17. Old Friends Ride In
"Thanks." Pippin wiped the sweat from his grinning face with his sleeve.
"We had a good teacher." said Merry from the sidelines.
"And lots of chances to practice!" from Pippin.
"Leaving aside the big battles there was a certain amount of mopping up to be done after the War." Merry explained.
"I can imagine."
The exercise ground of the Citadel Guard was behind their barracks and seperated from the great court by a row of low buildings. But the clatter of hooves on its marble pavement was clearly audible to Man and Hobbits and drew them to the little gate closing the passage between the buildings to see who had come.
At first Boromir saw only that it was not Aragorn. Then Pippin cried "Faramir!" And Merry, "Gimli and Legolas!" and the Hobbits were pushing open the gate and dashing across the courtyard to greet them.
Boromir hesitated, fighting an absurd urge to run and hide. Much as he had longed to see his brother he was dreading it as well. He could guess how disappointed in him Faramir must have been. Taking a deep breath he followed the Hobbits.
"Not that we aren't always glad to see old friends, but what brings you all the way to Fornost?" Merry wanted to know.
"What do you think?" Gimli snorted standing beside the horse he'd shared with Legolas and visibly glad to be back on solid ground. He looked around; "Where is he?"
Before the Hobbits could answer Gimli spotted Boromir walking slowly towards them. Then the others saw him too and for an instant nobody moved. The Dwarf recovered first, trotting to meet the Man closely followed by Legolas.
"Boromir!" the Gimli boomed delightedly and gave him a friendly clout that made Merry and Pippin wince though it didn't seem to bother the Man. "You're looking much better than the last time we saw you. Now what's all this nonsense - Ow!" He broke off to glare up at Legolas.
"It's good to see you again, my friend." the Elf said warmly, relaxing but not releasing his grip on the Dwarf's shoulder.
Boromir glanced from one to the other, his eyes glinting with amusement. "I see you two are still getting along."
"Most of the time." Gimli replied rubbing his right arm, still glaring at the Elf.
The Man laughed, clapped him on the left shoulder and clasped the hand Legolas offered. "I am glad to see you both." While he didn't doubt they both knew what he had done he felt surprisingly little embarrassment on meeting them again. They had seen the Ring and felt its power. They would understand, as Aragorn and the Little Ones had, and pity rather than condemn.
Faramir on the other hand would certainly have expected better of his elder brother. Boromir looked at him uncertainly.
Faramir felt frozen in place. He had seen his brother dead, laid out for burial in a small Elven boat filled with light as with clear water, and now he was seeing him alive and whole. He had come all these hundreds of leagues never doubting his King's word, yet only now did it truly come home to him. Boromir had indeed returned.
For a very long moment the two brothers faced each other, hesitating. Then, so suddenly it was impossible to see which had moved first, they were in each other's arms.
"I've missed you," Faramir managed through his tears. "I've missed you so much."
"I am glad you came." Boromir choked back, and it was true. At least this time he could say a proper farewell.
Eventually they broke apart to wipe their eyes under the indulgent smiles of the Companions and Faramir's guard. Merry and Pippin sniffling a little in sentimental sympathy.
Faramir pulled himself together turned to gesture his son forward. "This is your nephew, Arandil."
Uncle and nephew stared at each other in mutual and highly entertaining shock. Arandil had been told all his life how he favored his heroic uncle but he'd never seen much likeness when he compared himself to the portraits hanging in the Citadel and Emyn Arnen. Now, faced with his uncle in the flesh, he did.
"I am married to Eowyn of Rohan." Faramir continued, visibly enjoying his brother's reaction. "We have four sons now and a little girl as well. Arandil is my eldest."
There was no reason to be so foolishly shocked. Boromir told himself: Twenty years was a long time, quite long enough for a child to be born and grow almost to manhood. And a nephew was close kin, why shouldn't they look alike? ***
He should have known Faramir would not reproach him, Boromir told himself, that had never been his brother's way. Doubtless Faramir knew how sorry he was and saw no need to belabor the point.
Faramir sensed his brother's sudden relaxation but understood it no better than the inexplicable tension that had gripped him earlier when they first went into the garden to talk in private.
"I was surprised when Frodo told me you'd taken Eowyn to wife." Boromir was saying. "I'd always expected you and Idril to marry someday." Adding defensively as his brother stared at him in open astonishment. "After all the two of you have been thick as thieves from childhood."
