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Long Road Home, The: 2. Battles Fought
Despite worry about his people and despair about the Fellowship's fate, Boromir's body demanded more rest. It wasn't long before he fell asleep once more. The next days passed in a blur of deep, healing sleep, and nourishing meals -- Ethiel soon learned he was quite capable of feeding himself again. News from the war was scarce and Boromir resigned to idle fretting when the warden refused to let him leave his room.
Boredom drove him out of bed and he staggered around the chamber on trembling legs. Each time he tried, he managed a few more steps before he grew short-winded and weakness forced him back into bed. Gradually, his strength was returning.
As many waking hours as he could, he pushed himself to the limits of his endurance, causing the arrow wounds to ache and injured muscles to throb. News might be sparse, but war could not be far off and he would not spend his days in a sickroom while his country needed him.
One afternoon, about five days after he first woke from his fever, Boromir used his sword-arm to raise a small stool above his head. He tried to hold it up as long as he could. His arm was trembling, the muscles in his chest and side screamed in protest. He closed his eyes, counting the seconds. Fifty. Fifty-one. Fif--
A loud gasp broke his concentration and he dropped the stool; it crashed onto the flagstones, and one of its legs broke off. Boromir's eyes flung open to see the disapproving face of Ethiel stare at him from the door opening. She gestured angrily that he should get back into bed.
At least she cannot scold me.
However, Ethiel did not need words to give voice to her discontent. Her hand motions made it clear she would call the warden on him if he did not withdraw to his blankets immediately.
Boromir had no desire to confront the warden or hear the healer's dire warnings about taxing himself too soon. He shrugged an apology at Ethiel and sipped the tea she brought while she took away the ruined stool.
Much to his surprise, dusk had come and gone when he next opened his eyes. The window was dark; a dozen candles bathed his room with their golden glow. Someone sat in the chair beside the bed. The man's face was hidden in shadows, but Boromir recognized him instantly.
The soft word was enough to alert his brother and Faramir closed the thick leather-bound book that rested on his knees. A pleased smile lit up his features when he leaned forward and let the candlelight fall upon his face. Despite the smile, however, Boromir caught the deep concern in his brother's gaze.
"I was told you had awoken, brother. Yet I found you fast asleep."
Boromir uttered a chagrined noise. "Not by choice, I assure you. I suspect it is something they put in my tea."
"You always were a difficult patient," Faramir chortled before his face turned grave. "Your fate was uncertain for a time. We have much to discuss, but I fear our time grows short."
"How is Father?" Boromir asked. "Have you said--"
"Nay." Faramir shook his head. "You asked he not be told, so I have said nothing to him of your return. Although I cannot understand why you would want such a thing, he believes you have passed out of this world. It pains him much and I worry about him. I fear his need for answers has led him astray, down a path that leads to shadow. Perhaps you could talk to him. He listens to you, Boromir."
"Ah, little brother." Boromir sighed. "I fear I would only make matters worse. I am not the son Denethor believes me to be."
"What mean you? What happened to you on your quest? Will you not tell me?"
"No," Boromir said. "I am ashamed."
Faramir did not respond, except to cock an eyebrow in surprise.
Boromir tried to think of a change of subject, unwilling to answer the silent question. Yet in the next instant, he found himself unburdening his heart after all, pouring his woes into his younger brother's attentive ear. He told him about the visit to Rivendell and what was discussed at the Council of Elrond. He explained about the Fellowship, and their journey south to take the ring to Mordor to destroy it. And he told Faramir about his betrayal on Amon Hen, where he tried to take the ring from Frodo by force.
"It is my fault we were divided when the orcs attacked," he finished. "My fault that the little ones were taken. I did not see; I believed I asked only for the strength to defend my people."
In the silence that followed, Boromir waited for Faramir to denounce him, to condemn him for his heinous crimes. He could no longer face his brother and turned away to stare at the darkened window.
"I shall not judge you, Boromir," Faramir said after a lengthy pause. His voice was gentle, not at all what Boromir had expected. "I, too, have experienced the lure of the ring. I have heard its false promises and was tempted by them."
