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End To Innocence, An: 15. In The Gardens
She turned down what she thought was the hallway leading to the entrance, but the next turn didn't bring her to the door. "Oh for fuck's sake," she said, stopping and looking around. "Hell. Where am I?" No one was around, only closed doors to either side. "It must be here somewhere," she muttered, and started forward again, eventually coming to a doorway that led out into a courtyard and garden she hadn't seen before. A gentle breeze blew in from outside, and it smelled of flowers and sweet herbs. With no better idea what to do, she stepped quietly out into the bright morning, and stopped, looking around.
Close by, she heard voices.
"For the faces of Gandalf and Aragorn are grave. Much I wonder what counsels they are taking in the tents there below."
Gimli. She was about to take a breath and speak, but then Legolas' soft voice carried through the air to her, and she held still at his words.
"Boromir is with them as well," he said, and hesitated. "I am troubled. I would that I could tell what passes through the mind of the Steward's eldest son, for long have I misliked the look I see when he regards his king."
Scarcely breathing, Maggie listened, fully over her dislike of eavesdropping when it concerned her lover, and quickly suppressing a wish to give the Elf a swift kick in the knee.
"Oh, give the Man his due," said Gimli. "He has been agreeable enough to Aragorn's will, hasn't he?"
"Yes," said Legolas, "overall, he has acquiesced, but often not without his own struggle."
"Well, he is a proud Man," Gimli acknowledged, "and who is Aragorn to him but a Ranger who bears the good will of the Elves, an ancestor's sword, and the blood of long-hidden kings?"
"He is the Man who walked the Paths of the Dead to bring aid to Gondor, and Boromir's city," Legolas replied.
"And now would take Gondor and Boromir's city from him," said Gimli. "Now, don't give me that glare, friend, I only try to show you how it might look from the other Man's side of the argument."
"He owes Estel his allegiance," Legolas said, "and I believe he knows this. Yet he has not indicated how he will move, and it troubles me."
"Boromir is honourable, Legolas," said Pippin then, "and I wish you would not doubt him. He would have died protecting us, if such had been his fate that day."
"To die protecting comrades is the way of a soldier," said Legolas, and Maggie cursed silently that she couldn't see his face when he spoke. "But it is no proof that his mind will lead him to the right path. He is brave, and loyal, but he is also proud, and has expected his whole life to rule Gondor. It may be Estel is not his hope."
"Please do not argue," came Merry's weary voice, and Maggie felt her heart lurch at the sound of it, so sad, and so tired, and she wondered what had happened to him in the time they'd been separated. "Boromir and Aragorn will come to an agreement, I am certain of it," he went on. "But if they are at odds now, which we do not know, then I would not have strife between you and Boromir as well, for you are both dear to me. He is a worthy Man."
"He is honourable, Merry," said Legolas gently, "I do not doubt it. But I am not sure where his heart lies, and he has the power to cause strife, or to prevent it, according to his will."
"He will not hurt Gondor," said Pippin firmly. "I know it as I know my own name."
"He would not mean to," said Legolas. "On that, we agree."
"Would that with our victory here this war were over," said Gimli with a sigh. "But 'till that time, neither Boromir nor Aragorn will address the issue of Gondor's throne, I believe. And whatever there is left to do for the defeat of the Enemy, I would have a part in it, for the honour of the folk of the Lonely Mountain."
"And I for the Great Wood," said Legolas, "and for the love of the Lord of the White Tree."
There was silence then, and for a long moment Maggie stayed still, trying to decide whether to advance or retreat. Before she could make up her mind, though, she heard footsteps and voices behind her, approaching from within.
"Now man, they didn't make a deal with us, remember that." Gus' smooth voice silky in the air.
"Yeah, but I figure at this point we've got some major bargaining power if these people are really as honourable as it looks like they want to think they are," said Chip, and Maggie turned to see him coming towards her with Gus beside him. "What do you think, girl?" he asked as they reached her. "We went balls-out for them - think they'll come through for us?"
"Hey now," she said, falling into step beside them, "they've still got to finish off Sauron. They can't just skip off home with us, not 'till he's taken care of."
