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Ch. 24 - Third Age 3017 - Part Eight - A
When Anor topped the mountains, Faramir was long on his road to Boromir, Damrod ever at his side. Denethor’s change of heart still perplexed his youngest. All seeing – had his father seen something and was not telling him? A cold chill ran down Faramir’s spine as he searched the horizon, looking for any sign of his brother’s return. They changed horses at the North-gate, then headed towards Amon Dîn. Four hours later, the gates of the garrison of Amon Dîn opened before them. Baranor stepped up to greet him, a great, crooked smile on his face.
“Captain Faramir! ‘Tis good to see you again. We had no missive. Will you be staying long?”
“Only for the time it takes get fresh mounts. I am away to meet Boromir. He is late and the Steward requires his presence.”
“Would that you could stay for a bit. I have had no news from the City in a fortnight.”
“No reports sent?” Faramir’s brow creased.
“I have sent the daily reports, but have received none. Mayhap the rider takes the reports directly to Captain Guilin at the Mering?”
“That would be foolish. I will look into it when I return.”
Horses were readied. A soldier handed Damrod food packets and water skins affixed to their horses’ saddles. Faramir thanked both men and rode off.
Though Anor shone brightly, the cold off the mountain chilled him to the bone. He drew his cloak tighter and tucked his free hand inside. His breath blew out in ghostly white wisps. ‘I should have had some warm mead before I left Baranor. I had not remembered how bitter the winds could be. My mind is on Boromir. Why is he so late? Could the Rohirrim have possibly detained him?’ Faramir’s eyes widened at the thought. ‘No matter how badly Théoden might now think of Gondor, he would not do that.’ And yet the seed of doubt lowered Faramir’s spirits even further. Faramir was no fool; something had happened to his brother, that much was clear. But it would not be imprisonment. At least, not at the hands of the Rohirrim. Another shiver ran down his spine. Baranor said naught about Orcs or any other dangers upon the road, but he kept alert nonetheless.
Éomer shoved the woman away from him. Mardil stared in surprise. Éomer had stayed his hand! The woman lived! He ran forward and grabbed Éomer’s arm, pulling the man away in case his anger could not be contained a second time.
“Bind her and set guards upon her. Take her to a tent far away from me,” the Rohir growled to his men. Mardil sat him down by the fire and offered a flagon of warmed mead.
“You would have been within your right to slay her.”
“I would have except for the mood in Edoras.”
Mardil shifted. “My dealings with the Rohirrim have been friendly. The man that Boromir encountered must be newly stationed at the Mering.”
“The new men… Life has changed these past years. My King grows old and listens to words he would not have in his youth. Men who have not served in Rohan are given positions of importance. I do not know the new captain of Mering’s garrison.”
“You will send him back to Edoras with a reprimand?”
“I am Marshal in name only,” Éomer confided. “If I had killed that woman, even though her treachery is deep, I would find myself in the King’s dungeons.” He held up a hand to stay Mardil’s protest. “Aye! Even in my great anger, my love for Rohan o’ercame it. If I am imprisoned, who will guard our eastern border? I could not risk such an event.”
Shouts from the pickets sounded. Mardil stepped forward and began ordering the men to draw their weapons. Éomer went into the tent to guard Boromir.
Denethor sat opposite Lady Míriel and smiled with his eyes. He had spent an hour, this late morning, with the woman. In his mind’s eye, he could see she cared naught for the Heir, but for the title. ‘So this is the best I can offer my son?’ He smiled again and nodded as she continued her banter about Dol Amroth. Denethor noted Ivriniel was starting to fidget and hid a smile. When the other woman took a moment to breathe, he stood up. “I have some other business that I must now tend to. Forgive me. I must take my leave. I will see you at the daymeal. The cook has planned something special for tonight.”
The women accepted his farewells. Nerdanel stood and walked him to the door.
“Come. Walk with me to my study?” he asked under his breath.
She nodded. “I have a few errands I must attend to,” she said aloud. “I will return shortly.”
“You must forgive her,” Nerdanel began as they slowly walked down the steps of the Tower. “She is nervous and ill at ease.” Through her laughter at Denethor’s expressions, she said, “ She really never talks this much!”
“Does she ever say aught of import?”