Boromir turned back, looking straight at his brother for the first time since he began to tell his tale. "How can that be?" he asked, torn between hope and despair. Had Frodo failed?
"I have met the halfling you speak of," Faramir said. "The Ringbearer. With him was another, Samwise, who said he was his gardener. We took them captive near Henneth Annûn, believing them to be spies for the enemy."
"Spies?" cried Boromir, sitting up. "No, they are not spies. Faramir, you must release them at once."
"Peace, brother," Faramir shushed him. "Do not fret, I sent them on their way already."
Relieved, Boromir fell back in the cushions. "What news about the other members of the Fellowship?"
Faramir shook his head. "I do not know much. Except Mithrandir arrived today, with another halfling. Peregrin is his name, I believe."
"Pippin! He's alive." Boromir let out a sob of happiness. "What about M-- Wait, did you say Mithrandir? But... I saw him fall in Moria."
"I do not know what happened, I have not had the chance to talk to him alone. But I can assure you, brother, Mithrandir is here and he is well. He spoke to Father about a great battle at Helm's Deep, where the Rohirrim fought a brave and hopeless fight, and yet were victorious. The troops of Saruman are destroyed. Mithrandir is counseling Father to light the beacons and call for Rohan's aid in the fight against Mordor."
"Much luck to him," Boromir muttered. He knew well how graciously Denethor would accept advice from the wizard.
Faramir snorted with wry laughter. "Mithrandir will try anyway. I am sorry I have no more news to tell you of your companions."
Silence reigned for long minutes. "Will you not tell Father of your return?" Faramir asked at last.
"And tell him of my failure? Open myself up to his scorn? Nay, I could not bear it," Boromir whispered. The memories of his deeds on Amon Hen as well as at his further cowardice about confronting his father already shamed him almost beyond bearing. He had witnessed Denethor denigrate Faramir often enough to know his father's reproach would be too much to endure if heaped upon his own guilt and remorse. "It is better he believes me dead."
"I understand," Faramir said softly. He looked away from Boromir.
Boromir reached over, clasping Faramir's hands between his. "Does he still not acknowledge your quality, Captain of Gondor?"
"He told me he wishes our places had been exchanged," Faramir said in a toneless voice. "I am to ride out on the morrow, with a company of our best soldiers. I have been ordered to take back Osgiliath, which was lost once more. Perhaps I can at last prove to him I am as much his son as you are."
"What?" Boromir said. He sat up straighter, ignoring the twinge in his chest at the abrupt movement. "That is folly. If Osgiliath has fallen into the hands of the enemy again, you will need more than a company to take it back. He cannot ask such a thing of you, or any of our soldiers. 'Tis madness!"
"Aye. Yet it is our Steward's bidding."
"Suicide, is what it is," Boromir said. He swung his legs out from underneath the blankets. "I shall come with you. Together, we will cast the orcs out once more and reclaim Osgiliath."
Faramir's firm hands on his arm stilled him. "Not this time, brother," he said, a sad smile on his lips.
Boromir's heart grew tight in his chest. Did Faramir no longer trust him to fight at his side?
Some of his dismay must have shown in his face, because Faramir shook his head decisively.
"No, Boromir, please do not think that. There is none I would rather have at my side in battle than you." Faramir gave his brother's arm a squeeze. "But by rights, you should already be dead. Those orc arrows would have killed anyone else. That you did not die, must mean something. I know not what your future will be, but dying at Osgiliath would serve no purpose. Boromir, this is my fight, and mine alone." He was no longer talking about the mission to take back Osgiliath, and they both knew it.
After a lengthy pause, Boromir bowed to his brother's will. He was grateful Faramir made no mention of the weakness caused by his sickbed; but he was in no shape to fight such a desperate battle.
"Farewell, little brother," he said. "My heart shall go with you."
"And I will carry it gladly."
The younger of the Steward's sons pushed his chair back, and without a further word, he strode from the room. He hesitated for a moment on the threshold, then closed the door behind him without even a glance over his shoulder. Boromir was glad, for now Faramir could not see the tears forming in his eyes. He did not think he would see his brother again in this lifetime.
