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End To Innocence, An: 8. Only For The Good Of Gondor
When they reached the last gate they dismounted, and she watched Annin led away to the stables, then followed Boromir through the gate into a courtyard paved in white. What moonlight shone through the clouds gleamed on the paving stones, and a glittering fountain surrounded by green grass caught her eye. In the center of the fountain stood a tree, clearly long dead, its branches drooping towards the water as though grieving, and the droplets that sparkled on it seemed to her like tears. She started towards it, and Boromir walked with her while their escort waited. "'Tis the White Tree of Gondor," he said softly. "Isildur brought a seedling of Nimloth, the White Tree of Númenor which was burned by Sauron in the first war, to Minas Ithil." There was reverence in his voice when he spoke. "When Minas Ithil was also taken by Sauron, Isildur brought a seedling with him again when he fled, and after the defeat of Sauron, he planted it here, in Minas Tirith, though it was called Minas Arnor then. 'Tis withered now," he said, "as you see. It died when the Steward Belecthor the second died, but it stands here still."
She put her hand on his. "It seems terribly sad," she said.
He was quiet for a moment, as they stood together looking at the fountain, and the withered tree, and finally he slipped his arm around her waist. "Come, lady. I would see you to your lodging, and then I must find my father. I'll join you later," he said, "if you'd welcome me."
She looked at him and couldn't tell if he was kidding, so she smiled, and answered, "Always."
When he'd gone, she stripped off armor and clothing and made good use of the wash basin, wishing for a bathtub but well aware that if there'd been one, she lacked the energy to really appreciate it. Finally she slipped into bed, relishing the feel of a mattress beneath her and clean sheets on her bare skin, hoping Boromir wouldn't be scandalized to find her naked, but not too worried that he would be. He hadn't lived up - or, rather, down - to any of her expectations of a man who was from what seemed like it should have been a fairly sexist and repressed society, and she was grateful for it. "Maybe it's just ... how soldiers are," she murmured to herself, closing her eyes, "just.... " but before she could finish the thought, she was asleep.
She woke briefly some time later to the weight of Boromir beside her, rolled over and opened sleepy eyes. "Shh," he whispered, stroking her shoulder. "Go back to sleep, my beauty."
She reached up and touched his face in the darkness. "How did it go with your father?" she asked. "What did you talk about?"
He hesitated, then said, "We talked of war, and the good of Gondor, and of my brother. Nothing that bears repeating here in the dark, in the night. Sleep now," and he settled his head on the pillow and pulled her into his arms.
She kissed his fingers. "Tell me tomorrow?"
"Yes," he replied, "I will, if you ask me."
But when the chambermaid woke her late in the morning, he was already gone.
Washed and dressed again, she stepped out of the small apartment and into the day, then stopped, looking around. The morning was scarcely brighter than the night before had been. Dark clouds painted the sky, letting little light through, though she could see a paleness high in the east where the sun should have been. No one was in the courtyard, and she walked to where the fountain was. It still sparkled, even in the dim light. "I wonder if this is what he meant when he said darkness flowed out of Mordor," she murmured. In front of her, past the gate where they had entered, the courtyard narrowed to a point far from the fountain. Uncertain what to do with herself, she walked to the point and stood looking out over the Great Gate some seven hundred feet below. Beyond the gate, she could see the vast fields that Boromir had called the Pelennor, through which they'd ridden the previous night, and though to the south she could make out the wall that surrounded the fields, it was too dark, and the wall too far to see the rest. She stayed there for a long time, her gaze following the horizon. Far away to the northeast she saw that the darkness thickened, deepened, and a red glow cut it as if the gates of Hell had opened and all the blackness come streaming out. "Mordor," she murmured, and felt a chill course over her skin. "Mount Doom, it must be."
"Maggie!" A voice from behind her pulled her out of her thoughts and she turned to find Pippin there.
She grinned, and they met halfway, Maggie dropping to her knees to hug him. "Hey there," she said. "God, you're a sight for sore eyes. Can I just say how great it is to see you?"
"Indeed you may," he said brightly, "and likewise I'm sure. When did you arrive?"
"Last night sometime," she said. "I don't know where Boromir's gone, but he'll be glad to see you."
"And I him. Come on," he said, taking her hand and leading her to the low wall that surrounded the fountain. They sat, and he went on, "The others have gone with Aragorn and Théoden to Dunharrow to muster Théoden's forces, but Gandalf and I got here yesterday morning. I've been keeping my eyes open for you and Boromir ever since, except for when we saw Denethor and I could hardly keep my eyes open at all." She chuckled, and he grinned. "No, I'm not so bad off as that. He's actually quite an interesting gentleman, the Steward of Gondor," he went on, "and he was pleased to hear that Boromir was on his way."
"What did you talk about?" she asked.
"Lots of things," he replied. "Mostly he asked me questions, and Gandalf had told me before we went in to watch my words, as though he thought Denethor'd be trying to find things out from me, though I've no idea what he'd need to know from a wee Hobbit from the Shire."
Maggie laughed. "You underestimate yourself, Pip," she said. "As was pointed out to me once, you and I travel among legends, and as a Hobbit, for most people you're a legend yourself. I'm not surprised he'd be curious, and I imagine you know more that Denethor would like to know than you think you do."
