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End To Innocence, An: 7. Conversations On The Road To Minas Tirith
Boromir smiled. "Faramir's alone," he replied. "When he was a child." They set about removing their mounts' tack as he continued. "We'd been sparring," he said, "and Faramir accidentally blacked my eye. He and our father had one of their," he hesitated, "disagreements about the matter." He paused, and Maggie saw the dark look that clouded his features, but it passed quickly. "You know how children are," he said with a small smile. "Faramir decided to run away. I went to call him for supper, and found his things in disarray, so I ran to the stables and discovered his horse gone. I knew he'd be riding west, towards Rohan - there was a daughter of the Mark he'd become friends with, and he'd turned to her before when he felt ill-used by Denethor and estranged from me." He heaved Hanûn's saddle off and lay it gently on the ground, then went on. "I rode after him, of course," he said, "but he'd been gone for some hours by the time I realized he was missing. I rode for two days, and as I was passing by here, he called my name." Boromir chuckled. "If he hadn't heard my horse and looked out to see who came, or if he'd decided I was as much to blame for his misery as our father, I might have ridden all the way to Edoras only to find him still missing."
Maggie smiled. "So what did your father do when you got back?"
He looked away. "Denethor is a good Steward," he said, "but as a father, I might wish him different." Maggie settled Annin's saddle on the ground beside the other, and went to where Boromir stood, brushed his hair back from his forehead. He hesitated, then looked at her out of the corner of his eye. "He punished Faramir," he said softly, "for causing me to be away so long."
Maggie made a small sound. "Lovely," she said. "That must have made you feel great."
"Oh, indeed," he said with a wry smile. "And to worsen matters, he forbade me from seeing Faramir during his punishment, so my younger brother spent a week confined to his room alone. But I did contrive," he said, raising a finger and grinning, "to slip him notes, as well as dessert every night, and to return to him writing paper and his favorite book, which Denethor had confiscated as part of the punishment."
Maggie laughed. "You're a good brother," she said, kissing his cheek.
"Faramir is a good brother," he said, smiling at her and starting to unfasten her corslet. "I only endeavor to be worthy of him." Between them, they got first her armor, and then his, off, putting it with the saddles. He picked up their cloaks and his own sword then, and took her hand, leading her a little way from the horses and drawing her down to the ground beside him. "Faramir wasn't even angry with me," he said, then continued thoughtfully, "He grew into a fine man. I've often wondered whether he would be a better Steward than either our father or I." He took her foot in his lap then, carefully slipped the knife out of the boot sheath and lay it aside, and began pulling off her boot. "But now of course, it won't matter. The king has returned, and if the office even continues to exist, it will not be in its current form. Neither Faramir nor I will have that worry once Aragorn takes the crown." Removing her sock as well and setting it aside with the boot, he took her other foot and repeated the process. "There," he said, giving her feet a pat, then with an innocent gaze, offered his left foot to her, to de-boot. Laughing, she obliged. When they were both barefooted, he took his cloak and threw it over their feet and legs, the fur soft against her skin, then pulled her into his arms and drew her cloak around them both. "We'll have no fire today," he said. "This isn't so safe as the cave. But it's unseasonably warm, and perhaps we might huddle together against what chill there is."
She chuckled. Gazing up at the cliffs that rose above them, she said, "It does feel a little exposed. Is it safe enough?"
"Aye," he said, "it is. There are few wolves around here, nor would they be interested in human prey. And Orcs don't like to travel rocky paths - as long as there are smooth plains or a wide road to trample, that's where they'll be. The wild men too, if the choice is between that and climbing about these foothills. They loathe the openness of the road and plains, but the paths over the rocks and cliffs here are treacherous; I do not think they risk it much. My brother and I were missed here by a small party of them not long before I left for Rivendell. They won't climb up and happen across our little bower, nor are they likely to see the opening from the ground, nor be inclined to investigate it if they did, unless we did something to alert them to our presence."
"Aw," she said, and grinned. "No noise, then? There go all my plans."
He laughed softly, and pressed a finger to her lips. "Ah, but my lady," he said, slipping his hand down her arm to her wrist in a gentle caress, "it serves my plans well." He stroked the skin of arm, and continued in a thoughtful tone, "I believe I might find it enjoyable to stop your mouth, restrain your struggles, and have my way with you...." She smiled and started to speak, but he pressed his hand over her lips and said, "Shhh... fear not. I shall let no harm come to you," his eyes locked on hers, and her heart surged when he kissed her, as it did each time.
He woke her again when the sun was low in the sky, and after a quick meal of waybread and water, they saddled the horses and led them out into the deepening day. They rode all that night, but this time, rather than stopping shortly after sunrise, he pressed them on further, until they reached the watchtower of Nardol. As they approached, Boromir slowed Hanûn to a walk, and said, "The fires have been lit on all the towers between Firien Wood and Minas Tirith, but no men watch from their walls. This bodes ill...."