"Well who the fuck's ass did we kick, then, if not Sauron's?" Chip asked, "'cause I'm sure as hell not sending any more of my people out after more monsters like those. We've done our bit, and they need to - " but he stopped as they came upon the quartet to whose conversation Maggie had been listening. "What the fuck?" he murmured.
"Maggie!" said Pippin brightly, smiling. "There you are! And these must be more of your companions." He hopped off the wall on which he'd been seated and motioned them forward. "Come and look - you can see almost to the edge of the world from up here. Look there - the Anduin flows away southward into Ithilien and Lebennin. See how it sparkles now the gloom of those wretched shadows is gone!"
"Lebanon?" said Chip, startled, unmoving.
Pippin shook his head. "Close. Not Lebenn-on, but Lebenn-in."
"It's weird, I know," said Maggie, gently taking Chip's right arm and Gus' left. "Lebanon and Lebennin, Saruman and Sauron and Sorrow - it's all pretty strange." She started towards her erstwhile companions, murmuring, "it's okay, they don't bite." She caught Legolas' glance as she said it and realized he'd heard, but his quick smile reassured her and she briefly forgave him his earlier remarks.
"Y'all," she said as they reached the four, "this is Chip, who's the leader of the larger of our teams, and Gus, who's - what are you, Gus? Squad leader?"
Gus glanced at her, startled. "Hmm? Oh - um - until Tank's leg heals up, yeah."
"One of Chip's squad leaders," she finished with a smile. "Guys, I want you to meet Legolas, Gimli, Merry, and Pippin, who've been so nice to me and who didn't kill me on sight when I turned up in the middle of their melee."
"Grateful to you," said Gus with an attempt at a smile. "She's way too cute to kill."
Gimli chuckled. "Aye, and useful," he said. "As I hear you are. They tell me these weapons you carry are a sight to behold."
"Oh, yeah," said Chip, looking around the gardens. "They're pretty good. There's better to be had, but the better it is, the harder it is to come by."
Gus rocked back a little on his heels and tilted his hat a bit, and said, "So, where are you all from? You don't look like you're from around here, if you'll pardon."
"We're from the Shire," said Pippin, throwing his arm lightly across Merry's shoulders. "Though I don't suppose you'll have heard of that. Our overly tall friend there is Legolas, from Mirkwood, and Gimli has travelled from the Lonely Mountain, Erebor."
Gus frowned, and glanced at Chip, who was examining the leaves of a nearby tree. "Wow. That's - a lot prettier bunch of names than Chicago and Tulsa and New Washington."
"Shi-kah-go," said Pippin, his brow furrowing a little, and then he grinned. "Why, I think that's a lovely name. Is that your home?"
Gus laughed. "Well, not for a long time now, but used to be. Chip's a Tulsa boy originally, but we're all in New Washington now."
"Well, we are grateful for the aid you brought to Gondor," said Legolas, watching Chip where he had bent to examine a small, white, star-shaped flower. "If you admire the gardens here," he said, "perhaps one day you might visit my home, or perhaps Imladris, for this is but a small thing compared to their beauty."
"Hmm?" Chip glanced up and caught the Elf's gaze, and for a moment he seemed transfixed. Then, "Oh - well, I don't know we'll be here that long," he said, sitting back on the paving stones and crossing his legs. "We have to deal with a wizard of our own, back home. In fact, we're hoping you all might see your way clear to return our little favor, once you get this Big Bad taken care of."
Legolas' expression remained neutral. "If we do," he said, "then perhaps we may. But I wonder," and he followed Chip with his eyes as the man stood again and moved to look out over the fields below. "You bring terrible weapons, and your people wield them with skill and fervor. I am surprised, then, you would feel you need our help, for it would seem you have great power in your world."
Chip and Gus laughed, and Maggie tried to suppress a grin. "I wish it were that simple," said Chip, not turning to face the Elf. "We may have some weapons, but we don't have the power, not really."
"Well, who does?" asked Gimli.
"Who knows?" Gus replied.
"'The people,' they claim," said Chip, seating himself on the wall next to Merry. He closed his eyes and raised his face to the sunlight. "But the people didn't take it," he went on, eyes still closed, "and now the politicians use it for their own ends."
