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End To Innocence, An: 9. Fool's Errand
"I must go," he answered. "The Steward has ordered me to take men to the crossing at the river Erui. He says our spies have told him there are ships coming up the river from the Anduin, and he would know more."
She sat up, pulling the sheets around her. "Wait. What? What kind of ships? Enemy?"
He pulled the last lace tight and said, "He does not know." Maggie heard the mistrust in his voice.
"What aren't you telling me?" she asked.
"I tell you all I know myself," he said, crossing the room to sit on the edge of the bed. He stroked her shoulder, then leaned in and kissed her softly. "It will be a short journey. By nightfall we will have returned. We go not to engage an enemy, but simply to see who comes, or if any come at all."
She slipped her hand around the back of his neck and drew him to her, kissing his mouth, then his cheek, and his mouth again. "Can I go too?" she whispered, and he chuckled.
"No, lady, you may not," he answered, smiling. "We leave within the quarter hour, myself and four Rangers - Rangers of Ithilien," he explained, "not of the North, as Aragorn is. They are of my brother's company."
"Why doesn't Faramir take them, if they're his men?"
Boromir sighed. "Because our lord comands that I do," he said.
She frowned. "And why didn't the spies - I mean, why couldn't they tell Denethor what he needed to know?"
"I know not," he replied, his eyes down, his brow furrowed. "But the Steward is in an ill mood, and will not hear dissent. I cannot persuade him," and he looked at her, a faint smile curving his mouth, "and I cannot disobey, so I go." He kissed her shoulder, and then her lips, and said, "Sleep now. I fear Faramir and I kept you wakeful late into the night."
She smiled. "Oh," she said, "it was fun. It's been a long time since I've been drinking with the guys, and y'all are a hoot together."
He laughed softly and said, "One day you must teach me the finer points of your language. It seems so like ours, and then so very different." He stood then, and she watched him to the door. "Faramir," he said as he opened it, and he turned to her. "See him today, Maggie. I - " and he shook his head. "A shadow is on my heart, and it bears his name. See him today."
She nodded. "I will."
After Boromir left, Maggie found it hard to sleep. She lay in bed for a long time, gazing out the window, waiting for a dawn she knew wouldn't come. Oh, the sun would rise, of course, as it always did, but Minas Tirith was so covered in the darkness of Mordor that what light reached the city was hazy and dim, as if late stormclouds pressed close to the earth. Finally she rose and lit a candle, washed, then pulled on her leggings and started to don her blouse again. As she slipped it over her arms, though, she spotted the shirt Boromir had worn the day before - soft white, with pale green embroidery at the wrists and collar. She hesitated, looking at it. "No one will see it," she murmured finally, "under the cloak and tunic. Who'll know?" She tossed her blouse onto the bed and picked up the shirt, held it to her face. The scent of him still clung to it, musky and sweet, and she slipped it on. It was too big for her, but she and Boromir were almost of a height, so once she'd added the tunic and belted it, the only sign was that the sleeves were a bit too long. She pulled on her boots, slung the cloak over her shoulders, and walked out into the cool air of the courtyard, past the fountain to the embrasure that looked out over the Pelennor. Paleness lit the east, the sun rising towards late morning, red flames in the northeast where Mount Doom still tore the sky. As her gaze dropped back towards the fields from the horizon, movement caught her eye, and then she heard the sounds of hoofbeats far off. Scanning the field below, she spotted the source - a company of men riding to the northeast across the Pelennor. She felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up, and murmured, "Faramir." Shaking her head, she tried to dispel the feeling. "It could be anyone," she muttered to herself. "No reason to think it's him." But she couldn't convince herself, and finally she turned and strode back towards the courtyard, thinking to go to the Steward's chamber to see if someone there could reassure her . Before she reached the fountain, however, she spotted Imrahil near the Citadel's gate. Hurrying towards him she started to call out, but suddenly realized she didn't know what to call him. Imrahil? Prince? Prince Imrahil? My lord? But he glanced up and saw her, and saved her from getting it wrong.
"My lady," he said, coming forward.
"Good morning, sir," she said, smiling. "It's good to see you again."
"And you," he replied.
There was a brief pause, and before it got awkward, Maggie decided to cut right to it. "Do you know where I might find Faramir?" she asked. "His brother asked me to see him today, but I don't know where to look."
Imrahil's expression darkened. "Where is Lord Boromir?" he asked.
