of my men with your scouts else they be accosted by mistake.”

Both men knew it would not be by mistake, but they kept their thoughts to themselves. Mardil left shortly thereafter and Éomer went to prepare Boromir for the trip to Minas Tirith.

top

32.

“Give me this night. It is already past noon. You will only have a few hours to ride. He is weak; I must put fluids back into him.” The leech stood before Éomer. “It is well to take him to Mundberg, but not tonight.”

“I agree. What say you, Mardil?”

“If she thinks she can help strengthen him further, then it would be best to wait. I have syringes at the garrison if she needs extra.”

“Syringes? Do you mean syrinx?” the healer looked at him quizzically. “For what?”

“For putting the fluids back. How else?” He looked at her in horror. “You would not…? That practice has not been used for a hundred years!”

“It is safe and done in the King’s own hall,” the healer sputtered. “I have done it since I was nigh unto a babe. How else indeed? Not with some sharp thing that could puncture him!”

“Of course it would puncture him and put the fluids where they belong, in his body!”

The healer stood up, straight and tall. “My way will not puncture him. Now, leave me and let me do what I must. Marshal,” she turned to the dumbfounded Rohir, “I need to make a broth, of beef if you have any.”

Éomer nodded and left the chamber, pulling Mardil out with him.

The Gondorian pulled up once they had left the inner chamber and grabbed Éomer by the arm. “I will not allow it. It is barbaric!”

“Have you any skilled in using the syrinx?”

Mardil shook his head. “Nay, but you cannot allow her to do that.”

“We have no recourse. He is not awake. We cannot force the fluids down his throat. He will choke and eventually it will bring lung sickness. It must be this way, at least until we reach Mundberg.”

“And why does he not wake?”

“The Orcs saw us and panicked. They pushed him. He hit his head on the cave’s entranceway right before we rescued him. I think he must have a héafodwund.”

“A concussion?”

“Aye.”

“Did you check his eyes?”

Éomer looked at the man with disdain. “We are not barbarians as you seem to imply.”

“I am only concerned for my captain. These are questions you would ask also, if our roles were reversed.”

The frustration in Mardil’s voice touched a note in Éomer’s heart. “You are right. But you must let the healer do what she can. Without this, he will surely die.”

“I… I will stay with him while she does it.”

“Of course. As will I.”

The night proved extremely long for Mardil. Boromir’s body was limp and non-responsive. Even during the physics, he did not move, nor moan. By the time morning came, Mardil was exhausted. He looked at the Rohirric Marshal. The man’s eyes were closed, but Mardil knew he did not sleep. The healer had left the chamber to try to sleep a little before they broke camp. Mardil wished with all his heart that he could do the same, but if Boromir died while he slept…. He took a huge gulp of air and Éomer opened his eyes.

“Is aught wrong?”

“Nay. We must break camp soon and leave.”

“Is he worse?”

“Nay,” Mardil shook his head in frustration. “But he is no better. We must leave now.”

“I will assemble the men. We can break our fast on the road. The handcart has been made?”

“It has. It is ready to carry him. It is strapped to his own horse. Odd that the horse survived the Orcs’ attack. Usually they eat them, too.”

“Boromir’s horse has been in the thick of battle too many times. It knows to run and then return, once the battle is o’er.”

“Then it will be well for Boromir to have his own horse pull him.”

~*~

Faramir returned to Minas Tirith three days after Denethor's visit to Osgiliath. He walked slowly into the Great Hall, expecting to see Denethor. The Steward sat in the Chair. He had been hearing the grievances of his people and giving his judgments. Faramir stood in the back by the entrance hall and waited. The Chamberlain whispered in Denethor’s ear, when he caught sight of the Steward’s son; Denethor raised his eyes from the man in front of him and looked down the hall. He nodded and Faramir smiled in acknowledgement. The young captain went directly to Denethor’s private study and waited.

“It is good to see you here,” Denethor said as he entered the room. He poured them both glasses of wine and handed one to Faramir. “I had not expected you for another seven or eight days.”

Faramir had almost jumped when Denethor spoke; he had been lost in thought. But now, he stood, greeting his father with a warm hug. “I… My heart is heavy and I know not why. I thought… I thought you might have word of Boromir?”

“Nay. He should be on his way home by now. I have not received any missives, which is sometimes unusual for your brother.” Denethor smiled. “Or not.”

Faramir chuckled. “More likely, or not, with Boromir. Probably has been having too much fun. Hunting and fishing along the way. Singing and dancing in the evenings. He is unattached for only a short time more. Probably savouring the moments.”

Denethor stood by the window and looked northward. “I wish he would send a rider. I am anxious to find how his dealings with Éomer progressed.”

Faramir stood behind Denethor, scanning the northern horizon himself, but for a different reason. Two nights before, he had a hideous nightmare. He had seen Boromir covered with blood and lying in some filthy cave, an Orc standing over him. The dream repeated itself last night also. He left Osgiliath looking for answers. Though now that he was here, he could not bring himself to ask Denethor, but he was worried.

“You do not look as if you rested at all while at the garrison, Faramir. I thought I asked you to take care of yourself?”

“I did, Father. I rested whenever I was able.”

“Which, by the look of the bags under your eyes, was not often. If Boromir comes home and finds you in this state, he will be quite put out. And will probably blame me.”

“Nay, Father. He likes to blame Fëanor.” Faramir smiled at the old joke. “But you do not look much better, Father. Have you not slept?”

“Imrahil shoes me to bed every evening before the mid night hour. I can hardly get any work done. But I am well.” He did not mention the horrid dreams he had been having. No sense in upsetting Faramir. He looked down into his wine glass. The red was the same red as Boromir’s blood, in his dreams. He held himself so that Faramir would not see the shiver that tried to shame him.

“Are plans going well for the betrothal?”

“They are, much to Arthad’s dismay. I put the young aide in charge of the ceremony and all the other attendant parts of it. He is quite good at it, but I understand he is not very happy about doing it. I think he is more unhappy that he is not with Boromir, than unhappy with his duties.”

Faramir smiled. “Arthad is a good man. I believe Boromir wants to make him captain of Cair Andros next year. He trusts the man implicitly.”

“He plans well. Everything is running smoothly. If the woman came tomorrow, I believe we would be ready for her.”

“I wish she would. This waiting is interminable.”

~*~

“We found the errand-rider, Captain Mardil. Well, we found what remained of him.” The man spoke quietly. They were standing a little ways off from the rest of the men. “It looks to have been Orcs.”

“What else?” Mardil said in disgust. “So the Lord Denethor still does not know and we still have no escort, but the little we have brought with us.”

“We could stop at the outpost at Calenhad.”

“We will stop, though I am afraid any delay will not bode well for Captain-general Boromir.” Mardil motioned and Éomer joined them.

“The errand-rider never made it to Minas Tirith. I will not dare send another.”

“Orcs?”

“Aye. Even with the beacon outposts so close, still he did not make it.”

“It does not seem wise to send another. Our company is not large enough to waste men in such a manner.”

“Aye. It is almost night and we will not reach Calenhad this night. We will camp here, if you agree.”

“We are on Gondor’s soil now, Captain Mardil. What I agree to or not is of no importance.”

“Lord Denethor has made it clear that the men of Rohan are allies. As my ally, your input is deemed important. Let us speak of this no more. I believe we should camp here this night. Do you agree?”

Éomer smiled warmly. “Have you searched the area? Does it seem practical?”

“I have and it does.”

“Then if I may use my men as the first watch?”

Mardil clasped Éomer on the shoulder. “That would be well. My men will want to make sure their Captain-general is comfortable. They will raise camp.”

Both men went their separate ways. The soldier who had brought the news looked after them in surprise. “This is not the way of those of us closer to Minas Tirith,” he wondered to the soldier who had found the rider’s body with him. “The Rohirrim by Amon Dîn do not treat us as this man has done.”

Éomer stopped. He walked back to the men, who shied back in alarm. “Forgive my men, then.” He spoke with fervor. “That is not our way. I would not make excuses for them, but mayhap they have been too long away from the Golden Hall. Théoden King renewed Eorl’s vow to Denethor when he took up the crown. Denethor renewed Cirion’s. We are allies, no matter what others might say.”

The men nodded their heads in wonder. Éomer saluted them and walked back to the camp. He set his pickets and then found his way to the tent they had pitched for Boromir. The healer was busy about her work. Éomer ran his hands through his hair. Mardil walked up to him and motioned for him to sit. After finishing their meal, Mardil turned to the Rohir. “I heard what you told Guilin’s men. Thank you.”

“Guilin?”

“Aye – the captain of the men who accompanied Boromir. ‘Twas his body that lay in the cave next to Boromir.”

“Too many good men fall.”

“Aye.”

The Rohirrim began to sing softly as Anor coursed her way behind the White Mountains.

“I do not know the language of Rohan; what are they singing about?”

“It is a song of the Golden Hall of Meduseld in our city of Edoras. It tells of the sun glinting upon its roof. The beauty of the fields and the grasslands of Rohan in her path, warmed and turned as golden as the Hall by the sun’s glint.”

The song felt sad and Mardil found himself transported back to Minas Tirith. It had been long since he had seen the White Tower, the Tower of Ecthelion, as it gleamed in the sunlight. He missed it terribly. Now, he was returning, but the homecoming would be bitter.

“My father told me that he met Lord Denethor first by the Mering. The Steward was but a man new grown at the time. The men of Gondor challenged the men of my country to a singing battle. The Lord Denethor refused. Said his voice scared the great mountain cats.” Éomer chuckled. “They became fast friends.”

“Then perhaps we shall become fast friends?”

“I would like that, Captain Mardil.”

“Nay. Mardil only.”

Éomer nodded his head only to have it snap back as the sounds of Boromir’s screams rent the night air. Both men stood and ran to the tent. The healer was bent over the Gondorian, holding his hands as he thrashed about. The wound was bleeding. Éomer knelt on Boromir’s right and Mardil on his left. The healer quickly brought a cup to Boromir’s mouth and attempted to make the man swallow. He only choked. She tried again and Boromir took some of the proffered tea. ‘Valerian,’ thought Mardil. Two or three more drops were taken by Boromir and within a few moments the thrashing ceased.

“What caused this?” Éomer asked.

“I know not. He is coming awake though. Might be the pain from his wound.” She clucked angrily. “He has pulled the stitches out. I will have to sew him up again. Hold him a little longer while I find my needle.” She scavenged about the place and then turned with a glee-filled smile upon her face. “Here it is.” She bent and began to sew the wound.

Mardil held his tongue. She had not even washed her hands!

At last, she finished her work and wiped her hands on her apron. “There! That should hold him, at least till the next time he thrashes about.” She walked away.

Mardil went to the fire and dipped a cloth in a pot of water that stood boiling to the side of the fire. He brought it to Boromir and gently wiped the wound. The captain sat on the floor and took Boromir’s hand.

He startled back, but kept the cloth held tight. “Boromir!” he whispered as the grey eyes looked up at him.

“All is well with my men?” the Captain-general whispered.

“Aye, Captain. Sleep now. We ride for Minas Tirith in the morning.”

Boromir nodded and closed his eyes.

“That is a good sign, Éomer. He speaks.” Mardil sat and watched his captain until Boromir’s chest raised and lowered easily.

“It is, Mardil. However, you did not sleep last night, friend,” Éomer commented. “I will take first watch.”

Mardil looked up with weary eyes. “Thank you, again.”

He crawled to a blanket that lay spread out to the side and fell onto it; his eyes closed.

Éomer’s head dropped. “Ever evil wins out.”

“Nay!” Mardil sat up with a start. “Friendship has been won this day. Forget that not, Éomer. Even in the midst of the most terrible of times, evil will not win out.”

~*~

They passed Calenhad, Min-Rimmon, and Erelas. Nardol could be seen clearly. Mardil sighed in relief and pointed out the beacon hill to Éomer. “We are more than half way home.”

Éomer nodded. “Should we pass through the forest or stay on the road?”