"Not all of them," said Maggie. "Some are good people. A lot of them are."
"Not enough," said Gus. "Do you have politicians here?" he asked.
Legolas' laughter was bright, and he replied, "Does not every land? Politicians, kings, councils and soldiers."
"Well, at any rate," said Chip, "now we know it's that damned wizard who's responsible for a lot of it, maybe we can get rid of him and get to work making things right again."
"If it's not too late."
"Gus, don't be such a damned pessimist," said Chip, tossing a pebble from the wall at the tall man. It bounced off his hat with a tiny sound, and Gus chuckled.
"I prefer to think I'm a realist," he said.
"And you believe the wizard is Saruman?" asked Merry.
"Maybe. We're pretty sure."
"But we left Saruman alive at Isengard," Merry said, concern furrowing his brow. "Should we not have slain him, and maybe saved your world from him before he had the chance to do so much damage?"
Maggie shrugged. "We don't know whether any of us would even exist if not for - well, for the way the world is."
"Or if we did exist, whether we'd be any better off. Maybe something worse would have happened if not for him."
"Better the devil you know," said Gus. "At least we understand the world we're in now."
"But," said Merry, still puzzled, "if slaying Saruman here, in our time, would mean he'd never be in your time, wouldn't that mean that whatever world you'd go back to would be the one that would have always been, and you'd understand it just as well?"
"Maybe," said Chip. "Or maybe none of us would have ever been born."
"It all makes my head swim," said Maggie. "All I know is, I don't want to take the risk of making me and everyone I love never have existed."
"Even though it means so much suffering for so many others?" asked Legolas gently, but his eyes were piercing.
She glanced at him, hoping she hid her sudden anger. "We don't know what kind of suffering there would have been," she said, "if not for Sorrow. It's not like there's only ever one bad thing that can happen in a place, y'know, and there's no way to know what would have been better or worse except to risk it. Right now, my friends are alive, and they're my friends. That's what I know. That's what I want to keep. Regardless."
Legolas inclined his head. "It is understandable, friend," he said. "I, too, would keep friends alive, and friends." He glanced over his shoulder at the fields below, where finally men were emerging from Aragorn's tent. "The council is over, it seems. I wonder what word we shall have of the battles to come."
After a time, Chip and Gus left to talk with Janet, and Merry and Pippin returned to Merry's room so the still-weary Hobbit could rest. Maggie leaned on the stone wall beside Gimli, Legolas standing on the Dwarf's other side, all three looking out over the Pelennor. Below, the tents billowed softly in the breeze.
"This stone city is not to my liking," the Elf murmured.
"Much isn't to your liking," said Maggie irritably, and Legolas looked at her. She winced inwardly, realizing she was going to have to follow through now. "I heard y'all, earlier," she said. "I shouldn't have listened, I know, but I did, and I heard what you said about Boromir." She fixed him with a hard gaze. "I care about you, Legolas, I really do," she said, trying to keep her tone even, "and I like you, and I'm - so grateful to you for how kind you've been to me. But you really made me mad sometimes." She hesitated when he didn't speak, but only regarded her with calm eyes. Finally she said, "Why were you so quick to tell me I should 'speak my heart' to him if that's what you think of him?"
Legolas didn't answer at first, and Gimli said, "Now, lass, don't be so quick with your temper when you've heard only a piece of your friend's mind on the matter."
"Well it's not just this," she answered, frowning. "It seems like every time Boromir so much as blinks, Legolas is reminding him who's going to be king. It's - well, it's rude. Just because Aragorn's supposed to be descended from some centuries dead king doesn't mean Boromir should shut the fuck up and do whatever he says."
"Does it not?" came Faramir's voice from behind them and she spun around to see him smiling gently at her as Gimli and Legolas also turned. "Well, fealty may take many forms," he said mildly, in answer to his own question. "Forgive me - I do not mean to intrude, but the day is bright, and I was so long in shadow. When your voices reached me, I thought it best to make my presence known."
"Should you even be out of bed?" asked Maggie, going to his side, and he chuckled.
