2. Second Watch
Boromir walked carefully past her lair. He had not the heart for more farewells, or for protests against his going, either. The door to Adrah’s bedroom was half shut. He opened it slowly, still of two minds about whether to wake the child. There were small, white candles burning on tables on either side of her bed. To his surprise, she was sitting up against the head of the bed, with her eyes wide open and her hands clasped in front of her.
“What, child, not asleep yet?”
“You are going away,” she said, her moonlight eyes fixed on him.
“Did Glenneth tell you that?”
“I dreamt it,” she replied.
Varda save us, thought Boromir, when would his family be rid of these inconvenient dreams?
“Yes, I am going away … for a time. I leave in the morning. I am a soldier, Adrah, you know that well.”
Her dark lashes dropped, veiling her eyes. After a long moment, while he tried to think of what to say next, she lifted them. Her eyes seemed darker somehow, filled with shadows.
“It is different this time… in my dream….” She stopped.
“How different, love?” He sat down carefully on the bed beside her and reached for her small hand. She did not draw it away. She had never flinched from his touch, but had never seemed to welcome it either. This time the little hand pressed his.
“What did you dream?” He asked it somewhat reluctantly, through a sudden tightness in his throat.
“I saw you in a boat. You were lieing down in it, quite still. There was no-one else there.”
“That is not so fearsome, surely?” He put a finger under the small, rounded chin that had ducked down and lifted her face towards him gently.
Her eyes had grown even darker. A trick of the shifting candle-flames, Boromir thought. She looked at him for a long moment. The little hand squeezed his again. Then, with a sigh, she leaned her head against his chest.
“Tell me a story,” came the voice from below his chin. Taken aback, both by the leaning and the request, Boromir cast wildly about in his mind. A story? He had not been much around children, and most of the stories he knew were soldier’s tales. Faramir had always been the one for stories of elves and princesses and such.
He settled back against the head of the bed and tentatively drew her closer to him. He took a deep breath, then spoke. “Long years past, when the world was newer than now it is…” Her hand folded itself in the cloth of his tunic. “… there was a beautiful maiden named… um… Arris…”
She looked up at him, her eyes narrowing. “Yes, Arris,” he insisted, “that was assuredly her name. Do you doubt me? I thought not.” Adrah cast a tiny smile up at him, then laid her head back on his chest.
He cleared his throat, perhaps to gain time. “She was beautiful, very beautiful.” Were they not always, he thought to himself. “She had eyes of a most unusual light-gray color and hair as black as a raven’s wing.” Adrah sighed and snuggled a bit closer to him. Boromir leaned his head against the high back of his daughter’s bed and looked out her window into the night. His voice rose and fell, piecing together a story for his child.
It was during the reign of Telemnar, an ill time for Gondor. Arris lived with her older brother Herion and her parents in the White City, Minas Arnor as it was then called. Arris’s father was a leathersmith and they lived in a small house on the third level, near the southeastern gate. They had little, but they were happy. Then a plague came to the cities of the Southern kingdom, blown on a dark wind from the East. Many died, Arris’s mother among them.
But the plague was not the worst of it. The people of Minas Arnor had hoped that when summer came, the heat would burn away the plague and they would have the chance to harvest their crops, regain their strength. But that year, summer never came. Word spread through the all the levels of the city that a great and powerful wizard who lived beyond the Mountains of Shadow had cursed the land.
The wizard, Narisor by name, had come to Minas Arnor across the River Anduin one evening as the sun was setting. There was a tavern on the fifth level of the city. It was called the Five Armies and was the place where many of the men of the guard gathered. The captain of guard was there that night with seven of his companions, drinking deeply and telling stories of their victories. Narisor, weary from his journey, had procured a mug of ale and gone to sit in a quiet corner. But the captain had seen the stranger enter. He was a proud man from a noble family. He was also suspicious of strangers in the White City, especially wizards. At least he suspected this stranger was a wizard, from his pointed hat and long staff. This one looked particularly shabby, an old man with a long, grizzled beard striped like a badger’s coat and dirty black robes that looked much the worse for wear.
He got to his feet, a trifle unsteadily since he had been drinking the tavern’s excellent wine for some time, and made his way to the corner where the wizard sat. On his table were the mug of ale, a pipe, and a plain ebony box, smaller than the palm of a hand. It was worn and covered with faint scratches, writing perhaps. There was dirt in the grooves.
Uninvited, the captain pulled out a chair and sat down. He leaned toward Narisor.
“Who are you, wizard,” he demanded, “and what is your business in the White City?”
“My business is my own,” he replied, taking a sip of ale.
“Not so, old man,” said the captain, not troubling to keep the contempt from his voice. “The responsibility for guarding the city is mine. What is your business here?”
Unexpectedly, the wizard smiled. It was not a pleasant smile. “You might say that I have come to test the Men of the West.” He set his mug back down on the table and folded his hands.
“To test us?” The captain mocked. “Take yourself off, old tramp. Perhaps you can find a room at an inn on the first level. There are some that cater to such as you.”
The wizard drew back, suddenly looking less shabby. He made no move to leave. The captain was a proud man, and more than half-drunk. Besides, he had never cared for wizards.
Suddenly his hand lashed out, sweeping everything from the table as he reached to grasp the front of the old man’s robes, thinking to pull him to his feet. Ale, pipe and box went flying.
The ebony box fell to the wooden floor and onto its side. The lid opened just a crack. From it spilled darkness, at first just an inky spot on the floor. The captain watched in horror as it spread, creeping along the floorboards and rising up the walls. It hovered in the air, then blotted out the light from the tavern’s fireplace and the candles on the tables. Still it spread, out the windows and into the city, blotting out sight of the White Tower and the setting sun itself.
