21. Roadside Council
Nîneth tied off the final thread and held up the tunic for a critical last look. She allowed herself to feel a moment's pride in her handiwork and satisfaction in a job well done. The tunic was cut from a dark blue silk; silver trim gleamed along the collar and cuffs while a plane tree leaf embroidered in white adorned the chest. The steward should be pleased. The garment was among her finest work.
She had labored hard to make it so, with little time to spare for food or sleep. A mere two days ago the Steward had shown up near suppertime in the small workshop on the fourth level that she had bought when the previous owner retired. Nîneth had been most surprised, and a little worried. Although he and his lady wife occasionally commissioned garments from her -- curiously enough always when business was slow and she was struggling to get by -- he had never set foot in the shop before. In fact, in the years since the interview upon the eve of her arrival in Minas Tirith, she had not exchanged a single word with him.
But he had quickly put her concern to rest. "I want you to prepare a full suit of clothing," he had said without many preambles.
"Of course, my lord."
She brought him to the corner where bales of fabrics were waiting for her clientele. He instantly picked out the midnight blue silk that had arrived from Far Harad the day before.
"A very good choice, my lord. This material is supple and light, you will enjoy wearing it. It goes well with the silk velvet for a cloak I have here."
"Oh," he said, "it is not for me!" He had frowned, and Nîneth remembered thinking to herself that he looked tired. She did not envy his task: the king had been gone for several months and the city was growing restless in his absence. People believed that trouble was brewing. The very morning of his visit, at the market, she heard a conversation that still send chills of fear along her spine as she recalled it.
"Best buy extra stores today, when prices are still reasonable," one woman had advised another while she picked up an orange squash and turned it this way and that to appraise it.
"Why's that?" asked the other.
The first woman had lowered her voice but Nîneth could not help overhearing standing right next to the pair as she was. "My sister's neighbor's cousin works in the household of the merchants' guildsmaster. She says that her master is very concerned there may be a war because Captain-General Boromir is on his way to the City."
"Boromir?" the second woman exclaimed, and the first quickly hushed her to quiet. She continued in a softer voice. "But I thought he had died in the war."
"Aye," said the first woman. "That's what they wanted us to believe. But it's whispered he's been kept prisoner somewhere up north and is now returning with an army to take back what belongs to him."
The second woman shook her head. "But the king--"
"Don't you see? The king's not even here!"
"I suppose you will need to know what size to cut the cloth," the steward had continued after a moment, bringing her back to the present. "Picture a man as tall as I am, but a little broader in the shoulders." He stopped there, his gaze growing distant. "It's been so long," he murmured before he turned back to Nîneth. "Make it as you would for me, and it should fit him. Be sure to do your best work. Anyone who sees the clothes must know the wearer is an important man and a member of the House of Húrin."
"Yes, my lord."
"Oh, and you must make haste. I want it to be finished in two days' time at the latest."
Nîneth hesitated only a moment. "Of course, my lord."
He had smiled, then, though not at her, and muttered, "I cannot wait to see his face."
She had had work into the night to finish the clothes in time. But she had managed, and he would be pleased. It did not matter that her back hurt from being hunched over for so long, that her eyes stung or that her fingertips had gone numb from pushing the needle through the cloth countless times. She owed him a debt of gratitude and was glad to be able to repay it.
Almost as if her thoughts summoned him, the bell over the door rang and the steward strode in. He seemed even more worried and rushed than he had on his first visit.
"Is it done?" he asked, again without prelude.
"Yes, my lord. Just let me wrap it up for you."
A few minutes later she had wrapped the tunic, a matching pair of breeches and a light summer's cloak in a piece of burlap and tied it with a string. "Here you go, my lord."
"Thank you, Nîneth." He left a purse on the table that looked far too heavy, even for the swift work she had done, and quickly departed before she could find the words to protest that he was overpaying her. The soft chime of the bell echoed for a moment before the shop went silent again.
The air was heavy and still. The sun was a white-hot ball that burned the sky to a pale blue and made the horizon shimmer in the distance. High overhead, a bird of prey was flying lazy circles in search of its midday meal. The road was deserted, except for the small traveling party and their horses, although far off Boromir could see people busying themselves on their land; dust rose where they worked. It hung in the still air for a long time.
He squinted at the peaks of the Ered Nimrais silhouetted sharply against the sky. The white snow glistered in the sunlight. In the privacy of his mind, he had been calling the peaks by their names as they slowly fell away behind them. Halfirien, Calenhad. Eilenach towered over the Druadan forest and Amon Din rose up not far ahead. Soon, Mount Mindolluin would appear over its shoulder. More than four years had passed since he last saw those mountains, the silent watchers over Gondor's history. Unlike he, they had not changed at all.
