1. 15 March 3017, Edoras
The air was cold—March in Edoras was harsher than in Minas Tirith, the winds more cutting as they came sheeting down off the mountains. But at least it is a clean breeze, he thought, thinking of the threatening glower of the Ephel Dúath. The Mountains of Shadow more and more often sent a miasma of brown and smoky air winging across the leagues to clash with the muted winds of the White Mountains, there in the rocky leeward cleft where Minas Tirith nestled. He would not complain of the wind in Edoras, therefore, as he filled his lungs, wishing the wind would burn away the taste of something festering beneath the festive yearly conciliar gathering at Théoden's court…
It was likely because of the wind's whistling that he did not hear the footsteps approaching. It was only when the guards stiffened suddenly, and hailed the newcomer that Boromir realized he had been followed.
"Leave us a moment, gentlemen," came Théodred's voice, and the guards hastened to obey. Boromir turned to find the Prince of the Mark standing nigh, his hands stuck under his arms. He gave Boromir a nod, but did not speak until he was certain the guards had retreated back to the eaves of the hall. "I hope you did not come here only for solitude, my lord," he said; "I have as much time as it may reasonably take a reasonably drunk man to find a dark corner with the kitchen lass, but I would speak, and without my minder listening."
"Gríma?" Boromir guessed, and Théodred grimaced.
"I had to foist him off on Éomer, who will not thank me. But never mind," the Prince said. "Let us talk. Your father's request for Riders—impossible."
"Because of a few orcs in the Westfold?" Boromir asked, skeptically. "What of the Eastfold? What of your cousin's losses? We are offering you a place in our lines, maintenance guaranteed for your men—that may stop the orcs before ever they breach your borders!"
"Reasonable idea, is it not?" Théodred agreed, and flashed a grim smile. "But it shall not happen. The orcs in the Westfold are, it is true, fewer in number than the ones in the Eastfold. But they are in the Westfold. We have the Dunlendings breathing down our necks, and any show of weakness but makes them bolder. And of course, we have Gondor in Anórien. Shall we say that my cousin, Éomer, who, you may have noticed, does not bear well the Worm's insinuations, cannot stop a few orcs that slip past the gallant men of Gondor, Boromir?"
"Then he can spare a few men for our lines, surely!"
"But we have the Westfold—we need his Riders where they are or to the West."
"What if we found a few companies to help you in the Westfold for a season?"
"If you had a few spare regiments, you would not be here now," Théodred replied, and snorted. "Why not simply buy our horses instead, if you need Riders?"
"Because your horses are more expensive to buy than to maintain with trained Riders!" Boromir retorted, and then paused. He and Théodred gazed at each other in silence, and Théodred's brown eyes were mirthless. Seeing that, Boromir let out an explosive sigh.
"So that it is how it is," he murmured, shifting pieces on his mental chess board about. Knights checked by pawns… "What will you do about it?"
"There is nothing I can do. Or no more than I do already," the Prince admitted heavily. "I cannot shift the Worm; and as he goes, so goes my Father. I am mewed in Westfold, Éomer in Eastfold. Elfhelm is a good man, and he has the rank, but he is not First Marshal yet, and will not be unless an accident befall Father, no matter how much Elfhelm may act the part. He will have no place in any council. And Gríma wishes to see Westfold well-kept."
"Are the Dunlendings truly such a threat?"
"They were trouble in times past—when your father was Captain-General, I am told. Thengel had to withdraw the Rider companies he had sent to Gondor, if you will recall. Now," Théodred said, and paused, and his expression grew darker. "I am not certain. There is something about the whole affair that I mislike, but I cannot say what. Five years ago, Father would have heard me out, but—"
"But," Boromir sighed, waving off the well-worn explanation.
"What of Gondor? Is it truly so bad as you paint it?" Théodred asked.
"It is not good," Boromir replied, and left it at that, trusting the other to know what that meant. Théodred glanced east, reflexively, and he nodded.
"I will warn Éomer," he said.
"As shall we, when we can," Boromir promised, and received a grateful smile and a clap on the shoulder, ere Théodred reached up and removed the golden circlet that had graced his head all that evening. Sliding it up an arm, he then undid the high collar and the ties down the front of his tunic. The wind chose that moment to gust again, and Théodred's hair, loosed from its braids, whipped about his face like golden flames. He ran his hands through it, then back again, 'til it was thoroughly mussed.
"There," he said, and raised a pale brow at Boromir. "How do I look?"
"Like a man the kitchen lass had her way with," Boromir judged, a smile curving his lips.
"Then that ought to do it. I don't suppose you wish to stay out here, but if you do come in with me, at least give me a shoulder to lean on."
This time, Boromir simply laughed, though he joined the Prince as he made for the hall once more. "Gladly," he replied. "What of the guards, though?"
"Háma set them tonight. No fear of them," Théodred replied, even as he slid a heavy arm about Boromir's shoulders and sighed. "Please extend my deepest regrets to the Steward, your father, when you have finished telling him the news. I would I could speak for the Mark, but I am only my father's son, and not even first counsel to his heart anymore."
"I shall. But Théodred," Boromir said, pausing a moment to speak seriously once more, despite the risk of being overheard. "There will come a day when we must have your aid. You know this."
"And what shall Rohan say on that day?"
Théodred was silent a long moment, his face troubled. Finally: "I do not know."
Boromir sighed, gazing down at the earth, feeling the other's shame and anxiety. Well, I did ask. And he is but the prince of the realm, not the king. So:
"Let's get you back to your chair and find you a reputable lady this time, shall we, my lord prince?" he said. Théodred's hand tightened upon his shoulder, and Gondor the support for once for Rohan, they together made their way in.
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