The wizard laughed, a terrible sound. “You have done my work for me, you fool. I had come to test the men of the West. Their courtesy is certainly lacking, but perhaps their valor and prowess are not.” He got up, bent to pick up the little box, and secreted it in his robes. “Tell your King this: until a champion can find me beyond the Mountains of Shadow, steal the box from me, and force the darkness back inside it, winter will lie over the whole land of Gondor and day will never dawn.” Before the captain could react, the wizard had faded into the blackness he had created.
With a heavy heart, the captain went to tell the King of the misfortune he had brought on Minas Arnor. He begged leave to pursue the wizard, to mend the evil chance that he had brought upon the White City. He left the next morning. He was neither seen nor heard of again in Middle Earth. After him, many champions departed the Southern Kingdom to pursue the quest. Warriors, nobles, the best of the city departed, never to return.
The Anduin froze over. Wolves and other fell beasts roamed the streets. The night was unnatural. No nightingale sang in it, and even the crickets had fallen silent. Crops failed and starvation slunk through the city along with the wolves.
It was an evil time, and the people of the city were losing hope. Arris had been a young woman full of laughter and songs, the light of their small household. But gradually she began to fade. Hunger, like a butcher, carved the flesh from her bones. She no longer laughed, nor did she cry, but sat by the window in her room looking at the darkness that lay over the city.
One day Herion came to her room and knelt beside her chair. She did not even look at him, but simply gazed into the blackness outside her window. He put one hand on her arm. “Arris, I am leaving. I go to seek the sun.”
Slowly her eyes turned on him. “No,” she said, her voice raspy from disuse, “it is too dangerous. You will die. Do not leave me.”
“We will all die, else,” he replied.
Arris and their father tried to stop him. “Boy, you have no horse, no weapon. Leave this to your betters,” his father pleaded.
“Much good have their horses and weapons done them,” he replied, “or us, for that matter.” Herion set off at what would have been daybreak, if day had yet dawned on the city. He took a leather satchel his father had made, filled with bread and cheese, a length of rope and a small knife.
His father refused to see him off, still muttering about keeping his place. Arris stood by him at the door, her eyes wide with fear, clutching his arm. “What can you do against this darkness? How will I know if you are safe? How will I know that you even think of me?”
Herion embraced his sister and said, “Stand by your window each morning. When you can see the sun rise clear over the Mountains of Shadow, you will know that I have succeeded in my quest. Whether I am near to you or far away, if I live or if my body lies far from our mother’s in the Silent Street, you will know that each dawn my thoughts will turn to you at your window. Speak to me then and I will know it, no matter where my wanderings take me."
And so she did. Days turned into weeks. Sometimes, looking at the darkness in what should have been morning, it was hard to feel his presence. But she trusted what he had said to her, and each morning she stood there. Herion never returned to the White City, and there is no man who can tell his fate. But one morning as she gazed into the gloom outside the casement, Arris saw a faint hint of pearly gray on the horizon. She kept very still, thinking that her eyes were playing tricks. But gray turned into violet, then gold, then a glorious blue. With a trembling hand she opened the casement. The cool morning breeze touched her face. She knew that her brother was with her in that moment. From that morning, she could sense that he was with her in the dawn of each new day. And she knew that he always loved her.
Boromir fell silent, still looking out the widow of Adrah’s room. It was in the deepest part of the night. All was still. The child must be asleep, he thought. He slowly lowered his head and kissed her dark hair, smelling the fragrance of sandalwood and soap.
Adrah suddenly turned her face up to him. The light in her eyes turned liquid, turned into two tears, each running in a silvery track down her rounded, ivory cheeks. “Papa,” she said, lifting her hand and placing it gently on his cheek. Boromir’s heart turned over. Her eyes were no longer Mariset’s eyes. They were wholly, completely her own. His daughter’s. How could he have ever mistaken them for anyone else’s, Adrah’s eyes?
He reached out and gently touched the small scar under one of those eyes, then brushed his thumb through the tear track beneath it. Suddenly he crushed her to his chest and, still holding her tightly, stood up. A sound somewhere between a laugh and a sob came from his mouth, muffled in her hair.
“Papa, are you all right?” said her small, dignified voice, calm as always.
“Yes, dearest heart, just happy you are my daughter.”
“Well, I knew that. Uncle Faramir said that you were.” The same inarticulate sound came again. Then, slowly, still holding his daughter in his arms, he began the steps of the pavan, a dance currently popular at court. Faramir would have been astonished to see that he knew it. He hummed along to the steps. A soldier’s song, it was true. Best that she didn’t hear the words, but it would serve.
“Now you’re just being silly… Uncle said you often were when he was my age…” Another sound from Boromir, this time much closer to a laugh. A small hand patted the side of his neck to get his attention. “I know the pavan perfectly well. Put me down and do it properly,” she commanded.
“Yes, my queen,” he replied, all thoughts of his journey on the morrow forgotten. He set her on her feet, stepped back, and bowed most properly. She curtsied, sweeping her nightgown back in the accepted manner. Boromir held out his hand to his side, palm down, and she moved beside him to rest her hand, palm down, upon it. Then he took two, gliding steps to the right, and she followed. They made a graceful pair as they moved around the room in the slow, formal figures of the dance, if one allowed for the difference in heights. At least that is what Faramir, watching from the shadows of the outer room, thought. And remembered.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.