Maggie frowned. "Denethor sent him with four of Faramir's Rangers to see about boats coming up the river... um... Eruil? something like that. They went early."
Before she'd finished speaking, Imrahil had raised his eyes to the sky and a hand to his face. "Oh, I feared this," he said softly, then looked at Maggie again. "The river Erui, and there are no boats." He shook his head. "Denethor sent Boromir down the South Road so he would be away when Faramir was sent to the northeast, to Osgiliath."
"I don't understand," said Maggie. "Why would - what's Denethor doing?"
"It is a cruel ploy," said Imrahil, his low voice angry. "The Steward fears Faramir's influence on his brother. He has no sense of Boromir's true nature if he thinks the man's mind could be swayed to ill by affection, but he blames Faramir for each disagreement between father and eldest son." Imrahil's eyes narrowed, as he continued, "He thinks to remove Faramir's influence by sending him to die in forlorn defense of a city doomed to fall."
Maggie drew a breath, and shook her head. "No," she said, "no - he - Faramir's his son, he wouldn't - would he?"
Imrahil sighed. "Once, no," he said. "But now?"
She pressed a hand to her mouth, then said, "We have to find Boromir and tell him."
"To what purpose?" asked Imrahil. "He cannot countermand his father's order, either to himself or to Faramir. And even if he could, we have no way to find him."
"What about Faramir's Rangers?" she asked. "One of them could find them, couldn't he? can't they find just about anything?"
"Aye," said Imrahil, "but all of Faramir's Rangers have gone with Faramir," and he paused, "except, it seems, the four who were sent with his brother."
Stepping towards the gate that led out of the Citadel, Maggie said, "Well, someone has to find him, or - something," but she felt Imrahil's hand on her arm and resisted the urge to jerk it away from him.
"Lady," he said, "please. Take my council. Boromir will return 'ere nightfall, and he will do what he must then. But now," and Imrahil turned her to face him, "now, he must do as the Steward commands, as must Faramir. I like it no better than you," he went on, the anger in his voice ill-disguised, "for both these men are my friends, and both are ill-used by the Steward." He stepped back from the gate, pulling her with him. "But to fly after him into the wilderness with the Enemy in the land," he shook his head. "It is folly, and he would thank neither of us for it."
She took a breath and put her hand to her face. "Look, I'm - I've got friends with me, we've got weapons, we could -"
"No!" and he gripped her arm tightly, not letting her go. "Do not," he said, and glanced away, then met her eyes. "If you found him, and told him what his father has done," he said in a raw whisper, "he would abandon his mission and he would go after his brother, and the Steward lacks neither power nor cruelty when his will is dismissed." He smiled a grim smile then. "The dungeons of Minas Tirith are seldom used, but they are there, and they are," he hesitated, "unpleasant."
"Christ," she said, "what kind of place is this, where a father would send one son to go die and put the other in prison?"
Imrahil cupped her cheek gently, then let her go. "It is a troubled place," he said, his voice thick. "Beset from without and within, by enemy and friend alike."
Maggie stepped away from him then, and sat down on the wall that surrounded the fountain. "Damn it all to hell," she muttered, then looked at Imrahil. "So what, then?" she asked. "Just wait for Boromir to come back?"
He inclined his head. "If you have gods," he said, "you could pray to them."
She gave a little bark of laughter. "I don't think I've stopped praying since I got here," she said, then glanced back towards the quarters from which she didn't think the others had emerged. "Listen," she said, glancing back at Imrahil, "I'll go out of my head if I don't do something besides wait. Is there someplace my friends and I could train? Like - I don't know, an unused stable or something, where there's some hay for padding?" He looked at her strangely and she explained, "There's a lot of falling, and a certain amount of getting tossed around, and it's better to train under circumstances where there's a little padding on the ground, so you don't get injured before you're fighting for real."
Imrahil considered, and shook his head thoughtfully, then said, "The paddocks are the only place which might suit, and they're being used by the weaponsmasters as extra training grounds for sword practice. But," he continued after a moment, "if you'd be interested in learning another kind of fighting, I think I could find a weaponsmaster who would be willing to begin instructing you and your people in the basics of wielding a blade."
"That'll do nicely," said Maggie, standing up. "Let me go wake the others, and change into something I don't mind ruining."