“Oh! Denethor! She knows court life and how to simper. That is what she did with you just now. She presented the coy, sometimes dim of wit woman who does not appear to be a threat. But when I return to her, she will tell me all that she now thinks she knows about the Steward of Gondor.”
Denethor raised an eyebrow. “Would that my own sons could be so discerning.”
“She will care for Boromir, you have my husband’s word on that.”
Denethor took her hand. “And that I trust. I will put aside my misgivings and accept her. Now, as for Ivriniel. She is well?”
“Minas Tirith holds many hard memories for her. Being in Finduilas’ garden yesterday was most difficult. Finduilas is missed. Forgive me,” she whispered, “But you did ask.”
“Now and again,” Denethor sighed, “The heart that I have steeled against memories cracks open. Finduilas is truly missed.”
”What if you had not sons to remember her by? Life would be so much sadder.”
He turned and took Imrahil’s wife in his arms. “You always remind me of much and bring my heart joy. Fate has been kind to you.”
“For the moment. Elphir’s posting on the Anduin gives my heart grief. With the enemy so near, if a missive fails to arrive every day, I find myself distraught.”
“His posting will be short. You understand the need?” As she nodded, he let her go. “Will the Lady Míriel understand such need? Or will she hope…?”
“Is that what troubles you, Denethor? That she only… I cannot believe it of her.” She looked long and hard at the Steward. “It is said you have the gift of foresight and know men’s thoughts. Is that what you see?”
“It is,” he said softly.
“I have a year, my Lord,” her tone turned brusque. “Know you the time will be spent wisely. I will change her heart and show her the way of a Steward’s wife. My husband has given his word. Now I give you mine. She will be what Gondor needs.”
Denethor kissed her lightly on the brow. “Thank you, Lady Nerdanel. “My son’s happiness is in your hands.”
She bowed and left him.
About the ninth hour, Faramir caught sight of the beacon at Eilenach. A small camp stood at the base of the hill and Faramir could see not only the Steward’s banners, but those of Rohan as well. His shoulders lifted as the burden of fear dissipated. “Boromir!” he breathed softly. Willing hands took his horse’s reins as he entered the camp; he slid from his horse to cries of welcome. Faramir felt at ease. As he was led to a large tent further from the road, his sense of euphoria lessened. The faces of the warriors were grim, though they lifted in joy when they recognized him. ‘Something is wrong.’
Éomer strode from the tent. Looking up in surprise when Faramir called his name, he strode forward and purposefully embraced Faramir warmly.
“Is not well. His company was attacked in the Firien Wood. We have done what we could.”
Faramir noted Éomer’s reticence and vowed to pursue the matter further, once he had seen to his brother’s welfare. He followed Éomer.
Damrod strode beside him, but stopped at the entrance to the tent. “I will wait here, Captain.”
Éomer led him into the tent. Boromir lay quietly, a Rohirric bear rug wrapped around him. Faramir knelt at his brother’s side. “Boromir. It is Faramir.” There was no response. A sheen of sweat lay upon his brother’s brow. Faramir found a cloth lying next to him and dabbed gently. He stroked back the hair that had fallen forward. “Where was he injured?”
“His stomach. It is a large gash. It had been tended and sewn, but there were complications. I will tell you later.”
Faramir lifted the rug and gently pulled back the bandage. The wound smelled ugly and looked even worse. “It is not healing.”
“Nay! But the cause has been found. We will clean it again after your visit and re-bandage it.”
Tears filled Faramir’s eyes. “Poison?”
“Not from the original blow.”
Faramir stiffened. “Treachery?”
“Aye. Great treachery. And at the hands of one of my people. I cannot speak of this in front of Boromir. He knows and understands, but I fear the telling would upset him.”
Faramir nodded and looked at the beloved face of Boromir. Grey eyes looked back at him.
“Are you a dream?”
“I am not. I have come to bring you home. Father is waiting.”
“Ah! I had a dream sometime. I cannot remember when. But you were there and I knew I was safe.” A shudder ran threw the warrior’s body. “But you became an Orc.” His voice rose in pitch. “Touch me. Let me know you are real.”
Faramir sobbed and held Boromir tight. “I am real. I am here for you now. Close your eyes and rest. I will not leave you.”