“The road. There is no road in the forest that I recall, though that way would prove much shorter. Without a road, Boromir would suffer greatly. More so than he has up to now.”

“When will you send the men back to Amon Anwar?”

“Once we pass Amon Dîn. Our road should be safe from that point on. Will you also send your éored back?”

Éomer smiled grimly. “I will not bring the éored onto the Pelennor, but camp it before the North-gate. Another three days then? Before we reach Minas Tirith?”

“At least. Boromir cannot continue this pace much longer. Though we only go about eight leagues a day, it is still too much for him. I will send an errand-rider when we reach Amon Din. Denethor must be prepared.”

“If you wish, I will stay with the men and you can ride yourself to the Steward. I think he should hear the news from your own lips.”

“Perhaps. In fact, I would much prefer that. When we reach Amon Din, we will make camp. I do not know who is in charge of the garrison there. It was Captain Guilin, but he is now dead. Whoever it is, I will ensure you and your men are safe, then I will ride on and notify those at Forannest of your coming. You will be given safe passage onto the Pelennor – you and Boromir and the men of Gondor. As you said, leave your men camped without. It will be safer for them and for you. Leave your horse at the stables outside the city; once you enter Minas Tirith, someone will meet you and bring you to the Citadel. That is where the Steward will meet you.”

~*~

Lady Miriel’s retinue was at the Harlond and all of Minas Tirith rejoiced. Trumpets rang out a greeting from every level.

“He will come.”

Denethor stood on the parapet, resting his hands on the wall that encircled the Citadel. Imrahil stood by his side.

“It is getting late,” observed the Prince of Dol Amroth.

“He will come.”

“Of course. Unless…”

“I have received no missives; no signal fires have been lit. He will come.”

“The ceremony is tomorrow.”

“We have been through this before. Boromir will not fail me. He will come. In time.”

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33.

Denethor stood on the parapet. Though the Citadel buzzed from the early morning until now, he had not left his post. Waiting.

Faramir came to him three times during the day; each time, he tried desperately to make Denethor come in for food, for rest, to meet the lady, anything, but Denethor would not be swayed. He stayed his post.

At last, Imrahil came. “My brother,” he started quietly. “You do your son a great disservice by not meeting his bride to be. She has waited patiently.”

“He will come.”

“Of course.”

“By all the mithril in Gondor, I tell you he will come!”

“He will come, Denethor. I trust him, as do you. Come now and greet the Lady Míriel and welcome her to your family.”

Faramir stood behind his uncle. He glanced northward, but there was naught to see. He turned again to watch his father, to see what the words of Imrahil would produce. At last, he saw the shoulders sag. His heart went out to his father.

“I will spend an hour with her, then I must return here.”

“Of course,” Imrahil said and gently took Denethor’s arm.

The next hour was pleasant. They met in Finduilas’ garden. Imrahil, Lady Nerdanel, Lady Ivriniel, Lady Lothíriel, Lady Míriel, Denethor and Faramir chatted of Dol Amroth, relatives, and the sea. They spoke of the various holidays that would be shared with Boromir’s betrothed. They decided which holidays would be spent in Minas Tirith and which in Dol Amroth. They spoke of who would be invited and who would stay in the Citadel and who would stay on the lower levels. They spoke of the menu and the libations. They spoke of everything… but Boromir.

After the agreed upon hour was up, Denethor stood and bowed, kissed Lady Nerdanel’s cheek, then Lady Miriel’s, took Lothíriel’s chin in his hand and smiled fondly at her, then left the gardens. Boromir’s intended held her head up high.

Faramir was impressed. “If you do not mind, Aunt Nerdanel, I meet with the Steward now. Some unforeseen, important matters. Forgive me. I will see you at the festivities tonight?”

At his uncle’s nod, Faramir bowed to them and left.

Imrahil sat next to his cousin and held her hand. Every sailor’s curse he could think of rattled through his mind. At last, he stood to take his leave. He must speak with Denethor further.

“Is there truly some untoward event that has caused his delay, Cousin, or has the Lord Boromir changed his mind?” she asked gently.

“He will not change his mind, Míriel. I promise you that, but this delay does not bode well for the Steward. Boromir would only be late if something had happened. I am concerned, as is his father.”

“Then I shall offer a prayer to the Valar before I retire tonight. For his well-being.” She stood and waited for him to stand. “Good evening, Cousin.”

“Take your rest this afternoon. I will escort you to the festival later this evening.” He kissed her lightly on her forehead, kissed his wife and daughter, and watched as they walked back to the stairs and turned towards their quarters. Then, he ran down the stairs and out onto the parapet. Denethor was nowhere to be seen. Another curse parted his lips.

“He is in the Tower,” Faramir’s grim voice rose behind him. “I could not stop him. He has locked the door.”

“It is as I feared. Did Húrin ever make an extra key for the new door?”

“He did. But he will not use it until the last moment. He is loyal to my father.”

Imrahil snorted. “As if loyalty matters when your father lays dying on the Tower floor!”

“If we could prove father lays dying on the Tower floor,” Faramir said dryly, “then he would open the door.”

“You cannot ask him to?”

“I will not. I will, however, stand outside the door, whether father will it or no, and if I hear anything that sounds ill, I will blow my horn. Húrin waits at the bottom of the stairs. I go now, Uncle.”

Imrahil nodded. Once Faramir left him, he kicked the parapet. He cursed again, loudly, and sat down on the wall. “Ulmo, Lord of Waters, give me strength to endure these proud men!”

As Anor set, Denethor left the room. Faramir stood at the top of the stairs. “My son,” he sighed heavily, “You should be with your uncle’s family. The celebration of Ethuil begins shortly. The Lady Míriel will need an escort.”

“She has Uncle and Aunt. I would be with you. I,” he noted his son’s hesitation and waited. Faramir began to walk down the stairs; Denethor followed. “Continue, my son.”

“I would ride to Amon Dîn to find news of Boromir. Please, Father. Unless you have news?”

Denethor scowled. “Though I can see much, Faramir, I cannot see you nor your brother. I have tried. He is not in my sight.”

“Then please let me ride to Amon Din. I will question them and then, perhaps ride further, towards Eilenach?”

“On the morrow. You will ride to Amon Dîn, but no further. Find out what you can, then report back to me.”

“But Father…”

“Nay. No further than Amon Dîn. I will wait for your report in my study. I will have the daymeal prepared. You may share it with me.”

Denethor might have smiled at the sagging shoulders of his youngest, but his heart was bleeding. Boromir would not be late, unless misfortune had struck.

~*~

“I have not danced in a thousand years, Uncle. Might you show me what some of the latest steps are?”

Imrahil chuckled. “If you were with your men, you would not be so shy. What makes you tremble this evening?”

“I do not tremble. At least,” Faramir grinned, “Father would not allow me to tremble before anyone but him. However, dancing with a woman is different than dancing a warrior’s dance under the stars! You would not dance a sea shanty tonight, would you? Why should it be different with me? And why should you tease me so?”

Imrahil relented. “Boromir has not taught you?”

“That was ages past. I cannot even remember the last dance we held here. So the steps I learned in my youth are useless for tonight.”

“Then I will show you what is current in Dol Amroth. But I cannot promise these steps will do you any good here in Minas Tirith.”

They began. Slowly at first, with turning and twirling and much laughter, until Faramir found himself wiping a sheen of sweat from his brow. “I am ill prepared for dancing. The movements use muscles that I have not used in a long while.”

“Then perhaps your daily training should encompass a bit of dancing,” the voice of Denethor broke through Faramir’s concentration and the man all but fell.

“My Lord,” Faramir gasped.

“Nay. You do well. You do not look as awkward and gangly as at your first dance, though you still have not the grace of your uncle.”

Imrahil crowed. “At last! A compliment!”

“Do not let it go to your head. My Boromir would dance circles around the both of…” The Steward could not hide the shiver that coursed through him. “Let us to the dance before my state of melancholy infects us all.”

~*~

Merethrond was regally decorated as befitted the ceremony that was to take place on the morrow. Though the festival commemorated the first day of Spring, all knew that the major reason for this evening’s event was to welcome the Lady Míriel to Minas Tirith. There were flowers everywhere, food-laden tables stood against the walls, and a large group of players tuned their instruments in preparation for the dancing to be held later in the evening. Arthad ran from group to group making sure all were enjoying themselves and that the food supply was ample.

Imrahil led Nerdanel, Ivriniel, Lothíriel, and Míriel into the dining hall. Húrin ran forward to greet them. “Ah! Lady Nerdanel and Ivriniel. Too long has it been since last you graced Minas Tirith. The echoes of your laughter have long been missed. And you,” he turned towards Lothíriel, “You have grown full well. You look lovely. The blue becomes you.” He turned back towards Nerdanel and Ivriniel. “As it seems to become all the women of Dol Amroth!”

Lady Nerdanel smiled and kissed Húrin lightly on the cheek. “You have ever been glib with your tongue, dearest cousin. I have oft wondered how a man of such striking bearing has escaped marriage. But I see now that Minas Tirith holds your heart.”

“Aye, my Lady. Indeed it does. And when was I to wed when the Lord Denethor could not govern without me?”

At that he laughed heartily, but Imrahil noted that the Warden looked about and knew he looked to see if the Steward might have overheard the comment.

Imrahil took Miriel’s hand and led her forward. “Warden Húrin. I would like to present my cousin, the Lady Míriel. Lady Míriel, this is a cousin of ours, Húrin of the House of Húrin, Warden of the Keys.”

Míriel dropped a deep curtsy and Húrin blushed furiously. “Ah, my Lady. Please do not bow to me. I am but a lowly servant of Gondor. Let me say, though, that I am most pleased to meet you. Prince Imrahil speaks highly of you.”

At that moment, the Chamberlain rapped his staff on the marble floor and all turned. Denethor and Faramir stood in the doorway. The men saluted and the women bowed. Denethor waved his acknowledgement of the welcome. The Chamberlain bid them all to continue with the festivities.

~*~

Boromir tried to sit up, but the motion only caused his head to throb painfully. Nausea o’ercame him and he leaned forward. The leach ran to his side. “You must not sit. Not good for the stomach. My stitches will come undone!” She pushed him back onto the blanket, helped him lean to the side, and waited till his stomach had emptied. Then she laid him back down and shoved handfuls of dirt over the vomitus.

Éomer came in at the sound of Boromir’s discomfort and knelt next to the man. “You are awake.”

“This way of waking is not to my liking,” the Gondorian managed a weak smile. “How long?”

“We are camped near the Great West Road. The beacon of Eilenach is about two leagues south of us. We should reach Amon Dîn tomorrow in the late afternoon.”

“I have been unconscious most of the way! What happened?”

“We came upon the Orcs as they were leaving the cave. One had begun to push you forward when he saw my men attacking. He must have become agitated. He pushed you into the wall itself. You have woken occasionally. My healer is concerned. Was there another injury to your head before this?”

“An Orc fell on me during the battle in the Firien. We clunked heads. He had a helm on; I did not. I was out for at least an hour.”

“Then that explains it. I was concerned myself. I had thought better of you.”

Boromir smiled. “I am known for my hard head, but this time, fate was too much for even me.” The smile left him. “My men. I lost them all, did I not?”

“All. Even Captain Guilin. We buried them. Deep so the Orcs would not smell the remains.”

“Thank you.” Boromir’s eyes closed wearily. “What is the date?”

“It is the eighth.”

“Ethuil, first day of spring. I had other plans for this day.”

“A last fling with a maiden, perhaps?” Éomer smiled warmly.

“Nay. Greeting my bride. She was to arrive in Minas Tirith today. It is not the best way to start a relationship, leaving her standing at the White Tree. Father will be furious.”

“If I remember your father, and I remember him quite well, he will be o’erjoyed to see his eldest alive.”

“You will stand for me, will you not, Éomer?”

“None need to stand for you, Boromir. At least, not with your father. He dotes on you.”

“As your uncle dotes on you, Éomer. The last time we were in Edoras…” The thought of the sickness that had taken Morwen, Indis and Listöwel brought a sudden stab to his heart.

