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A Handful of Valentines  by Branwyn

An elf led Bill the Pony, saddled and laden with gear and food, from the stables to where the Fellowship waited in front of the hall. He whickered in greeting as the hobbits gathered around him, but he kept a wary eye on the other travellers. The elves had treated him kindly, letting him roll on his back in the grass and giving him oats and apples to eat, but he would not soon forget the cruelty of Bill Ferny.

Suddenly, a tall Man raised a horn to his lips and winded a great call that echoed among the rocks. The hobbits covered their ears, while the folk of Rivendell looked about them in alarm. In the stables,the elven horses whinnied and kicked their stalls, but Bill the Pony merely shook his head and snorted.

"Slow should you be to wind that horn again,Boromir," Master Elrond said sternly, as Bill began to search the hobbits' pockets for apples.

"Now that is the proper horse for a dwarf, Legolas!" a stout, bearded figure said to the elf beside him. "No gangly-legged,scatter-brained, colicky, pinch-nosed warhorse, but a sensible pony. They are steady and tireless mounts, sturdy beasts of burden, and willing workers in the mines."

Bill turned his head to stare at the dwarf. He had heard the tales, whispered among his kind, of terrible places in the ground, where ponies were made to slave in the darkness, pulling heavy carts until they fell in the traces and died. He sidled away from the dwarf, slowly raising an iron-shod hoof from the ground.

"Beware that hind leg," the elf warned. "He is a wise beast, and I deem he disliked that remark about the mines."

The dwarf stroked his beard as he peered into the pony's face. "My people have little skill with beasts, yet we do not treat them unkindly,and we honor the ponies who work alongside our miners, sharing their hazards and hardships. For those ponies are as great-hearted as the bravest warhorse. And far more clever, if you ask me."

At the mention of hazard and hardship, Bill rolled his eyes and shook his head, yet he kept all four hooves on the ground as the dwarf scratched him on the whithers, and with a cheerful whicker, he accepted a palmful of raisins. Despite the alarming talk of mines, plain horse sense told him that this was a friend.



"Hold your weeping. I cannot bear to see it," her brother begged as if he were in mortal torment.

Eowyn nodded, sniffling and trying to stop the shaking of her shoulders.

"No one will force you to pledge yourself to this outlander. The laws of our people forbid such a thing." Her brother scowled then struck his palm with his fist. "I will speak with Theoden King at once." He swung about on his heel and nearly fell in a heap of manure as he tripped on his new sword. With a muttered curse, he stamped out of the stable and into the cold rain.

Heedless of her best gown, Eowyn crawled into the hay loft. There she would be safely hidden while she waited for her brother to return. She hated this gown, hated the way it bared her shoulders and stretched across the new curves of her breasts. She was nothing more than a filly being raised to be a brood mare.

At the sound of men's voices, she peered down the ladder. She heard Freawulf, the stablemaster, giving orders to the grooms. Then she heard a low voice speaking Westron in a strange, lilting manner. She leaned down to spy a glimpse of the outlander, for she knew that was who it must be.

His black hair hung in wet strands, and water streamed from his cloak. Even from her perch in the hayloft, she could see that his hands were white from the cold and his broad shoulders were stooped with weariness. Yet he unsaddled the horse himself and dried its coat with clean sackcloth,refusing the help of the grooms.

Scratching the horse on the whithers, the outlander told old Freawulf, "He is cold and overtired. He needs to eat--" And here he said a few words in Sindarin. "It is food for sick horses. I do not know what its name is in the Common Speech."

Moving quicker than thought, Eowyn shimmied down the ladder and landed with a thud. Then she pulled down the rumpled skirt of her gown as the outlander stared and the stablemaster coughed into his hand. She looked up at her betrothed as she spoke. "'Bran mash.' It is called 'bran mash' in the Common Speech. Freawulf, be so good as to cook some for Lord Boromir's horse."



They were all a little in love with her, from the smooth-cheeked squires to the battered men-at-arms. Even as they knelt to renew their oaths to Ecthelion, more than a few eyes were turned away from their lord to where she stood beside the dais. Fifty years later, Aragorn still remembered how tiny her figure had seemed, too slight to bear the gown of silver cloth. He had feared its weight would pull her over. How little he had understood of women and their strength, how little he knew of what they could bear!

The light in her face was as bright as the dance of sunlight on the water, and when a draft caught her veil, it billowed out like a mainsail.