It was well past nightfall when Boromir returned. Maggie was standing again at the embrasure when she saw the five riders approach the Gate. She was clean, finally, after a day spent sweating with the weaponsmaster Erendur, and had changed back into the clothes she'd worn earlier, Boromir's scent still on the shirt. She'd eaten then with the others, but when they'd gone with Erendur to an ale house near the Gate, she'd stayed above, restless and uninterested in company, except for one. She watched them approach, saw them disappear from sight into the City below, and finally she turned and went back to her quarters. Inside, she lit a candle, then took the gunbelt from the small cabinet where she'd stowed it and buckled it on, checked that Desire and Despair were loaded, and, after hesitating, went ahead and added the boot knives. Thus armed, she walked to the fountain and waited for Boromir to arrive.
She didn't wait long. Behind him came four men dressed in brown and green, and she knew those must be the Rangers who'd gone with him. She was glad to see they all returned with him. All appeared to be unarmed, and they were headed for Denethor's chambers. She took a step foward as they passed, and Boromir caught the movement and reached her in a few long strides.
"There weren't any ships, were there." It was a statement.
He shook his head. "What do you know of this?"
"He'll probably tell you himself," she said, "but," and she hesitated. The Rangers waited patiently, Boromir less so. She wondered if they'd be angry too, having been sent on a make-work errand so that Boromir wouldn't be around to interfere with their captain being sent off to die.
"What is it?" he asked, his hands on her shoulders. "Did you see Faramir today?"
"Aw, baby," she said, scowling. "I saw Faramir leave. I - Denethor - "
When she didn't continue, he gave her a quick shake, frowning. "Tell me, lady," he said. "It can be no worse to hear it from you than another. What has happened while we have been scouting for phantom enemies?"
She looked away and said softly, "Denethor sent Faramir with a company of men to Osgiliath, to try to hold the city. Imrahil says it's hopeless." She'd started to tell him the rest of what Imrahil had said - that Denethor planned for Faramir to die, but she found the words wouldn't come.
A hiss of anger escaped his lips and he spun on his heel, striding towards the Steward's chambers, three of the Rangers following.
The fourth, however, cast a quick eye over Maggie, and said softly, "Come, lady, I think your presence could be useful."
Surprised, she followed, falling into step behind him. When they came to the Steward's chamber, the guards outside it stepped aside, and Boromir threw the heavy doors open and strode in, every muscle screaming rage. The Rangers and Maggie entered behind him, and when the guard held out a hand to stop Maggie, the fourth Ranger shook his head and pulled her inside, motioning to the guards to close the door and stopping further protest with a steely gaze. "Do you think the Steward's son and four Rangers are not enough to protect the Steward from one woman?" At that, the guards shut the doors, and the Ranger who'd pulled her inside now motioned her to the shadows behind him.
Denethor sat in the same chair from which he'd interrogated her when they met, its carven back rising above his head like the high mantle of a robe. He watched Boromir approach, his face stony. When his eldest son stopped in front of him, he inclined his head and said in silky tones, "What news from Erui, Captain?"
"What you expected, my lord," Boromir replied, his voice equally silky, but cold, the final words dropping from his lips like poison. "There are no boats, my lord," he went on, "nor enemies, nor indeed, men at arms of any kind save myself and these four loyal Rangers of Captain Faramir's company," still advancing on the Steward. "But this you knew already, my lord," he said, with each utterance the poison growing sharper. He put one foot on the low dais that raised Denethor's chair. "Tell me, my lord," he said, his raw voice unable to hide all of his fury, "if it please you, my lord," and he leaned forward then, resting one hand on his raised knee. Maggie thought she saw Denethor shrink back, almost imperceptibly, from his son's trembling form. "Where is my brother, Faramir?"
There was a long silence. Denethor's face, lit by the red glow from the brazier, looked as if he gazed at a sworn enemy, not his favorite son. Finally, his voice scarcely above a whisper, but striking like a blade through the still air, he said, "Your brother, Faramir, is gone to Osgiliath, Captain, to hold the city."
"Osgiliath is lost, my lord," Boromir replied tightly, "as you well know, and the men there should be returning to where their deaths will at least have meaning." With a growl he flung himself away from the Steward and paced to the opposite side of the room, his cloak swirling about him like a shadow. "Why have you done this?" he cried, turning again to face Denethor. "What possible use has this to you? How many of our soldiers will die in this - this fool's mission?!"