“Those were sad days, Boromir. Never have I seen your father so inconsolable.”

“Once before only.”

“I am sorry.”

“You, my friend, lost your mother too. I still have a father, but your uncle dotes on you, as I have said. He spent nigh unto two evenings, before Indis took ill, telling us of the great deeds you have done in the Eastmark.”

“He is as a father to me, as is Théodred a brother. I wish you could have seen him when the King sent him to Helm’s Deep as the Second Marshal of the Mark. I could not have been prouder of him.”

Boromir smiled. “Like unto brothers are the two of you.”

“Aye,” the Rohir rider said quietly. “As close as you and Faramir.”

Boromir swallowed hard.

“Rest now, Boromir. We will break camp early tomorrow. You will see your father and your brother soon.”

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34.

The dance lasted o’erlong, in Denethor’s opinion. His heart stood upon the escarpment, not here in this raucous hall. The Steward noted that Faramir left his side only when one or the other of his cousin’s asked for a dance. He could not begrudge them that. This was to have been a joyous occasion.

“If I leave now, I can reach Amon Din before sunup.” Faramir stood by him once again. “Please, Father.”

“Do not tax me. I have not the strength, tonight, to argue with you. I have made my decision. At first light, you may leave, but not before.” He could feel the anger and anguish flow through his youngest's body. The tension overwhelmed him. He wondered if it might have an odour, as of fear, but did not think so. His own heart rummaged somewhere in the middle of his throat. He could not swallow, had not been able to swallow for hours now.

He did not dance. Though the Lady Ivriniel requested one of him twice this night. He claimed a sore back, but she smiled sadly at him, hugged him warmly, and left. Others stayed far from him; he could hear the whispers and knew all wondered where Boromir, son of the Steward, was. When Denethor opened the ceremony earlier this eventide, he had suggested that Boromir was in Rohan on state business. His words apparently did not stop the whispers. He wanted to thrash a few of the gossips. He would find out, in time, who said what, and he now vowed that they would pay for their disloyalty.

He looked about him and realized that the hall was emptying. Anor’s light was awakening. It would be dawn soon and Faramir would leave him. He motioned to Imrahil. “Brother. Faramir will be leaving for Amon Din within the hour. I would speak with him in private. I will say my goodnights to your family. I am sorry.”

“There is no apology needed, Brother. The women are all tired. The trip was long, though not that arduous. I do believe none of them slept well this afternoon.”

“Then another apology is needed. I should have ended this debacle hours ago.”

“Nay! It was needed. I will bring the women to bid you a good night.”

Denethor watched as the prince brought his family to the Steward’s side. “My Lord Steward,” Imrahil hugged him warmly, “We come to bid you a good night. Long has the day been, but the evening was too full of good food and entertainment to leave. Forgive us for the delay.”

Denethor kissed each of his cousin’s and smiled. “It has been a long time for all of us. I bid you sleep well. We will break our fast whenever you decide. Please do not rise early on my account.”

Míriel stepped forward and curtsied. “I will offer a prayer to the Valar tonight for the safe return of Boromir.”

Denethor stood up straight. “Thank you, Cousin. Sleep well.”

He turned and walked quickly from the hall. Faramir, after giving his farewells to the family, ran after his father.

“She does not understand war, I think, Father,” he offered in apology.

“Nay. But she will before long. Unfortunately.” Denethor turned to his son. “As your mother did. We cannot let that same fate happen to Míriel.” Denethor’s eyes were sunken and red.

“Nay, Father. We will protect her. You have already wisely decided to give her leave more than once a year to visit her home. That should ameliorate any homesickness.”

“Let us discuss your travels. You will ride to Amon Din and inquire as to Boromir’s whereabouts. If you do not find him at the garrison, if there is no word of him, I would have you take three companies westward and find him.”

Faramir nodded his head in stunned silence.

“Do not put yourself in harm’s way. If you are attacked, or even feel the presence of the Enemy, turn immediately back to Amon Din. Do you hear me? I will not chance the loss of both of you.”

“I understand, Father. I will obey you. Do not be concerned.”

Denethor groaned. “Boromir would be standing here right now if naught had happened to him or his men. I can be nothing but concerned. I will not, however, have you go into harm’s way. Do you understand me, Faramir? I cannot speak more strongly. Will you obey me; will you follow my wishes?”

“I will, Father. Please, know I will return and with Boromir!”

“Very well. Now prepare yourself and be off. I will expect a missive sent as soon as you ascertain the conditions at Amon Din. Do not fail to send riders!”

“Be at peace, Father. I will do as you ask. And I will bring Boromir home.”

~*~

Boromir did not wake the following morning and the healer could not be found. Éomer sent a patrol out to search for her, while his heart sank in nameless fear. Théoden King had changed much during the last few years; his fiery spirit lost in a morass of illnesses that only his councilor, Grima Wormtongue, seemed capable of healing. Rumour of treachery spread throughout the kingdom and among Éomer’s éored. Had treachery joined his own éored in the person of the leech? He shuddered at the thought.

Mardil knelt beside his Captain-General. The fever that had never left the Gondorian now raged unchecked. Boromir’s body was soaked in his own sweat and his breathing was shallow, rapid and laboured. Mardil was at a loss as to the cause of this. Gently, he moved Boromir’s shirt up and took off the bandages. He reeled back from the stench, desperately trying not to vomit. “Éomer!”

The Rohir came into the tent and stopped short. He put his hand over his mouth and nose and stepped forward. The flesh around Boromir’s wound was red, swollen, and oozed a cloudy pus. “Poison!” he whispered, as sick to his stomach as Mardil. “We must cut the wound open and clean it out. It is full of poison!”

Mardil nodded. “We have no supplies. The healer must have them with her.”

“My knife is clean. Water will help and we will find cloth to wrap the wound, once we have cleaned it.”

Éomer left the tent and called for water to be boiled; then, he placed the end of his knife into the fire’s flame. He waited until it shone a bright red. Then, he took a pail and poured some of the almost boiled water into it; then dipped his hands in and laved them and his face. He ordered the water brought into the tent when it was fully boiled. He had a man bring a pot of cold water, filled from a nearby mountain stream for the breaking of the fast.

Mardil had been trying to clean the wound as best he could with a clean shirt of his own. He looked up when Éomer entered, eyeing the knife. “I should be the one to do this. He is my liege lord.”

“It is because of my healer that Boromir lies thus. It is my duty to right this wrong.”

“What wrong, Éomer? Are you saying this was done on purpose?”

“I am, I am sorry to say. Treachery.” Éomer knelt at Boromir’s side. “I hope he stays unconscious. I have no poppy, only Valerian tea, which will be useless should he wake.” He took his knife and put it to the wound. Gulping, he began to cut along the ragged line. The stench grew worse as the wound was re-opened. Blood and pus ran out.

By this time, a soldier had entered with the boiled water. Mardil dunked a torn piece of shirt into the water and waited a moment. Then, he pulled it from the pot. Steam rose as he clenched his teeth in pain. He waved the cloth about for a moment and then used it to wipe away the blood. The soldier who had brought the water in, realized what Mardil was about. He took another piece of cloth, did the same as Mardil had done, and handed the slightly cooled cloth to Mardil. As Éomer cut further, the two men cleaned the wound behind him.

At last, Éomer leaned back on his haunches. “Is the water cool enough to pour over the wound?”

“It is, Éomer.”

“Good. Then do it.”

The water washed over the wound as Éomer gasped. Tiny bits of burrs, leaves and dirt washed out. “Not poison! The leech used the very stuff of the earth to try to kill him.” Tears fell.

“She must have put those in the wound when she sewed him the second time,” Mardil moaned. “You were not with us and I spent the time consoling Boromir. Why would she do such a thing? Her a healer?”

“Treachery. But that is no matter now. We must make sure the wound is thoroughly cleaned.

The soldier left the tent and returned a few moments later with another full pail of hot water and a small case. “I brought my sewing kit, Captain Mardil. I did not know if you had one. The thread is clean; my mother taught me how to protect it.”

Mardil took the case and grabbed the soldier’s arm. “You did well. Now, help me pour more water over the wound. As you hold it open, I will try to get the debris out, then we will flush it.” They worked for long moments. Mardil’s fingers worked under the ripped skin feeling for any other waste. At last, Mardil was certain the wound was clean and the soldier flushed it four times with the warm water.

Éomer took a deep breath and began to sew the wound closed. He swore. “The flesh is torn from the debris; some of it is rotted. See the blackness here. And the swelling. Ah! We have no maggots, so I must cut some off else it will continue to rot and not heal properly.” Tears filled his eyes again. “Morgoth be cursed!” The blade was sharp and the wound was readied. Éomer finished sewing it closed. He sat on the floor and wiped his brow. Blood covered his hands. The soldier stepped forward and offered the pail. Éomer held out his hands and winced as the hot water washed away the blood and filth. “Thank you,” Éomer whispered as the man offered a cloth for him to dry off. Éomer did so, then wiped his face clean. “Now, let us leave it open for awhile, with just a thin layer of honey. It will heal better that way.”

“We will not travel today,” Mardil decided. “Boromir will not be able to stand the strain.”

“I agree,” Éomer laid a clean cloth lightly over the wound. “I need to-“

Shouts came from without the tent. Mardil ordered the soldier to stand guard over Boromir while Éomer and he went to see what the commotion was about.

“We found the healer, Captain. Here she is.” The healer was unceremoniously dumped from before the rider.

Mardil strode forward, but was roughly pushed aside by Éomer. The Rohir thrust his blade deep into the woman’s stomach. He twisted it. “Feel the blood of the man you tried to kill, you evil woman!” he screamed in Rohirric.

Mardil stood in stunned silence.

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35.

When Anor topped the mountains, Faramir was long on his rode to Boromir. Denethor’s change of heart still perplexed his youngest. All seeing – had his father seen something and was not telling him? A cold chill ran down Faramir’s spine as he searched the horizon, looking for any sign of his brother’s return. He changed horses at the North-gate, then headed towards Amon Dîn. Four hours later, the gates of the garrison of Amon Din opened before him. Baranor stepped up to greet him, a great, crooked smile on his face.

“Captain Faramir! ‘Tis good to see you again. We had no missive. Will you be staying long?”

“Only for the time it takes get a fresh mount. I am away to meet Boromir. He is late and the Steward requires his presence.”

“Would that you could stay for a bit. I have had no news from the City in a fortnight.”

“No reports sent?” Faramir’s brow creased.

“I have sent the daily reports, but have received none. Mayhap the rider takes the reports directly to Captain Guilin at the Mering?”

“That would be foolish. I will look into it when I return.”

A horse had been readied. A soldier handed Faramir a food packet and showed him the water skin affixed to the horse’s saddle. Faramir thanked both men and rode off.

Though Anor shone brightly, the cold off the mountain chilled him to the bone. He drew his cloak tighter and tucked his free hand inside. His breath blew out in ghostly white wisps. ‘I should have had some warm mead before I left Baranor. I had not remembered how bitter the winds can be. My mind is on Boromir. Why is he so late? Could the Rohirrim have possibly detained him?’ Faramir’s eyes widened at the thought. ‘No matter how badly Théoden might now think of Gondor, he would not do that.’ And yet the seed of doubt lowered Faramir’s spirits even further. Faramir was no fool; something had happened to his brother, that much was clear. But it would not be imprisonment. At least, not at the hands of the Rohirrim. Another shiver ran down his spine. Baranor said naught about Orcs or any other dangers upon the road, but he kept alert nonetheless.

~*~

Éomer shoved the woman away from him. Mardil stared in surprise. Éomer had stayed his hand! The woman lived! He ran forward and grabbed Éomer’s arm, pulling the man away in case his anger could not be contained a second time.

“Bind her and set guards upon her. Take her to a tent far away from me,” the Rohir growled to his men. Mardil sat him down by the fire and offered a flagon of warmed mead.