Faramir shook his head. "Idril, my very dear if purblind Brother, has been in love with *you* since she was eleven years old." Boromir blinked. "I - surely not. The two of you had so much in common with your books and your music."
"Yes we were good playmates, and are good friends still." Faramir answered. "But that is quite a different thing." Sighed. "I can understand you failing to see it, Idril is not one to wear her heart on her sleeve, but how could you miss Father's intentions? He always wanted her for you. She had the blood and the breeding to make an ideal Steward's Lady." his faced softened. "Though to do him justice, I think her feelings counted for as much. He was fond of Idril."
"So was I." Boromir managed, struggling with confused memories of a skinny little girl in plaits and short skirts and a reserved, dark haired young woman, both with unusual smoky golden eyes. "She is well?"
"Well enough." Faramir looked at him steadily. "She has never married."
Wonderful, just what he needed, something else to feel guilty about. Well there was nothing he could do for Idril now except wish her well. "Faramir, you didn't tell her?"
He sighed in relief. No point in breaking the poor girl's heart twice, if he'd even done so once which he found hard to believe. Perhaps Faramir was mistaken. ***
"He's up to something, I know he is." Merry told Gimli, Legolas and Arandil over 'elevenses' served in the main room of the Hobbits' guesthouse.
"Not only didn't he give Strider an argument when he was ordered to stay behind but he hasn't even asked to go out with the Ranger patrols since the sling came off." Pippin put in around a mouthfull of cake.
"Very suspicious." the Dwarf agreed, spreading perserves on a slice of bread.
"Perhaps he is saving his strength for the werewolf?" Legolas suggested.
"Why bother when he's supposed to die killing it anyway?" Gimli asked, then glared at his Elven friend. "And I've only just regained the use of my arm, no thanks to you!"
"Gimli, Boromir is not a fool." Legolas said patiently. "He must have good reason for thinking as he does. Just telling him it is nonsense will not change his mind."
"Well I don't believe it." the Dwarf grumbled.
"Me neither." from Pippin.
"What do you think, Legolas?" asked Merry.
He looked troubled. "The Doom of Men is beyond the lore of the Elves, Merry. What does Aragorn say?"
"That he doesn't know either."
"Not very helpful." put in Pippin.
Merry frowned thoughtfully. "I don't *think* he agrees with Boromir - but he doesn't know enough to contradict him."
"Father told me he does not believe it." Arandil put in, speaking for the first time. "He says my uncle must have been sent back for some greater purpose than just to die again."
"There you are then!" Pippin beamed. "Faramir does understand these things. If *he* doesn't believe it, and Strider doesn't then Boromir could be wrong."
"Now all we have to do is convince him of that." said Merry. ****
"These under-Kingdoms trouble me." Faramir admitted. "Not that I doubt the loyalty of the princes who hold them now you understand, it is the rival royal lines they will found that worry me. Who among us can answer for his posterity?"
"Aragorn must know what he is doing." Boromir offered. "Certainly he is right about the difficulties of ruling kingdoms so far apart."
"Still, I would have prefered a second Steward here in the North to these under-Kings of the blood royal." his brother sighed. "I cannot forget the Kin-strife."
"But that was in Gondor between the Heirs of Anarion." Boromir pointed out. "Aragorn and his kinsmen are of the Line of Isildur."
Faramir nodded slowly. "That is true. From their history the Isildurioni seem less proud, and far less contentious than our own Kings. Let us hope they remain so."
There was a short silence between the brothers as Faramir braced himself to broach the subject they'd both been carefully avoiding. "Boromir, the Powers do not allow those who have died to return to Middle Earth save for some great purpose. Is this Draugoth really of such importance?"
"Perhaps not." his brother replied quietly, and surprisingly. "But Aragorn's life most certainly is." He fixed Faramir with a piercing gaze. "Can you see him leaving the Wolf-lord to another? No, he would take the peril upon himself. And he has no son, his line would die with him."
"There are the princesses." Faramir argued.
Boromir nodded. "I know. And the North would accept a ruling Queen, but would Gondor?"
"*I* would accept her!" Faramir said fiercely.
"But can you answer for the rest of the Council, or our people?" Grimly. "We Men of Gondor have a history of rejecting our rightful rulers."
It was true and they both knew it. Faramir looked at his brother in dismay. Could Boromir be right after all?
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