Boromir sighed and closed his eyes. Faramir sat on the ground next to him. Éomer left them alone.
“Granted, Warden, my mind has been preoccupied with other things these last few weeks – Faramir’s wounding, the betrothal, the Enemy’s lies. However,” and Húrin sat up as the tone of his cousin and Steward changed from the light banter it had been since he entered Denethor’s study till now, “I wonder about the dearth of reports from my army.”
“I am not aware of any problems,” Húrin said hesitantly.
“My daily reports. Are they being withheld from me?”
“Nay, my Lord Steward!”
“Then – where are they?” Denethor raised an eyebrow. “Are you not receiving them?”
“I have received a few, but not all. Forgive me for not forwarding them to you. Boromir usually takes care of them.”
“I know he does,” and Denethor’s tone grew even colder. “Am I only to receive reports when Boromir is present?”
“Nay, of course not, my Lord Steward. I will look into this matter immediately.” He stood, placed his wine glass down on the table, bowed and left.
Denethor scowled. ‘How long did it take my last Warden to become adept at seeing to my needs?” He bowed his head. ‘It is useless, but I must try again.’
The Tower door opened without a sound. Denethor hesitated a moment. He was still angry over the report situation, but, mostly, his heart was ill at ease regarding Boromir. He took a long, deep breath, calmed himself, and entered the chamber. Taking the cover from the stone, he placed it to the side. Then, he walked to the north-facing window and looked out. ‘How fare you, Boromir, my son? My heart is heavy; I would have you here at my side.’ Clouds scudded across the sky; shadows ran along the mountains under them. All seemed peaceful and quiet. ‘If my heart were not so grieved, I could almost imagine I was living within the time of the Watchful Peace.’ Faint sounds of daily life and commerce wafted up from the levels below him. Stoneworkers laboured somewhere; the steady tap of their tools comforted him. ‘If only life could remain like this. Tranquil, unencumbered by war, my sons at my side…’
A sigh escaped him. ‘Time to be strong.’ He turned and walked purposefully to the plinth, placed his hands upon the Palantír and watched as the Pelennor opened before him. Of all of Gondor that the globe could show him, this view he loved the most. He indulged himself for a moment and brought the scene before him closer. He watched as farmers tended their fields, fields so desperately needed to feed Gondor’s army. He put that thought aside. He continued his gaze down the green hills that dropped to the Anduin. Everywhere was activity for the fields had been burned clean and the spring planting was begun. Fruit trees were leafed and the heifer’s born last fall were filling the open spaces. Meat for his men. Another thought to put aside for the moment.
‘It is time,’ he thought grimly and turned his view northward. He took in a quick breath. More Easterling encampments were springing up around the gate of Barad-dûr. There were even a few towards the border by the Nindalf. ‘Boromir will indeed have to be sent north when he returns. I think I will station him at Cair Andros instead of Amon Dîn. Rohan can only protect so much of that border,’ he noted as his gaze swept towards the Emyn Muil. ‘Orcs come from those heights and Rohan cannot stop them.’
At last, he turned his gaze upon Amon Dîn. He saw the patrols riding north of the garrison, but saw no sign of Faramir’s banner. ‘The boy has headed west. He did not find Boromir at Amon Dîn.’ He watched as the Drúadin Forest came into view. He raised an eyebrow and brought his focus tighter and closer. No wolves. No boar. ‘Orcs! They are the only things that eat wolf, except bear. There must have been Orcs here recently. And yet – reports!’ He scowled. Sending sight further west, he espied a camp a little north of Eilenach. He focused to bring the scene closer, but the Palantír would not obey him. “Ah!” he cried in delight. “So when my sons are near a place, you will not let me see. Wondrous! Now I know at least where one of them is. Your own disobedience gives you away!”
He quickly scanned the Great West Road, but saw no further signs of travel. The stone did not stop his inspection. He returned his gaze to the speck that represented the camp. ‘Would that I could ride there myself!’
He took his hands from the globe, covered it, and walked back to his study. Though only an hour before the daymeal, Denethor lay down. Exhaustion filled him so that he could hardly walk. He wondered at this, as he had not looked east, but sleep o’ercame him before he had time to study the matter.