Boromir waited impatiently for further word. Neither of his caretakers could provide him with news about his brother's fate. In an attempt to distract himself from his worries, he continued to exercise relentlessly. He ignored the Warden's warnings and Ethiel's silent censure and was pleased to find his strength returning slowly yet steadily.
The third morning after Faramir's departure Boromir awoke to the sounds of screaming in the distance and the faint scent of smoke in the air. Echoing thunderclaps made the ground shake. His soldier's mind understood at once: the war had come to the gates of Minas Tirith at last.
Cursing at the weakness that still lingered in his limbs, Boromir hastened from his bed. As soon as he stood, he was at a loss. No soldier, not even one fallen from grace as badly as he had, could go to war covered to his knees in a white nightshirt. Fortunately, in the moment of his indecision and before he could do anything rash and foolish, the door opened and Ethiel came in, her arms filled with a breakfast tray.
Her eyes widened in surprise when she saw him up and about at this early hour. She put the tray on the table and gestured frantically. Boromir translated her message as an apology that she was late but that much was happening in the city.
"She must think I'm deaf, dumb and blind," he said below his breath. Another tremor shook the room and Ethiel cringed. "My clothes, woman. Where are my clothes?"
She began shaking her head. He grabbed her shoulders and shook her hard.
"The city is under siege. Gondor needs me. Now, bring me my armor and my sword. At once."
Understanding shone in Ethiel's eyes, warring with concern for her patient. At last, she nodded, if a little reluctant. She pointed at the breakfast.
"All right," Boromir said, letting go of her. "I will eat something if you go look for my clothes. Hurry. The war will not wait for me."
He quickly wolfed down the sausages, bread and hot tea Ethiel had brought him. He swallowed down the last bite as the door opened and she returned. This time, her arms were laden with a soldier's armor and a long, scabbarded sword. One look told Boromir these were not his things; the armor marked its wearer for a simple footsoldier. But it was sturdy and strong, and it would suffice.
Actually, Boromir thought while Ethiel gave an apologetic wave, it was better that she had not brought his own mail and tunic. Nobody knew he had returned to Minas Tirith, and he would hardly be able to command the troops without giving away his secret in any case. He no longer had a right to command but the soldier's garb would at least allow him to fight for his city anonymously.
"It will do," he assured her. "Help me get dressed."
With Ethiel's assistance, he quickly donned the undertunic, the chain mail shirt and the heavy armor. Though the cuirass constricted his chest in a way his own suit never had, and he needed to buckle the vambraces at their widest, Ethiel had judged his size well. He dared not think of the poor soldier's fate that she had taken the armor from.
He took a deep breath and turned this way and that, getting used to the feel of the breastplate. Should he leave it off altogether? No, its tightness did not hinder him much, and he would have need of its protection.
He pulled the sword from its scabbard and swung it experimentally, forcing himself not to wince at the way the movement tore at the newly healed scars on his left side. The weapon felt good in his hands, well-balanced, a measure of Gondor's weapon masters' skill. He glanced around, snatched a napkin from the tray and used it to test the blade's sharpness. It did not surprise him that the merest pressure rent the napkin in half.
Ethiel grabbed his hand and looked at the torn cloth before she raised her eyes to meet his.
Boromir nodded. "Yes, I must go. I have no option; I must come to the defense of my city and my people."
Tears welled in her eyes and she squeezed his hand. Her lips mouthed a silent, "Thank you."
Boromir blinked, a little taken aback. He met her gaze briefly and in it saw the confidence and trust the Minas Tirith citizenry proffered its soldiers. Those brave men were all that stood between the people and a fate too terrible to contemplate. Inwardly, he winced; he no longer deserved such blind faith.
He gave her a quick nod, not trusting his voice, before he slipped out of the room and the Houses of Healing. If anyone saw him go, preparations for the expected influx of wounded kept the healers and servants too busy to pay the unknown soldier much heed.
