1. The Red Pennant
I cut a shard of ruby-red cloth from my wedding dress and embroidered it with golden thread. On one corner of the pennant, I secretly sewed for hope and peace and love.
On the eve of the ride to Osgiliath, I presented it to my husband. "I shall fly it high and proud when we return victorious," he vowed, kissing my brow, "and whereby you shall know that I am safe and well."
"And as you ride to battle, wear it near your heart," I reminded him gently.
"Indeed I will," he said, smiling at far-off dreams. "When I return, I will craft a box of lebrethin and keep it there. And when Sauron is finally defeated and our long vigil ended, you and I, my lady, will burn this pennant to make way for new, happy days of peace."
So before he mounted his horse, I kissed my soldier goodbye with a full heart, proud and happy—for his words "when Sauron is finally defeated" had awoken in my mind glorious visions of towers toppling down and men marching home with laurel leaves in their hair.
I waited in hope for his return.
A few days had passed, and finally the bells began to toll, announcing the men's return. "They come! They come!" the city bells called in their deep, ringing voices.
I fled the house to look on my city's soldiers, and proudly welcome my countrymen. "Hail, conquering heroes!" I began to cry as I hurtled forth to smile upon the men below. My proclamation died on my lips.
A slow army limped forward, bearing great wains of wounded and dead. No banner unfurled before the blood-stenched breeze save an enormous, billowing black standard, bearing neither charge nor device. I gazed at them, horrified. What had happened to the victorious march I had envisioned, with men singing, trumpets calling, and stars on the brows of the two great captains?
I flew on quick feet through the circles of the city and out its gate. The soldiers had set up a small camp just outside the city walls. They did not wish to mar the White City's beauty with echoes of battle's horrors.
I was but one among a veritable swarm of women who looked for loved ones amongst the tents—sisters calling for their brothers, mothers weeping over forever-lost sons, lovers reunited with haggard soldiers. I barely glimpsed the Lord Boromir hushing a woman wracked with sobs, her husband lying before her without an arm.
A haze of confusion shimmered before my eyes—the stench overwhelmed me. All around me, people hurried and pushed past, and I felt alone and friendless indeed in the grim place. Why did no red pennant fly?
"My lady?" murmured a voice in my ear.
I spun around and faced not my husband but the Lord Faramir. His fair face, younger than mine, was bloodstained and grimy, but I did not notice, distracted by the expression on his face.
It was one of pure, unadulterated sadness. Always there had been a hint of melancholy in those grey eyes, but now grief all but filled them. His face spoke of horrors witnessed, and the weary knowledge that those horrors would, without a doubt, soon repeat themselves in another place. My stomach clenched painfully.
"My lord?" I faltered, forgetting to curtsy.
He scrutinized me with those clear eyes, and then (to my surprise) the clear eyes glimmered. He took my hands gently, drew out a cloth, and laid it in my hands.
The tattered pennant was torn in many places, the golden threads frayed and stained burgundy deeper than the color of the cloth. I held the ragged reminder of my husband in my hand, numb disbelief coursing through me.
I lifted my blurred gaze towards the Lord Faramir once more. His eyes were full to the brim with carefully checked tears and silent words of comfort.
I burned the cloth, as my husband said we would. But I did not destroy it to celebrate victory. I burned it with my unsaid promises and dreams.
I wasn't expecting this story to be so sad when I first wrote it. He was supposed to come home safe and sound, but, well... The story stopped following my orders and ran in its own direction.
This takes place a few years before Boromir leaves. Minas Tirith is already fighting Sauron at this point.