“Faramir,” Éomer stepped through the flap and into the tent. “It is time for the daymeal. Will you eat it with us?”
“Nay. I will not leave him. The wound must be cleaned,” he reminded the Rohir.
“I will bring hot water.”
“Faramir,” Boromir croaked, but he found his tongue swollen and stuck fast to the roof of his mouth; a look of terror crossed his face as he tried to breathe.
“Water!” Faramir cried, as he understood his brother’s predicament.
Éomer ran in with a skin and held it to Boromir’s lips. “Slowly, my friend.”
Boromir let the cool water run through his mouth and felt his tongue release. He closed his eyes.
“We are poor stewards for you, my friend. Your body needed water and we failed it.”
Boromir nodded, a look of utter relief passed over his face. He tried again and this time, his mouth worked properly. “Faramir. You came.”
Faramir tightened his hold on his brother’s hand. “It is good to see you awake.”
“He is anxious for your return. We knew there was trouble, must have been trouble for you not to have returned to the City at the appointed hour.” He nodded and Éomer left to get the hot water. “Boromir. Do not speak o’ermuch, but I must know. Has Éomer… Have the Rohirrim…”
“Éomer has been to me as a brother, as he always has, Faramir. I would be dead now, but for him and his men.”
“Then I owe him much.”
Boromir nodded and closed his eyes again. He drifted off into an uneasy sleep.
Éomer entered the tent with two warriors of Gondor. The one, a captain, saluted. “Captain Faramir. I am Captain Mardil of Amon Anwar.”
Faramir stood and clasped the man’s arms warmly. “I have heard of you. You are Damrod’s son?”
“I am,” Mardil grinned. “You know of my father?”
“All know your father’s name. Long was he friend to the Steward. Too many times, he found himself having to save my father. There was the time in the Drúadan Forest; your father was one of those in the company who was with my father when Wild Men captured him. He was one of the great heroes of the Battle of Cair Andros in 2973. My father told me of your father’s valour in the battle; he saved my father’s life. And now, you have extended your family’s service. You have saved Boromir’s life!”
“Nay!” the captain said grimly, “Marshal Éomer and his men saved the Captain-General. My men and I only do guard duty. Marshal Éomer is in command.”
Éomer blushed and raised his hand in protest. “I would not presume to command warriors of Gondor, Captain Mardil.”
“Captain Faramir,” Mardil said vehemently. “It was the Rohirrim who found and saved Captain-General Boromir. Once they killed the Orcs who captured him and then tended to his wounds, they sent to our garrison to report. My men only guard.”
“I would hear the whole tale, once we tend Boromir’s wounds.” Faramir turned and pulled back the bear rug while Éomer wet a cloth in the hot water. Mardil replaced the cooled heating stones with hot ones.
“The wound is indeed ugly. Be it infected?”
“It was worse,” Éomer confided. “I had to cut skin away for we had not maggots.”
“Nor poppy either, I see,” Faramir frowned as he poured warm water over the wound. Éomer held cloths to catch the fallen water. “The smell lessons.”
The three men worked quietly for the next few moments. At last, the wound was cleaned and a poultice placed over it.
“In an hour, I will remove the poultice and cover the wound with honey.”
“Good, Éomer. And thank you. Now, the both of you take your meal. When you are done, if you would bring me a small plate? Captain Mardil?” Éomer nodded and left the tent. Mardil stood ready. The other soldier stood guard by the door.
“Why was no rider sent to Minas Tirith? I could have brought a healer with me and supplies to aid in Boromir’s recovery.”
“My Lord Faramir. We sent two riders the day after Boromir was attacked. We found their bodies two days later as we rode towards the City. Since we had Éomer’s healer, I thought it best not to risk any more lives. Until now, the reports we have received from garrisons along the way were that the Great West Road was not safe.”
Faramir chewed his lip. “Not safe? And yet, we have received no such reports in Minas Tirith.” Faramir shook his head. There were too many reports lost or not sent. His father must be told. “You may go.”
Mardil saluted and turned to leave.
“Wait!” Faramir cried out. “You said you have a healer with you?”
Mardil’s face blanched. “We do.”
Faramir bent over Boromir who slept more soundly. He turned and motioned Mardil from the tent and followed him out. “It is time I learned of what befell Boromir,” he said. He motioned to Éomer who had been standing close by.