So much had happened during those years. So much he had missed. His brother married. Mithrandir departed. Frodo gone. And Sam--
"Is something amiss, Boromir? Is the wound paining you still?" Aragorn pulled up beside him, a slight wrinkle marring his brow.
"Eh?" Boromir realized his horse had used his master's absentmindedness to stop walking and nibble on some of the grass growing at the edge of the road. He thought he must be looking rather foolish -- sitting still atop a horse that was not going anywhere, gazing up at mountaintops. "No, everything is fine. The wound has healed nicely, due to your care. I was thinking about the little ones."
After the initial awkward reunion in Bree, he had spent several weeks catching up with the latest news in the hobbits' lives while recuperating further, before Aragorn said it was time they head back to Minas Tirith. It was during their farewells at the bridge over the Brandywine river -- which was as far into the Shire as Aragorn was willing to travel -- that Sam had presented him with the tiniest, prettiest little girl child Boromir had ever seen.
"This is Elanor," Sam had said while the toddler clung to his knee. "My daughter."
Boromir had blinked, overwhelmed with a sense of happiness. He could not recall what he had told Sam but the hobbit had blushed with pleasure and pride before taking the girl back to her mother -- a rather pretty hobbit herself, Boromir had thought.
"Ah," Aragorn replied, pulling Boromir back to the here and now. The king gave a half-smile. "You need not worry. They are a sturdy people that can take care of themselves." He handed Boromir his water skin. "Here, have a drink. It is a hot day."
Absently, Boromir accepted the flask and took a deep swallow. "Thank you."
Aragorn was right, of course. The halflings were living normal, happy lives, with sweethearts and wives and children. It had turned out well, all things considered. Still, he wished he could have talked with Frodo one last time. No matter how often Sam assured him that Frodo had understood why Boromir tried to take the Ring, had understood better than anyone, it would have been nice to ask for his forgiveness. Frodo's pardon would have bolstered his determination to return home at last and finally face up to the consequences.
"Boromir?" There was laughter in Aragorn's voice. "You are daydreaming again. We will never reach home if you keep indulging in reveries."
Boromir's cheeks glowed with embarrassment and he was glad for the heat so the blush would go unnoticed. "I apologize. It is just--" He stopped, uncertain of what he wanted to say.
"Do you not wish to return?" Aragorn asked, more serious now. "Or do you fear the reception you might receive?"
Boromir blinked, for a moment taken aback that his feelings were so apparent to the king. But he should not be surprised; Aragorn had always been able to read him well.
"I am concerned," Boromir admitted. "It will be a great pleasure to see the walls of Minas Tirith, to lay eyes upon the Tower of Guard again though I had given up hope. But I worry my return might cause strife. Not everyone will be pleased to see I still live."
Such worries had been plaguing him ever since Aragorn had made it known he wanted Boromir to return to Minas Tirith. When he had left, Boromir had not given much mind to the consequences of pretending to be dead. But now, with his name reclaimed and his position about to be reinstated, there were many legalities that needed to be dealt with. He was his father's oldest son, and his heir. And what was worse, Faramir had known his brother was alive, yet still had accepted their father's inheritance. Boromir feared what his return might mean for his brother more than anything else.
Aragorn nodded sternly. "Aye. But you are alive. And I will not have you deny that again." The king's expression softened and he smiled. "Come, Boromir. We must hurry to catch up with the others. Who knows what nonsense Gimli is putting into the boy's head right now."
Putting deed to word, he nudged his horse into a trot. Quickly, Boromir brought Barangol to follow. Up ahead, the two horses carrying Legolas, Gimli and Hallas were about to disappear behind a bend in the road.
It took them several minutes to catch up. Gimli was talking animatedly to Hallas, using both hands to underline the point he was making. When Boromir pulled up, Hallas turned in the saddle.
"Gimli says that you and Lord Aragorn killed a water monster that was ten times as big as you. And that it had twenty arms!"
Aragorn chuckled below his breath and Boromir shot the king a brief glare. "Gimli exaggerates," he said.
The dwarf harrumphed. "That's not exaggeration," he protested. "A dwarf knows how to tell a tale well, that's all there is to it. And I found your young friend here has quite a few stories to tell of his own. Perhaps Aragorn would like to hear about the spectacle you inflicted upon the unsuspecting village women when the orcs attacked."
Aragorn raised an eyebrow. "I have not heard about such a thing. Please, Hallas, tell me more."
"Aye, my lord. It happened when..."
Boromir groaned and rolled his eyes. He allowed his horse to fall back out of earshot. He had no wish to hear the story; he had many other, more important things to think about.
Overhead, the sun was still fiery white. Ahead, Mount Mindolluin came into view, wavering in the heat.