“You would have been within your right to slay her.”
\
“I would have except for the mood in Edoras.”

Mardil shifted. “My dealings with the Rohirrim have been friendly. The man that Boromir encountered must be newly stationed at the Mering.”

“The new men… Life has changed these past years. My King grows old and listens to words he would not have in his youth. Men who have not served in Rohan are given positions of importance. I do not know the new captain of Mering’s garrison.”

“You will send him back to Edoras with a reprimand?”

“I am Marshal in name only,” Éomer confided. “If I had killed that woman, even though her treachery is deep, I would find myself in the King’s dungeons.” He held up a hand to stay Mardil’s protest. “Aye! Even in my great anger, my love for Rohan o’ercame it. If I am imprisoned, who will guard our eastern border? I could not risk such an event.”

Shouts from the pickets sounded. Mardil stepped forward and began ordering the men to draw their weapons. Éomer went into the tent to guard Boromir.

~*~

About the ninth hour, Faramir caught sight of the beacon at Eilenach. A small camp stood at the base of the hill and Faramir could see not only the Steward’s banners, but those of Rohan as well. His shoulders lifted as the burden of fear dissipated. “Boromir!” he breathed softly. Willing hands took his horse’s rein as he entered the camp; he slid from his horse to cried of welcome. Faramir felt at ease. As he was led to a large tent further from the road, his sense of euphoria lessened. The faces of the warriors were grim, though they lifted in joy when they recognized him. ‘Something is wrong.’

Éomer strode from the tent. Looking up in surprise when Faramir called his name, he strode forward and purposefully embraced Faramir warmly.

~*~

Denethor sat opposite Lady Míriel and smiled with his eyes. He had spent an hour, this late morning, with the woman. In his mind’s eye, he could see she cared naught for the Heir, but for the title. ‘So this is the best I can offer my son?’ He smiled again and nodded as she continued her banter about Dol Amroth. Denethor noted Ivriniel was starting to fidget and hid a smile. When the other woman took a moment to breathe, he stood up. “I have some other business that I must now tend to. Forgive me. I must take my leave. I will see you at the daymeal. The cook has planned something special for tonight.”

The women accepted his farewells. Nerdanel stood and walked him to the door.

“Come. Walk with me to my study?” he asked under his breath.

She nodded. “I have a few errands I must attend to,” she said aloud. “I will return shortly.”

“You must forgive her,” Nerdanel began as they slowly walked down the steps of the Tower. “She is nervous and ill at ease.” Through her laughter at Denethor’s expressions, she said, “ She really never talks this much!”

“Does she ever say aught of import?”

“Oh! Denethor! She knows court life and how to simper. That is what she did with you just now. She presented the coy, sometimes dim of wit woman who does not appear to be a threat. But when I return to her, she will tell me all that she now thinks she knows about the Steward of Gondor.”

Denethor raised an eyebrow. “Would that my own sons could be so discerning.”

“She will care for Boromir, you have my husband’s word on that.”

Denethor took her hand. “And that I trust. I will put aside my misgivings and accept her. Now, as for Ivriniel. She is well?”

“Minas Tirith holds many hard memories for her. Being in Finduilas’ garden yesterday was most difficult. Finduilas is missed. Forgive me,” she whispered, “But you did ask.”

“Now and again,” Denethor sighed, “The heart that I have steeled against memories cracks open. Finduilas is truly missed.”

”what if you had not sons to remember her by? Life would be so much sadder.”

He turned and took Imrahil’s wife in his arms. “You always remind me of much and bring my heart joy. Fate has been kind to you.”

“For the moment. Elphir’s posting on the Anduin gives my heart grief. With the enemy so near, if a missive fails to arrive every day, I find myself distraught.”

“His posting will be short. You understand the need?” As she nodded, he let her go. “Will the Lady Míriel understand such need? Or will she hope…?”

“Is that what troubles you, Denethor? That she only… I cannot believe it of her.” She looked long and hard at the Steward. “It is said you have the gift of foresight and know men’s thoughts. Is that what you see?”

“It is,” he said softly.

“I have a year, my Lord,” her tone turned brusque. “Know you the time will be spent wisely. I will change her heart and show her the way of a Steward’s wife. My husband has given his word. Now I give you mine. She will be what Gondor needs.”

Denethor kissed her lightly on the brow. “Thank you, Lady Nerdanel. “My son’s happiness is in your hands.”

She bowed and left him.

~*~

“Boromir?”

“Is not well. His company was attacked in the Firien Wood. We have done what we could.”

Faramir noted Éomer’s reticence and vowed to pursue the matter further, once he had seen to his brother’s welfare.

Éomer led him into the tent. Boromir lay quietly, a Rohirric bear rug wrapped around him. Faramir knelt at his brother’s side. “Boromir. It is Faramir.” There was no response. A sheen of sweat lay upon his brother’s brow. Faramir found a cloth laying next to him and dabbed gently. He stroked back the hair that had fallen forward. “Where was he injured?”

“His stomach. It is a large gash. It had been tended and sewn, but there were complications. I will tell you later.”

Faramir lifted the rug and gently pulled back the bandage. The wound smelled ugly and looked even worse. “It is not healing.”

“Nay! But the cause has been found. We will clean it again after your visit and re-bandage it.”

Tears filled Faramir’s eyes. “Poison?”

“Not from the original blow.”

Faramir stiffened. “Treachery?”

“Aye. Great treachery. And at the hands of one of my people. I cannot speak of this in front of Boromir. He knows and understands, but I fear the telling would upset him.”

Faramir nodded and looked at the beloved face of Boromir. Grey eyes looked back at him.

“Are you a dream?”

“I am not. I have come to bring you home. Father is waiting.”

“Ah! I had a dream sometime. I cannot remember when. But you were there and I knew I was safe.” A shudder ran threw the warrior’s body. “But you became an Orc.” His voice rose in pitch. “Touch me. Let me know you are real.”

Faramir sobbed and held Boromir tight. “I am real. I am here for you now. Close your eyes and rest. I will not leave you.”

Boromir sighed and closed his eyes. Faramir sat on the ground next to him. Éomer left them alone.



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36.

“Granted, Warden, my mind has been preoccupied with other things these last few weeks – Faramir’s wounding, the betrothal, the Enemy’s lies. However,” and Húrin sat up as the tone of his cousin and Steward changed from the light banter it had been since he entered Denethor’s study till now, “I wonder about the dearth of reports from my army?”

“I am not aware of any problems,” Húrin said hesitantly.

“My daily reports. Are they being withheld from me?”

“Nay, my Lord Steward!”

“Then – where are they?” Denethor raised an eyebrow. “Are you not receiving them?”

“I have received a few, but not all. Forgive me for not forwarding them to you. Boromir usually takes care of them.”

“I know he does,” and Denethor’s tone grew even colder. “Am I only to receive reports when Boromir is present?”

“Nay, of course not, my Lord Steward. I will look into this matter immediately.” He stood, placed his wine glass down on the table, bowed and left.

Denethor scowled. ‘How long did it take my last Warden to become adept at seeing to my needs?” He bowed his head. ‘It is useless, but I must try again.’

The Tower door opened without a sound. Denethor hesitated a moment. He was still angry over the report situation, but, mostly, his heart was ill at ease regarding Boromir. He took a long, deep breath, calmed himself, and entered the chamber. Taking the cover from the stone, he placed it to the side. Then, he walked to the north-facing window and looked out. ‘How fare you, Boromir, my son? My heart is heavy; I would have you here at my side.’ Clouds scudded across the sky; shadows ran along the mountains under them. All seemed peaceful and quiet. ‘If my heart were not so grieved, I could almost imagine I was living within the time of the Watchful Peace.’ Faint sounds of daily life and commerce wafted up from the levels below him. Stoneworkers laboured somewhere; the steady tap of their tools comforted him. ‘If only life could remain like this. Tranquil, unencumbered by war, my sons at my side…’

A sigh escaped him. ‘Time to be strong.’ He turned and walked purposefully to the plinth, placed his hands upon the Palantír and watched as the Pelennor opened before him. Of all of Gondor that the globe could show him, this view he loved the most. He indulged himself for a moment and brought the scene before him closer. He watched as farmers tended their fields, fields so desperately needed to feed Gondor’s army. He put that thought aside. He continued his gaze down the green hills that dropped to the Anduin. Everywhere was activity for the fields had been burned clean and the spring planting was begun. Fruit trees were leafed and the heifer’s born last fall were filling the open spaces. Meat for his men. Another thought to put aside for the moment.

‘It is time,’ he thought grimly and turned his view northward. He took in a quick breath. More Easterling encampments were springing up around the gate of Barad-dûr. There were even a few towards the border by the Nindalf. ‘Boromir will indeed have to be sent north when he returns. I think I will station him at Cair Andros instead of Amon Dîn. Rohan can only protect so much of that border,’ he noted as his gaze swept towards the Emyn Muil. ‘Orcs come from those heights and Rohan cannot stop them.’

At last, he turned his gaze upon Amon Dîn. He saw the patrols riding north of the garrison, but saw no sign of Faramir’s banner. ‘The boy has headed west. He did not find Boromir at Amon Dîn.’ He watched as the Drúadin Forest came into view. He raised an eyebrow and brought his focus tighter and closer. No wolves. No boar. ‘Orcs! They are the only things that eat wolf, except bear. There must have been Orcs here recently. And yet – reports!’ He scowled. Sending sight further west, he espied a camp a little north of Eilenach. He focused to bring the scene closer, but the Palantír would not obey him. “Ah!” he cried in delight. “So when my sons are near a place, you will not let me see. Wondrous! Now I know at least where one of them is. Your own disobedience gives you away!”

He quickly scanned the Great West Road, but saw no further signs of travel. The stone did not stop his inspection. He returned his gaze to the speck that represented the camp. ‘Would that I could ride there myself!’

He took his hands from the globe, covered it, and walked back to his study. Though only an hour before the daymeal, Denethor lay down. Exhaustion filled him so that he could hardly walk. He wondered at this, as he had not looked east, but sleep o’ercame him before he had time to study the matter.

~*~

“Faramir,” Éomer stepped through the flap and into the tent. “It is time for the daymeal. Will you eat it with us?”

“Nay. I will not leave him. The wound must be cleaned,” he reminded the Rohir.

“I will bring hot water.”

“Faramir,” Boromir croaked, but he found his tongue swollen and stuck fast to the roof of his mouth; a look of terror crossed his face as he tried to breathe.

“Water!” Faramir cried, as he understood his brother’s predicament.

Éomer ran in with a skin and held it to Boromir’s lips. “Slowly, my friend.”

Boromir let the cool water run through his mouth and felt his tongue release. He closed his eyes.

“We are poor stewards for you, my friend. Your body needed water and we failed it.”

Boromir nodded, a look of utter relief passed over his face. He tried again and this time, his mouth worked properly. “Faramir. You came.”

Faramir tightened his hold on his brother’s hand. “It is good to see you awake.”

“Is father…?”

“He is anxious for your return. We knew there was trouble, must have been trouble for you not to have returned to the City at the appointed hour.” He nodded and Éomer left to get the hot water. “Boromir. Do not speak o’ermuch, but I must know. Has Éomer… Have the Rohirrim…”

“Éomer has been to me as a brother, as he always has, Faramir. I would be dead now, but for him and his men.”

“Then I owe him much.”

Boromir nodded and closed his eyes again. He drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

Éomer entered the tent with two warriors of Gondor. The one, a captain, saluted. “Captain Faramir. I am Captain Mardil of Amon Anwar.”

Faramir stood and clasped the man’s arms warmly. “I have heard of you. You are Damrod’s son?”

“I am,” Mardil grinned. “You know of my father?”

“All know your father’s name. Long was he friend to the Steward. Too many times, he found himself having to save my father. There was the time in the Drúadan Forest; your father was one of those in the company who was with my father when Wild Men captured him. He was one of the great heroes of the Battle of Cair Andros in 2973. My father told me of your father’s valour in the battle; he saved my father’s life. And now, you have extended your family’s service. You have saved Boromir’s life!”