The three men walked a little ways from the tent and sat around a fire. The men nearby saluted and moved further away. The look on Captain Faramir’s face did not bode well for any to willingly be near.
“From the beginning,” Faramir said, his lips drawn taut and his voice sounding very much like the Steward’s. “All of it.”
Éomer began and followed through to the ending. When he was finished, Mardil filled in Gondor’s part. When he was done, he stood. Faramir looked up in surprise, and then nodded. A moment later, Mardil returned with three flagons of warm mead. The night’s chill was begun.
Faramir dismissed Mardil and Éomer and walked slowly back to Boromir’s tent. His father would be displeased, to say the least. He sighed. There was only an oath between Gondor and Rohan, no written treaty, for the Rohirrim believed that an oath given with honour need not be given on parchment. Since Cirion’s days, the fact that there were no written guidelines presented problems in relations between the two countries. None seemed graver to Faramir than this one.
Faramir entered Boromir’s tent and was surprised to see him awake. He smiled and sat beside him. “You look better.”
“I think I shall live,” Boromir quipped, “though only long enough to tease you, if for naught else. You look worried.” The lightness left Boromir’s voice. “What troubles you?”
Faramir stared at Boromir.
“Ah,” Boromir shook his head sadly. “You have done something that will upset father?”
Faramir smiled quizzically.
“There is a look in your eyes, little brother, that gives you away every time. What have you done now?”
“I sent the healer back to Rohan.”
Boromir looked at Faramir in surprise, but said nothing.
“She is a member of Théoden King’s court. Her duty is to Rohan. I know not why she deemed it necessary to try to kill you. Éomer has no idea either. I do not believe it was ordered. However, she is under Éomer’s command. Though her act was done on Gondor’s soil, she is still their responsibility. And they have a responsibility to her.” Faramir hesitated.
“Go on. You might as well rehearse what you will say to father. He will be very angry, Faramir. Nothing you have said thus far seems strong enough to justify sending her back.”
Faramir nodded, his brow furrowed. “Rohan is our ally. She must have autonomy over her own subjects. Éomer has promised a trial and punishment. Am I to doubt the word of our faithful ally? If I brought her to Minas Tirith, father would have her hung immediately. As I will probably now be,” Faramir said dryly. “It would have meant war when we can least afford war with our allies! You were still unconscious. We travel to Amon Din tomorrow. It would have been too dangerous to wait any longer.”
“What size guard did you place on her?”
“I sent Éomer’s men back, except for his personal guard, and Captain Mardil and most of his men. With my deepest thanks.”
“So now we travel with no escort?”
“A small escort. Half a company, plus Éomer and myself.”
“Éomer stays with us?”
“He says it is his duty to apologize to father. He refuses to leave.”
Boromir smiled, then frowned. “I am glad. I would not want to explain all of this,” and he gestured about the tent.
“Are you angry with me, Boromir? I can endure father’s anger, not yours.”
Tears sprang up in Boromir’s eyes. He held out his hand and Faramir took it. “Nay, Faramir. Though it would have been better if I had sent her back. You need not endure any anger, Faramir. I am not angry, just a little surprised. I understood immediately why you did it, but I think you needed to tell me. As for father, he loves us dearly. I can imagine his fury, but I will be there, alive, and that is something,” Boromir smiled and Faramir joined in. “I love you, Faramir.”
Faramir leaned over and kissed Boromir gently on his forehead. “You are still fevered! Éomer!” he shouted.
“Leave it be. I am well enough. I want to go home.”
”You will not be going anywhere until this dratted fever is stopped. Éomer,” the Rohir had quietly entered the tent, “We need to change the dressing again. Boromir’s fever is high.”
“It is night, Faramir. Fevers usually flare up after a long day’s battle with it. It is to be expected. But I will get the hot water and cloths and we will change the dressing.” Éomer left the tent as quickly as he had entered.
Both Faramir and Éomer were adept at changing dressings and the deed was done quickly and as painlessly as possible. Boromir was still sweating profusely by the time they had finished. The changing took much out of him.
Éomer left as they were finishing up and returned shortly after with a cup of valerian tea and a water skin. “It is the last of the leaves.”