"What does it mean?" asked Maggie.
He shook his head. "In all likelihood, it means Gondor despairs of aid, and the men who would have watched the road and kept the fires lit have been called back to help in defense of Minas Tirith and Osgiliath. Come," he said. "We'll stay the day here, and ride again at dusk."
His mood was dark, and she didn't try to pull him out of it with jokes or flirting. Instead, after they ate, she leaned against the wall and pulled him to her, between her knees, his back to her and her arms around him, holding him. She sat quietly, watching the fire that called to Gondor's allies for help, and gently stroked his temples, his eyebrows, humming softly, until she felt some of the unease leave him. After a long time, he captured her hand in his and kissed her fingers. "What is that tune?" he asked.
"I don't remember the words anymore," she said. "It's called 'Over the Hills and Far Away'. My dad used to sing it to me when I was little."
He didn't answer, but held her fingers to his lips for a long time. "I do not know what we will find when we reach my home," he said at last. "My father has been...not himself, and Faramir works too hard to please him. Our people lose faith," he said, "and my father looks to me. And I do not know how to win victory from the shadow that oppresses us."
She heard the grief and uncertainty that thickened his voice, and finally, kissing his hair, she said, "You will make it right, Boromir. You, and the people who stand with you. Faramir, Aragorn," she said, "Gandalf, Gimli, Legolas, the Hobbits. It's as motley a crew as I've ever seen," she said with a smile, "but you will make it right. The Ringbearer will succeed, and so will you. I believe that."
"I do not know how to believe," he said softly, "in the face of all I've seen, all I've done."
"What you've done," she said, "is save Merry and Pippin - and no doubt countless others at Helm's Deep - stand by your king, fight for what you believe in. Fight for your people, for the whole world." She pressed her free hand to his chest, hugging him briefly to her. "Aragorn values you," she said. "He sees you for who and what you are, and he wants you with him."
He shook his head. "I was weak," he said. "I failed Frodo, and my king. Will I fail my people as well?"
"No," she said without hesitation. "And anyway, you didn't fail anyone. Maybe you made a mistake, or maybe it was the power of the Ring, but -"
"To which," he said, looking at her, "Aragorn did not succumb, nor Gandalf."
"And Aragorn's not precisely human, is he?" she said, "not quite like other men? a little bit of Elvish in there? somewhat touched by the gods? And Gandalf is - what, like, a thousand years old? Do you think maybe they had an advantage?"
He closed his eyes. "That is no excuse for the wrong I did."
"All right, fine," she replied, "but that doesn't make everything else you've done meaningless, or mean you're not going to do somewhat more good in the world than you've done not good. And anyway," she went on, "who's to say whether what you did wasn't for the best?"
He opened his eyes again and looked at her as though she were speaking a foreign language.
"I'm serious," she said. "Do you really think that the whole bunch of you could have just strolled into Mordor unnoticed? I'd think Aragorn alone would have set off every alarm in the place just stepping foot into it. But Aragorn never would have let Frodo try alone. You'd have all been captured, the world would have ended, and I'd never have met th - I'd never have met you. Or," she finished, "survived my first week in Middle Earth, I think."
He smiled then, and though it was a small smile, she took it as a good sign. "Well, then I suppose not all I have done has been for ill."
She chuckled. "Far from it."
They rose again in the evening, and before they left, Boromir added fuel to the fire that burned in the watchtower. "It may bring no aid," he said as he mounted Hanûn, "but I dislike the thought of it going out." Then they rode, all that night until well past sunrise before stopping at the watchtower of Amon Dîn. But now Boromir was restless, and she could tell he stopped only because the horses needed rest. He wanted to get home, he wanted to reassure himself that Minas Tirith was still there, still held. She ached to reach out to him, to touch him, do something to ease his tension, but he was strung so tight that she wasn't sure a touch would be welcome. Instead, she sat where she was, leaning against a stone wall, and watched him pace. It was some time before he noticed her watching him, and said, "You need rest, my lady."
"So do you, my lord," she replied.
He stopped then, and turned to her, then strode to where she was and dropped down to his knees in front of her. "Do you know what you say?" he asked her, taking her hands in his and gripping them. "Do you know what it means to have a lord? You, from your strange world? I dare say you've never spoken those words before, nor have I but to my father and Théoden." His eyes were bright, his brow furrowed. "Do you understand them, lady? what they imply?"
The intensity of his gaze alarmed her, but she didn't shrink away. "I - I don't know," she said. "Do I?"