He looked doubtful. "It seems so unlikely," he said, then paused, and went on. "I told him about our journey from the Shire to Rivendell, and from Rivendell through Moria and Lothlorien, but I couldn't tell him about your arrival at Amon Hen because Gandalf said not to talk about the weapons you carry or the world you come from." Pippin's smile faded and he shook his head, looking at her. "I think Denethor may be surprised to meet you," he said, "and for that I apologize, for I do not think I'd like to be a surprise to the Steward of Gondor."
She squeezed his hand. "Don't worry about it," she said. "I think I'm in good with the son, so it might not be so bad."
Pippin laughed. "Not so bad, or maybe worse," he said, "but I'm glad to hear you and Boromir have grown closer. He needs good friends," he finished thoughtfully, his voice trailing off.
Maggie frowned. "What's up, Pippin?" she asked. "Is something going on?"
"I don't know," he replied, shaking his head. "It's just - Gandalf told me not to mention much about Strider to Denethor," and Pippin looked up at her. "He thinks the Steward might not welcome him, Strider being the king and all, and Denethor being as good as one, but only so long as Strider stays just Strider."
"Ah," said Maggie, nodding.
"And Boromir," Pippin murmured, almost to himself, "Boromir wants to please his father, save his people, and be loyal to his king." His eyes were worried. "He can do the second, I don't doubt," he said, "especially with Strider on his side, but the other two.... Well, I just hope he doesn't have to make a choice."
There was a long pause, and then Maggie said, "Do you know if Gandalf has seen Boromir?"
Pippin shook his head. "I don't think so." After a moment Pippin looked up. "Oh, I see what you mean," he said worriedly.
She nodded. "Boromir went to see his dad last night, after we arrived."
"Yes," said Pippin, nodding, "he would, of course."
"I'm guessing Denethor already knows about me, and the guns, and Aragorn."
Silence again, and then Pippin sighed. "He may have learned about Aragorn, at least, from me already - he's canny, and Gandalf didn't reproach me, but he did seem to say that Denethor may've found out from me who was coming." He stood up then, brushing imaginary lint off his trousers. "Well, what's done is done," he said. "And I don't think even Gandalf could convince Boromir to lie to the Steward. Come on - let's go see if we can find the Man."
She stood with him, looking around. "You know what, Pip - it suddenly occurs to me that my friends were supposed to come at nightfall last night."
He took her hand again. "Don't you worry - I'm sure they'll be here. They've probably just gotten the time difference wrong."
She smiled and squeezed his hand. "Yeah, you're probably right," and they started towards the gate. "It is pretty weird," she said, "this back-and-forthing from one world to another."
"Didn't Gandalf say maybe even one time to another?"
"Mmm," and she nodded. "Yeah, and I can't figure that one out."
"Well," she said as they passed through the gate with its impressively black-robed, mithril-helmed guards, "in my world, we think we know how Men came to be, and pretty much what happened between the appearance of the first life on the planet to the way things are there now. Unless we got a whole lot wrong, this can't be my world, regardless of the when."
Pippin frowned. "How can you know all that?"
"Oh," she said, "on the more recent stuff, there are written records, and then for all of it there's artifacts, and fossils, which are like, bones of things that died, or impressions of things left in mud when it covered something and turned to stone. We have people called archeologists and anthropologists who read things like fossils, and - and histories of people." Maggie spent the next little while trying to explain to Pippin about evolution and natural selection, archeology, anthropology, geology, paleontology, zoology, biology, and how they all worked together as they walked the winding street through Minas Tirith. While she did, she was also gazing around at the architecture, the white stone buildings, the way they gleamed dully, beautiful even on this dawnless day. Turning as she walked, she looked up and saw, high above, the White Tower, which she'd passed in the courtyard of the fountain but hadn't really seen until just now. "Oh wow," she whispered, and stopped. Pippin glanced at her, then at where she gazed.
"The White Tower of Ecthelion," he said. "It's where the throne room is, with the empty throne and the Steward's chair. There are meeting rooms there as well," he went on, "for council, and - and whatever it is that powerful men do."
She shook her head in amazement. "It's so beautiful," she said, and felt sudden tears come to her eyes. She didn't wipe them away. "Pippin," she said, her voice clear in spite of the emotions she felt rising, "why - why would someone want to destroy all this?" She looked down at him, and he seemed much more of a man than a child to her at last, standing there, gazing up at the Tower, and she felt like a child herself, confused and frightened by the workings of the world.
He shook his head. "I don't know, my friend," he said. "I don't know if anyone knows."
She knelt beside him, looking up once more at the white spire rising into the bruised and blackened sky. "There's so much beauty in the world," she murmured, "and so much sadness."
"'Tis true of every world, is it not, lady?" he said, looking at her. He reached out and touched the tears that coursed down her cheeks. "Your world has much beauty in it, doesn't it? and much sadness."
She looked at the ground, remembering. Remembered the way moonlight lit the office towers, and the soft paws of the cat that lived outside her apartment, and spoke to her each morning when she left. The fearless sparrows that scrambled for crumbs on the asphalt and sang in clear, high voices from their perches in the eaves and on the windowsills. So many things. Little things. The child she heard crying in the night, and the woman who comforted him; the crack of gunfire, and the sound of sirens; the music of voices below her window on summer nights when people gathered to talk, and drink, and laugh. "Yes," she said finally. "it does. Sometimes they're so mixed you can't tell where one stops and the other begins."