“Nay!” the captain said grimly, “Marshal Éomer and his men saved the Captain-General. My men and I only do guard duty. Marshal Éomer is in command.”

Éomer blushed and raised his hand in protest. “I would not presume to command warriors of Gondor, Captain Mardil.”

“Captain Faramir,” Mardil said vehemently. “It was the Rohirrim who found and saved Captain-General Boromir. Once they killed the Orcs who captured him and then tended to his wounds, they sent to our garrison to report. My men only guard.”

“I would hear the whole tale, once we tend Boromir’s wounds.” Faramir turned and pulled back the bear rug while Éomer wet a cloth in the hot water. Mardil replaced the cooled heating stones with hot ones.

“The wound is indeed ugly. It appears to be infected?”

“It was worse,” Éomer confided. “I had to cut skin away for we had not maggots.”

“Nor poppy either, I see,” Faramir frowned as he poured warm water over the wound. Éomer held cloths to catch the fallen water. “The smell lessons.”

The three men worked quietly for the next few moments. At last, the wound was cleaned and a poultice placed over it.

“In an hour, I will remove the poultice and cover the wound with honey.”

“Good, Éomer. And thank you. Now, the both of you take your meal. When you are done, if you would bring me a small plate? Captain Mardil?” Éomer nodded and left the tent. Mardil stood ready. The other soldier stood guard by the door.

“Why was no rider sent to Minas Tirith? I could have brought a healer with me and supplies to aid in Boromir’s recovery.”

“My Lord Faramir. We sent two riders the day after Boromir was attacked. We found their bodies two days later as we rode towards the City. Since we had Éomer’s healer, I thought it best not to risk any more lives. Until now, the reports we have received from garrisons along the way were that the Great West Road was not safe.”

Faramir chewed his lip. “Not safe? And yet, we have received no such reports in Minas Tirith.” Faramir shook his head. There were too many reports lost or not sent. His father must be told. “You may go.”

Mardil saluted and turned to leave.

“Wait!” Faramir cried out. “You said you have a healer with you?”

Mardil’s face blanched. “We do.”

Faramir bent over Boromir who slept more soundly. He turned and motioned Mardil from the tent and followed him out. “It is time I learned of what befell Boromir,” he said. He motioned to Éomer who had been standing close by.

The three men walked a little ways from the tent and sat around a fire. The men nearby saluted and moved further away. The look on Captain Faramir’s face did not bode well for any to willingly be near.

“From the beginning,” Faramir said, his lips drawn taut and his voice sounding very much like the Steward’s. “All of it.”

Éomer began and followed through to the ending. When he was finished, Mardil filled in Gondor’s part. When he was done, he stood. Faramir looked up in surprise, and then nodded. A moment later, Mardil returned with three flagons of warm mead. The night’s chill was begun.

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37.

Faramir dismissed Mardil and Éomer and walked slowly back to Boromir’s tent. His father would be displeased, to say the least. He sighed. There was only an oath between Gondor and Rohan, no written treaty, for the Rohirrim believed that an oath given with honour need not be given on parchment. Since Cirion’s days, the fact that there were no written guidelines presented problems in relations between the two countries. None seemed graver to Faramir than this one.

Faramir entered Boromir’s tent and was surprised to see him awake. He smiled and sat beside him. “You look better.”

“I think I shall live,” Boromir quipped, “though only long enough to tease you, if for naught else. You look worried.” The lightness left Boromir’s voice. “What troubles you?”

Faramir stared at Boromir.

“Ah,” Boromir shook his head sadly. “You have done something that will upset father?”

Faramir smiled quizzically.

“There is a look in your eyes, little brother, that gives you away every time. What have you done now?”

“I sent the healer back to Rohan.”

Boromir looked at Faramir in surprise, but said nothing.

“She is a member of Théoden King’s court. Her duty is to Rohan. I know not why she deemed it necessary to try to kill you. Éomer has no idea either. I do not believe it was ordered. However, she is under Éomer’s command. Though her act was done on Gondor’s soil, she is still their responsibility. And they have a responsibility to her.” Faramir hesitated.

“Go on. You might as well rehearse what you will say to father. He will be very angry, Faramir. Nothing you have said thus far seems strong enough to justify sending her back.”

Faramir nodded, his brow furrowed. “Rohan is our ally. She must have autonomy over her own subjects. Éomer has promised a trial and punishment. Am I to doubt the word of our faithful ally? If I brought her to Minas Tirith, father would have her hung immediately. As I will probably now be,” Faramir said dryly. “It would have meant war when we can least afford war with our allies! You were still unconscious. We travel to Amon Din tomorrow. It would have been too dangerous to wait any longer.”

“What size guard did you place on her?”

"I sent Éomer’s men back, except for his personal guard, and Captain Mardil and most of his men. With my deepest thanks.”

“So now we travel with no escort?”

“A small escort. Half a company, plus Éomer and myself.”

“Éomer stays with us?”

“He says it is his duty to apologize to father. He refuses to leave.”

Boromir smiled, then frowned. “I am glad. I would not want to explain all of this,” and he gestured about the tent.

“Are you angry with me, Boromir? I can endure father’s anger, not yours.”

Tears sprang up in Boromir’s eyes. He held out his hand and Faramir took it. “Nay, Faramir. Though it would have been better if I had sent her back. You need not endure any anger, Faramir. I am not angry, just a little surprised. I understood immediately why you did it, but I think you needed to tell me. As for father, he loves us dearly. I can imagine his fury, but I will be there, alive, and that is something,” Boromir smiled and Faramir joined in. “I love you, Faramir.”

Faramir leaned over and kissed Boromir gently on his forehead. “You are still fevered! Éomer!” he shouted.

“Leave it be. I am well enough. I want to go home.”

”You will not be going anywhere until this dratted fever is stopped. Éomer,” the Rohir had quietly entered the tent, “We need to change the dressing again. Boromir’s fever is high.”

“It is night, Faramir. Fevers usually flare up after a long day’s battle with it. It is to be expected. But I will get the hot water and cloths and we will change the dressing.” Éomer left the tent as quickly as he had entered.

Both Faramir and Éomer were adept at changing dressings and the deed was done quickly and as painlessly as possible. Boromir was still sweating profusely by the time they had finished. The changing took much out of him.

Éomer left as they were finishing up and returned shortly after with a cup of valerian tea and a water skin. “It is the last of the leaves.”

Boromir smiled through his pain. “Then for that I am grateful.”

Faramir gently hit his shoulder. “Is that the thanks we get for caring for you? And when was the last time you had water? I do not want your body failing again.”

Éomer offered the water to Boromir as Faramir held him in a semi-sitting position.

Boromir took a few small sips and pushed it away. “It tastes bad.”

Éomer took a sip. “Just old. Is there a stream nearby?”

“There is. I will show it to you when Boromir sleeps.”

“Do not be getting yourself in any trouble whilst you look for it, Faramir. I do not think I can make it home by myself.” He smiled again and leaned back against Faramir’s thighs.

Éomer left and Boromir stayed still, his eyes closed. “I have not felt this peaceful in many a long day. I am glad you came, Faramir.”

“I will always come for you, Boromir. Why did you not wind your horn?”

“During the attack, I was felled too quickly. After that, the Orcs had it and my weapons in another part of the cave. Once Éomer came, I was too injured to even think. Not conscious most of those days.” He laughed quietly. “I don’t think I could have winded it if I had tried.”

Faramir began to gently stroke Boromir’s forehead. “I would rather have come home with no arms or legs than without you, Boromir.” His voice caught.

Boromir tightened his grip.

A long silence followed and Faramir thought his brother asleep until he heard a sharp hiss. “Boromir?”

“Just a twinge. Nothing more. I am well, Faramir.” He looked back at his brother and smiled. “Have you read any good books lately?” The smile broadened and there was a twinkle in Boromir’s eyes.

Faramir laughed out loud. “You scoundrel. You scare the life out of me and then you lie there as if really interested in anything I might read.”

“I had hoped perhaps it was of a battle and we could discuss strategy. But battles never quite go the way one thinks, do they, Faramir?”

“Nay, brother, they do not.”

“So, what have you read?”

Faramir blushed, lifted Boromir’s head, and moved to bring water, but Boromir would not be swayed. “What have you read? I can see it in your eyes. You have read something since lying about the Citadel. What was it?”

“I still have it,” Faramir’s blush deepened. “It is in my bag. Would you like to see it? I found it deep in the Library.”

“Bring it to me, but also, some more tea?”

“Boromir! You are in pain.”

“Just a bit. Bring me the book and the tea. Please?”

Faramir nodded and left the tent, returning but moments later. “Tea and a book. Would you like some cookies, too?”

Boromir snorted and Faramir laughed. The younger sat down next to his brother and helped hold him up whilst he drank. After a few moments, Boromir pushed the mug aside. “Thank you. Now. The book.”

“It is about Elves.” Faramir laughed at the look of chagrin on Boromir’s face. “But also about battles.” Another laugh as Boromir nodded his encouragement. “So, if it is Elves it is not so good, but if it is about Elves and battles, then it is acceptable?”

“Do not chide me about Elves. And do NOT bring up that tale about Edhellond again either! Tell me about it. What is the title?”

“Auth Beleriand.”

“Auth e –Mîr? The Wars of the Jewels? Are you… Faramir?”

“It is not about us, you silly sot! I didn’t say ‘The Wars of the Jewels,’ I said ‘The Wars of Beleriand.’ It is about the wars in the first age. There was an Elf who slew a great beast. Among other things. I was intrigued. The frontispiece has a picture of the beast. Do you see it?” He held it close to Boromir’s nose.

Boromir sneezed. “I merely stated the other name for the battles. The book still has the dust from the library on it. I can see it, Faramir.” Fondness colored his voice as he tried to push the book a little ways away. Another sneeze and this time he really was in pain.

Faramir quickly moved the book and wiped Boromir’s face with a cool cloth. “I am so sorry!”

Boromir waved one hand in disagreement, but held his nose with the other. After a moment, he took a breath. And then another. “The fit seems to be passing. Now, forgive me for interrupting. Would you read some of it?”

Faramir began. Éomer had entered and sat, cross-legged on the tent’s dirt floor. His eyes lit up when he recognized the Sindarin. ‘It has been a long while since last I heard my grandfather’s beloved language.’ Grima had convinced Théoden to pass a law against the 'foreign' tongue. He sat very still. The guard had moved the flap of the tent back and listened attentively. The evening passed.

~*~

The next morning, his fever had left him. Faramir shouted orders for the camp to be struck. Within an hour after they broke their fast, they set out. Boromir was still on the travois. Faramir walked beside him. “I sent a rider this morning. There appears to be little danger in this part of Gondor. He should arrive in Minas Tirith by nuncheon.”

“Father will be relieved.”

They went some way before Faramir noticed that Boromir was deep in thought. “Now, big brother,” he smiled warmly, “What troubles you?”

“The Lady Míriel. What is she like? You did meet her?”

“I did. We had the feast for Ethuil and I danced with her. She is fair to look upon and she dances better than I.” He smirked at Boromir’s sudden grin. “Uncle Imrahil gave me a few lessons before the festival. I appointed myself well, according to Aunt Nerdanel. Well, she seems fair. I liked her, but I do not think father is convinced.”

Boromir smiled. “I should be wed to a queen, I think, in father’s mind. Perhaps the Queen of the Elves!”

“Boromir! There are Elves; you know that. It is not respectful to make light of them.”

“So you again remind me that you alone saw the Elf at Edhellond?”

“That is not what I was saying!”

“Calm yourself, Faramir,” Boromir laughed. “I know what you are saying. It was only a jest, nothing more.”

“One day you will meet one and then you will be sorry. I very much remember what he was like. Father told us about the time he met an Elf too, in Dol Amroth. Remember?”

“I do, Faramir. But the Elves are of no use to us now. They have deserted us. Have you seen one raise a sword in Gondor’s defense as of late? One day, we will need Elves, and Dwarves even, if what father foresees is true. I wonder, will we have their help? Or even Rohan’s?”