"Perhaps not," he said, "yet to lie in bed on such a day seems a terrible waste of it."
"You would be the brother of Boromir," said Gimli then as Maggie drew Faramir to the wall and made him sit, fussing over him a little to hide her nerves. "As like as twin jewels carved from one stone, you are. Faramir, have I guessed aright?"
"You have," said Faramir with a smile. "And you would be Gimli, Glóin's son, from Erebor, and King Thranduil's son, Legolas, of Mirkwood, yes? My brother has spoken of you both, with great admiration."
"Boromir is a fine man," said Legolas. "And a valiant warrior."
"He is indeed," said Faramir, turning his gaze towards the Anduin. "Though I perceive you are not entirely approving of his turn of mind. It is understandable," he went on, forestalling whatever Legolas might have answered. "He has never had great success at hiding his thoughts, particularly from one who has as much of his faith as Aragorn does. If he doubts the king, then it is sure the king knows it." He turned his gaze to the Elf then, still mild, a smile still on his finely-drawn lips. "You have known Aragorn for long?"
"No longer than has Boromir," said Legolas, "though he has the faith of my people."
Faramir nodded. "'Estel,' you call him. Hope. Well, he seems a fine man, and a strong leader to walk the Paths of the Dead and bring any with him at all, to say nothing of the force which aided us on the Pelennor."
"That he is," said Gimli. "As fine a man and as fine a warrior as could be asked for in a king."
"That is good to hear," said Faramir, "though I did not doubt it." His gaze turned back towards the Anduin. "Boromir has told me a great deal of Aragorn, and of the journey you passed together."
Gimli and Legolas glanced at each other, and Gimli said, "It was a hard journey, for all of us."
"Indeed it was," said Faramir.
"Has he told you how hard?" asked Legolas, and Faramir faced him, clear grey eyes meeting ancient Elven ones like the waters of the Anduin meeting the great sea, pressing and mingling in currents of meaning invisible to any outside them.
"He has," said Faramir, not dropping his eyes from the Elf's, but smiling faintly.
They gazed at each other for a long moment, and Legolas said softly, "And you do not doubt him?"
"I know my brother," said Faramir. "Perhaps better than my brother knows himself. I do not doubt him."
There was another long pause, the Man and Elf regarding each other, and Maggie felt the tension in the air rise with Gimli's discomfort. She scowled, glancing out towards the tents and saying, "Good lord, stop dancing around it. He tried to take the ring, fine, you all know it, I know it, Aragorn knows it - " She turned back to find Legolas and Faramir looking at her, their expressions startled. "Well," she said, dropping her gaze, "you just got all mystical and secretive about this friggin' elephant in the living room, y'know? Christ. Just say it. 'Boromir tried to take the ring and I don't trust him.'"
"Boromir tried to take the ring," said Legolas mildly, "but that is not why I do not trust him."
"Because he is a Man, and Denethor's son."
"As am I," said Faramir, his tone edged.
"Aye, you are," Legolas replied, turning to him, "but you have the faith of Mithrandir, and so you have mine."
"And my brother has my faith in turn," said Faramir.
"Bonds of blood may blind us to the faults of those we love."
"As may bonds of loyalty," Faramir replied. "Aragorn has your people's faith, as does Mithrandir; I have Mithrandir's faith, and he and Boromir have mine; I have your faith, through Mithrandir, and Aragorn has it through your people; and you have my faith if Mithrandir would give it. So it would seem we are all faithful, and mayhap all blind, but because we are all faithful, there should be naught to come between us, and you should give my brother your faith for the faith Mithrandir must bring from me."
A brief pause, and then Legolas laughed lightly. "You have an interesting mind, Faramir son of Denethor."
Faramir smiled. "I only suggest that neither blood, nor loyalty alone, is a reason for either faith, or doubt."
"Then what," asked Legolas, "if neither blood nor loyalty?"
"If loyalty is granted through knowledge of another, then faith indeed should come with it," he answered. "But I would not think to tell another how much knowledge he might need for loyalty to be granted. Nor would I say that loyalty granted for blood alone is reason enough for faith, though faith need not always accompany loyalty - it will be earned in time, if that loyalty is not misplaced."