"Do you call me a fool?" Denethor roared, standing suddenly as though to an attack. Boromir started towards him then, and Maggie thought for a moment the two would come to blows, but Denethor sat back and Boromir hesitated, then stopped, halfway between the Rangers and the Steward. "You four," the Steward said, nodding to the Rangers. "Leave us." They glanced at Boromir, who gave an almost imperceptible nod, and the four of them slipped quietly out. Maggie, however, unnoticed in her shadow, didn't move, and the fourth Ranger caught her eye as he left, and put a finger to his lips. "Faramir," said Denethor then. "Faramir is a fool, and a coward," and Maggie felt her heart grow cold, her eyes fixed on Boromir, who stood still as stone between Maggie and the Steward. "You are besotted with him, because he is so very different from you," Denethor continued, "but he is weak, and you will not see it."
"Weak?" said Boromir, disbelief in his voice. "Weak? You are mad if you believe that," he said, shaking his head. "And you are mad if you believe I will not go after him and bring him, and his company, and what men we can rescue from that doomed city, back to Minas Tirith."
Denethor snarled. "You will not," he said. "Has it come to this? has your brother so manipulated your mind that you would turn against your own father?"
"No!" Boromir's voice was equally fierce. "No, my lord, it is not my brother who has manipulated my mind, but Saruman who has manipulated yours with that foul seeing stone!"
"Do not fight with me, Boromir!" With a muffled curse Boromir turned from his father then and started for the door, but Denethor leaned forward slightly, smiling a sickening smile. "Boromir," he said softly, and his son stopped, but didn't turn. "Face me, my son, my soldier. My disloyal Captain."
Reluctantly, Boromir turned to his father, his back straight, his hand falling to where his sword would have been, had he carried it.
Denethor brought a finger to his lips, still smiling, and shook his head ever so slightly. "Ah, my son," he said. "It would do you credit could you see your brother for what he is, and not for what you would have him be."
"And what is he, father?" asked Boromir, his voice like crushed velvet slipping through the cool air of the chamber. "What is he? Not as bloodthirsty as you would like? Not as impetuous? From whence, my lord," he said, stepping forward, "comes your hatred of the second son my mother bore you?"
Denethor jerked backwards in his chair as though he'd been struck, a hiss of breath leaving his lips. "You will not speak so to me, Boromir," he said in a growl.
"I wish only to understand," Boromir replied, his voice gentle, but Maggie heard the stones beneath it, like stones in a graveyard. "If you forbid me from going to my own brother's aid, I would at least understand why."
"It is not your place to understand, only to obey!" Steel and blood were in Denethor's eyes, and his face was twisted in a scowl.
Boromir strode forward then and Denethor pressed back in his chair, opening his mouth to speak, but stopped when Boromir suddenly, unexpectedly, dropped to his knees in front of him and took his hands between his own, lowering his head to kiss them. "My lord," he said, his voice low, "I have been in all ways your obedient son, and your loyal Captain. I have given you all that I am. Please, allow me this. Allow me my brother."
Denethor reclaimed one hand and stroked Boromir's hair back from his face, caressed his cheek gently, Boromir pressing into the touch as one who's spent too long in the wilderness presses his cheek to the soft pillow of his own bed. The Steward slipped his hand to the strong curve of his son's neck and held him, then, and Maggie was struck by the image, Boromir on his knees before the Steward, his head down, pleading to be allowed the chance to go after a brother who should never have been sent away. Then the Steward raised his eyes and suddenly she felt his glance alight on her, and she quailed, for the first time afraid for herself instead of her lover. The Steward looked at her as one who has just seen the final move in a long game of chess, and waits only to take the King.
"Oh, my son," said Denethor gently, returning his gaze to the man who knelt before him, "your weakness betrays you." Boromir raised his eyes to his father's. "No, Boromir," he went on, "I see now my decision was correct. I cannot let Faramir corrupt you further. I have need of you still - you must take the throne. If you can kneel before me and beg, I fear you lack the strength already, but perhaps your brother's absence will put the steel back in you."
Boromir rose to his feet. "The seeing stone has twisted your mind," he said in a snarl, and started towards the door. "I will go to Osgiliath, and you will thank me for it when your mind is your own again!"
"You will not!" Denethor cried. "You will remain here if I have to have you locked in a cage! Call your whore out of the shadows and face me, Captain!"