“If Éomer has anything to do with it, Rohan will help. I do not believe Théoden King will not help, if the Red Arrow is sent.”

Boromir remained quiet for some time. Faramir gave him that time.

They stopped twice that day, once for nuncheon and once nearer the daymeal. At both times, they changed Boromir’s dressings. The trip was beginning to wear upon Boromir. He slept fitfully in between stops and his fever returned. All hoped they would reach Amon Dîn before night fell.

Baranor greeted them at the gate. Faramir had winded his own horn and the gates had opened immediately. The old warrior was profuse in his welcome and his quiet assessment of their needs. Four soldiers picked up the travois with Boromir on it and walked quickly, but steadily, to the garrison’s healing rooms. Faramir began to follow, but Baranor stopped him. “He will be well tended. A rider with this news must be sent to Minas Tirith.”

“I already sent one this morning.”

“Another would not be remiss, for the Steward must be anxious.”

“You are wise, friend. Send another rider. I will go to my brother.”

“Another moment? Boromir is in very good hands. Our healer is one of the best in Minas Tirith. I picked him myself,” Baranor’s smile grew wide. “You and your men must eat and rest.”

Faramir’s head bowed. He was indeed tired and knew that the men who had accompanied Boromir from the Mering must be exhausted. “Show us where we may sleep. And thank you.” He was asleep a moment after his head hit the pillow.

~*~

A/N – the words that Faramir says to Boromir (“I would rather have come home with no arms or legs than without you, Boromir.”) are slightly changed from words from a World War II survivor, Walter Ehlers (PBS Series War.) Walter’s older brother and he landed at Normandy. He made it; his brother did not. He said of his brother, “I would rather have come home with no arms or legs than without my brother.” It struck such a cord with me. My heart went out to this still heartborken soldier, but at the same time, I thought of the Brothers ‘Mir and realized that this statement exemplified my understanding of the bond between the two.

Translation of these next phrases by Fiondil, author extraordinaire: Wars of Beleriand: Auth Beleriand.... War of the Jewels: Auth e -Mîr. The difference in form is that Beleriand is a proper noun, cf. Aran Moria, while Jewels is not. What would we do without friends!!!

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38.

“Treachery, Denethor?”

“I know not yet. At the ninth hour, bring to me the errand-riders responsible for reports from the various garrisons. Bring them to the Great Hall, one by one. I would speak with them about these missing reports.”

Húrin nodded and left, his face swept with concern.

Denethor stood and leaned against the window’s sill. He watched as the Tower Guard went through their morning ritual. Four men, dressed in the elaborate garb and helms of the Tower Guard marched in formation from their quarters to the base of the Tower, their boots sounding as one on the marble floor of the Citadel. They stopped in front of the White Tree, facing the Great Hall. The soldiers on duty drew their swords, saluted, sheathed their swords, and then formed their own detail. They marched to the other side of the White Tree and faced east. Their replacements saluted and marched to the now abandoned posts. The relieved detail marched briskly back to their quarters. All grew still again.

Denethor’s manservant knocked and entered. “Will you break your fast now, my Lord?”

The Steward nodded and watched as the man lay a linen cloth on Denethor’s desk, then placed silverware, plates and glasses in their appropriate spots. The man left the room, but within moments, returned carrying a large tray. He placed it next to the cloth, took the teapot, cup and saucer and placed them at the head of the linen. After that, he beckoned for Denethor to sit, holding the Steward’s chair out for him. Once his master was seated, he removed a large rounded top off a server, took a plate from the tray and began to fill it with bacon, poached eggs in a scallion sauce, fresh asparagus with dill, and small squares of new potatoes that had been boiled, mashed and fried. He put a bowl full of cut up fruit at Denethor’s left, with a plate of toasted, honeyed bread on his right. Bowing, the manservant left.

Denethor contemplated the food before him. Two thoughts entered the Steward’s mind in quick succession: there seemed to be an overabundance of food, and, should he bring in a taster for his food?

He wondered if he was always served so much food. He did not remember such plentitude. Was it because of the guests in the City for the betrothal? The talks with Imrahil and Húrin regarding the storage of extra foods and the increase in the fields being planted had reminded Denethor that food would not always be so plentiful. ‘Are we wasting it?’

The other thought was more grim. If treachery were afoot in the Citadel itself, would it not be prudent to have one? This thought galled him. Never, as far as he could remember, had a Steward needed a taster. He cursed. The Enemy would change the entire fabric of his life, if given the opportunity. He slammed his fist down. Nay! He would not have a taster. He smiled at the mess. His fist had thoroughly crushed the asparagus.

~*~

Two errand-riders had come to the City this day: one at midday, the other about an hour past. The news had been good, but not excellent. Boromir was indeed injured, but should return to Minas Tirith by the daymeal. The City grew chaotic as Húrin urged all to prepare for the heir’s arrival. Denethor had decided that Boromir would be taken to his own rooms; the Steward’s personal healer would attend him. The nature of the wound was discussed by a small gathering: Denethor, Húrin, Imrahil, twelve healers, and the errand-rider who came directly from Faramir.

“There was treachery, my Lord Steward. Captain Faramir deemed you hear of it, for the wound is infected.”

“Is it a gnawing sore?” Argon, Denethor’s Warden of the Houses asked the rider.

The man swallowed hard. “It is. We had no maggots. Marshal Éomer cut off the…”

“Marshal Éomer?” Denethor stood and the study immediately grew quiet. “What was Marshal Éomer doing there?”

“His company found Captain-General Boromir. I know nothing more, my Lord Steward. I was given these details only and told to ride for my life.”

“Is there anything more about the wound,” the Warden interrupted impatiently. “I must know about the wound to prepare medicaments.”

“It is a belly wound, my Lord. It is long, from here to here.” The rider used his finger to show the extent of the wound, as described by Faramir. “It cut the muscle, but did not enter his gut. The wound was cared for well at the beginning. I was not told how or why, but the wound became infected, due to treachery. Captain-General Boromir has been with fever since yesterday.”

“Is he awake?”

“Aye. And speaking with Captain Faramir. I was told the wound is grievous and will need some diligent care.”

“Have you seen it?” the Warden continued.

“I have not.”

“Is that all you need, Argon?”

The Warden nodded.

“You may go,” Denethor turned to the rider, “but stay within the Citadel, in case we need to ask more questions.”

The rider saluted and departed.

Denethor put his elbows on his desk and leaned his chin on his folded hands. “Treachery. Long has it been our enemy. Go now, Argon and do what you must to prepare for Boromir’s arrival. I will have him stay in his own room. Bring what you need to the antechamber. If there is anything you need, anything, send for Húrin.”

The healer nodded and left. Imrahil waited a moment, then walked towards Denethor. “The Rohirrim are our allies. Éomer is with Boromir for a reason, perhaps to discuss the very thing you sent Boromir to discuss. I cannot believe he would be a part of any treachery.”

“I would believe you are correct, but the Enemy is cunning, Imrahil. He would turn us against one another. I wonder if Éomer is Faramir’s guest or prisoner?”

“Guest!” Húrin said emphatically. “If naught else, remember that Éomer is Morwen’s grandson. The blood of Númenor runs through the man. He would not betray his mother’s people!”

“The blood of Númenor runs through Théoden and I do not trust him further than I can throw him. He is weak. Is the same weakness in Éomer? It is useless to discuss further. When Faramir returns, we will discover where the treachery lies. As for now, let us find the treachery within our own walls. Húrin, where is the Captain of Report? You were going to send him to me this day.”

“I had given the position to young Arthad. We were finished with preparations for the betrothal and the man asked for another assignment. I did not realize you wanted to see him. I thoroughly interviewed him. The reports have been received and sent to those who needed them, according to Arthad. I know Boromir highly respects the man. I was going to bring my report to you this evening. I have found no cause for the missing reports. The errand-riders were ready to meet with you an hour ago, but I deemed it more important for you to meet with Faramir’s rider.”

“Arthad.” Denethor took a deep breath. “Aye. Both Boromir and myself hold Arthad in high esteem. Yet, he has seen much battle as of late. Mayhap battle sickness assails him. Have him taken to Argon and examined. I wish to hear your report by this evening. I will meet with the errand-riders tomorrow. Tonight, I must prepare for Boromir.”

Húrin nodded, saluted and left.

Imrahil, noting Denethor’s disquiet, challenged him to a bit of sword work. Denethor agreed. The hour passed quickly. Denethor puffed a little. “You are younger than I and it is beginning to show. Or did you hold off the first few times we met, so that I was lulled into a sense of ease?”

Imrahil laughed. “I too am puffing. It is the late hour of our practice. Usually, we do this in the morning. I need a bath.

“As do I.”

“Nerdanel thinks you are angry with her. She wonders at your absence. Would you join us for the daymeal?”

“I will. Give me an hour to bath and prepare myself and I will meet you in your quarters. Tell her to please not fuss.”

Imrahil smiled and they embraced and left each other.

Denethor now sat with a glass of wine in one hand and waited for Imrahil. The Prince was finishing cleaning up.

“I will be with you in a moment,” he called from behind the screen. “Then, I will show you that sword that I found in father’s library. It is incredible. The detail is Elvish, I am sure of it.”

Denethor smiled at the excitement in Imrahil’s voice, but the smile quickly faded as he heard women’s voices coming from Miriel’s rooms, adjoining Imrahil’s study.

“I do not want to meet him at the ceremony! I want to see him beforehand. I do not want to be shocked by his appearance.”

“You will obey the Steward. The Lord Boromir has been injured and will require much time convalescing. If you do not meet him before the ceremony, you will have to accept that decision. It is the Stewards to make, not yours.”

Denethor recognized Nerdanel’s voice and listened attentively.

“The wound. I heard it is ugly. Will I have to touch it? I do not want to touch a wound.”

“You are marrying a warrior, Míriel. A warrior of Gondor. He will have wounds. Your father has wounds, I am sure, and your mother touches him.”

“Do not speak of my father and mother in such terms. It is disgusting to think of them that way.”

He heard Nerdanel’s sigh. “As Boromir’s mate, you will be expected to attend him in many ways. One of them might even be taking care of his wounds, rubbing healing ointments on his battle-weary limbs, helping him undress when he is burdened with his armour. There are many things that are done by a good wife that are sometimes difficult, but the other parts of marriage are worth it. You must learn to touch him in many ways.”

“I will not touch his wounds!”

Denethor heard a small foot stamp and his face grew livid. He put down his wine glass and left the room.


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39.

It felt as if he lay on a great, warm bed. He could hardly believe it. In truth, it felt like his own bed. Keeping his eyes closed, he savoured the feeling. When he tried to sink further into it, however, a stab of pain coursed from his belly to his head. So it was not a dream.

“It is your bed, my son, and it would be wise if you moved as little as possible.”

Boromir’s eyes flew open. “Father!” he gasped.

“You are home, my son. Rest a little, until the healers come back.”

Boromir closed his eyes in gratitude; a lone tear trailed its way down his cheek. “I had not thought to see you again,” he whispered. “Do not tell Faramir.”

“I am too stubborn to let you go.”

“And too proud to have it be known that the Steward of Gondor failed his own son,” Boromir smiled, though his eyes remained closed.

“That too,” Denethor smiled himself. “Pride has its place, at times.” Denethor bit his lip to keep the next thought silenced. ‘Was it pride led Faramir to usurp his authority to deal with the Rohirric traitor?’ In his wildest imaginings, he could not fathom why his youngest had allowed the fiend to escape his rightful judgment. Be that as it may, this was Boromir’s homecoming and Boromir would not welcome talk of Faramir’s moment of weakness.

When Denethor looked up, he found that Boromir watched him.

“Is not the news of my return enough, Father? Yet, I see your anger and understand. It is against Faramir?”

“Let us not discuss your brother at this time. He has, as of late, decided to be Steward.”