He put his hand on her back, and said, "You fight for two worlds, Maggie. Whether or not they were both yours to start with, they're both yours now, because you fight to save them."
"I just don't understand," she said, "why someone would want to hurt them so." He didn't answer, but stroked her back, and finally she looked at him again. "If I understood," she said, "maybe... maybe it wouldn't seem so hard."
He smiled gently. "Oh," he said, "I don't know. It might seem easier, but," he went on thoughtfully, "it might seem harder, depending on the why. Maybe what's important to people like you and me is just seeing to it that the things we love are safe." He slipped his fingers under her arm. "Come, lady," he said. "Let's go find your soldier."
They found him on the fourth circle, coming towards them, intent on his conversation with a man Maggie didn't recognize. "Boromir!" shouted Pippin then, and ran forward as Boromir looked towards the sound of his name.
A grin lit his face when he saw Pippin. "Master Peregrin!" he called, and strode forward, knelt as the Hobbit reached him and clasped him in an embrace. "You are a welcome sight indeed!" he said.
"And look who I brought to you," said Pippin, looking towards Maggie. "Our savior and, if I'm not mistaken," and he glanced back at Boromir and winked, "somewhat more than that...?"
Boromir smiled again and Maggie thought she detected a slight blush. "Ah, Pip," he said, "you're not so innocent as you make out, are you? Come," he said then, standing, and he turned to the other man and said, "These are two of my companions, of whom I told you - the lady Maggie Dunshay, and Master Peregrin Took, of the Shire." Turning back to them, he said, "This is Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, my kinsman and my friend."
"My lord," said Pippin, and the Prince smiled at him.
"So this is a Hobbit," he said. "You travel far to come to a war," he said, kneeling down to look Pippin in the eye. "Your people must be stolid, from the bones of the earth, like the Dwarves."
"More like from the stomach of the earth," said Pippin, smiling, and Boromir laughed.
"From the heart of the earth, friend," he said, "believe it."
Imrahil rose then and turned to Maggie. "The outworlder," he said, then took her hand and kissed it. "My lady, I owe you a debt of gratitude. My kinsman told me of your timely arrival, and I thank you for it, and for your courage." He grinned at Boromir and clapped a hand on his back. "I'd not lose this one for all the mithril in the Dwarrowdelf."
Boromir laughed, throwing his arm around his friend's shoulder. "Come on," he said, "we should - " and he blinked as Imrahil started violently, his hand going to his sword. "Ah," said Boromir then, placing his hand over Imrahil's. "My lady, I think your friends have arrived at last."
Shortly, the six of them - Boromir, Imrahil, Pippin, and Maggie, plus Mira and Janet who had so startled Imrahil when they appeared out of the air - were ensconced at a table in one of the ale-houses of the city, a lunch of cheese, bread, and cold meat before them, water, and a hot brew Maggie didn't recognize but which tasted slightly of honey and wine. Eventually, Mira turned to Maggie and said, "So, we found out some things you should know. It's why we're a little late."
Maggie nodded. "I wondered about that. What's up?"
"It's Keith, first of all," she began. "He's dead." The others stopped their conversations then, and listened.
Maggie blinked. "Huh? How?"
"Sorrow. He found him at last."
"Ah," Maggie said, and nodded again. "Well, that sucks."
"Yeah. But," said Mira, "he did tell us some interesting things before that. Like, it's not by accident you're here after all." Boromir and Imrahil tensed at her words, and Maggie didn't miss the shadow that crossed Boromir's face. "Oh," Mira went on quickly when she caught the sudden tension, "it was by accident that you're here, but it was a case of mistaken identity. Keith was supposed to send Constance Jones."
Maggie's eyes widened. "No way."
"It's true," said Janet. "He sent Keith to meet her at the same bar where your friends were meeting you, the same night. Keith just thought you were her."
"Shit," Maggie murmured, looking down. "Wow."
"Who is Constance Jones?" asked Boromir.
"An assassin," said Mira. "All Keith knew was that she had short dark hair, wore black, and carried guns. She'd been hired by Sorrow to come here and kill all of you, and bring the ring to Saruman."
Silence then, and Boromir passed his hand over his face. "By the gods," he whispered. "You," he said, looking at Maggie, who had paled, "you are here because a half-wit wizard," his eyes growing dark, "was too drunk to make certain of who you were?" He shook his head.
"Worse still," said Mira. "The half-wit wizard was also too drunk to remember to send the note with her that Sorrow - well, Saruman, it looks like - told him to send." She glanced at Janet, who reached into her pocket and pulled out an envelope, which she handed to Maggie.