"'Tis not merely a polite address," he said. "Oh, it may be, yes, from one to another, diplomatic or cautious, as mine to Théoden, but that is not - that is not the best of it, nor the worst of it." He cupped her cheek in one hand then, his other still gripping hers, and the look he gave her was so fierce and intimate that for a moment she felt afraid. "Do you know what it will mean," he said, "when I call Isildur's heir, 'my lord'?" His fingers tightened on hers, and he said in a raw voice, "'T'will mean I've surrendered to him - surrendered my city, my country, my people to him." Releasing her he rose suddenly to his feet and turned on his heel, facing the fire that still burned in the watchtower. "'T'will mean I've surrendered myself, my will, to the will of another, to the will of my lord," and the last two words he forced through clenched teeth. "Do not mistake me," he said, his back still to her. "This, I will do. It is - it is commanded of me," he said, "by history, by blood, by my own treacherous heart." He half turned again, as though reluctant to face her. "And yet, I would not do this," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. "He is my king by blood. But the blood of my people, spilled in long years when he wandered far from Gondor, never revealing who he is, calls out to me, and - " his voice broke. "Calls out to me, and begs for a king who does not abandon us." He shook his head, putting his hand to his eyes. "Aye, he'll marry the Elf maiden, and his loyalty will not be to Gondor. 'T'will be divided between her and her kin, who raised him, and his own people who need him. And Gondor will suffer for it."
Maggie didn't know what to say, fear gripping her - not of Boromir, but for him. Finally she stood, meaning to go to him, but as she did he faced her fully and stepped back, raising his hand in caution.
"I speak treason, you know," he said, a wry half-smile on his face. "You should not consort with traitors. You'll come to no good end."
Stepping forward she put her hands on his arms. He started to pull away, but she didn't release him. "You speak your heart," she said. "You've said you'll accept him as your king. What kind of - subject, what kind of man would you be if you ignored your own misgivings?"
"A faithful one," he answered.
She shook her head. "Aragorn doesn't need someone to tell him what he wants to hear, or to mouth empty words of hollow patriotism to him," she said. "He needs someone who'll tell him the truth. And the truth is, he did leave Gondor to fend for herself, he did leave your father to be Steward, and you to spend your life training to be Steward after him. It's no wonder you doubt him." She gripped his arms, not quite resisting the urge to shake him. "He needs you," she said, "with your doubts, and your anger, and your fears for Gondor. Because with that," she said, looking into his grey eyes, steely in the shadows, "with that, comes your whole heart. Like mine to you. Give him only your love and loyalty, and keep back your honesty," she said, "and he only has half of you. He needs the whole man." She hesitated, then said gently, "It's not treason to doubt, Boromir. It's treason to lie about it. It's loyalty, it's patriotism, to speak your mind, and your heart, regardless."
Boromir met her gaze for a moment longer, then pulled her suddenly into a fierce embrace, and she held him with all the strength she had, and they stood like that, unspeaking, for a long time.
They slept for only a few hours, rose barely past noon, and set off again. "We'll reach the wall before nightfall, and another hour of riding to the gate," said Boromir as they started, and by evening she saw the massive wall that surrounded Minas Tirith and its lands, looming closer as they rode. In front of her, Boromir suddenly wheeled Hanûn around and rode back. "The glass," he said, "the glass you showed Gimli on the fields of Rohan. Do you have it still?"
She nodded and pulled out the little bag she'd packed before they left for Isengard, found the binoculars and handed them to him. "This end," she said, showing him.
He nodded and put the binoculars to his eyes, scanning the wall. A smile broke across his face like sunlight, and he handed them back to her, saying, "The wall is manned, Maggie - my city stands!" Urging their mounts to a gallop again, they rode hard, and in the distance she could hear horns sound. They reached the wall, their shadows long but nightfall not yet come, and as they approached, a gate in the wall opened and out rode a small company of men. Boromir met them some four hundred yards from the wall, Maggie hanging back. She saw him meet the man at the head of the company, saw them embrace, and then Boromir turned and waved her forward. She urged Annin towards them, and when she reached them Boromir said, "Darkness flows out of Mordor, but the Captains of the Outland ride up the south road this day. If we ride hard, we'll catch the last of them."
"That's a good thing?" Maggie asked, "the Captains of the Outlands?"
Boromir laughed, and at the puzzled glance he got from the leader of the company that had met them, he said, "The lady is from far away; she knows nothing of Gondor but what I've conveyed to her on our short journey. Yes," he said, turning to her, "it is a good thing indeed." Then to the man beside him he said, "My brother, is he in the city?"
The man shook his head. "No, my lord. Captain Faramir is in Ithilien, scouting the movements of the enemy."
Boromir nodded, and some of the light left his face. "Come lady," he said then. "We should reach the Great Gate before nightfall. Ride now - we rest tonight in Minas Tirith."
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