Boromir hurried through the emptied streets of Minas Tirith as fast as the heavy armor allowed him to. Though soldiers ran back and forth, the citizens had long since fled their homes or were hiding in fear beneath stairs and in cellars. Shouted commands drifted down from the levels above, and from the lower tiers sounds of battle rose. They grew louder when Boromir passed from the sixth to the fifth and then the fourth circle.
He gave himself a moment to study the defenses on the higher walls. The commanders appeared to have matters under control, despite the mayhem surrounding them. As far as his eye could see, all along the battlement soldiers were struggling to haul pieces of stonework to the catapults, pulling the chains and releasing a stream of deadly projectiles onto the enemy below. Archers stood in rows, firing a rain of arrows at the besiegers before the gate. Beneath his helmet, Boromir smiled with grim satisfaction. They were good men, his troops. Even without their Captain-General to command them, they did what they should.
He walked to the edge of the wall and cautiously stuck his head up to get his first good look at the enemy on the Pelennor. The fields were black with Sauron's troops. He gasped -- so many! -- and his heart sank. How long could his city hold against such numbers?
Screams rose from the level below. Boromir tore his gaze away from the fields and glanced straight down. Siege towers had touched the battlement and orcs were pouring into the city. Officers shouted orders; wounded shrieked in agony; metal clashed against metal where sword struck sword. Boromir shoved away from the parapet and began to run again. He cursed the layout of the city that forced him to travel halfway around each tier before he came upon the gate to the next circle.
He turned a corner, racing for the gate that connected the fourth and third tiers, and came upon a house in ruins. Amidst the rubble lay a huge boulder, which was certainly a strange sight to behold in the middle of the city. A sound overhead, a whistling roar in the air, which grew ever closer, made Boromir duck his head. Another large boulder sailed past and while he watched its trajectory with growing horror, it slammed into another building. The structure crumbled to dust. Weak cries rose from the ruins but they died before anyone could even start clearing the wreckage away.
From the depth of his mind, a memory rose. He recalled Aragorn's words, the vow spoken on Amon Hen. I will not let the White City fall.
Aragorn had better hurry. Or there would be nothing left.
Rage surged through his veins, and he uttered a vile curse that did not bode well for the orcs responsible. How dare the enemy lay such ruin to his city? How dare they spill the blood of his people?
Shaking with anger, Boromir stormed once more along the streets, heading for the battle. The lingering fatigue had faded into the back of his mind; he no longer felt his recently healed wounds or the weight of his armor.
"For Gondor!" he screamed while leaping into the fray. "For Gondor!"
The other soldiers quickly picked up the battle cry. "For Gondor!" The shout traveled along the lines of defenders, empowering them with its simple reminder of what they were fighting for. Boromir swung his blade in wide arcs. The sword sliced easily through armor and flesh and the enemy fell around him like corn before the reaper's scythe. Wrath embodied, he barely saw friend from foe, instinctively blocking and parrying the enemies' blows, and ignoring the sudden pain when a blade made it through his defenses and nicked his brow.
Some unknown amount of time later, a high, familiar voice finally pierced the red veil before his eyes and the roar of battle in his ears.
Boromir whirled toward the cry -- when had night fallen? -- and his heart swelled with happiness. Dressed in the black and silver of the Citadel stood none other than Pippin, alive and, but for the fear in his large eyes, well.
The hobbit pelted past him as fast as his small legs would carry him. He did not spare him a second glance, for which Boromir was grateful. His shame over having let Pippin down when he needed protection most gnawed at him. Still, he was terribly glad to see at least one of the hobbits alive. And if Pippin made it out of orc captivity, then perhaps Merry had too.
But what was the little one doing here in the midst of battle? The short sword in his inexperienced hands would not be much use in defense against the longer blades of a ruthless enemy. Boromir glanced around. The fighting had reached a lull, the orcs mostly driven back over the wall. The soldiers had done well, their captains were competent and determined. They would hold, even without his blade.