At that, Boromir stopped and turned, confusion on his face. Maggie stepped forward. He spun to face her, his eyes widening, and she shook her head, glanced towards the door through which the Rangers had left. Boromir came forward and took her arm, and she whispered, "He told me to come - I thought - "
Boromir shook his head, and turned to his father. "You speak in anger, lord, but what has this woman done that you would dishonor her so?"
Denethor laughed. "What has she done?" he asked. "Why, she has presumed upon you, and upon your affections. She weakens you as your brother does, troubling your heart and your thoughts when they should be fixed on one goal alone - the throne of Gondor!"
Boromir paled, and his voice shook when he replied. "You do not speak your own mind," he said, and Maggie could hear the barely contained violence that lay just below the surface of his soft tone.
"How dare you answer me so!" Denethor cried, rising from his chair. "Ah, I should have killed that weakling brother of yours in his cradle! He has turned you against me, but I will have you back, my son," and in the firelight the Steward looked like a demon, his face a mask, his eyes hard and hot as twin coals. "I will have you back from your brother and from your bitch as well. Faramir is gone, Boromir, and if you do not acquiesce, this outworlder will be as well! Think of them both as dead, for so she will be if you disobey me, and he will be dead in truth soon enough!"
Denethor looked to the door where the guard waited on the other side, but with a howl of rage, Boromir's hands were at Maggie's hip, and before she could stop him he'd drawn Desire and was sighting down the barrel at his father. "I will kill you where you stand, my lord," he said, his voice low but clear, "if you speak another word." Denethor started to step off the dais but at Boromir's hiss, he stopped, his face pale. "Sit," Boromir said, and Denethor did, though he was tight as a bowstring, outraged and afraid.
"You use the weapon of your whore against me thus?" he said, his low voice trembling.
"You would do well not to anger me further, my lord," said Boromir, and Maggie hardly recognized his voice, it was so changed, sharp as a blade, but as warm and full of menace as newly spilled blood. "Do you like me better now?" he said, cocking his head to one side, walking now towards the Steward, the pistol never wavering. "Am I more your son now? Impetuous, bloodthirsty, kneeling before no one? Is my steel strong enough for you now, my lord Steward?"
Denethor was pale, but when he spoke, his voice had lost none of its harshness. "This is the man who could take the throne," he said. "Yes, I do like you better now, better than the groveling dog at my feet, begging after your cur of a brother!"
With a low growl, Boromir reached the dais and pressed the pistol to his father's cheek. Denethor shrank away as Boromir caressed his face with his free hand, the intimate gesture strangely tender, mirroring his father's earlier caress, stroking his thumb across his father's beard, his lips, the barrel of the gun slowly pressing harder against him. Denethor's face was white, his eyes locked on his son's. Then, without warning, Boromir drew back that caressing hand and delivered a hard, quick blow to the bottom of the older man's chin, and Denethor slumped, unconscious. Instantly Boromir turned and grabbed Maggie's arm, and with a sudden gasp she ran with him to the door. "He'll sleep a few moments," he said, "minutes if luck is with us, but no longer. Shh," and slipping the gun under his cloak he opened the door. The guards stepped back, Boromir followed Maggie out, and shut the doors behind them. The Rangers were waiting outside, and Boromir gestured to them to follow. Quickly they made for the gate that led out of the Citadel, passed through it, and in moments were at the stables. No one was nearby, and Boromir spoke is hushed tones. "The Steward is ill," he said, taking a saddle and heading for one of the stalls. The Rangers and Maggie followed suit. "We ride to Osgiliath tonight with what men we can muster to fetch your captain and his company from a doomed mission. Not you," he said to Maggie as she too reached for a saddle.
Her eyes widened. "Are you kidding?" she said. "What am I supposed to do here? He'll fucking kill me!"
"No," said Boromir, turning back to the mount he'd chosen and heaving the saddle onto the animal's back. "He will not know where to find you until after we have returned, and he will have other concerns then."
"I'm not staying here to wait around and see if you come back a corpse, or if I'm made into one," she said.
Boromir turned to her, and she saw traces still of the fury that had gripped him in Denethor's chamber. "You are," he said, and nodded to one of the Rangers, who came forward and took her arm.
"Lady," said the Ranger, "if you will."
Angry now, she pulled away from him. "I will not! Look," she turned on Boromir, "you took my gun, I want it back, and I want you to -" but he rounded on her then and gripped the back of her neck, pulling her face close to his.