Maggie opened it, pulling out a note and a hand-drawn map, and read aloud: "'Constance,' it says, 'as agreed, you will kill all members of the Fellowship whom you find, and take the Ring from the one who bears it.'" Maggie smiled a wry smile and glanced at Boromir. "Probably just as well I didn't have it - y'all would never have let me come along if I'd been carrying this little missive." She shook her head and turned her eyes back to the paper, continuing. "'You will bring it to me at Isengard, and with it, you will give me this note, which will explain to me who you are and that I sent you.'" She pulled out a second envelope, to which the remains of a wax seal still clung. "Guess she wasn't supposed to see this part," Maggie said softly. It contained another note. "'Saruman,'" Maggie read aloud again, "'a gift to you from your future, with which you may destroy the Enemy. Return this woman to her time with the gift I send. She has access to great powers of destruction there, which she may bring to you, and with which you may easily enforce obedience to your will amongst the peoples of Middle Earth, while yet not using the power of this great gift, which may turn your own works against you. She is no wizard herself, and will be easily dispatched once you have no further need of her.'" Maggie looked at Mira and Janet. "Do we know what he meant by that? the part about 'great powers of destruction'?" she asked.
Mira frowned. "Well, we asked around, and it turns out that she's had some dealings with arms traders, and some who supply terrorists." She paused. "We think," she said, hesitantly, "that Saruman was talking about getting dirty bombs, or possibly biological agents. Or both. Or worse."
Cold, Maggie reached out and gripped Mira's hand. "Did she get here?" she asked, her voice tight.
Mira shook her head, and Janet said, "When we found Keith he was running from Sorrow, that much is true. But not quite for the reasons he'd told us."
"Apparently Sorrow had found out that Keith had sent the wrong person," Mira said. "That's why he was looking for him - to punish him. Keith stole the talisman and tried to disappear, but he's not a very - well," she said, "wasn't a very competent wizard, and we found him first."
"How did Sorrow find out Keith had screwed up?"
"Constance went to him, to get paid," Mira said. "She figured, it wasn't her fault the jackass didn't send the right woman, and she wanted either for Saruman to get her to Middle Earth to do the job, or pay her fee."
"She's dead, too," said Janet, and Maggie turned to her, mouth agape.
"You're - he - he killed Constance Jones?"
Mira snapped her fingers. "Just like that."
"Why, for god's sake?"
Janet shrugged. "Fit of pique, as far as I can tell."
Maggie shook her head, closing her eyes. "Wow. So, is he - what, hiring someone else to send? to try again?"
"He can't," said Janet. "I mean, first, it's not that easy to find people like Constance. But on top of that, as long as I have the talisman, he doesn't have a way to get anyone here. He needs either this or the Ring." She paused. "Well, at least, so far. There's no telling whether he might find another way."
"Sonuvabitch," said Maggie softly.
"It gets better," said Mira, and Maggie groaned. "Wanna know what Sorrow did when he found out we were bringing weapons to Middle Earth?"
Maggie's eyes grew wide, and her heart turned to ice. "He knows? How does he know?!" She took Mira's arm. "God, Mira, is everyone okay? What the fuck is going on?!"
"Shh, baby," said Mira, "everyone's fine. Everyone's fine. It's - well, it was a weird night." She shook her head. "It's complicated - magicky crap that I don't understand, but Sorrow was... he was there, and not. He... he turned up in Greg's apartment while we were planning how best to get the weapons here. It was like - like a hologram, but not a hologram."
Janet grimaced. "I think he may have been in our heads," she said. "All of us, at once. That's how he killed Keith, and that's how I found out what was really going on - the whole Constance thing and everything. Sorrow wasn't well-shielded, I think because he was talking to us all at once, and killing Keith, which is how he found us - through Keith, after he broke through that protection spell."
"But everyone's okay?"
Mira nodded. "Janet kicked his ass back to the Black City," she said, grinning.
"The talisman's what did it," said Janet. "I just told it what to do."
"Anyway," Mira said, "guess what he did when he found out about the guns."
"I can't imagine," said Maggie, trying to stop shaking.
"He laughed." Maggie looked at her, and Mira nodded. "He laughed. He said, and I'm quoting, 'You do my work for me, and though this corruption will be slow, it will be equally corrupt.' And he thanked us."
"Oh good lord," Maggie murmured, and turned to Boromir, startled to see Imrahil and Pippin still there. She'd forgotten about them. "I think this is bad news," she said. "I think if Saruman thinks sending y'all guns is a good idea, we may want to reconsider its wisdom as a plan."
Pippin spoke up then. "Gandalf has known Saruman for so long," he said. "Wouldn't Gandalf - I mean, mightn't we want to ask his opinion? Sooner, I mean, rather than later?"
"Where are the others?" asked Maggie, turning to Mira. "Are they safe?"
Mira nodded. "For now," she said, "but I'd rather they were here. I don't know how long before Sorrow might be able to get to them."
"Can you get them here?" Maggie asked Janet.
"Yes," she replied, and looked at her. "With the guns, or without?"
"Without," she said, "for now." She missed the look Boromir gave her, but he didn't speak. "Good then," said Maggie, standing up. "Let's get them." She glanced at Pippin. "We'll go look for Gandalf after my people are safely here with us."
"My lady," said Imrahil. "You bring your people into a city on the verge of being besieged. I would not call that safe."
She inclined her head, and replied, "Neither would I, but at least here, Saruman isn't looking for them."
Boromir nodded. "They may indeed be safer here," he said. "We can find lodging for them in the Citadel, and if the worst happens and Minas Tirith falls, the lady Janet can take them home again."