From a distance, Boromir tried to follow Pippin's mad dash through attackers and defenders in search of Mithrandir, determined to keep a close eye on the halfling. He might have failed to protect his little friend once; he was not about to do so again. He would lay down his life to keep the hobbit safe from harm. But even in his determination, Boromir was hard-pressed to keep up with Pippin's shorter legs. His breath ran short, and his legs protested, reminding him he had very recently abandoned a sickbed and expended most of his energies in a fierce battle with the enemy.
He was relieved when the subject of Pippin's quest finally came into view through the smoke and dust covering the streets. The wizard sat astride a magnificent white stallion, giving orders to the soldiers and batting away assailants with his staff.
Pippin doubled over, gasping for air and gesturing frantically at Mithrandir. Boromir tried to get closer, eager to overhear what had Pippin in such a state. Irritated that they were in his way, he lunged at the orcs whose assaults kept him from eavesdropping. His sword arm shrieked in protest but he reached his friends in time to catch the last of Pippin's words.
"... lost his mind! He's burning Faramir alive!
Boromir froze at the mention of his brother's name. For an instant, joy swept him. Faramir had survived! But then the full extent of Pippin's words sank in, making him gasp involuntarily.
A cry raced up the streets and for a moment the fighting slowed. One soldier after another picked up the shout until Boromir could make out the words. "Rohan has come! The Rohirrim are fighting on the fields of the Pelennor!" Cheers went up and the weight of despair on Boromir's shoulders lightened a bit. They were still facing overwhelming odds, but their allies of old had heeded the cry for help. He turned his attention back to Gandalf and Pippin.
He was just in time to see Gandalf swing Pippin up on the horse in front of him. They galloped away toward the Citadel. Boromir hesitated a moment. What to do? On the first tier, before the Great Gate, they would need every sword available, even with the men of Rohan riding to Gondor's aid. On the other hand, Faramir's life was at risk, if Pippin were to be believed. And what more good could he, Boromir, really do in the fight against the enemy? His energy was waning, and his recent wounds were making their presence known with a dull throb that would soon turn into a drumbeat of pain.
No, Faramir was more important than the few orcs he might still slay before his strength failed him. His brother still lived, a marvel in itself, but he was in grave danger. And if -- no, when Aragorn came to take his throne, he would need the help of a steward.
Boromir hoped his father would come to honor Aragorn as he had done. Even if he did not, his father's love for Gondor would hopefully lead Denethor to accept Aragorn's claim as rightful and that the ranger would make a worthy king. Yet, whatever happened, his father was old, and some day soon might have to relinquish the stewardship to his heirs. With his eldest son fallen from grace and presumed dead, the task would fall to Faramir. Which was good fortune, indeed. Who better to sit at the king's right hand than Faramir son of Denethor, a man who had heard the call of the ring and proved his worth in resisting it?
Boromir followed the horse's footsteps back up the mountain, ignoring the battle raging below. His gait so much less swift than that of the stallion, he arrived at Rath Dínen long minutes after the wizard and the hobbit.
The door to the House of the Stewards stood open. Knees trembling with exhaustion and struggling to draw enough breath from the smoke-filled air that drifted over the city, Boromir could but watch with rising dismay. The House was in chaos. The white stallion reared, throwing back several of Denethor's personal guard. A fire had been set to a pile of wood in the middle of the great hall, and his brother's pale face hovered between the flickering flames.
"Nae, Faramir," Boromir whispered.
Before he could take action to rescue his brother, Pippin threw himself onto the pile of wood, ignoring the flames, shoving at Faramir's limp form. They rolled off the pyre. Faramir was safe.
Turning toward his father, Boromir no longer cared about his shame and guilt, or about the vow of protection he had broken. His father needed him. He was about to cry out and announce himself, when he saw the look in Denethor's eyes. Again, his breath caught, and the words went unspoken. Those eyes no longer belonged to the father he loved. Madness raged in their depths, madness and shadow beyond repair.
Aghast and mute, tears stinging in his eyes, Boromir witnessed how his father fought Mithrandir and set himself on fire. He could do naught but jump aside when Denethor, encased in a ball of flame and fiery robes flapping, rushed past him, seeking a certain death.