Boromir smiled through his pain. “Then for that I am grateful.”
Faramir gently hit his shoulder. “Is that the thanks we get for caring for you? And when was the last time you had water? I do not want your body failing again.”
Éomer offered the water to Boromir as Faramir held him in a semi-sitting position.
Boromir took a few small sips and pushed it away. “It tastes bad.”
Éomer took a sip. “Just old. Is there a stream nearby?”
“There is. I will show it to you when Boromir sleeps.”
“Do not be getting yourself in any trouble whilst you look for it, Faramir. I do not think I can make it home by myself.” He smiled again and leaned back against Faramir’s thighs.
Éomer left and Boromir stayed still, his eyes closed. “I have not felt this peaceful in many a long day. I am glad you came, Faramir.”
“I will always come for you, Boromir. Why did you not wind your horn?”
“During the attack, I was felled too quickly. After that, the Orcs had it and my weapons in another part of the cave. Once Éomer came, I was too injured to even think. Not conscious most of those days.” He laughed quietly. “I don’t think I could have winded it if I had tried.”
Faramir began to gently stroke Boromir’s forehead. “I would rather have come home with no arms or legs than without you, Boromir.” His voice caught.
Boromir tightened his grip.
A long silence followed and Faramir thought his brother asleep until he heard a sharp hiss. “Boromir?”
“Just a twinge. Nothing more. I am well, Faramir.” He looked back at his brother and smiled. “Have you read any good books lately?” The smile broadened and there was a twinkle in Boromir’s eyes.
Faramir laughed out loud. “You scoundrel. You scare the life out of me and then you lie there as if really interested in anything I might read.”
“I had hoped perhaps it was of a battle and we could discuss strategy. But battles never quite go the way one thinks, do they, Faramir?”
“Nay, brother, they do not.”
“So, what have you read?”
Faramir blushed, lifted Boromir’s head, and moved to bring water, but Boromir would not be swayed. “What have you read? I can see it in your eyes. You have read something since lying about the Citadel. What was it?”
“I still have it,” Faramir’s blush deepened. “It is in my bag. Would you like to see it? I found it deep in the Library.”
“Bring it to me, but also, some more tea?”
“Boromir! You are in pain.”
“Just a bit. Bring me the book and the tea. Please?”
Faramir nodded and left the tent, returning but moments later. “Tea and a book. Would you like some cookies, too?”
Boromir snorted and Faramir laughed. The younger sat down next to his brother and helped hold him up whilst he drank. After a few moments, Boromir pushed the mug aside. “Thank you. Now. The book.”
“It is about Elves.” Faramir laughed at the look of chagrin on Boromir’s face. “But also about battles.” Another laugh as Boromir nodded his encouragement. “So, if it is Elves it is not so good, but if it is about Elves and battles, then it is acceptable?”
“Do not chide me about Elves. And do NOT bring up that tale about Edhellond again either! Tell me about it. What is the title?”
“Auth e –Mîr? The Wars of the Jewels? Are you… Faramir?”
“It is not about us, you silly sot! I didn’t say ‘The Wars of the Jewels,’ I said ‘The Wars of Beleriand.’ It is about the wars in the first age. There was an Elf who slew a great beast. Among other things. I was intrigued. The frontispiece has a picture of the beast. Do you see it?” He held it close to Boromir’s nose.
Boromir sneezed. “I merely stated the other name for the battles. The book still has the dust from the library on it. I can see it, Faramir.” Fondness colored his voice as he tried to push the book a little ways away. Another sneeze and this time he really was in pain.
Faramir quickly moved the book and wiped Boromir’s face with a cool cloth. “I am so sorry!”
Boromir waved one hand in disagreement, but held his nose with the other. After a moment, he took a breath. And then another. “The fit seems to be passing. Now, forgive me for interrupting. Would you read some of it?”
Faramir began. Éomer had entered and sat, cross-legged on the tent’s dirt floor. His eyes lit up when he recognized the Sindarin. ‘It has been a long while since last I heard my grandfather’s beloved language.’ Grima had convinced Théoden to ban the ‘foreign’ tongue. He sat very still. The guard had moved the flap of the tent back and listened attentively. The evening passed.
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