"You will do as you are told," he said, his voice a ragged snarl, "and you will do it without dissent, and without delay. I have not time for this, and I will not lose you both!" With that, he shoved her brutally into the arms of the Ranger, and said, "Do what you must - chain her if you have to - but keep her here and keep her safe. I'll come for her when I return."
She started to wrench free of the Ranger's grip, but he felt the movement before she made it and swift as a cat he slipped his arm around her throat, cradling her windpipe in the curve of his elbow and trapping her left arm behind her with his, her shoulder twisted back. He pulled up then on her throat until she was on her toes, and his voice came soft in her ear, "I must do as the Captain bids me, lady, and he's told us somewhat of you. I believe you are a woman not to be trifled with, nor underestimated." She gripped his encircling arm with her free hand, taking some of the pressure off her throat and trying to tuck her chin, but his grip was too close.
"Let me go!" she said in a savage, strangled growl. "I'm not yours to order around!"
Boromir glanced at them then, and Maggie caught his gaze. "No, you are mine," he said, then gestured to the Ranger. Releasing her trapped arm he tightened his grip on her throat, pressing her head forward with his other hand, and though she had both hands on his arm now she couldn't gain the space she needed for blood to flow again, and the world narrowed to a bright center with stars at its edges, and then went out.
When she opened her eyes again, her hands were bound behind her and she was being carried in strong arms. "You wake," said the Ranger who had choked her. "Good." The others were gone, and the Ranger set her on her feet beside his mount, slipped her foot into the stirrup, then lifted her, and having few options, she swung her leg over and settled herself awkwardly in the saddle. In a breath he had mounted behind her and was urging the steed out of the stables into the darkness.
"How long was I out? why haven't guards come yet?" she asked.
"Not long," he said, "and they did - they came almost as you fell to unconsciousness," the Ranger answered, "but they were persuaded not to pursue."
She hesitated, then said, "Persuaded?"
The Ranger chuckled. "They were honestly persuaded," he said. "The men love Boromir, and honor him, and they, too, see the Steward's... illness. Never the less, it will be good the more quickly we get you to my cousin's home. Not all the guard feels as the men we met tonight, but you'll not be sought there."
"Do you have to have my hands tied?" she asked irritably.
"Yes, lady," he said, "I believe I do. You show signs of neither womanly submission nor soldierly obediance, and I would not risk the Captain's wrath were aught to happen to you, be it from your own stubbornness or my carelessness."
She started to respond angrily, then paused, and smiled slightly. "He does have something of a temper when sufficiently provoked," she said at last.
"Aye, lady," he said, and she could hear humor in his voice, "that he does."
She considered. "What if I promise to be cooperative?" she asked.
He hesitated, then said, "I am sorry, lady, but I do not know what oath you could take that I could trust. I see how you look at him," he went on, "what you fear. Were I in your position, I would not be trustworthy, I think."
Frowning, Maggie twisted in the saddle to see the man's face. "Hey," she said, "you're the one who told me to come with y'all. What in god's name for?"
"When you said the Steward had sent Captain Faramir to Osgiliath," he replied, "I knew Lord Boromir would intend to retreive him, and that the Lord Steward would not allow it. We do not go armed into the presence of the Steward, and I did not relish the thought of one Captain dead and the other imprisoned. I thought it would be good if Lord Boromir had a third option, one that required neither obedience nor a cage, and he had told us of your strange weapons. When I saw you carried them..." and he trailed off.
"You didn't think it might make the Steward even angrier?"
She felt him shrug. "I knew it would," he replied, "but it seemed a better alternative than the others. He would never have allowed the Captain to fetch his brother home, and while I regret any distress it may have caused you, or him, I believe this course of action is for the best." He paused, then said, "Were his brother to die, and he locked in a cage and unable to go to his aid, Boromir's soul would have no peace this side of the grave. Would you have that for him?"
She shook her head. "No, I just hope it doesn't wind up getting me killed, or him. Or Faramir."
"Each day of life brings hope with it," the Ranger answered. "Better to live one more day in honor, and action, than a hundred years in grief."
The Ranger's name, she learned, was Haerendil, and the cousin he took her to was Meylari, a woman of around forty years, a few streaks of grey silvering her pale blond hair, and the look of someone who could be equally kind as harsh, perhaps both at once.
"Welcome," she said as Haerendil helped Maggie dismount, then she turned to the Ranger. "Your brother told me you were coming, and some of what has happened. They've ridden on, but will expect your coming."