Nobody paid Boromir much attention while he stood among the servants who observed in shocked silence how Mithrandir carried Faramir's limp body out of the House. The wizard placed him onto a bier and ordered a soldier to stand guard over Faramir. Boromir cried with relief. Beregond was a good man; his brother would be safe under his watchful eye.
He cried too in mourning at the passing of a noble man led astray.
Still unnoticed, his face hidden beneath his helmet, he followed as they carried his brother to the Houses of Healing. He hovered near the chamber that held Faramir, keeping a silent vigil in the shadows, while Beregond stood at the door and Pippin rushed in and out. How he longed to talk to the hobbit, to learn of Faramir's fate. But he could not reveal himself.
Much later, he heard footsteps approaching, and voices talking. Among them, Boromir recognized the tones of Aragorn.
"You will be fine now, little brother," Boromir whispered. "Your king has returned." Happy in the knowledge Faramir was in the most capable of hands he slipped away and disappeared down the hallway before anyone could challenge him.
The battle for Minas Tirith might be over, but there was a lot of work to do still.
Over the days that followed, Boromir did not visit his brother again; too afraid he would run into one of his former companions, and loath to face their contempt. No, 'twere better they believed him dead, also. Faramir would keep his secret.
He hid among the refugees from the Pelennor, and found it amazingly easy to remain anonymous. Nobody suspected that the quiet man who kept to himself was the Steward's son, the former Captain-General of Gondor. He volunteered for the grimmest work, and busied himself with hauling dead orcs through the gate and casting them onto burning piles that sent up black smoke. The gruesome toil served as a small step toward redemption as well as a method to build up his muscles again.
Ethiel, in her silent yet expressive ways, kept him apprised of the happenings in the Houses of Healing and of Faramir's condition. It was she who confirmed how Aragorn proved himself of royal blood by healing those who had fallen victim to the Black Breath. It had been a shock to hear Merry was among them.
When the day came that Aragorn led the armies down the Pelennor Fields, across the Anduin and to the Black Gates of Mordor in a final, desperate bid for victory, Boromir was not among them. He stood with a heavy heart near the wall of the Healers' gardens. As expected the gardens were quiet, and that pleased him; he had desired to avoid the crowds that thronged on the walls of the lower levels. He wanted solitude while he watched the armies march off, listening to the sounds of booted feet walking in step, the clop of hoofs and the jangle of mail and weaponry. His pride demanded he go with them, march as one of the soldiers and seek honor in death while defending the free peoples of Middle-earth. Yet his pride was not as forceful as it had once been. Reason was stronger now, and a perverse delight in extending his suffering. Seeking certain death in battle was too easy, too mild a redress for his guilty conscience.
"Wishing you could join them, brother?"
Startled, Borormir spun around. "Faramir! I am surprised to see you up and about. The Healers--"
Faramir gave a gentle laugh. "The Healers do not know that I have left my bed. With luck, I will return before they discover it. I heard the ring of trumpets, and I had a desire for fresh air. I am glad to find you here."
Boromir turned his gaze back to the armies below, departing toward an unknown fate. They watched in silence for a long while, standing side by side, until the last of the dust settled on the fields.
"Do you believe he will succeed?" asked Faramir.
He wasn't talking about Aragorn. "He's a steadfast little creature," Boromir said. "And he's got Sam at his side. Together, they just might carry through. If they do not, all this," he gave a wide sweep with his hands to take in all of Gondor and the lands beyond, "will fall under the Shadow."
Boromir knew the ring was destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom the exact instant Frodo achieved what he set out to do. He knew before the messengers arrived with the news that the war was over. He felt it in his heart, in the small place where the ring had gained such a treacherous foothold. It was but a small stab, though unexpected and causing a startled gasp to escape, a physical pain that paled in comparison to some of the injuries he had suffered as a soldier. But his heart seemed cold afterward. A void was left in that tiny spot once the ring was gone, an empty hole of longing Boromir feared would never fill again. Still, for the first time since he realized what he had done on the slopes of Amon Hen, he was filled with hope. Hope for Gondor, which had survived and would thrive under the gentle rule of its king returned. Hope for his people, who might live in peace and prosperity, no longer crouched beneath the shadow of looming doom. And yes, even a small glimmer of hope for himself.