They were still several leagues from the Rammas Echor when darkness was falling. The sun had disappeared behind Mount Mindolluin and though the sky overhead was still a dark blue, the road was shrouded in the long shadows of the mountains.
"We will not reach Minas Tirith before nightfall," Legolas said. "Aragorn, what do you wish to do? Do you want to continue in the darkness? It is nearly full moon and the sky is clear so we should have enough light to travel by. Or shall we make camp here?"
Aragorn pondered for a moment. "We will make camp," he said. "I do not want to arrive after nightfall and cause a commotion when the guards recognize me."
Legolas turned back in his saddle and peered ahead intently.
"What do you see?" Gimli asked, attempting to peek over Legolas's shoulder and failing.
"A fire," Legolas said. "Someone else has set up a camp."
"Then let us go join them," Gimli said. "We might share a meal."
"Or frighten them witless when they recognize their king," Boromir said.
Aragorn was shaking his head. "I doubt that they would," he said. "If they are from Anórien or the Pelennor, they would not be making a camp. If they are not, chances are, they do not know me by sight. And I can blend in well, as you know." He smiled. "Besides, I would like to know why someone would be camping out in the wilds instead of finding themselves an inn in the city."
"Perhaps they also could not reach the city before nightfall?" Hallas suggested.
"Perhaps," Aragorn said absently. "We will know soon enough."
As they approached the fire, they could see the camp was small. A single tent stood pitched a few yards from the road in a small clearing between the trees. An unsaddled horse stood not far from the tent, nibbling on the leaves.
A lone man sat on a log beside the fire but he jumped up when the riders approached. He was dressed in light leather armor and had his sword halfway out of its scabbard before he fully stood. "Who goes there?" he challenged.
"It is I, Beregond," Aragorn said as he rode into the circle of light and dismounted. With a start, Boromir recognized the man as the guard who had saved his brother from the pyre.
"My lord!" Beregond dropped his sword back in its scabbard and took a deep bow. "I apologize, sire. I did not recognize you. I am glad to see you."
"'Tis dark." Aragorn shrugged off the apology. "Tell me, what are you doing here?"
"The Steward, sire. He received King Éomer's message that you were on your way. He sent me to ride out and intercept you."
"Why would Faramir do such a thing?" Aragorn frowned. "Has something happened in my absence?"
"Not that I know of, sire. But the Lord Steward told me to inform you that he politely requests you visit his house in Emyn Arnen before you return to the City."
"He would keep me from going to my city?"
Beregond looked shocked at the suggestion and forgot himself for a moment. "No! He says there are issues he urgently needs to discuss with you first."
Aragorn's frown deepened. "And where is Faramir now?"
"In Minas Tirith, sire. I am told to go get him, while you ride to Emyn Arnen."
"Perhaps we should do as Faramir asks," Boromir said softly while he stepped closer to Aragorn.
"Lord Boromir? Is it truly you? Lord Faramir said that... But I never thought... I believed..." Beregond grinned broadly. "In any case, it is good to see you, my lord."
Boromir returned the grin a little awkwardly. "Thank you, Beregond. It is good to be home." He turned back to Aragorn. "Faramir must have good reason for his request. And I believe I can guess what it is about."
"So can I," Aragorn muttered. Louder, he said, "Ride back to the city. Tell Faramir I am waiting for him here."
"I will not give fuel to the gossips by sneaking around the Pelennor at night," Aragorn said, "or by having private meetings at the steward's country residence. Someone is bound to read too much into it. Tell Faramir I will meet him here tonight, or speak with him tomorrow when I reach the city."
"Yes, sire." Beregond bowed. "With your leave, I best be on my way, then." He turned briskly and went to saddle his horse.
Within moments, Beregond was galloping away along the road at a dangerous speed. He quickly disappeared in the encroaching night. Boromir listened as the footfalls of the horse echoed against the mountains and slowly fell away.
"Boromir? What's happening?" Hallas appeared at his elbow.
"Politics," Boromir said. He turned to Barangol and started unstrapping his belongings before taking off the tack and saddle. "I told you that Faramir, the Steward of Gondor, is my brother. He is also five years my junior. That means it is I who is my father's heir with regard to the Stewardship, as well as many other things, and not Faramir."
"But they thought you were dead!"
"Exactly," Boromir said. He began to brush down Barangol's coat until it gleamed in the firelight, finding the mindless activity soothing. "And now they will learn I am not. It makes for a rather complicated jurisdictional entanglement and could cause grave problems for Faramir or King Elessar."
"Enough," Aragorn interrupted. "We will discuss this further when Faramir arrives. Now, off you go, lad, and see if you can snare us a late night supper. I fear it is going to be a long night with little sleep."