He nodded, and Meylari took Maggie's arm. "Come inside, lady," she said, glancing around. "'Tis best not to linger." She turned to Haernedil then and said softly, "Return whole, cousin."
"And with my Captain," he replied, then turned his mount towards the gate and departed in a clatter of hooves on stone.
Inside, the house was warm and lit by the soft glow of several lanterns, a small fire burning in the grate. Meylari brought Maggie into the main room, wherein were a table, a small cabinet, four chairs, and a cat asleep on a small rug by the fire. "Oo," said Maggie, smiling, "lovely cat."
Meylari smiled back. "She's called Snowpad, for her light step and her white feet," she said.
Maggie laughed. "Cute."
"Come lady," said Meylari, "my cousin may not trust you, but I'd not have you a prisoner in my home. Let me unbind your hands."
Maggie looked at her. "Why don't you think I'll make a break for it?"
She looked puzzled. "Why do I not think you'll leave?" she asked. "Why, where would you go? Into the dark after my cousin, on foot? back to the stables, to be caught by the guard?" She shook her head. "Nay lady," she said, "you do not seem a fool to me. Come now," and she motioned Maggie to turn her hands to her. Maggie did, and in a few moments she was free, rubbing her wrists.
"Thank you," she said. "They were starting to go numb."
She chuckled. "Haeren is strict in his duty to his Captain," she said. "I fear he'd have let your poor hands drop off before he'd have risked losing you, and feeling the combined wrath of the Steward's sons."
Smiling, Maggie reached down to stroke the cat, which rolled over obligingly and began to purr. "Yeah, he's quick with the choke, too. He should join my team."
"Of your team," Meylari said then, and glanced up, "your friends? Haeren's brother told me that you have," and here she faltered, uncertain, "companions from far lands, who will be wondering where you are in the morning."
Maggie nodded. "They'll be none too happy about this," she said.
"My friend," said Meylari, "for so I hope I may call you, I must beg you to consider, carefully, before taking any action."
Maggie chuckled. "What sort of action am I likely to take?" she asked.
Smiling, Meylari replied, "I would not presume to suggest one, but I imagine you are not without resources. But lady," she went on, leaning forward, serious now, "please, use them not. You are safe here, but the Steward cannot be depended upon for clear thought." She hesitated, then said, "I do not wish to frighten you, and I have been assured that all will be made right when the Steward's sons return, but you must not be seen in the streets of the City. Captain Boromir worries for your saftey if you fell into the Steward's hands."
"He's the one who left me here," she muttered.
"Be glad he did," Meylari said softly, but in her voice was worry. "Their mission is dangerous, and some will not return. It would have weighed on his mind, were you there, and right or wrong he'd have thought to protect you. More might have died, because of that."
Maggie wanted to protest, but didn't. Doubtless Meylari was right, however much Maggie might have wished Boromir respected her skills more than that. "So I'm to stay here until they come back?" she asked. Meylari nodded. "But what about my friends?"
Meylari turned away. "The Steward may have them arrested," she said, "though he'll do no worse than that until he has found you."
Maggie gave a short bark of laughter. "Well, great. Listen, can you get a note to them somehow, whether they're still in the Citadel or already arrested?"
She nodded, then turned to the cabinet behind the table and opened a drawer, brought out parchment, ink, and a quill, and Maggie seated herself at the table and wrote out a quick note.
Take the others and go back home. See if y'all can stay with Michael's friend Chip - it sounded like Sorrow doesn't know anything about him and won't make a connection, or look for you there. Things are shaky here, Denethor's unstable, and there's a possibility he's going to have you arrested - or has already, I don't even know. Just give me a few days to get things settled down here, and then come back.
You're a good friend. Watch out for the others. And don't delay. I'll be fine as long as I know you are.
All my love,
She blew on it to dry the ink, then folded it over and handed it to Meylari, who took it and then took her cloak from a peg near the door.
She turned to Maggie then. "Do not leave this place," she said. "For anything. On your honor?"
Maggie laughed, remembering Denethor's words. "Define 'honor'," she said. "I think there are people here who'd say I don't have any."
Meylari crossed the room in three long strides, and placed her hand on Maggie's shoulder. "Haeren's brother also told me of your bravery, of which," and she smiled, "Lord Boromir spoke at great length. And he said that you have lightened the heart of one much troubled. Your honor is not in doubt to me."
Startled, Maggie smiled at the other woman. "Thank you," she said. "I promise, I'll stay here. On my honor."
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