"Come, friends," said Gimli then."I feel my poor head start to ache from these convolutions. I would know what has passed among the commanders who forge our path, for that, at least, I warrant leads straight. Legolas, shall we seek out the captains and discover what part we may yet play here?"
After they'd gone, Maggie sat quietly beside Faramir on the wall. "So how are you feeling?" she asked him finally.
He didn't speak for a moment, then said, "I could not help but overhear your question to the Elf. He never answered you."
She looked away, across the gardens. "Well, I didn't really expect him to."
"So it is to him that I owe my brother's happiness?" and he glanced at her, smiling.
She laughed. "Oh, I doubt it," she said. "Boromir likes me well enough, but I don't think I'm responsible for his happiness. Maybe you are, now you're back," and she pressed his hand briefly.
"Do not underestimate yourself," he said softly, "nor Legolas Greenleaf. He may doubt Boromir, but he does not wish to, and it may be he hoped for a softening of my brother's heart, if you were to win his affections. And it may be he was right."
Maggie shook her head. "He never seemed to have much of a hard heart, to me," she replied.
Faramir chuckled. "Nor to me, yet I have known him all my life, and have ever been his 'little' brother, and you, lady, have met him when his heart was most troubled, and most open to softening."
"So, he was with them, down there on the field?" she asked.
"What were they talking about?"
"How best to aid the ringbearer, I believe," he answered, "if the ringbearer might still be aided."
She looked at him, startled. "They're not talking about going to find him, are they?"
Shaking his head, he replied, "No, I am certain not. For the ringbearer is beyond finding, I think. I met him 'ere I returned to Minas Tirith," he said. "The ringbearer and his man Samwise. They have gone into the depths of Mordor by now, for I could not deter him from the path he had chosen, nor, it seems now, should I have." He sighed. "There is more strength in those small ones than a Man might perceive, if he only looked and did not see."
She waited for him to continue, and when he didn't, said, "What did they say?"
He glanced at her and smiled. "You look to tell if they maligned my brother, do you? Well, they did not," he said. "They did tell me of what passed between Frodo and Boromir, but they also spoke well of him, and Frodo called him friend," and Faramir chuckled, "and I think not solely because I, his brother, had a company of men at my command, and the two Halflings alone in the wilderness."
She laughed. "Yeah, that might have given them pause about talking too much trash about him. So," she went on after a moment, "what do you think they'll do?"
Faramir hesitated, then said, "I cannot say, for it may depend on whose counsel holds sway. Minas Tirith must be defended, and Boromir will wish for men to remain here, to guard her walls and people. But I believe we must draw the Enemy's eye outside his own walls, and away from where the ringbearer may travel, if he yet lives and is free."
"Draw him out how?"
"A feint," said Faramir. "An army of Men, with Elessar at its head, to cause him to wonder if the king has taken the One Ring for his own, and comes now to conquer."
"Ah," said Maggie, paling. "A feint. They'd have to go there. Fuck."
Faramir glanced at her. "My brother has mentioned your odd language," he said, "and that it seems so close to ours, and yet so different, yet this is the first of your words for which I can find no notion of what it may mean, nor does the context in which you use it help me make sense of it."
"Ah," she said again, and blushed. "It's - um." And she hesitated. "It's vulgar. Don't use it." He chuckled, and she went on, "It's mostly just an epithet, and I'm not actually willing to tell you what it means, but I think I may not say it as much anymore, now that you mention it."
"Very well," he said, smiling. "I will not press you."
He put a hand to his face then, and Maggie touched his arm. "You okay?" she asked.
"I am well enough," he replied, "but perhaps the healers were right when they suggested I not leave my bed just yet."
Her eyes widened, and Maggie said, "They told you to stay in bed and you ignored them? Good god. Just like a man, 'walk it off,'" and standing up she held out her hand to him. "We're getting you back to bed."
They met Boromir as he was coming out of Faramir's room and casting about the hallway. "Ah," he said, coming forward and slipping his arm under Faramir's shoulders. "I wondered if I should have left a guard with you," he said. "I see now I was wrong not to have," but his tone was playful, and Faramir smiled.