"Someone is coming," Legolas said softly, several hours later. Boromir pulled his eyes away from the flames and strained his ears. It was five minutes later before his hearing could confirm the elf's observation. Distant and muted at first, he detected the sound of horses on the smooth surface of the road. The noise carried far through the night and grew louder gradually.
Though it was close to midnight, it was not very dark. As predicted, the moon had come up not long after Beregond left. It was a near-perfect circle, missing a sliver so small it could fool the eye into believing it was full. Thousands upon thousands of stars sparkled around the moon in the velvety black sky. Together, they created an ethereal atmosphere where the silvery gleam leached the color out of the world. The fire had been allowed to burn low as the summer night was warm, and it cast a small circle of brighter yellow light.
Another five minutes passed before three riders came into view. In the moonlight, they were nothing but dark shapes with ghostly pale faces. It was hard to tell who they were. Yet Boromir's heart began to beat a little faster when he recognized Faramir by the way his brother sat his horse. No longer able to remain seated, he got up, waiting expectantly. He barely noticed when Aragorn came to stand beside him.
The second rider soon revealed himself as Beregond. Boromir felt like he should know the third rider also, somehow, but before he could further discover who the man was, Faramir had hopped off his horse and closed the few steps to Boromir and Aragorn.
"You look well, my lord," he said to Aragorn.
"You, on the other hand," Aragorn replied, "look harried. Are the Harad emissaries giving you so much trouble?"
Though he said it with a laugh, Boromir knew the king well enough to see the concern beneath his easy manner. And he had to agree with Aragorn. Close up, Faramir still was pale, and there were shadows beneath his eyes. He appeared like a man who had not had much sleep, lately.
Faramir did not smile back. "Those," he said, "I can deal with. Other issues have kept me up late. I am glad you are returned."
He then turned to Boromir who grinned in greeting.
"Hello, little brother," Boromir said.
Faramir looked him up and down for a long while, his face betraying little of his emotions, and Boromir's grin faded. He had always been able to read his brother but now he was not sure what Faramir was thinking. Then Faramir's eyes met his and his face split in a grin. He wrapped Boromir up in a hug, thwacking his back.
"'Tis good to see you again, Boromir! And you look well. Although a bit frayed around the edges, I have to add. A good thing I brought you some decent attire to wear. Cannot have my brother enter the city looking like a vagrant."
Boromir glanced down, noticed the worn cuffs of his simple linen shirt, the sewn-on patches on his oft-mended breeches, and gave a rueful grin. "These clothes have served me well and long."
"Far too long, I should think," said a deep voice.
Boromir looked up, startled. "Uncle Imrahil!" He knew suddenly why the third rider had been familiar.
Imrahil's eyes flashed with suppressed anger. "What were you thinking, boy? Running off like you did?"
"I--" Boromir began but his uncle was not done.
"Have you any idea how much grief you caused? How much trouble you put your brother in? I should put you over my knee, big as you are!"
There was a suppressed snort somewhere off to Boromir's left. A quick glance told him Hallas had made the sound but he could not tell if the boy was frightened in the face of the angry lord, or if nervousness made him snicker at the mental image. He felt his own anger rise.
"I do not think--" he protested.
"Apparently not," Imrahil cut him off. "I thought you were smarter, Boromir. I expected more sense from you."
"I did what I thought best for Gondor," Boromir said stubbornly. "It was my choice, a personal matter, not anyone's business but my own."
"Did not your father teach you anything? For one of the high houses of Gondor, and even more so the House of Húrin, personal matters are matters of the realm. By blood, you are one of Gondor's nobles. You cannot come and go as you please and expect it to have no consequences."
"Imrahil, I think that will do," said Aragorn, placing a hand on the prince's shoulder. "'Twas I, who asked Boromir to come home. Come, we have important matters to speak of. Then, when all is settled, I give you leave to do to Boromir as you must." He flashed a quick smile designed to ease the tension.
For a moment Imrahil continued to glare, then his shoulders slumped. "Ah, well, it never did him much good in the past. No reason why it should do now. And the damage is done." He turned to Aragorn. "You are right, of course, my lord. Let us concentrate on minimizing the consequences."
Aragorn preceded Imrahil to the logs around the fire. Faramir began to follow but Boromir held him back. "Uncle seems really upset," he said softly. "Are things truly as bad in the city? How much trouble did I put you in, exactly?"
Faramir shrugged. "I am not sure. I tried to keep your return quiet until you and Elessar arrived but word has gotten out anyhow. I had not even told Uncle about you until the messenger came from Rohan with the news that you were in Edoras and on your way home. He has not had much time to get used to the idea and I think he is as angry with me for keeping your secret as he is with you. He will come around, you shall see." He gave a soft smile. "You were always his favorite nephew."
"Second favorite, Faramir. Second favorite."
They followed Aragorn and Imrahil to the fire.
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.