Imrahil placed his hand on Boromir's arm. "Minas Tirith will not fall," he said softly, but there was steel beneath the gentleness, and Boromir clasped his hand over his friend's, and gripped it.
Some hours later, Jack, Greg, Paul, and Michael were setting up quarters in the apartments next to Maggie's, which Maggie was going to share with Mira and Janet, while Maggie stood by the fountain, gazing at the withered tree. Pippin had gone to look for Gandalf, Boromir and Imrahil were off on some business of their own, and Maggie realized with a start that she didn't know where they'd gone, or what the business was, nor had she asked him again about his conversation with his father. "Dammit," she muttered to herself, "I need to talk to him." She started towards the apartments to tell Mira she was going to go look for him, when suddenly the air was torn by a great, shuddering cry, hawk-like but foul, as if dragged screaming from the throat of an evil thing. Stricken with a paralyzing fear, she fell to her knees beside the fountain, her skin icy, her hands over her ears, and finally managed to pull her eyes skyward. In the east, over the Fields of the Pelennor, she saw a great winged beast circle once over the Fields and dive below the line of her sight. Terrified, she staggered to her feet and ran stumbling to her quarters, where Mira and Janet were crouching by the doorway.
"What in the name of fuck is that?" asked Mira in a choked whisper.
Maggie shook her head, scrambling to where she'd stowed her guns before bed the previous night. "I don't know," she said. "Dragon? I don't know, but - fuck, fuck it all," her voice shaking with fear, "I'm going to go see, dammit." She unholstered one of the weapons, snatched the binoculars from where they lay with her armor, and made for the embrasure where she'd met Pippin that morning. Her legs felt like lead, every step a struggle, as though she waded through a dream, but in her mind she saw Boromir, out there, and Pippin, she didn't know where. She reached the embrasure and looked out, icy terror still gripping her. Far over the fields, five huge, black, winged creatures, each with a shadowy figure astride it, wheeled and dived, always towards the same point, and faintly the sound of a trumpet reached her ears. Maggie put the binoculars to her eyes and flipped on the night vision, scanning the ground at the point that drew the creatures. A line of men she saw then, five riders, making for the Gate. As she watched, one of the black riders urged his mount down, shrieking, and the horses panicked, four of them throwing their riders. "Dammit," she muttered, dropping the binoculars and raising the pistol to sight on the creature, knowing it was far too far away. Then, from the north, she saw a bright light, a pinpoint of starlight that grew as it approached the remaining rider, who'd ridden back to his men, until the shadows fell away and the field was lit in silvery white light. Below, she heard voices crying out Gandalf's name. She raised the binoculars to her eyes again, and indeed, it was Gandalf, on a sterling white horse. As she watched, one of the winged creatures dove down towards the interloper, but Gandalf raised his hand and a spike of brightness stabbed upwards, and the creature wheeled away from it. Moments later, all of them had spiraled up and flown away to the east, vanishing into the lowering clouds. Below, on the fields, the horseman and the White Rider waited for the four who'd been thrown, and from the gate streamed a small company of men. Shortly, all had ridden back to the city and passed inside. She watched their progress, and listened to the cacophony of shouts from which she could make out only one clear cry: Faramir returns.
The fear that had gripped her when the black riders had circled overhead was gone, and she strode back to the apartments. "Boromir's brother," she said as she entered. "He's back, and if he's not too hurt they'll probably be up here shortly to see Denethor." As she spoke, she buckled on the gunbelt, and Mira and Janet watched her uneasily.
"So, if we're all on the same side," said Mira, "why are you taking the Glocks?"
Maggie paused then, and turned to her. "We're all on the same side," she said, "when there are just two sides, us and them. But on our side there are at least two more sides, and I don't know who's on which one."
"What do you mean?" asked Janet.
Shaking her head, Maggie replied, "I - it's," wondering whether she should tell them at all. Finally, she sat down on the edge of the bed. "Denethor," she said, "is the Steward of Gondor, the country we're in. Boromir is worried about him, says he's not been acting right lately. But in any event, the Stewards have run the country for a long time, waiting for the true king to return." She paused. "And Aragorn - who, if you recall, is on his way here with an army, albeit to help against Sauron - is the true king."
Mira drew a breath. "Ah," she said. "Well. I mean, I knew he was something, but I don't remember you mentioning anything about him being a king."
"Uh-huh," Maggie said, nodding. "He's sort of been keeping the whole thing to himself for a pretty long time," she said.
Janet frowned. "What for?" she asked. "I mean, isn't that sort of, well," and she hesitated, "not very kingly, during a war?"
Maggie shrugged. "I get the impression there were extenuating circumstances," she said, "but I'm not entirely clear on it. Anyway," she went on, "no one's really sure what Denethor's going to do about Aragorn, and I haven't had a chance to talk with Boromir since he talked to Denethor."
"So what do you think is going to happen?" asked Janet.
Maggie shrugged. "I have no idea," she answered. "I don't even know if Denethor knows about Aragorn. Maybe Boromir didn't say anything. Maybe he didn't say anything about the guns either." She stood up. "But I just," and she hesitated, not sure quite what to say, "I just don't trust the situation," she finished at last. "Now, I'm going to go see if I can find Boromir - I don't even know if he knows Faramir is back. And I want you two," she added as she started for the door, "and the guys, to stay here."