"I could not linger abed on such a day, after so long a night," he answered. "And look, I found your lady in the gardens, and she has looked after me kindly."
"For that I thank her," said Boromir, grinning. "She is ever looking after the sons of the Steward, it seems."
"My pleasure," said Maggie, and followed them into Faramir's room, where Faramir sat gingerly on the edge of the bed before reclining against the pillows that Boromir had placed behind him.
"So what's the scoop?" she asked then. "Did y'all decide what to do?"
Boromir nodded. "The main company of Rohirrim who are still horsed and can fight - some three thousands - shall guard the West Road, and some small number here in the City to guard it against what may pass through, since our Gate is broken. And seven thousands will ride to the Black Gate, to challenge battle and distract the Eye from the ringbearer, if he yet walks free. Mithrandir was of your mind, brother," he said, meeting Faramir's gaze. "Though even without the counsel of Imrahil and myself, I think neither he nor Aragorn would have left the City all unmanned. Though I cannot say with certainty."
"You know it to be true," said Faramir gently. "None would wish to return home to ruin, no matter how great our victory."
"If such we win."
"What about you?" asked Maggie, keeping her voice carefully neutral. "Are you going with them, or staying here?"
"I ride with Aragorn," he said, and turned to Faramir. "I have spoken with our father, and he has passed the rod of Stewards to me."
Faramir's glance was worried. "Tell me how he fares, our father," he said.
Boromir frowned. "I hardly know how to. He is - " and he hesitated. "He is weary. He spoke of Thorongil as though it were only days since they were both in their youth, and Denethor struggling against him for Ecthelion's regard. He spoke of Mardil, and cursed him for not keeping Eärnur back, and cursed Eärnur for abandoning his people." Boromir's gaze fell to where his hands rested in his lap, their trembling the only sign of his fatigue. "I think our father rues that ever he was Steward, Faramir," he said finally. "He offered me the rod as though it were a doom he thrust upon me."
Faramir took his brother's hands in his, stilling them, and their eyes met. After a moment, Faramir touched Boromir's face, fingertips gentle on the bruise that still lay there. "He will return to us, Boromir," he said. "Be sure of it. Denethor is as strong as this City, as strong as Gondor."
"He is," said Boromir. "I do fear for him, though."
"You keep him from the palantír?"
"I do, though he gives little sign of wishing for it."
Faramir nodded. "He will return to us," he said firmly.
Boromir hesitated, then said, "I know you have not had the easiest friendship with our father, but I would have you see him, when you can."
Faramir looked doubtful. "If you wish it, I will," he said.
"Um," and Maggie stood, "I should go. Let you two talk." She started towards the door, but Faramir stopped her.
"No, lady, you need not leave. There is nothing in this that I would not share with one so dear to my brother, and there are things yet that must be decided, for which we may need your presence. I would not have you wait in the hall as a servant."
She glanced at Boromir, but he didn't dispute his brother, so she seated herself again, feeling more than a little out of place.
"I will see him if you wish it," Faramir continued, turning to Boromir, "but I have been more often a goad to him than a balm."
"No longer," said Boromir. Looking up, he caught Faramir's gaze and held it. "He regrets you," he said softly. "He regrets his harshness."
"What has he said?" asked Faramir.
"He says nothing outright," Boromir answered, "but it is everywhere in his eyes, in his voice when he speaks of us two. He - he spoke of when we were children," he said, "and of when our mother died. Did you know he almost sent us away, then?" Faramir shook his head. "Aye," said Boromir, nodding. "He thought to send us to Dol Amroth, or if not the two of us, then you at least. He said he felt too bereft without Finduilas, and - " and he hesitated again, then finished, "he feared he would do what he did. He wished us to have a gentler childhood than he gave us, but he said he could not bear to be parted from us. Not with her loss so near." He looked at Faramir. "I think he would make up for that time, if he can."
Faramir shook his head, and when he spoke, his voice was thick. "There is nothing to make up," he said. "Denethor has always had my love."
"And you his," said Boromir, "but I think he would show you now. I think he would like to know you, at last. Soon, while there is time."