“He has not, Father!” The vehemence of Boromir’s reply drew a gasp from him as the wound tightened. The muscles of his stomach were not yet healed and readily reacted to any movement.

“I told you it best not to move,” Denethor said gently. Then, he continued, “Let it suffice to say, Boromir, that I have forgiven your brother. I will speak of it no more.” A faint sheen of sweat now covered Boromir’s forehead. Denethor took a cloth and wiped it. Gently, he placed a kiss on his son’s brow. “How can I be angry with Faramir when he brings my son home?”

Boromir smiled, then quickly frowned. “What of Éomer, Father? You were kind?”

“As I have heard the story told, I would not have you beside me if not for Éomer of the Mark. I give him much credit, after the treachery of his healer, to come to me with apologies. I wonder how his uncle will react to the news?”

“He would not banish him, would he? Or… or execute him?”

“I think not. Théoden knows he needs every capable warrior to guard his borders. Banishment? Nay. But perhaps demotion. I know not. I can no longer fathom my friend. Too many others of questionable regard have Théoden’s ear. But enough of this talk. Your promised one is here, in Minas Tirith, and eagerly awaits your recovery.”

“What is she like? Faramir thinks well of her.”

“She is comely and courtly.”

“You have no regard for her?” Boromir’s brow rose.

“I have reservations. She is young. She will learn. Faramir, before he ran off after you, showed her about our City. She was most attentive. She is adept at needlework and has some organizational skills. Imrahil thinks highly of her.”

“But she has him wrapped around her finger?”

Denethor laughed, then looked down at his hands. “If she accomplishes that with you, then I have much to fear. For a man deeply in love with a woman will allow her to destroy, if she is so inclined, everything else that he loves.”

“Then I know what my task will be in this marriage – to ensure that I am never entrapped.”

Denethor looked up in surprise. “There are different forms of entrapment, my son. Your task in this marriage is to love this woman with all your heart, teach her the ways of Gondor, and give your land an heir.”

“Is she lovable?”

Denethor pondered this question for a moment. “I most hope so.”

Faramir diffidently entered the room.

Boromir’s smile told Denethor who had come in. “Faramir,” he called. “Come and sit with your brother. He is restless, yet I must leave him. Boromir, the healers believe you will be up and about in four days. I have moved the ceremony back a fortnight. Do you agree?”

“Aye, Father. I will be ready.”

Denethor bent and kissed Boromir’s brow one more time. “Rest now, my son, and be at peace. You are home and safe.”

Boromir shuddered.

“Safe,” Denethor reiterated. He turned and left, nodding to Faramir on his way out.

“He is most displeased,” Faramir said quietly.

“Aye. But he says he has forgiven you.”

“Did I need forgiveness? Was I not acting as a Captain of Gondor? Boromir, I did what I thought was right and proper. What needed to be done.”

“I know. And he knows as well. It is just that his anger and fear were too great. He almost lost me, that he realizes, and it is bitter knowledge to have. Give him time.”

Faramir smiled. “The healers will be here shortly. Let me look at you.” Faramir noted the sheen of sweat on Boromir’s brow. “The fever persists. Are you not resting?”

“I am. Well, I was until father unknowingly woke me.”

“Speaking with father gives me a fever,” Faramir laughed.

Boromir took Faramir’s hand and squeezed it. “Do not concern yourself with that now. Tell me, have you rested yourself? I remember naught since we left Eilenach.”

Faramir stared. “That was four days ago. I am surprised father did not let the healers place you in the Houses!”

“After your last ‘incarceration,’ I am most grateful he did not. My own bed suits me.”

Faramir returned the gesture. “Now, I have brought our book. Would you like me to read more?”

“Aye.” Boromir grimaced as he settled deeper in his bed. “Which battle?”

~*~

The next morning’s meeting with the errand-riders proved fruitless. Only four were present, as most were on their appointed rounds. He already knew most of what they said: reports were brought in and handed to Arthad; Arthad sent them to Denethor, Húrin, and the Lords of the Council; replies and orders were distributed to the appropriate riders; the riders delivered them to the different outposts and garrisons. All seemed to be in order. And yet, reports were not being received. Faramir had told him of Baranor’s complaints. He had his own; he was not receiving reports! He waved the riders away.

“Write a list of the daily and weekly reports, Húrin. Show me which errand-rider covers which territory. I must speak with Arthad, but I hesitate until I know more.”

Húrin painstakingly wrote a note. Then, he looked up at Denethor. “Éomer, Marshal of the Mark, still waits upon your pleasure.”

The hint of distress in Húrin’s voice would have made Denethor smile, if not for the gravity of the situation in Rohan. “I will see him after the morning’s audience.”

“He has been here two days already and has spent a very long time on the road before that, guarding Boromir.” Húrin hesitated to speak, but the courageous Rider of Rohan stirred empathy in his heart.

“After the audience. And in my personal study.”

Húrin bowed, saluted and left the Great Hall.

The crowds filed in, nobles and lords, peasants and shopkeepers, farmers and tradesmen, all awaiting his judgment of their grievances. He had found that, more and more, he could hardly bear this duty. Troubles and petty little squabbles. They had increased ten-fold this last year. No matter what he had done to alleviate their suffering from the effects of this war, they still found other things to complain about. The treasury was being bled dry by orphans and widows, never mind by the suppliers raising their charges for supplies desperately needed by Gondor’s army. Yet, when a Knight’s widow came to him, he readily offered recompense, though never enough to satisfy them. He had opened another two orphanages on the second level, but his Warden told him they would be full before the year was out. He set his jaw and sat.

When at last the time allotted was completed, he walked to his study. He needed to use the Palantír; the riders had to be followed and watched. Arthad was a capable administrator. Reports should be arriving here and in the field. But they were not and he could not trust those about him. The stone would not lie. Only steps away from his own study, he turned the corner to go back up the stairs, and ran into the Marshal of the Mark.

“Éomer, Marshal, please, come into my study.” He offered a chair to Théoden’s nephew. “Sit down. Forgive me for the delay. You are anxious to return to Meduseld and I, I keep you here. Would you join me for some wine?” He turned and took the carafe off the silver tray and filled a pewter goblet. He handed it to Éomer. He laughed to himself, not many soldiers would turn down free wine. He sat on a chair opposite the Marshal and took a few sips. He could feel Éomer angering at the delay. This was not the first and it would not be the last. The young one would need to take a message back to Théoden King that to trifle with the loyalty and friendship of Gondor would be a fool’s tack in these times. He watched under his eyelashes as the Rohir squirmed in his chair. The wine had been quickly downed, as if, and he knew this was the reason, as if the man wanted to flee Minas Tirith as quickly as possible. He would find himself here another few days, if Denethor had his will. At last, he looked up and smiled. “I would offer a banquet in your honour. Gondor is most appreciative of your selfless act of courage. Bringing my son home to me is the greatest gift any man can give another. Do you not agree?”

Éomer opened his mouth as if to speak, but Denethor continued on, seemingly without haste, so that Éomer had not a moment to speak.

“A banquet is only fitting. I would ask you to stay for Boromir’s betrothal ceremony, but that is now scheduled a fortnight away. I do not think you will be able to attend that? Nay. It is a shame. Boromir himself would appreciate your being there. I know you are fond of each other; your long friendship has been a boon to Gondor. I think it has been a boon to Rohan as well? Well, never mind that. The important thing is that we, of Gondor, make some show of gratitude to you. What might you have in mind?”

Again, Éomer began to speak and Denethor cut him short. “I know. Mayhap a mithril-tipped spear? Engraved, of course, with your name and Boromir’s and the mention of your bravery? Ah, yes. That would be better than a banquet for a warrior such as yourself.”

“Father?” Faramir stood at Denethor’s study door. “Boromir has asked to see you.”

Denethor rose and ushered Faramir from the room. “I must speak with Éomer. He has waited long for our interview. Is Boromir not well? Does he need me now?”

“He wishes to speak to you about Éomer. He is concerned that you have not allowed him to leave Minas Tirith yet.”

“I do not need to answer to my sons on matters of state, Faramir.” His voice was cold and hard. “Tell Boromir that I will be kind, as he has asked, but I must make sure Rohan remains loyal. And Éomer will help me with that. Go back to Boromir, if indeed he sent you, and tell him I will sup with him tonight.”

Faramir saluted and left.

“Lord Denethor,” Éomer stood behind him. “You need not be concerned. Rohan’s loyalty has been known since the days of Eorl. I would speak plainly with you. I do not acquaint myself with court manners nor customs. I am a simple warrior. I obey my liege lord and I obey my heart.”

Denethor looked at the man with affection. “Then I will not mince words either. I knew your father well. He would tell me of his love for your mother. I never doubted your father.”

“You doubt my uncle.”

“Aye. You have seen the treachery that rears up between us. You have seen it!” His voice rose in pitch; he stopped for a moment and collected himself. “Lies have spread throughout Gondor that Rohan has changed allegiance to a wizard in a tower. In deference to your father’s memory, I ask you, is this true?”

“It would seem so, but I do not believe it. If Gondor calls, I will answer as will my men, as will Théodred and, in the end, Théoden King. He swore the oath to you. No matter what his ‘counselors’ might say, he must keep his oath.”

“If he does not, will you still answer?”

“I will not look that far. I see more than you think, Lord Denethor. I know what lies are being spread. I have seen it first hand with Boromir and the leach. But even before that, I saw and heard them in my own éored and my men now know that I will not countenance the telling of those lies. They know I follow my king and our laws. If aught should happen, I will follow our laws. Is that enough for you?”

“Nay. But it will suffice. I could rely upon your grandmother to plead Gondor’s case with her son. May I rely upon you?”

“I can only do what I can do. Théodred and I have spoken of this. He leads his men well; they trust him and they are prepared to defend not only the Mark but Gondor as well. He reminds them of the oath.” With this, Éomer smiled. “Have you forgotten, Lord Denethor, how we swear by our ancestors? We believe we will see them one day and would not wish to greet them as traitors to an oath handed down generation to generation. You have my word. Unless I am imprisoned or dead, I will keep my word.”

“Then make haste back to the Mark, Éomer Marshal. And know that you have my love, as your father did. Your horse has been well tended. I will order supplies for you and your men. Would you leave this noon?”

“If it pleases you, my Lord Denethor. I will say my farewells to Boromir and Faramir.”

“First, take this.” Denethor strode to his antechamber and brought back a long, mithril-tipped spear, made of black lebethron wood. Carved horses’ heads ran down the length of it. A mithril plate, small, was attached directly below the point: ‘To Éomer, in deepest gratitude, Denethor.’

Éomer looked up, tears in his eyes. “Thank you. I will treasure it. May it ever serve the Mark and her friends.” He stepped forward and clasped Denethor to him. “To my father’s honour,” he saluted. Then, he turned and left.

Denethor smiled sadly. ‘Is there honour left in Meduseld?’

~*~

Faramir had not missed the innuendo in his father’s reply. ‘If Boromir sent you…’ The sting of the words had hurt and infuriated him. He dared not go back to Boromir’s room, not with this anger raging in his breast. Boromir would see and be aggrieved. Right now, Boromir had to heal and anything that would delay that healing was unacceptable to Faramir. He shivered and pulled his cloak tighter about him. Where could he go? The stables. He would groom his horse, that usually calmed him. Edhel whinnied when he entered the stall and Faramir grinned. He put on the halter and hooked the horse securely, then pulled a body brush out of a nearby cupboard and proceeded to smooth the hair. He’d already groomed Edhel earlier in the morning, but needed the calm of the repetitive action to steady his heart.

“Faramir! I went to Boromir’s rooms to bid you both farewell, but you were not there. I am glad to have found you. I would not want to leave Mundberg before bidding you well.” Éomer strode forward and stopped outside the stall’s door.

“Father is letting you…? I am glad you and father have finished your business. I am very glad you are going home.”

“As am I. I… uh, I am not certain of my welcome in the King’s court, but I am long o’erdue.”

“I am not certain of my welcome in the Steward’s court.” Faramir smiled.