Mira stood, shaking her head. "No way, sweetums," she said. "If you don't trust the situation, I sure as hell don't, and I really don't want you out there alone."
"Not up to you," she answered, and Mira laughed.
"Been hanging out with kings and captains much?" she asked. "It is up to me where I go."
A flash of anger crossed Maggie's face, but she suppressed it. "Mira," she said gently, "I just want y'all in one place, is all. They keep telling me we're going to be besieged. I just want to - " but she hesitated as the sounds of boots on stone reached them. They turned to the open doorway, and Maggie stepped forward as a soldier came towards them.
He stopped a short distance from the door and said, "Lord Denethor requests the presence of Maggie Dunshay in his chambers for council." He paused. "I've come to escort her."
Maggie touched Mira's shoulder. "Please stay here," she said, and after a moment Mira nodded. Maggie turned to the soldier. "I'm Maggie," she said, stepped forward. The soldier made a little bow, and she followed him out into the night.
Presently they came to the private chambers of the Steward, but the guard kept Maggie waiting outside the closed door for over an hour, and she became increasingly irritable. When finally word came that Denethor wanted to see her, her irritation fled, replaced by tension at the sight that greeted her. Boromir sat in a carved chair to the right of a cold-eyed man Maggie knew must be his father. To Denethor's left sat a younger man who looked so like Boromir that Maggie's heart did a little skip. 'Two of them,' she thought. 'Wow.' A little ways away, on the other side of a glowing brazier, sat Gandalf, Pippin at his side. Maggie caught Boromir's eye, and though he didn't smile, his hard expression softened slightly, and he gave a barely detectable nod to her. She came fully into the room then, stopping across from Denethor. He watched her come, his expression thoughtful, his grey eyes steely, his mouth a grim line. Maggie's stomach tightened, and she felt suddenly as afraid as she had her first night in Middle Earth, when Aragorn had come and she'd thought he would question her, and didn't know what else he might do. She stood there for a moment, and finally said, "I'm Maggie Dunshay."
"The one who saved my eldest," said Denethor, his voice silky and cool.
She shrugged. "I don't know," she said. "He's quite the - " and stopped herself before she said 'bad-ass', finishing, "soldier. It's hard to say what would have happened."
"Nay, it isn't," said Denethor. "He told me how sore pressed he was, and the horn of Gondor bringing no aid -" Boromir scowled, turning to his father, who held up his hand. "Bringing no quick aid," he amended, "does that suit you better?" Maggie could see that it didn't, but he acquiesced, and was silent. "No, my dear," Denethor continued, fixing his gaze on her, "he'd have died, and I'd have lost the best of my line." Feeling more nervous by the moment, Maggie quickly understood just how deep the tension among the three men ran. 'What kind of father says that,' she thought to herself. 'Even a ki - well, a not-a-king, shouldn't talk like that with both his kids right there.' But she didn't speak, just stood there, hands clasped behind her back, waiting. "Show me these weapons you carry," he said, motioning her forward.
Hesitant, she stepped towards him, drawing Desire. She didn't hold it out to him, however, and he eyed her warily. She looked to Boromir, who understood her hesitation, and he held out his hand to her. She frowned, and said, "It's loaded," then gave him the pistol for him to show his father. In a soft voice he explained to Denethor about the trigger guard, and the action of the weapon, and Maggie tensed hard as Denethor took the pistol from Boromir to examine it more closely. It was all she could do not to step forward and take it from his hands.
"So small," he murmured, then handed it back to Boromir and looked at Maggie. "Are all of them this small?"
She shook her head. "Some are a lot bigger," she said. "But that doesn't always mean they're more deadly."
"And you can bring us these, and men to train my soldiers in their use?"
She hesitated, and looked around. "Well," she began, "it's become a little more complicated."
Denethor sat forward. "Can you," he said, "or can you not? 'Tis a simple question."
She frowned, turned to Boromir, then back to Denethor. "Look," she said, "it's not that easy. Yes, I can bring them to you, but -"
"Then do so," said Denethor.
"No sir," Maggie replied, shaking her head. Denethor's cold gaze turned icy, and out of the corner of her eye she could see Gandalf sit forward a bit. "Not yet, not until I've told you the rest."
There was a long moment, and at last Denethor said softly, "Do you understand to whom you speak?"
She smiled, the smile not reaching her eyes, and she felt the steel stubborn streak that had so infuriated so many people rising like a spike from her gut to her mouth. "I speak," she said, crossing her arms, "to the lord of a country in which I'm either a guest or a tourist or a refugee but not a citizen, in a world that's not mine, in a political structure I don't understand and don't consider myself subject to. And," she said, cocking her head to one side, "I speak to the father of the man whose life I saved." She took a breath and resisted the urge to back down from Denethor's increasingly angry expression. "The weapons are mine," she said, "and my people's. My friends risked a lot to get them, but there's new information, and we'll bring them only if it's agreed, after I've shared that information, that it's not a lunatic and fuckwitted idea."