"You fear defeat by Sauron," said Faramir softly.
Boromir hesitated, then said, "I do not know what the future will bring, but - see him, Faramir."
A moment's hesitation. "I will."
Boromir nodded. "I leave in two days time with the army of the West. I would put the City in your keeping, brother."
Faramir shook his head. "I can scarce spend an hour in the gardens without I become too weary to stand," he said. "A poor captain will I make if the City is attacked."
"But a fine Steward," said Boromir, "and you will not be without aid. I would leave Beran here, to be your second as he has been mine, if you would have him. Húrin of the Keys will be with you as well, but Beran knows the men who will guard the walls, and you have his loyalty as you have mine. He is a good man."
"I know it," said Faramir, a smile ghosting about his lips, and Maggie wondered if he was thinking of his conversation with Legolas. "And I know you will do as seems best to you."
"Does it seem ill to you?" Boromir asked.
Faramir hesitated. "I would keep the City for you," he said finally. "You are my Steward, and I would do your will."
"I would know your will, Faramir. That is my will."
After a pause, Faramir said softly, "My will is that you should ride with your king, and my will is that you remain here, for I have been without you too long already, but he has need of you now. And you of him, as well." Boromir said nothing, watching his brother with keen eyes. "Boromir," he said at last, "Aragorn is Elendil's heir. This is the king for whom the Stewards have held Gondor in trust. But you - you need to see him proven." He shook his head, frowning. "We spoke of Thorongil when you came this morning, and of the proof Aragorn's past would give us of his fitness to rule, but Thorongil is of our grandfather's time. I know you, my brother. You need proof you can see, not some story from a man who died 'ere you were old enough to fathom what he told us. Do not scowl so," he said with a smile. "I mean no ill. You have ever been the practical one, who sees what is in front of you, believes what you can touch, and taste, wound or heal. You are rooted in the world, Boromir, in the world as it is. And I would have you see for yourself whether this man is one to whom we can give our people."
After a moment, Boromir nodded. "I will go," he said. "And I will return, as well, whatever the outcome at the Enemy's gate."
"Well," said Maggie, "I'm coming with you."
As one they turned to her, grey eyes sharp, and as one, replied, "No, you are not."
She crossed her arms. "I am."
"Gonna tie me up again?" she asked archly.
Faramir turned to Boromir. "You bound her?"
"I did not," he said, scowling. "Haerendil did. But I would have - she would have come to Osgiliath with me if someone had not."
"Ah." He turned back to Maggie. "I would have bound you as well."
"Who knew the Steward raised such pervy sons?" she muttered.
"Nothing. Forget it. I'm going."
"Boromir, get the rope."
"Nothing. Forget it. I'm going."
"Valar protect us," said Faramir. "You are not."
"You still believe I should keep this one?"
"I begin to doubt it."
Just then the door opened, and Pippin stepped in. "Arguing already, and they haven't even wed. I could hear you three all the way down the hall!"
"Well tell them to stop ordering me around, then," said Maggie irritably.
"We have only your interests at heart, love," said Boromir, and she started to round on him but was brought up short by the look on his face, grave, and serious. "This - " and he hesitated, glancing at Faramir. "This is not a battle we expect to win, nor from which we expect many to return."
"All the more reason for me to -"
" -stay," finished Faramir for her.
"I can help."
"None can help," said Boromir, "but to give proof to our bluff, and provide fodder for the Enemy's swords."
"Then don't you go either," she said, her heart beating increasingly fast, and a vague feeling of panic rising through her. "You're the Steward now, you can't go. Think of Mardil, and Eärnur."
"Eärnur rode to a fight he expected to win," said Boromir.
"And," Faramir added, "for no better reason than pride. This is - "
"Pride," said Maggie angrily. "You're just going because - because - " and she shook her head, groping for words. "Hell. Look, you're the Steward," she repeated. "You can't go."
Pippin came to stand beside her, saying, "She has a point, Boromir. You do rule the City for the time - you rule Gondor for the time. You are not easily spared."
Boromir smiled. "More easily than you think, Master Peregrin."