The captains had knelt in a row before the dais, with the lesser ranks crowded behind them. At Aragorn’s side, young Denethor tried to look stern, his eyes flitting between his father and his bride, as he repeated the solemn words of the oath. He stumbled badly on the last line. No doubt aware of their distraction, the steward barked out his response then gave his soldiers a curt dismissal.

With the gleam of silver and the flash of blue silk, Finduilas hastened toward the row of captains. Blue and silver, silver and blue; the cloth rippled in waves at her feet. Aragorn was minded of bright days he had known in Dol Amroth where the wind was swept clean by a thousand leagues of water. Never did his heart waver from the one he had chosen, yet still he felt light-headed as he watched her take her husband’s hand, as if he had stared too long at the sun on the water.

After a few stolen hours of sleep, Aragorn returned to the Houses of Healing to see how his charges had fared during his absence. The young steward slept heavily, stirring only slightly at the touch of Aragorn's hands on his face, but all signs of fever were gone. Sleep is a skillful healer his foster father once told him, and he deemed that Lord Faramir would soon recover his health.

The tall guardsman still sat hunched over the bedside. His face was white under soot and dried blood, and numb with weariness, he was scarcely able to reply to Aragorn's questions. Handing him a coverlet, Aragorn ordered him to get some sleep. As proof of his utter exhaustion, the man obeyed the order without a murmur, falling into a heap on the floor by the foot of the bed. Aragorn took his seat.

He could linger for only a moment, for other sick and injured folk were still in need of his care. Yet he felt strangely restored as he watched Lord Faramir sleeping. The elves found rest by gazing on green leaves or into the star-dappled heavens, and so he found new strength as he looked at his charge. He lifted one of the sun-browned wrists and, with the ease of long practice, found the steady pulse. He caught himself smiling as he felt its strong beat. By some marvel, Aragorn had healed the deadly hurt to his body and mind, so now for both of them, there could be a new beginning. What other marvels might come to pass?

“By long-hallowed tradition is this token borne by the eldest son of our House.  Vorondil the Hunter fashioned it from a horn of the wild oxen of the east, and for a thousand years has it been passed from father to son.”  Denethor leaned down and draped the baldric over the boy’s shoulders.  “Ever have our foes fled at its sound, and within the ancient boundaries of this land, its call for aid will never go unanswered.” 

To his great relief, Boromir remembered the proper words. “May I carry it to victory,” he said loudly.   His father raised him to his feet then turned him to face the hall.  The people cheered, shouting “Boromir! Lord Boromir!”    

When the ceremeny had ended, he ran to find his brother, ducking past the ranks of counselors and guards.  Faramir had had no part to play, so he had been left in the care of one of the older squires.    Boromir proudly showed him the war horn; he even let his younger brother hold it.  Men and horses and oliphaunts were carved in the yellow ivory, and the horn was bound with fittings wrought of silver.  

Head bowed, Faramir traced a finger along the carvings.  “This once belonged to Father, and now it is yours,” he said, his lips pressed tightly together.   He handed it back without another word.    

A House and a lordship could have only one heir, and even if Boromir had not been the Steward's heir, he would ever lead his brother in all things merely by virtue of age.  He would be the first to have a sword, the first to have a horse and commission. And by ancient tradition, certain treasures came to the heir.  This was as it should be, yet still he was troubled by Faramir's downcast look. 

The next day, Boromir waited until after the City bell had struck twice, for he knew that was when his brother rode his pony at the stables.   He pushed back the heavy lid of a chest and began to rummage inside.    What would serve his purpose?   After searching through piles of gear, at last he held up a small object in triumph. 

When Faramir returned, he led him to the great hall.  In the late afternoon, no one was there save for a servant wielding a broom.    

“Now you must kneel before the dais, like the captains when they swear fealty,” Boromir ordered. 

“Why?” his brother asked as always.

“Because otherwise there can be no ceremony.”  He recalled what his father had said.  “That is long-hallowed tradition.”

Faramir hurriedly knelt on the bottom step.

Handing him a lump of black rock, Boromir proclaimed, “This is the lodestone of the second son, which shall henceforth be passed from father to second son.  May it always show you the way.”  Like the horn of Vorondil, the lodestone was precious and helpful at great need, pointing the traveller to the north.  It seemed a fitting heirloom for their House.  His father had kissed him on the brow, so Borommir leaned down and embraced his brother.  Then, for good measure, he tapped him on each shoulder with a wooden practice sword as if he were being knighted.     

Faramir gazed at him joyfully, the token of the second son clutched in his hands.

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