There was silence, and then Boromir began to laugh. Faramir and Denethor looked at him, and he stood up and came to where she was, still chuckling, and slipped his arm around her shoulders. "My lord," he said, turning to Denethor, "you'll learn that the lady has as strong a will as any son of Gondor." He hugged her briefly to him, and went on, "When I told her to go to the caverns to escape the fighting at Helm's Deep, she disobeyed entirely and fought alongside the men of Rohan. Before that, she disobeyed a fellow soldier who'd told her to fly to the Gate, and she stood with the rear guard against the advancing armies of Saruman." He looked at her, his eyes shining, and she felt some of her nervousness slip away. Boromir turned back to his father, and went on, "And when Isildur's heir ordered her to the caverns before the ride of the Eorlingas at dawn," and he laughed again, genuine, and she could hear Gandalf chuckling as well, "she swore at him! She swore at Isildur's heir, and the son of Thranduil standing there with his mouth agape! I heard it from the Prince himself!"
"Prince?" murmured Maggie, glancing up at him.
Still laughing, Boromir nodded. "Oh yes, lady - our young Legolas is older than any in this room save Gandalf, and the adored son of Thranduil, King of the Woodland Realm." He motioned to one of the guards near the door of the chamber. "Come," he said, "get the lady a chair, we'll parley like civilized people." Turning to his father, he finished, "Unless you'd like to put my savior in chains and throw her in the dungeon? Though I dare say you'll never get your weapons then."
After a long moment, a small smile cracked the stone of Denethor's expression, and he inclined his head. "As you say, Boromir."
Boromir turned to her again, giving her a wry grin. "You," he said, very softly, "have almost made my father very angry."
"Almost?" she whispered, and he shook his head.
"Angry indeed," he said, still smiling, "and I'll hear no end of it. I'll have to reprimand you later," he said, "if we can find a private moment."
She chuckled and grinned at him. "I'll look forward to it," she said.
The guard arrived then with a chair, and she sat down, suddenly grateful and feeling very unsteady. She wondered whether Denethor would have put her in the dungeon, and if so, what Mira and the others would have done about it. And Legolas, who she'd thought was seventeen, was older than any of them and a prince? She let out a breath and took a sip of the wine Boromir offered her.
And then she told them what Mira and Janet had relayed, told them about Sorrow, and Saruman. Told them about the weapons, and about Constance Jones, and dirty bombs and modern warfare and missiles and nuclear warheads and biological weapons. They offered her more wine, but she asked for water instead, and then Denethor questioned her for what seemed like hours. By the time he finished, she felt like she'd used up every word she would ever speak, and didn't have any left.
Then Gandalf said, "So, Maggie. What do you recommend we do?" She turned to him, and he smiled a very small smile, his blue eyes glittering in the firelight. "Do you recommend we bring these weapons, or forgo them, and rely on the strength we have?"
She looked down, then at Boromir, then at her hands. "I recommend we forgo them, sir," she said, and raised her eyes to Gandalf's again. "I wouldn't have, but..." and she hesitated. "If it pleases Saruman so much, is there any chance it's good?"
"Very little," said Gandalf.
Denethor leaned back in his chair, and raised his finger to his lips. "However," he said, looking at Maggie, "you are no soldier. Can you know what would be best for an army? for a world at war?"
She hesitated, then said, "I don't know, but Sorrow - Saruman - he's seen these weapons in my own time. He's seen what they do, and he's glad that we're bringing them here, to a place he wants to destroy." She stopped again, watching the fire, not looking at any of them. I think," she continued finally, "that something which makes our enemy laugh, and thank us, is something we probably shouldn't do."
Denethor shook his head. "But this is not your world, and perhaps they will not bring to us the ruin Saruman supposes."
She took a breath, but before she could answer him, Faramir spoke, and Maggie was surprised to hear how much like Boromir's his voice was, only more velvet and less steel. "My lord," he said, "the lady has a good argument. Saruman has seen what these weapons do to people and - "
Denethor turned on him with a harsh sound. "You speak out of turn, Faramir," he said, scowling. "If you fear the strength of these weapons, that is no good argument against them, for you fear the strength of your own sword."
Faramir blanched then, and started to rise, but a quick look from Boromir restrained him. "My lord," said Boromir, "you are too harsh. Faramir has courage, and honor, and his men love him for good reason. Indeed, you heard this very night his report from Ithilien, from whence he has brought you much-needed news of the enemy at great peril to himself. Do not rebuke him so unfairly for doing his duty of honest opinion to you in council."
Denethor snarled, turning on Boromir now. "Do both my sons think they surpass their father in wisdom and experience, and conspire to work against me?"
"Nay, father," said Faramir. "We work only for the good of Gondor."
"Then what is to the good of Gondor?" said Denethor angrily. "What is to the good of Gondor, my rebellious offspring?" looking from one to the other. "Tell me what you would have us do, Boromir."
He hesitated, meeting Faramir's gaze, then Gandalf's, then Denethor's. "I would have us rely on our own strength, my lord, not on the strength of unknown weapons that bring joy to our enemy rather than despair."
"And is that the only reason?" asked Denethor, his voice silky again, "because a mad wizard from another world would like us to believe we should not use them?" Boromir looked away, his expression angry, and torn. "Or have you succumbed," Denethor continued, "to your affection for your brother?"