“Ah!” Éomer’s brow rose. “So I am not alone in the bad graces of a liege lord?”

“You are not.”

“Letting the healer go?”

“Aye. Among other things.”

Éomer laughed loud and heartily. “The same here. Among other things. My uncle does not quite see my way of thinking. Nay. He sees, but does not approve. I heard Denethor’s words. Not kind.”

“Nay. Not kind indeed, but not unexpected. I seem unable to win his graces, as of late.”

“It is hard being the second.”

“Ah, yes. Théodred?”

“I do not begrudge my cousin his father’s love and respect. At one time, I received a fair share. But no longer.”

“I have heard of your father’s… illness. I am sorry.”

“Thank you.”

“I do not begrudge Boromir’s place in father’s heart, either. It has been some time since I have received a fair share.” Faramir shrugged. He took of Edhel’s halter and moved out of the stall, locking it securely behind him. “I would that our time together had been longer and of not so serious a nature, but it was good to see you again.”

“As it was for me. Take care of yourself, Faramir. From everything that Boromir has told me, you are a good soldier.”

“Boromir says Théodred has said the same about you, Rider of the Mark.”

Éomer smiled. “We should both take such words to heart. There are enough lies spreading about the country without us listening to them!” He put his hand on Faramir’s shoulder and pulled him close.

Faramir returned the embrace. “May the Valar protect thee.”

And thee,” Éomer replied.

They walked slowly to the First Level and said their last farewells.

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40.


“If I do not meet him before the betrothal, I will not stand next to him!” She stamped her foot and the sound rang through the hallway leading to the Great Hall. They were scheduled to meet with Denethor in a matter of moments and the silly girl had picked this time to be stubborn. Imrahil had all he could do not to stomp away himself; he had never been so angry. Nerdanel gave him a look and he obeyed her. She always could take care of situations like this much better than he.

“If you do not stand, as your father has promised, then you will return to Dol Amroth in disgrace. Do you understand me, girl?”

Míriel gasped. No one had ever spoken to her like this; not even her mother. She began to cry. Imrahil’s brow rose in concern, but Nerdanel gave him such a look of fury, that he stopped the words of comfort that were on his lips.

When her ploy did not work, she bit her lip. “My mother has many friends,” she sobbed, “and they will not invite you to their parties.”

Nerdanel laughed in shock and surprise. Imrahil stepped forward, but his wife shook her head. “If that is the price I must pay to ensure your father’s honour, than so be it,” she said in mock humility.

The girl stared at her. “I have my honour, too. I will not be wed without meeting him.”

They heard a discreet cough and turned. Faramir stood before them. “Mayhap the Lady Míriel has a point. Boromir, I am sure, would deem it appropriate for them to meet before the ceremony. I will arrange it, if you ask.”

Míriel smiled brightly and gave a deep, eyelash-fluttering bow to Faramir. Nerdanel drew in her breath and Imrahil let one out.

A perfect solution, the Prince thought. “Lord Faramir, if you would be so kind as to act as intermediary for us, I would be grateful.”

Nerdanel shook with anger, but said not a word.

“I will speak with father after your audience. You are, as we speak being introduced, are you not?”

Imrahil heard the Chamberlain’s voice and shook his head. Never had he been late for an audience. He took Nerdanel by the arm and led her forward.

Faramir, seeing Miriel’s bewilderment, took her arm and led her into the Great Hall.

~*~

Boromir’s face was turned towards the sun. It was slowly moving westward; only another few hours, and Anor’s light would slip behind Mindolluin. Much as he loved the City, these savoured moments alone in his mother's garden filled him with a rare peace. He knew she would be coming soon; Faramir had arranged a meeting. Glad he was that his brother thought of the garden, for no other place in Minas Tirith would afford him the peace he would need.

Denethor did not like the woman, of that, Boromir was certain. Yet, he could not base his own life, his marriage, upon his father's feelings, wise though Denethor was. He did not need a companion; his men gave him companionship. He did not need someone to protect; did he not have all of Gondor to protect? He did not need someone to care for him; did not his mother teach him how to darn his own socks?

Nay! He needed someone to carry his seed to fruition. That was the crux of the matter. Miriel's family tree was long and strong. She could bear children, if her ancestry was any measure.

Is that all he hoped for? Nay, again. He hoped for love and fidelity, for a warm hand on his back when the mail became burdensome and cut into him. He hoped for a playmate. He smiled at the idea. Time would not allow him the luxury of play, but he missed it. She could remind him to laugh and to look at the clouds and to remember joy. He swallowed hard. If his father was correct, this one would not fulfill any but the basest of needs. And he wondered if she would e'en do that.

And he - what was expected of him? She would eventually be the Steward's wife. She would have everything she would need. Food, shelter, fine clothes, jewels about her throat, slippers (his brother had told him women like many slippers), servants.... His father had suggested other needs... He knew, from the soldiers under his command, the needs of a woman, and he would happily take care of those needs. But would this one...? He heard a cough behind him and made to stand.

“Nay, dearest nephew! Please stay seated. Lady Míriel and I have brought tea and sandwiches and some chocolates from Harad. Let me serve you.” Aunt Nerdanel ordered a table brought over to where he sat while Míriel supervised the tray of refreshments.

He sat up in his chair, trying to stifle the grunt of pain that threatened. His gut was still sore, but it was to be expected. Today he had spent time in the practice court, trying to wield his sword. He bit his lip, remembering the frustration.

“There is still pain?”

“Not much, Aunt. I moved the wrong way.” He smiled and it melted her heart, as his smiles always did. Truth be known, he was her favorite, though Imrahil loved Faramir more. The steadfastness of her eldest nephew and his great fortitude endeared him to her. He reminded her of her father, dead in the Corsair battle of '80.

“Lady Míriel,” Boromir bowed his head in greeting. “You look splendid today. Dol Amroth blue has never looked prettier, except perhaps on Lady Nerdanel.”

Míriel smiled slightly. The man was large and broad-shouldered; his hands were huge. She shivered. ‘Why could he not be like Faramir?’

He saw her eyes rove over him and was surprised at the expression he read in them. “Please, sit by my side. I have heard so much about you and your family. You have much to be proud of. Did your parents come for the ceremony?”

She nodded. “Both are here along with my sisters and brothers.”

“Three sisters and two brothers, if I remember correctly?”

She nodded again.

“Are you comfortable in your quarters?”

“Your father moved her family into one of the visitor's mansions on the Sixth Level,” Nerdanel broke in. “The Tower had not an apartment spacious enough for the entire family.”

Boromir immediately understood. Someone had been unhappy with the accommodations first given them. ‘Probably her mother,’ he mused. He had heard tales of the woman's pride and pomposity.

“Ah! I hope it is to your liking, Lady Míriel?”

She nodded.

‘Blast!’ he thought wryly. ‘She has not a tongue of her own.’

Nerdanel poured the steeping tea. She handed a cup and saucer to Boromir and then filled a plate with small sandwiches and slices of orange. The plate she placed on the table next to him.

He took the cup and smiled at her. Impulsively, he took her hand and kissed it lightly. “You have always been too kind, Aunt. I am deeply grateful.”

Míriel's eyes rose at the gesture. She took a proffered cup from Lady Nerdanel and sipped quietly.

“You have been in Minas Tirith for quite some time now. Is it what you expected, Lady Míriel?”

She looked up and towards the east. The mountain flared at that moment and she flinched.

“The mountain carries naught to frighten you. It is well beyond our borders and heavily guarded by the garrison at Osgiliath. If you walk to the end of the parapet, you can see the old city. It once was quite beautiful. Father and I have hopes of returning it to its glory. Did you know there was a planetarium there? And a fine theatre. We do have a theatre here, though not as grand as that one once was. We have our own troupe of actors. They are quite good. Mayhap, when next you return, I might take you to the theatre?”

She nodded.

He stifled a sigh.

After an hour, his strength flagged and Nerdanel, ever vigilant, noted his fatigue. It had been a very trying hour. His intended had said no more than a dozen words. And all were responses to Boromir's gentle questions. Nerdanel rose. “It is time we prepared for the daymeal. Your father has quite a feast planned, though I hope the evening will end early. We will all need our sleep for the ceremony tomorrow. Thank you, Boromir, for the directions to the jewelers and the cartographers. I mean to gift Prince Imrahil with a map. Your description of the new Bay of Belfalas one has piqued my interest. Your uncle will be delighted.”

“I am most pleased to offer any service I might. To both you and to you, Lady Míriel. I hope you enjoy the meal. I do not plan on attending.”

Nerdanel gave her nephew a sharp look, but she curtsied and led Míriel away.

“If he dies, will Faramir be Steward?” he heard her whisper to his aunt. Hurt and sorrow filled him. “If Faramir becomes Steward, will the law protect me? Make him marry me? After all, the papers have been signed.” He heard Nerdanel’s reply; the slap was loud.

Boromir gave a low moan and slumped in his chair.

“It did not go well?”

“Faramir! Were you listening?”

“I was not! But I noted the ladies did not seem to be smiling as I passed them in the hall. And Aunt Nerdanel was livid. I do not envy Míriel the next hour.”

Boromir tried to laugh, but pain had coursed through him during the last half hour of the meeting. He was, indeed, fatigued, and more.

“I am sorry, Boromir. I had hoped it would help to meet her. She is quite nice when she puts her mind to it.”

“Her mind was not on me this afternoon. I think she wishes I were someone else. She spoke hardly a word to me. Is she in love with another?”

“I had not thought so. I do not understand. We have had many delightful talks. But we discuss art and music.”

“Ah. I know not much about music, except what you play for me. But I did speak of our theatre. She seemed less than… thrilled.”

Faramir sat next to Boromir and helped himself to a plate of sandwiches. “I brought wine.” He poured Boromir and himself glasses. “Will you still wed her?”

“The papers have been signed.”

Faramir nodded as they ate.

“Now, do not start that yourself. I deserve at least a plain answer.”

Faramir looked at Boromir in surprise.

“All the Lady Míriel did this afternoon was nod.”

Faramir laughed. “At least she did not nod asleep.”

“Thank you,” Boromir said dryly. “I have not put anyone to sleep in a very long time.”

“Forgive me, brother. Give her time. She is not used to warriors. She is used to a courtly life.”

“Her father was a warrior, a Knight of Dol Amroth.”

“And she rarely saw him! As oft happens with warriors. Give her time.”

“For Gondor’s sake, I will. Faramir, would you help me to my room?”

Faramir stood in alarm. “Pain?”

“Aye. I stayed at the practice field too long. I know, I know,” he protested at the look Faramir gave him. “It is my own fault, but I must gain back my strength. Father plans to send me north sometime after the ceremony. I can hardly lift my blade.”

“Mayhap a lighter blade for the nonce? A practice sword instead of that great cleaver you call a sword?”

Boromir laughed, then grimaced. “Do not make me laugh, little brother. It is cruel.”

Faramir hugged him as he helped him stand, then took his arm and walked him back to his quarters. “Please rest,” he said as he pulled the bell. A servant entered immediately and began to help disrobe Boromir. “Sleep. If you do not mind, I will come for you when it is time for the daymeal.”

“I am not going.”

“Why? I am sorry. I should not question, but father will be displeased. It is a banquet for you in Merethrond. You and Lady Míriel.”

“I know, but I have not the strength. You will offer father my apologies?”

“Boromir, we have three hours before the meal. Wait and see how you feel.” Faramir pulled a chair up to the bed where Boromir, now clothed in a sleeping garment, lay. Faramir took his hand. “I promise. If you still are too weary at that time, I will go and tell father. And make him understand. Now, here, drink this tea.”

Boromir snorted. “Valerian? I do not...”

“It will help you sleep and it is much better for you than poppy.”

Boromir closed his eyes and Faramir continued to hold his hand. “I will not leave your side until you sleep. Will that help?”

“I am no longer a babe, Faramir. I do not need you to sit with me.”

“What if I want to sit with you?”

“That is acceptable.” Boromir sighed. “And welcome. Thank you, little brother.”