"Well not by me!" Maggie said, her voice almost a shout. Pippin touched her arm and she took his hand, glad for someone to hold onto while her lover so casually talked about becoming cannon fodder. His hand was strong in hers.
"Nor by me," Faramir murmured.
Boromir lowered his head, and Maggie instantly regretted yelling, but she couldn't take it back. When he raised his eyes to hers, though, his gaze was as clear and open as if they were having a pleasant conversation over tea. "Maggie," he said finally, "I am Steward by accident of birth, as Aragorn is heir. There are those here who are better suited than I to rule the City, and Gondor. But there are none who can be me for my men. Would you have me send them to their deaths while I stay safe behind a title I carry only because Faramir was born second? Would you do such a thing, were these your men?"
She opened her mouth to speak, then hesitated, thinking of Mira, and the others. Finally she dropped her gaze. "Right then," she said bitterly. "So tell me again why I can't go too?"
There was a pause before both the Steward's sons began to answer at once, but Pippin cut them off, saying quietly, "Maggie, stay." She heard something in his voice that drew her eyes to his, and she saw grief deep within them. "Must all our friends die in that black land?" he asked sadly. "Stay here with Merry, for I do ride with the company, to represent the Shire, and I would feel easier in my heart if I knew you sat with my cousin, when I cannot."
The press of his hand in hers drew her back from her own fear, and into the present. Boromir, Faramir, Pippin, Merry. Mira, her friends. She nodded. "All right," she said finally. "I'll stay."
"Will your companions help to defend the City, if it is attacked?" asked Boromir.
She thought about that. "I don't know," she said finally. "We're out of ammo, for one thing. Janet can take them home whenever they want, but they - " and she raised her eyes to his. "They really expect help with Sorrow now. I'm not sure they're going to be interested in helping out more until they have some assurances they'll get the favour returned."
Boromir nodded. "I cannot give them such assurances," he said, "for I know not whether any will remain to help, nor, if any do, whether they would be willing."
"If you're Steward," she began, but trailed off.
"If I am Steward," he said, "then I must decide whether to accept Aragorn's claim," and at that, Maggie felt Pippin's hand clench in hers, only slightly, but she didn't turn to him. "If I do," Boromir went on, "then perhaps Mithrandir will be able to come to your world and aid you; if not, then I do not believe Gondor will be in meet position to help any but herself, and that Gandalf will be," and he hesitated, then finished wryly, "busy with other pursuits."
"Such as helping Aragorn take Gondor by force," she muttered.
"Perhaps. Or perhaps merely convincing me that I have acted wrongly. I do not know what Aragorn would do were I to reject his line."
Pippin fixed Boromir with a hard gaze. "Reject him?" he said. "Boromir, he is Elendil's heir."
"So I have been told," the Man answered, "repeatedly," annoyance colouring his voice. "But his line is descended through Isildur, and that claim was rejected."
Faramir chuckled. "So you have pointed out, brother," he said. "Repeatedly." Irritation flashed in Boromir's grey eyes, but it faded quickly. "There is no law," Faramir went on, "that says we may not revisit that decision."
"Well, Faramir," he said finally, his voice tired and sad, "perhaps I will not return from this battle, and the decision will be yours alone," and Faramir paled slightly.
"Boromir," said Pippin sharply, "do you mean to be so unkind?"
Startled, Boromir met his gaze and shook his head. "No, I do not. I am sorry. Weariness lets my words escape me."
Faramir took Boromir's hand, but his grip was not gentle, nor were his eyes. "I would not have your very thoughts be so cruel, to yourself or to me," he said, "regardless of whether you speak them. You have said you will return, and I will expect it. Do not break your word to me, nor think I would take your place."
"I have said I am weary," Boromir answered, not reclaiming his hand but bringing the other to his face. "Forgive me."
Faramir smiled, and his grip eased somewhat as he said lightly, "If you return, I shall," but Boromir raised stricken eyes to his.
"Do not jest, Faramir," he said seriously. "For all my promises, my fate in this may not be under my own command."
Faramir frowned gently. "You know I would never withhold my love from you," he said, "nor my forgiveness, though there is naught to forgive."
"There is much to forgive," he said quietly. "But thank you."
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