Boromir turned to look at Denethor, and in a steely tone said, "What are you implying, lord? that I speak an opinion not my own, out of love for Faramir?" Denethor didn't answer, but met his son's gaze steadily. "My lord," Boromir's voice low but strong, "you know me better." His eyes didn't leave Denethor's, and after a long moment the Steward inclined his head, breaking their gaze without seeming to drop his own.
"Very well," said Denethor. "We will not ask you to bring these weapons here, now. Not yet." He caught Maggie's gaze and she felt the pull of his will, and he said, "But do not think we may never ask you for them, and be prepared then," his tone just this side of menacing, "to respond as a citizen of Gondor, if you expect that gentle treatment."
It was late, and Maggie sat with Faramir and Boromir at a small table in Boromir's rooms, wine glasses in front of them, and a bottle open on the table. "I can't get over how much alike you two look," she said, glancing from one to the other. Both of them smiled.
"Ah, but Boromir is the handsomer by far," said Faramir, glancing at his brother. "Boromir the Fair," and he smiled.
"And Faramir the Wise," Boromir replied. "Aye, don't dispute it," he said when Faramir started to speak, "you know 'tis true."
Faramir chuckled and turned his gaze to Maggie. "Believe everything he says, unless it be about me," he said, then winced and laughed when Boromir punched him none too lightly on the shoulder.
"So why didn't you show Denethor the pistol I gave you?" asked Maggie, sipping her wine. "Why wait and let him put me on the spot like that?"
Boromir shrugged. "In frankness, lady, I'd forgotten about it. It is not natural to me, like my own sword and shield, and I - " he hesitated, then chuckled. "I simply forgot."
Maggie laughed. "Great," she said, "I give you this nasty little trinket that could blow a hole in anyone who picks it up, and you forget about it."
"Oh," he said, "it's unloaded, I assure you."
"Well that's good," said Maggie, smiling. "I wonder if Aragorn's forgotten about his."
"Ah," and Boromir looked away. "I fear, lady, that he lost it at Helm's Deep."
Startled, she fixed him with an unpleasant gaze. "Lost it?"
Boromir looked sheepish. "T'was a difficult battle," he said. "He thinks he dropped it when he leapt into the breach of the wall."
Maggie opened her mouth, then shut it again, then said, "You mean that place where they blew a hole in the wall? he went in there? on purpose?"
Boromir nodded. "It was necessary."
She chuckled. "Well, he's forgiven then."
"And I?" he said with a grin.
She smiled. "You can make it up to me."
Pouring the remainder of the bottle into his own glass, Faramir opened another and filled Boromir's and Maggie's from that. "Helm's Deep was hard won," he said as he poured. "And I understand Gandalf is responsible for the clearing of Théoden's mind."
"Aye," said Boromir. "It was as if thirty years fell away from him."
Faramir sighed, and said, "I worry for our own lord, Boromir. He has always held me in small regard, but the way he spoke to you in council," and the younger man shook his head.
"Aye, I do not like to admit it," said Boromir, "but..." and he hesitated. Faramir and Maggie looked at him. "My brother," said Boromir finally, returning Faramir's gaze, "did you know that the Steward uses the palantír?"
His eyes widening, Faramir paled. "No. Boromir, no!"
The elder son nodded. "He told me of it last night, after our arrival in the City. I fear it twists his mind."
Faramir ran one hand over his face, then lay it on Boromir's shoulder. "For how long?" he asked, his voice thin and disbelieving.
"I do not know. Long, I think."
"But Sauron," hardly speaking above a whisper. "Gandalf tells me Saruman's mind was defeated by Sauron, by the palantír. Could - could our father...?"
Boromir's hands clenched into fists. "Ah, Faramir," he said, his voice raw. "I do not know how to move! The Steward begs me to take the throne," he said, "and not as Steward, but as King!" Faramir paled, but didn't speak, and Boromir pressed his fists to his eyes. "He says it is for the good of Gondor, but I do not believe it, and I would not do it," he said, "I will not, but what will Denethor do when Aragorn comes to the City?" He set his hands gently on the table again, and Maggie could feel the tension in him, knew he was gentle because he feared if he weren't, he would lose all gentleness to rage. She'd felt the same way back home, more times than she cared to count. "Do I send riders, to warn him?" Boromir continued. "I don't even know where he is, and we need all our people here and more." His grey eyes were as dark as she'd ever seen them, and his gaze was fierce. "Or do I await his arrival, and risk Denethor doing some fool thing like clapping him in irons? And what then, if he does?" he said angrily. "Do I rise up in revolt against my own father? lead the soldiers of Gondor in another civil war, when all are needed to fight the Enemy?"
"That must be what you didn't want to tell me last night," said Maggie softly.
"Aye, lady" Boromir answered, nodding. "I did not want to believe it myself, and to repeat it to you..." his voice trailed off and he closed his eyes. "Our father is a good man," he murmured, and Faramir placed a hand on Boromir's shoulder.
"He is," said Faramir. "But even a good man can be overthrown by the malice of Sauron."
Boromir clasped his brother's hand in his own and faced him. "I'm glad you're here, Faramir," he said. "I need you with me, now more than ever."
"I am by your side always, my brother," Faramir answered, and brought Boromir's hand to his lips, then leaned forward and pulled the man into a hard embrace.
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