Because he knew what to do. His skill with a blade had never deserted him. He vowed to himself that he would use it in the service of his king and his people once more. No longer for honor or glory, but for redemption and atonement.
"When are you leaving?" Faramir asked him the night before Aragorn's coronation.
"Tomorrow," Boromir said. He was not surprised his brother knew his intentions and felt grateful that Faramir had managed to slip away from his stewardly duties for an hour. At least he would be able to say his farewells. They sat in a dark and quiet booth in the back of a tavern on the second circle, a place neither had visited before. "After the coronation."
He had made up his mind weeks ago: he would wait for Aragorn to officially take up the throne. That would be when he had fulfilled his obligation to Gondor. Then, and only then, would he feel himself free to set out on the quest for his own salvation.
"Where will you go?"
Boromir shrugged. He had no destination in mind, no particular direction he wished to go. "Where my feet take me."
"I would have you reconsider," Faramir said. "You ought to stay, take up your rightful place."
"'Tis not my place any longer. This is your time, Faramir, not mine. An age of peace and restoration instead of death and destruction."
"Please, I cannot believe you think so little of yourself."
Boromir smiled. "My skills are best used elsewhere," he said. "The war may be over but there is much evil left in the world."
Bands of orcs and Uruk-hai, which had fled before the swords of Gondor and Rohan, roamed the countryside, leaving death and destruction in their wake. Other allies of Sauron or Saruman were still at liberty, plotting devilish acts. No, the war might be over, but the battle for freedom still raged.
Faramir sighed. "Perhaps, but I am not convinced that you going off in stealth is the best course of action. Though not many still live that know the truth, I believe we should not perpetuate this deception. I feel like cringing every time someone addresses me as 'Lord Steward'. We should reveal that you are alive."
"Promise me you will not, little brother. I forfeited my rights when the ring took me and you will make a much better steward than I ever could. It is best this way."
Faramir gazed into his ale. Although Boromir knew his brother well, he had no idea what was going through Faramir's mind.
"I wish you would speak with the king," Faramir said. "He seems to me an understanding man."
"Has he ever spoken of me?"
"Aye, but not much. I got the impression he does not like to speak of what happened during your journey and he believes you have passed beyond the circles of this world. Father spoke of his conviction of your death to the halfling, who told the other members of your Fellowship. I do not like to lie, Boromir. I will keep your secret, as I promised, but only while I can do so by silence. I would beg you change your mind. The king spoke highly of you; I expect he would be pleased to learn you live and forgive you for what you think is your failure."
"Mayhap," Boromir said. In his mind, he traveled back to that dark day in Parth Galen. He recalled Aragorn's words. You fought bravely. You kept your honor. Boromir refused to believe him. They were the kind words of a compassionate man spoken to one on the brink of death. Aragorn had not meant them; he could not have.
"It is not the king's forgiveness I seek, nor that of my former companions. It is my own I need. I do not know that I shall ever be able to find it. Please, Faramir, give me leave to try."
They drank in silence, and Boromir knew words were no longer necessary between those of the same blood who loved each other without fail. At last Faramir put down his tankard.
"If you must go... There will be a horse waiting for you in the public stables near the gate."
"Faramir, no, I cannot accept--"
"Please, Boromir. I will feel better to know you are well-mounted."
He held no claim to any of the horses any longer. In refusing to come forward and declare himself alive, he had forsaken his birthright, his title and possessions. Yet without a horse, his quest for salvation was doomed to fail before he had even begun. Boromir sighed.
"All right. For your sake."
Faramir gave a half-smile. "I should go. There are many preparations still, which need a steward's attention." His tone was wry.
"Thank you." Boromir also stood up, and pulled Faramir to his chest in a silent goodbye. "Be well, my brother."
"And you, also." Faramir's voice sounded strange, and Boromir suspected there were tears in his eyes. His brother did not look back as he strode through the tavern and out of the door.
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